Shoe Obsession for the Ages: Prince’s Killer Collection of Custom Heels, Now on View

NYT Music

“Normally you purchase fabric by the yard,” she said. “In the purple world, it was done by the pound.”

Money was no object, but time often was. Ms. Leeds’s instructions from Prince’s wardrobe department? “Have them do whatever’s necessary” to meet the deadline. This once meant outbidding reps for Luther Vandross and Queen Elizabeth to secure the fabric that became Prince’s 1985 Oscars ensemble, to which H.E.R. recently paid homage.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m representing Prince, and I have cash,’” Ms. Leeds said. “I got the fabric.”

Necessity, of course, is the mother of invention. Mr. Kazanchyan recalled purchasing, demolishing and rebuilding a pair of Fendi shoes in two weeks to match Prince’s foot pattern. Ms. Hiatt attached metal bat wings onto Prince’s toe box with double-sided carpet tape to create his now-legendary Batman boots. Once she even melted plexiglass in her oven to satisfy a last-minute request for a glitter cane.

“You just used every bit of ingenuity you could come up with,” Ms. Hiatt said.

Yet when Ms. Hiatt tried to invent a new toe point on Prince’s shoe pattern, widening the box to prevent bunions, Prince demurred. “‘You know I hate to argue,’” she recalls him saying while staring at the floor. “‘Just go change it.’ My heart ached for his little feet.”

Bunions did not, apparently, matter in the purple world, any more than budgets. And though this purple world is not the real world, “The Beautiful Collection” reveals the benefits of an alternate reality. For here, an androgynous Black man represents peak sex appeal, straight white couples will ooh and aah at platform flip-flops, and a couture shoemaker will buy a pair of children’s shoes from Payless, rip out the light-up soles and build them into white platform sneakers so that every time a rock legend pushes down on a piano pedal, his heels light up like happy Tinkerbell.

And if there remains skepticism toward the purple world, this celebration of spectacle, turn your gaze toward Paisley’s parking lot, 19.4 miles from George Floyd Square, where a group of Black motorcyclists, engines gunning, jams out to “When Doves Cry” as total strangers dance.


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