It’s safe to say that B. Akerlund is having a very big year. After putting Beyoncé into that mustard-color Roberto Cavalli confection for Lemonade, the stylist was enlisted by Madonna to dress the icon for her tribute to Prince at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.
And judging by the Instagrams issued by the Queen of Pop leading up to Sunday night’s event—from lace layered under dangling crucifixes, to paparazzi shots of the pair in matching shades of yellow from the late ’80s, to stage pictures of Prince clad in thigh-high socks, bikini briefs, lace arm-warmers, and a fringed, beaded top—this was not an affair in which the costume considerations would be taken lightly.
When dealing with figures that loom as large in the collective cultural psyche as Madonna and Prince—both with their own distinct sartorial codas (and bestowed with such particularly unique lore)—the fashion has a lot to live up to. And thanks to Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, it did.
Madonna took to the stage for her emotional, intimate tribute, singing “Nothing Compares 2 U” before being joined by Stevie Wonder for a duet of “Purple Rain,” in an embroidered metallic brocade three-piece suit with swirling purple paisley print and underlying frilled blouse—a look that, thanks to the film adaptation, is as synonymous with Prince as the symbol he once took on as a name.
(And it’s worth noting that suiting made a few appearances earlier in the evening, in Kesha’s purple and embroidered white Gram Parsons–inspired versions, both vintage Nudie, and the ladylike Chanel take worn by Demi Lovato.) Michele, who has worked with the Material Girl before, most notably on Latin-influenced costumes for her Rebel Heart tour, perhaps put it best in the note sent to Vogue.com accompanying his sketch: “It’s more than a performance, it’s a real act of love.”