Credit: Frank Micelotta Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Remember when Prince bared his butt at the 1991 VMAs?
Delving into the archives of pop culture history, "Remember When?" is a CNN Style series offering a nostalgic look at the celebrity outfits that defined their eras.
It was a performance that pushed the boundaries of live television, not least because of the writhing, semi-naked dancers and Romanesque colonnades aflame. But all the pyrotechnics and simulated sex were eclipsed by a sight more shocking still — Prince's butt, bared for all to see amid a tangle of lemon yellow lace.
The full moon moment occurred at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, during a performance of the track "Get Off. " Like a pair of frosted windows, Prince's pert derrière was framed in a pair of high-waisted cutout pants, which the singer paired with a matching tailored bolero jacket and pumps. It was a shock for everyone watching — at home and in the studio. "The camera seemed embarrassed," reported the Chicago Tribune of the performance, "constantly cutting away to avoid whichever lurid scene it was stumbling across."
That shock factor has waned over time. During the 2010s, in particular, cheeky moments popped up in many a pop star's performances. High-cut, butt-baring thong bodysuits were a mainstay in Miley Cyrus' wardrobe during her 2014 "Bangerz" tour. In 2019, Lizzo's VMA set featured a giant inflatable peachy posterior while her backup dancers bent over in an array of assless chaps.
But according to Stacia Lang — Prince's costume designer between 1990 and 1993 — the controversial pants actually offered less exposure than they appeared. In the latest episode of "The Prince Mixtape," a CNN podcast dedicated to the American music icon and his legacy, Lang explained that she used a thin, net-like fabric called marquisette to suggest exposed buttocks. "There was a beautiful, white, pure, really heavy French lace that we took right away to the dyers and had that dyed bright citron yellow," she said. "And also (the dyer) had to dye up several fabrics that would create the illusion that his rear end was showing."
It was also one of two design ideas Lang put forward to Prince, who she recalls opting for the more conservative option. "It was just funny because he crossed out with a graphite pencil the one with more exposure. And I thought, 'Well, this is a guy with some modesty.'"
But the result, according to Lang, was still electric. "There was a lot of buzz backstage," she remembers. "George Michael was talking. I think so was Cindy Crawford. It was crazy because people just couldn't believe that that happened."
Widely revered and consistently revisited, Prince's sartorial reputation is today perhaps as fondly remembered as his music. But such a legacy isn't created overnight. "His style was iconic," said Marie France, the star's costume designer in the 1980s, on the podcast. "But (at) the same time, I think, very elegant, not just bizarre."
According to Lang, the magic formula was his playfulness, immovable sense of self and admiration for the garment-making process. "His persona, his clothing meant so much to him," she said. "That's one of the reasons why I enjoyed being with him and working with him so much... And he respected what we did."
Listen now as "The Prince Mixtape" podcast explores how one of America's music icons became the superstar we know today.