Update: The Prince-worn purple tunic with gold details sold for $16,000–double its high estimate.
What you see: A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $8,000.
Who was Prince? A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of musicians and showed musical talent at the tender age of seven. He burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1979 and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. His hits include 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Raspberry Beret, U Got the Look, and heaps of others. Songs he wrote became hits for others: Nothing Compares 2 U put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and Manic Monday did the same for The Bangles. In 1984, at the peak of his Purple Rain fame, Prince became the first singer to simultaneously claim the number one album, single, and film on the charts and at the box office. He died in 2016 at the age of 57 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.
The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.
This Prince-worn tunic is purple. Is it inherently worth more than a Prince-worn garment in a different color? Yes. It does have an impact. When people think of Prince, they think of purple. Prince has a huge fan base that wants to own something from his career. He created his own style and his own fashion statements. It’s iconic. It’s so Prince.
Was it custom-made? Do we know what size it is? Most of Prince’s stage clothes were custom-made. There’s no label present in this one. He was a small guy, and a shy man, but on stage, he took on a whole other aura. If he liked a designer, he’d go back to that designer again and again. Prince himself was slight in build, but he wore items that could be loose-fitting and comfortable.
Have you tried it on? I have not. It’s on display in Ireland now [as of late April 2018]. A lot of people have come to see the exhibition. We’re really happy to bring the collection to the auction block. It’s going to be historic. It’s the greatest collection of Prince items to come to the auction block at one time. It comes soon after we sold a teal guitar of his, which was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $700,000–a world record for Prince.
Prince didn’t wear this tunic on stage, but he did wear this during a long, well-known 1998 interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET network. [Scroll down for a YouTube link to the interview, which lasts more than an hour.] How does that fact–he didn’t wear it on stage, but did wear it in a notable taped interview, which we can still watch today–affect it? The value of iconic items worn by a celebrity are determined by provenance, authenticity, and performance. Did he wear it on tour? Did he accept a Grammy while wearing it? Did he sit down with Oprah Winfrey or Tavis Smiley? Yes, that does affect the value. If you own the tunic personally as a fan, you can take it out during a dinner party, knowing that it’s Prince’s, and you can play the Smiley interview–it takes on a life of its own. It’s what collectors love.
Another interesting detail is the Smiley interview is the source of a popular Prince GIF, and Prince is clearly wearing this tunic in the GIF. [Pull up any list of Prince GIFs and it’ll be there, but you can also scroll down for a link.] How, if at all, does its Internet notoriety affect its value? Because it’s so new, it’s hard to factor in the impact, but it certainly keeps his memory alive. This generation, sharing GIFs, will be curious to know who that is, and what it means, in years to come. It can be hard to quantify, but it celebrates Prince and keeps him current. That’s key to the value of a celebrity and what his items are worth.
Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife, consigned the tunic and several other Prince items to the auction. Why is she selling now? There always comes a time when a window opens in a person’s life. It can be financial. It can be cathartic. It can be a downsizing move. I think she wants people to enjoy them. She’s storing these iconic objects, and that’s a burden. She’s letting them go knowing they’re going to go to museums and the homes of fans, where they’ll be cared for and appreciated for years to come. I think it’s what anybody would want, to share the life of an iconic celebrity as Prince.
Why will this purple Prince tunic stick in your memory? If you see a sparkly glove, you know it’s Michael Jackson. You see it’s purple and you know it’s Prince and not anybody else. Not Kurt Cobain. Not Elvis. It’s Prince. And [compared to his stage costumes], this is almost understated, almost regal. He wore it for an important interview, at an important time in his life. It’s understated and totally Prince. Twenty years later, it’s a classic piece anyone can put on and wear, male or female. He was androgynous in his dress, and it’s comfortable.
How to bid: The purple tunic Prince wore during the BET interview is lot 135 in Music Icons: Property from the Life and Career of Prince, offered in New York by Julien’s Auctions on May 18, 2018.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.
Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.
See the 1998 BET Prince interview, conducted by Tavis Smiley. It’s the source of that classic, peerless, eminently useful Prince GIF.
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