He had bespoke shoes for each and every outfit. And then some, like platform sneakers and roller skates with transparent wheels that lit up.
Over the ankle, over the knee, zip up the side with a peace-symbol zipper pull. All custom made, of course. No loafers or wing tips. These are shoes fit for a you know what.
An exhibit of 300 pairs of the late music icon's shoes, "The Beautiful Collection," went on display Friday at Paisley Park as part of regular tours at his Chanhassen studio-turned-museum.
There are beaded shoes and sequined shoes, ones decorated with hand-painted clouds and another with a Batman theme, fake-fur knee-high boots and footwear festooned with reproduced signatures of Queen Elizabeth I and Pancho Villa. It's a magnificently rich, kaleidoscopically overstimulating collection that's as dizzying and dazzling as his stage performances.
To get to the, um, bottom of Prince's shoes, we reached out to retired wardrobe maven Helen Hiatt, who worked with Prince from 1983 to '91; veteran Minneapolis stylist Gwen Leeds, who worked for Prince but not as a stylist, and Paisley poobah Mitch Maguire, the museum's preservationist who also became its managing director this spring, and we watched the exhibit's videotaped interviews with shoemakers Gary Kazanchyan of Andre No. 1 in Los Angeles and Cos Kyriacou of City Cobbler in England.
Here are 20 things to know about his royal soles:
1. Prince, a massive star with a diminutive body, had a smallish foot. Hiatt, who wears a women's size 8 or 8.5, could easily fit in his shoes, meaning he probably wore a men's size 6.5 or 7. Not that he ever bought any shoes off the rack after 1981 or so.
2. Prince had shoes made for every outfit, usually out of the same material as the outfit. But when it came to more generic shoes — say white, black, peach or turquoise — he'd require three or four pairs of each.
"Matching the boots to the colorful suits was a bit much, it wasn't the way one with any fashion sense normally dressed," Leeds said. "But this was rock 'n' roll where rules were nonexistent. And it didn't escape me that matching from head to toe tended to elongate a rock star who was self-conscious about his height."
3. Prince would sit with Hiatt and pore over European fashion magazines — Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, et al — for inspiration. He'd give her ideas, she'd draw sketches and get his feedback and take the instructions to the designers.
"I was the liaison in wardrobe for him," said his former wardrobe director. "I did the fitting and had to come back and explain [to the designer] what was going on. Prince felt that I was good at communicating with him. He trusted me. He had me go to his house and get stuff."
4. Although she was a lifelong sewer, Hiatt bought fabric by the pound for the first time in her life when she shopped for Prince. Working in Minneapolis and on tour, she sourced material mostly in Los Angeles but also in San Francisco, Baltimore and London.
5. Each shoemaker, such as Franco Puccetti in Los Angeles, made his own "last" — a wooden model — of Prince's feet.
6. "Style-wise, Prince's shoes are pretty normal. For a man, they're not normal," Hiatt opined. "They're just a fitted-to-foot shoe." But with Prince, the fabric makes the shoe.
7. Some shoes were inspired by other footwear. Kazanchyan tells the story of Prince encouraging him to take a pair of Fendi shoes, deconstruct them and rebuild them with Prince's last and chosen fabric.
For a pair of platform sneakers with lit-up heels that Prince requested, Kazanchyan went to Payless, bought some kids shoes with blinking soles and swapped the lights out and made Prince's wish come true.
8. "Every day was a learning curve with Prince," Kazanchyan said. "Prince pushed boundaries. He was very involved." So much so that Prince asked the shoemaker to show him the process how a shoe was constructed.
9. To help prevent heels (made of wood or plastic) from breaking, a metal brace was inserted as a wedge between the heel and the soles of Prince's shoes. His footwear was very lightweight, consisting of fabric — often 4-ply silk, sometimes wool or velvet — fused to a backing, and, of course, Prince's heels. Per royal wishes, the shoemaker had to source materials not made from animals.
10. Having made countless pairs of shoes headed to Minneapolis, Kazanchyan said Prince's footwear at Andre No. 1 typically cost $800 to $2,400 and sometimes as much as $6,000 per pair.
11. Before he could afford custom-made shoes, Prince jazzed up store-bought kicks. On display is a pair of off-white Zodiac leather shoes from 1980, with a series of gold sequins added on the toes.
12. After studying photos of some shoes in the Paisley Park exhibit, Hiatt — who also worked with Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and finally Jimmy Buffett for 27 years — observed some changes over the years.
"The oldest ones have the elastic inserts and are not as fitted as the later ones. And the heels look different on many of the boots. I remember searching for heels that changed the pitch of the heel point. Some of the heels look shorter in the later boots."
13. There are resourceful tricks when trying to accommodate Prince's fanciful desires. Take the Batman boots. "The toe decoration was put on after the shoe was made," Hiatt remembered, "and originally it was a brass piece that I put on with carpet double stick tape."
14. Prince had lots of white boots that got scuffed from stage wear. "We would try to clean them or color out the dirt with chalk," Hiatt said. "Always, the cleanest ones were given to him to start of the concert because he had time to check them out when getting dressed."
15. With all that fancy dancing, how did Prince make sure the audience never saw his bare legs in concert? Stirrups from the pants hooked underneath the shoe.
16. In 1989 or '90, Hiatt went to Prince's Chanhassen house and traced his foot on a sheet of paper to send to a shoemaker. "You could see the years of being in that high-heeled, pointy toed shoe had cramped his toes," she recalled. "You could see foot problems, the bunions, the smashed big toe, whatever. You could see that foot had been tortured."
She tried to convince Prince to wear a shoe with the point closer to his big toe but he resisted the suggestion, even for offstage shoes. "Even if it's a half inch, it's a big deal. He wasn't ready for change," she said. "He pulled me over in the corner: 'You know I don't like to argue.' "
17. Paisley Park did not refurbish shoes for the exhibit. "It's important to preserve the shoes rather than recondition or repair them," curator Maguire said via e-mail. "Many of Prince's shoes fell victim to friction burn when he was sliding or doing the splits. Heels would occasionally break or need to be replaced given his relentless dancing."
18. As archived by Angie Marchese of Graceland Holdings, the original operators of Paisley Park as a museum, Prince's shoes usually reside in archival bags and boxes in Paisley storage rooms. After the music star died in 2016, shoes were found all over the building. Always in pairs, fortunately.
19. Paisley Park settled on 300 pairs of shoes for "The Beautiful Collection" as "the right number given the size of the room, display space and allotted viewing time," Maguire said. Each tour will spend about 15 to 20 minutes with the shoe retrospective, where a 12-minute video discussion with two of Prince's shoemakers can be viewed.
20. Most of the exhibited shoes are housed in a 10-foot high, eight-level mirrored case designed to resemble a giant stack of guitar amplifiers (complete with knobs that can be turned up to 11). Another featured display case is a 3-D see-through grand piano, showcasing a few of the most striking shoes and sketches for them. The piano can't be played but its legs are decorated with 3-D guitars that can actually be played. The concept and execution of "The Beautiful Collection" display was the ingenious work of Paisley staffer Duff Eisenschenk.