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Gary Card creates a definitive record of Prince’s hairstyles

Set designer and illustrator Gary Card shares a deeply personal project created in homage to his ultimate hero

We’ve lost one of the world’s greatest-ever artists. Here, acclaimed set designer and illustrator Gary Card shares a series of drawings charting Prince’s hairstyles from 1978 to 2013 – from the afro he sported at the time of his album For You (1978), his chemically-relaxed, centred-parted ’do of his Emancipation (1997) period to his chin-length braids of Rave Un2 The Year 2000 (2000). A devoted fan of the star since his youth, this is one of Card’s most personal projects to date. It’s so comprehensive that it even garnered the attention of Prince himself, who retweeted the poster back in 2013. “Of all of my achievements in my career, that was my proudest,” Card shares. Today, he’s drawn the star’s hairstyles from the last three years, thus completing this project. Alongside the original drawings, the illustrator talks to us about the origins of the Prince Hair Chart, the time he nearly met his hero and why he loves the “mystical wizard” so much.

What is your first memory of Prince?

Gary Card: Do you remember the end of Ghostbusters, where this terrifying, androgynous demigod takes over New York? I honestly thought that it was Prince. That got me thinking about him as this otherworldly creature, not really human, more of an entity from another dimension.

Why do you love him so much? What does he represent to you?

Gary Card: That’s too difficult to put into words here. I was first intrigued by how he looked, both genderless and, in a way, raceless. A mystical wizard who, when I first started getting into him, had changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (not even Kanye is smug enough to pull that off). At the time, it pissed everyone off but for me, it further strengthened my fantasy that he was in fact from another planet.

For a painfully shy, gay nerd growing up, he represented an imaginary alter ego I could retreat into. In my room, I was Prince – an all singing, all dancing force of nature. He helped me discover my own confidence, personality and sexuality. For Prince, sexuality was fluid – in some songs he would moved from man to woman and back again like he was making love to himself or something. He was utterly fascinating. 

I think most of all he represented creative freedom to me. Like Bowie he didn’t just write songs, he created worlds with every album and told stories. He was a new version of himself with every project. Constantly playing, constantly mischievous, always poking fun at both the world, and himself.

He was and always will be a constant reminder that there are no limits to your creativity, you can do whatever you want, be any version of yourself you want.   

How has Prince and his music impacted your life? 

Gary Card: So much, I can’t even put into words how he has influenced me. When someone says something even close to a Prince lyric, I start singing, it’s like a weird compulsive tick. He’s all over my work, no matter how subtle, he’s probably in there in some way. Even my ambition is influenced by him, whenever I think I’m doing okay in my career I think, ‘Fuck, Prince had written 20 albums by my age, get back to work!’

Can you tell me a bit about this project?

Gary Card: A couple of years ago Hannah Hanra at Beat asked me if I could illustrate a centerfold poster for her magazine. She basically said I could do what I wanted, I’ve always been obsessed with Prince’s hair so I immediately said, ‘How about a Prince hair chart showing every ’do he’s had for the 30 years?’ Hannah gave me the go ahead and off I went.  

Has Prince seen the poster?

Gary Card: Prince tweeted it and it went viral, it was one the most exciting moments of my life, knowing I’d impressed my hero. It came out with little fan fair when it was first printed, it was just some cute tribute by some weird obsessive nerd. I put a gif together of all the changing hair styles and put on Instagram, a couple of months later I was watching some nonsense on TV, when suddenly my phone starts going nuts with notifications, under one of the comments someone wrote, ‘Dude, Prince just tweeted your poster’ and that was it, it was retweeted around the world about ten times a second for two days, it was thrilling to watch. Of all of my achievements in my career, that was my proudest.

If you could say one thing to Prince, what would it be?

Gary Card: I’ve fantasised about this many times over the years. Talking to him about an album cover I had planned, maybe a new set design idea for his next show, even advising him on what songs to put on and leave off his next project, ‘Lose the flute solo Prince, babe, it goes on a bit don’t you think?’

I almost met him once, Visionaire set up a meeting with him when he was touring London two years ago. We were all set, had a film crew ready to go, I was skulling beers for Dutch courage in a purple suit Oswald Boateng lent me for my interview. At the last minute, they said he wasn’t available. It was a weird mixture of soul-crushing disappointment and overwhelming relief. I probably would have walked up to him and just started crying, or lost control of my bladder or something horrible. 

Really though, I’d just say thank you, for playing such huge part in my life, for constantly inspiring me, for clogging my brain with thousands of ludicrous facts that bore people at parties, but mostly thanks for letting borrow all of your music, I’ve had so much fun.