In the fall of 2013, I received a call from a guitar tech who had a ‘private customer’ in need of straps. He said he was looking for custom gear and had contacted a few makers without a successful match. Custom leather is my specialty and I was happy to take on the project; but first, I had to know- who was this mysterious unnamed artist? The thought provoked my adrenaline and imagination- Could it be Keith Richards… Billy Gibbons… Wanda Jackson… Weird Al? (I can make any kind of strap).
I requested that the tech email me any ideas/inspiration and photos of the guitars to match the straps. He sent over a few shots of two gorgeous guitars, both of which looked exciting to design for. Next, I needed to know if the straps would be styled modestly or with wild embellishments for a full stage show. In order to narrow down the strap aesthetic, I pushed the tech to give me the artist’s name. Sometimes I can design straight off the sound of an artists’ music without ever knowing what they look like. In most cases knowing their personal style helps tremendously. In our next phone conversation, with the assurance that I wouldn’t reveal the artist to anyone, he whispers in my ear ‘Prince’.
When I work with famous artists I don’t immediately get star struck. It takes a while to sink in. This was the case with Prince. Getting that initial go-ahead on a job like this one always feels too good to be true. But the tech assured me that he was interested in my work and I should provide initial designs. So I fearlessly initiated work on the project, designing styles that could potentially be too outrageous to make. Inspiration can take a while to flow but with Prince I had a thousand ideas hit me at once. I created mood boards to narrow down the looks and combined sketching with collage to get the most accurate and realistic portrayal of the designs.
Pattern and texture studies
Over the course of a year, I designed close to 50 straps, 6 or so of which were chosen to be produced. I’d leave the Brooklyn studio with my computer and sit in the back of a bar that had great coffee and an outdoor patio with a fountain. The spot was secluded and during the day had little to no customers, a perfect, private personal office. I’d sketch out a few designs, send them to Prince’s tech who would then pass them to his manager and stylist. Throughout our time working together I received barely any feedback or inspiration for the styling. At one point the team asked me to include Prince’s logo- the love symbol on the front and back of every strap. I updated the designs and when he received the straps he sent them back, asking for it removed. They were too ‘over-the-top’.
Prince would never say if he liked the straps.
I’d ask: “How did the straps work out, was the styling what you were looking for?”
Prince’s Manager: [questioning a member of the crew who delivered the straps] “…did Prince comment on the guitar straps? If not, then he liked them”
Crew Member: “He didn’t make a comment about them so I take it he likes them!”
One strap I made for Prince had a mixture of gold rhinestones and black python. Initially, it had rhinestone trim that I hand sewed onto the sides. I worked tediously to make sure each piece of this ultra expensive trim was perfectly held in place. The strap came out looking just like the sketch- flashy, ornate, decadent. I packed it and shipped it out but when the tech received the strap he sent it back- it had too much jazz. Prince loved the base of the strap but wanted some of the trim removed- he said it was too ‘James Brown’.
Round 1 complete: Strap design with extra embellishment and logo, both removed in the final design.
I designed a custom brass buckle as a classy, simple way of incorporating Prince’s love symbol into the straps. Brass buckles have a hand crafted quality, embodying the same imperfection illustrated in the love art. I sketched the buckle using his symbol, flat in the front with a bar and prong in the back. I contacted a friend who welds and makes custom motorcycle parts to help me with the initial sample and mold. We worked together on sizing and functionality and when the prototype was just right I brought the mold to a caster in Manhattan. Once the first buckle was produced, I took it to another factory for gold plating. It came out stunning. The buckle was functional but for safety’s sake I re-enforced the front and back pieces of the guitar strap together with a hidden screw. Prince would toss his guitar around, playing, dancing, thrashing across the stage- I had to take extra care that the strap wouldn’t come loose mid-show.
Another beautiful guitar I designed for was Prince’s custom VOX HDC-77. He played this guitar frequently during his 70’s funk-rock inspired 3rd Eye Girl tour.
I designed the strap to match the colorful, psychedelic art wrapped on the front of the guitar. This strap took many revisions before we locked down the design- 3 hand carved and painted eyeballs in the front with a patchwork printed spine running down the back. I took the spine design straight from his guitar art and had it custom printed onto leather before applying to the strap. All held together with his signature logo buckle in the back.
Eyeball sketch progression. In the end we went with the hand carved and painted purple eye.
The below strap was commissioned for Prince’s paisley-floral guitar. It is made up of laser cut paisley leather with a pearl white python skin binding and base leather. Gold leather is patchworked into the design with rhinestones adorned on top. The strap is lightly padded with Prince’s love symbol buckle on the back. The logo on the front was requested by his team and eventually taken off. I’ve never seen Prince play this guitar in public.
One of the last guitar straps I crafted for Prince was a direct take on the art provided by his team. By special request I printed the same pattern from his guitar onto leather. I took the art and re-created it in Photoshop to fit on the length of the strap which I then had printed in multiples on a full leather hide. He requested for more than one of this strap to be produced. I designed the strap with the same silhouette and function as his previous styles, including his signature logo buckle. This is another guitar I’ve never seen in public.
In 2014 I saw Prince play live with 3rd Eye Girl. His guitar tech and manager set me up with backstage passes and floor seating- 5th-row center. I’d never seen him play before, no less from the very front. It was an unbelievable show. Prince played a ton of instruments, each flawlessly and with a grace that seemed to flow straight from the heavens. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Right before the show, his guitar tech pulled me aside backstage for a chance to meet Prince. He gave me a breakdown of the do’s and don’ts: Don’t ask for photos, don’t ask for autographs, etc. This was one of the only times I truly got nervous to meet an artist; my palms started to sweat! We began walking towards his dressing room when suddenly the tech got a message that Prince had a change of plans and couldn’t meet. Which was heartbreaking but I felt so grateful to just be there, and in such good company. The evening was truly magical and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with him and to have whitnessed his talent, up close and live.