Bob Mackie’s book looks at a glamorous fashion career
New York When Bob Mackie was 11 years old, and his uncle asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he didn’t hesitate: a Broadway fashion designer. The Southern California boy had never been to New York, but he was focused on the “color, excitement, and glamor” of films and show business.
The celebrity fashion designer tells the story of his career in a new coffee table book, The Art of Bob Mackie. Authors Frank Vlasnik and Laura Ross’ book was released on Tuesday.
Macy’s didn’t have to go cross country. His first job outside of college was at Paramount Pictures in 1961, as a freelance journalist drawing costumes for films. His talent and work ethic soon helped him land jobs in television, where he teamed up with Carol Burnett. Mackie’s designs for their varied display have drawn attention to their colorful sequins and camp style.
Mackie received three Academy Award nominations and nine Emmy Awards while designing for celebrities such as Elton John, Diana Ross, Pink and his ultimate muse, Cher.
The book, released on Tuesday, is packed with Mackie’s original drawings and hundreds of photos that help tell the story of his illustrious career.
Mackie spoke to The Associated Press about designing a self-taught music icon and character. Answers have been modified for brevity and clarity.
AP: This book is a look back at your career in fashion. How do you feel seeing it?
Maki: I’ve belonged to the Guild of Fashion Designers for 60 years. this is a long time. That’s a lot of fashion. It kind of surprised me. Then I saw that Cher is 75, and I met her when she was 22, and it really scared me! So, you know, you just do what you do.
AP: One of your early drawings was turned into a very popular dress worn by Marilyn Monroe.
MAKI: She was asked to sing “Happy Birthday” for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. So I called (designer) Jean-Louis and said, “Would you make me one of those see-through dresses like you do Marlene Dietrich?” And he was doing it for her business and stuff in Vegas. So he asked me to do the drawing and he showed me what he wanted. She drew the sketch and placed it, as close as possible to Marilyn Monroe. Then I didn’t hear about it for the longest time. And then two weeks later, all of a sudden, there’s all these pictures in the newspaper and she’s singing to the president in that dress.
AP: How did you handle the costume design for “The Carol Burnett Show”?
Maki: It’s cool because you can really laugh or laugh before you even open your mouth. I love fashion design. It’s more fun because you help. You’re part of the team that helps create the story, really, and who that woman is or who this guy is and where they come from. Are they neat or are they a mess? who are they? This is the fun part.
AP: Perhaps your most famous design is the “curtain rod dress” parody of “Gone with the Wind” on “Carol Burnett.” How did this happen?
Maki: Her name was “Starlet” in our version. I went to the window and lowered the green velvet curtains and drugged them up the stairs. And of course, this happens in the real movie, too. So this was really funny to me. Then all of a sudden they put it in the drawing, and I had to do something funny and I thought, “Well, how do I do this now? What am I doing differently?” And it was the best I could do, and it was a huge success. Thankfully, it was a hit and I got more laughs per second or something else than ever. So this was really kind of fun. He is now at the Smithsonian.
AP: At one point you were modeling for both Carol Burnett and Cher simultaneously?
Maki: We had the best time. Carol was in one studio and Cher was in another and the only thing in between was the men’s room, which had two doors – one from each studio. And every now and then, Cher would go into the men’s room and say, “I’m coming through the guys!” And she was just racing and they would all get really nervous at the urinal. There was always a lot of laughter and it was a good theatrical performance. Both shows were very funny in their own way and very different from each other. But the two women loved each other and often exchanged looks.
AP: There’s a picture in your book of you escorting Cher to the Met Gala in 1974.
Maki: Cher showed up in a dress… and it was really cool. And people were just wearing cocktail clothes and maybe a jumpsuit with pants or something. They were dressed, but nothing like it now. And of course, Cher’s wearing this outfit made them all think, “Oh, maybe we should dress a little more.” …but then all of a sudden, people are wearing things that look like they might have looked at all the old clothes for shots of it…and “what else can we wear that gets just as much attention?” Then the same dress appeared on the cover of Time magazine two months later, and that was huge.
AP: She also designed a memorable dress for Cher to wear at the 1986 Academy Awards.
Maki: He was the first crazy person she ever wore with a big mohawk headdress when she awarded Don Amici for Best Supporting Actor. And I told her at the time, “Aren’t you afraid of stepping up who wins this award?” And she says, “Oh, they won’t care, it’ll be fine.” Well, the next day, her photo was in every newspaper in the country, and she became very famous. I remember at first people were terrified. They said, “Well, that’s not a fashion.” It was so amazing and still is. So why not?
AP: In the moment you won a Tony Award in 2019 for costume design for “The Cher Show,” what was that experience like?
Macy: I went to the Tonys and won my award, giving my little speech… and that was my best. And there was a guy on the show who played spin – he had a blonde wig and a funny suit and he was cool. Maybe he was more brilliant than me. But it was a Broadway musical so all was well.
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