April 7, 2010

Article | Bob Mackie

With all the recent buzz about Native American headdresses in pop culture, I thought it was time to post an article on Bob Mackie and Cher - her headdresses may have been the most iconic of those donned in a pop culture setting. Here is an interview with the Sultan of Sequins, Bob Mackie:

US fashion designer Bob Mackie is renowned for dressing Hollywood stars with his sparkling creations, earning him the title "the sultan of sequins". He made his name in the 1960s designing outfits for variety TV shows and in the course of his career his designs have won him nine Emmy Awards and three Oscar nominations. As well as dressing a host of stars including Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Joan Collins and Katy Perry, he recently designed the costumes for Pink’s Funhouse tour. Known for his long collaboration with Cher, Mackie is most remembered for the Mohawk outfit the singer wore to the Oscars in 1986. He has also designed the costumes for all Cher’s tours, including the 17 used on her current three-year residency of 200 shows at The Colosseum in Las Vegas.

Tell me about how your relationship with Cher first began.
Back in 1967 she was a guest star on the Carol Burnett Show which I was designing the costumes for and she and Sonny were on. We got to know each other, so anytime she could request a designer she’d ask for me. When they did their weekly show she asked for me.

What do you find so special about dressing her
In the beginning she was this gorgeous creature: a thin wonderful looking girl who looked like no-one else in the entertainment business at the time. Everybody just went crazy over this woman as she could wear anything. She always stands above the costume. Even if she has a blonde wig on you know it is her – some performers can’t do that. Now she has a reputation for wearing outlandish things and she enjoys that and loves to get dressed up.

One of your most famous designs worn by Cher was for the 1986 Academy Awards – what was your inspiration there
She had done the film Mask that year and nobody thought she could act so she didn’t get nominated. She said: ‘Let’s really dress up and do an Indian outfit.’ I said I thought we were going too far and said: ‘You’re giving out an award, you’ll be pulling focus from the winner.’ She said: ‘They won’t mind.’ As it turned out, she was in every newspaper around the world and even the winner of the award, Don Ameche [Cocoon star], said he wouldn’t have had his picture in any of those papers if it hadn’t been for Cher. Maybe she knows what she’s doing, but I’m always saying are you sure you want to wear this And then people think these wild outfits she wears are the only kind of thing I design.

Is there anything Cher won’t wear
There are certain things she doesn’t like, like stripes and orange. Although lately she’s been wearing day-glow colours which surprises me because for a whole decade she wore nothing but black – but one has to change.

I read that Cher asked you to make her more naked for her current Las Vegas show…
Mackie has designed all Cher’s tour costumes. See a collection of Bob Mackie’s designs and their famous wearers. She never wants to show anything you shouldn’t see, so it’s all smoke and mirrors. After all these years of designing I know a few tricks, so you think you’re seeing a lot more than you are.

Describe some of the costumes Cher wears in her Vegas show.
It’s a show that goes back many years as she’s had hit records in every decade, so we do a lot of 60s things, then some 70s, then ones for disco numbers. For Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves she’s dressed like a gypsy, and she’s also got an American Indian showgirl outfit.

How long did it take to create all the costumes for her show
It takes a long time because they’re covered in crystals and jewels and they all have to be done by hand. They’re almost like art pieces in a way – they’re not just a frock you stitch up one afternoon. It can be hundreds of hours in each garment as there’s a lot of detail. They’re almost like couture clothes as they’re one of a kind.

Do you feel a lot of pressure to produce something amazing every time
Yeah I do. You want to top yourself and that gets to be very hard after many years. There’s always pressure and even if I don’t do something for her they think I did it. I work very hard to create things that look good on the person and make sure they’re right for their different personalities – I would never put what I put on Cher on somebody else.

You dress another famous woman – Barbie – how did that come about and is it anymore difficult to create small designs
Mattel were asking different designers to do a Barbie back in the 90s and at first I wasn’t thrilled about it. They would usually go to a fashion designer to make a coat and dress, but I said I wanted to do something fantasy-like. I did one doll and it took off, so the next year they asked if I’d do two more. Now I’ve been doing at least one or two a year since then – they’re really fun. The scale is hard – if you have a beaded dress you want to make sure it’s just perfect, but it’s been a learning thing. It’s much easier to do certain kinds of things on a Barbie than it is on a real person as Barbie’s only 12 inches tall!

Is there anyone you would like to dress and why
I don’t think about that a lot. There are certain women who are very attractive and you know dressing them would be successful because they look good in the clothes.
I was delighted to be dressing Pink because it’s like new blood. She’s somebody different from anyone I’ve ever dressed and she understands it, she gets it.

You’re coming up to your 71st birthday, and working all the time – do you think you’ll slow down soon
It’s strange because I work every day and a lot of my friends are retired and I think what do they do all day I’m very lucky to do the kind of thing I fantasised about as a boy and go straight from school into it. It never occurred to me to retire – I think I’d be so bored.

Bob Mackie was speaking to BBC entertainment reporter Genevieve Hassan.
This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.