Call & Response: Prince’s fashion lives on

January 22, 2020

He was a legend. Several generations grew up and reveled in his music, which continues to live on decades after he burst onto the world stage.

He was a visionary. The first major artist to release an entire album exclusively on the Internet, effectively transforming the entire entertainment industry forever.

He was a fashion icon. Remembered for his spectacular clothing and costumes, occasional guest appearances and performances on designer runways, and fashion collections that were inspired by him.

Prince won seven Grammy Awards, seven Brit Awards, six American Music Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. His achievements were countless. And, among other things, one of the most exciting things about this genius man was the mystery. His unique nature was effortless and natural. The enigma followed him everywhere.

Today, the enigma takes us to FAJO‘s home in Toronto, as we chat with design duo Cathy Robinson and Lori Marcuz, who secretly designed many of Prince’s renowned outfits for years. Somehow, they managed to keep a very low-profile during this time.

Following the release of their 1999 Designer Collection this past December exclusively for Prince’s fans (in collaboration with The Prince Estate), we discuss their experience of designing for this incredible artist, and the story behind the Call & Response brand.

Prince graces the cover of The Art Issue this month, dressed in clothing by Toronto-based design duo Call & Response. He is pictured here with 3RDEYEGIRL (also all dressed in Call & Response). Photo credit: NPG Records.

HANNAH YAKOBI: Tell us a bit more about the beginnings of your business.

LORI MARCUZ: Call & Response was started 16 years ago. We’ve been sewing from an early age: our mothers were both sewers and artists. A mutual acquaintance introduced us [to each other].

What is the story behind your brand’s name?

CATHY ROBINSON: Call & Response is a musical phrase in which the first and often solo part is answered by a second and often ensemble part. We thought it was a good name for a few reasons: we are fortunate to dress many musicians, and it’s what we do—someone wants something and we answer by creating it.

How did you start your collaboration with Prince?

LORI: When Prince was on tour in 2011, he played in Toronto and found out about us. His assistant called and asked that a box of clothes be sent to his next show in Montréal.

What did you enjoy the most about the collaboration?

LORI: Seeing our pieces on Prince! At shows all over the world, on album covers, magazines, TV shows and award shows. It was a bit like a dream.  The fast pace encouraged creativity with little time to second guess or overthink.

Designers Cathy Robinson (left) and Lori Marcuz pose at their studio. Photo courtesy of Call & Response.

What was the most challenging part?

CATHY: The fast pace! We were often given less than a week’s notice, and it was often for not just Prince but his band at the time—3RDEYEGIRL—as well as many others that played with him.

What was your favourite piece that you designed for him?

LORI: The piece he wore on the cover of V Magazine. Prince was presented with options for the shoot and he wore one of our jackets. Also, the 2014 Grammys—we had just a three day’s notice. Cathy put a jacket in a box at the last minute that she had feverishly worked on to complete. It ended up being the one he wore.

Prince on the cover of his Art Official Age album, wearing clothing by Call & Response. Photo credit: NPG Records.

One of the most fascinating things about this relationship is that you never met him. A large part of making custom clothing is about seeing what it looks like on the person you are designing for. Did this concept of not meeting him stress or excite you? How did you feel?

CATHY: Honestly, the thought of meeting him was a bit more stressful. We had this special relationship and we didn’t want it to change. We never talked publicly about making clothes for Prince. We respected his privacy and he respected us as artists and a business: he never took anything for free.

Tell us a bit more about the creative process: how did you source fabrics? How did you pick the colours? Was there input from Prince himself?

LORI: Our approach is a bit different than most designers, mostly because we’re self-taught. We do everything ourselves—in the back of our store in Toronto. We design as we create. We source our fabrics and leathers from all over the world, but mostly Europe. We know what we like pretty much as soon as we see it.

There was very little direction from Prince. There was one time he and the band were on the Zooey Deschanel show New Girl, and there were specific requests from the stylist. He overruled and requested something completely different for Zooey to wear.

You keep a relatively low profile on the Canadian fashion scene despite your incredible accomplishments. What do you think is the key component for a Canadian designer to succeed in fashion? What about succeeding on the international scene?

LORI: (laughs) We don’t keep a low profile intentionally! American publications have been more interested in what we do. We really appreciate this interview with FAJO—it’s one of our first here in Canada! You are also the first Canadian magazine to interview us on our latest collaboration with The Prince Estate.

We love what we do. We work 7 days a week. We’re fortunate to have a really incredible clientele. Having a storefront allows us instant feedback. I can’t imagine doing this if it’s not your passion. We have plans to reach out further this year. Having a website lets us test other markets. There’s a bit more back and forth as everything is custom, but it’s allowing us to sell all over the world!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CATHY: People can follow us at @callandresponseclothing, or come by to visit us at our store at 702 Queen Street West in Toronto anytime!

1999 Designer Collection

All photography courtesy of © The Prince Estate | photographer: John Wagner, unless specified otherwise.

Don’t miss the all-star tribute concert to Prince on Jan.28, 2020, presented by The Recording Academy just two days after the 62nd GRAMMY Awards.


Story by Hannah Yakobi

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