IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Imperfections and all': Tina Turner reflects on love and finding joy through fashion

“I can see the story of my life through the clothes I wore," Turner said. "There was always a connection.”
Image: Tina Turner in various costumes and outfits on a purple background with a tour poster.
Tina Turner turned heads in every decade of her career with her elaborate costumes and incredible outfits.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, recently became an octogenarian — and she’s celebrating in style.

With the release of her pictorial autobiography, “That’s My Life,” she explores how her sense of swagger and spirituality are reflected through the fashions and artistic expressions that span her decadeslong career.

In addition to her music and her incredible life story, Turner is known for her iconic style, with gowns covered in cascading sequins, bodacious hair, sky-high heels and miniskirts.

In “That’s My Life,” (one of two books out this fall by Turner) the entertainer visually chronicles the clothing, friendships, collaborations, performances and defining moments that demonstrate what she describes as a gradual change in her presence and attitude, as she “became stronger, more confident, happier, loved.”

Alongside images ranging from her shoe collection and the many wigs she personally crafted, to her accolades and a display of her spiritual connection with Buddhist and Chinese artwork, Turner shares quotes from years of celebrity testimonials and personalized birthday notes from the likes of entertainer Beyoncé, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, rock star Mick Jagger and fashion designer Christian Louboutin. As she’s aged, Turner says she especially cherishes receiving birthday greetings and spending the occasion with her husband, music executive Erwin Bach, as she didn’t often celebrate birthdays during her childhood or while touring during the 1960s and the 1970s.

The book also features her special collaborations with German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, who died last year. Turner’s tribute to Lindbergh includes snapshots of her climbing the Eiffel Tower in heels, and a portrait that zeroes in on a special thumb ring — one of Turner’s most prized possessions — adorning her finger as she enjoys a warm beverage. A replica of the ring recently became available for purchase through the Looping Group Shop.

“That’s My Life” isn’t all glamour and editorial shots, however. Turner sprinkled in candids and even some goofier photos from her personal archive.

“I am true to myself,” she writes. “Pretty is nice, but I don’t mind being a little silly or playful in some shots and serious in others. I love it when a photograph captures my innermost emotions and makes them come to life.”

NBCBLK caught up with Turner about her new book and how the legendary performer’s iconic flair for fashion has long reflected her inner world.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: How has fashion played a role during periods of reinvention and evolution in your career?

Turner: When I look back, I can see the story of my life through the clothes I wore. There was always a connection. The opportunity to sing with Ike in the early days was like something out of a fairytale for a teenager whose dream was to perform onstage. I felt so elegant in my gown, like a princess. But that gown was a prison, just like my marriage. I wanted to move, so my skirts got shorter and less constricting because freedom was important to me, onstage and in life.

Tina Turner dances during a photoshoot in 1964; Turner in a winged-costume designed by Bob Mackie in 1977; and Turner in a white suit and fedora in 1977.Michael Ochs Archive; Harry Langdon / Getty Images file

After I left Ike, Bob Mackie made me a costume that had wings. I felt like I was flying, and I was — on my own and free for the very first time. After that, I always loved experimenting with style, trying everything from sculptural Alaïas to flowing Armanis. I’m always thinking about fashion, from my wigs to my shoes, and everything in between. It’s a form of personal expression for me.

What drew you to the many outfits that carried elements that look inspired by nature?

Turner: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve felt a strong bond with nature. The fields of Nutbush, Tennessee, where I grew up, were my refuge, my escape from the harsh realities of my life. I was the child who always had scraped knees and tousled hair because I climbed trees and rolled in the grass.

As an adult, I wanted my clothing to reflect that free spirit and keep it alive. Leather, feathers, silk and other natural fibers, metals, stones and gems make me feel at one with the natural world I love.

Tina Turner performs during her Private Dancer tour in 1985; Turner during her Break Every Rule tour in 1987; and Turner sings during a performance in 1997.Getty Images file

What kinds of messages were you hoping to convey through how you dressed onstage?

Turner: I wanted to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. I never dressed to appeal to the men in the audience. I wanted to show women that it was possible to look glamorous and exciting without being immodest — that I enjoyed looking good in a way that was joyous and celebrated my femininity without exploiting it.

I often had three generations of fans at my concerts: grandmothers, mothers and fathers, teenagers and children. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable because it was all about having a good time together.

You wear a distinctive thumb ring, which you have worked with your personal jeweler in Zurich to recreate and make available to your fans. What does this ring mean to you, and why do you want to share it?

Turner: Let me tell you the story. I came across the ring one day in the 1970s, at a low point in my life, and I had to have it. The moment I slipped it on my thumb, I knew it would be my good luck charm, a reminder that I could be strong and shine, and withstand hard knocks, just like the ring. I’ve worn it ever since then, and I still feel its power.

My fans are always reaching out to me, wanting to connect, so I thought this would be the perfect way to do that. We can wear the same ring, in good times and in bad, and feel that we’re in this life together.

Tina Turner performs at London's Wembley Stadium in 1990; Turner sang the theme song for the 1995 James Bond film "Goldeneye;" Turner performs during her farewell tour in 2000.Getty Images

What do you hope that women will learn about the choices you’ve made around your personal style?

Turner: I hope women will learn that they should dress to express their own power and beauty, and not bend to someone else’s idea of what’s fashionable. Of course, we look at ourselves and see flaws. My waist is too short and my legs are too long, but I’ve learned to embrace the negative and make it work for me.

Buddhism has taught me that inner beauty, the beauty that comes from loving and accepting yourself, imperfections and all, radiates to the outside. Whether I’m wearing a designer dress or a pair of old jeans, I’m still the same Tina. It’s happiness that becomes me.

Follow NBCBLK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.