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Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

[ Edited ]
Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' who dresses the world's divas
Published 11th June 2019
 
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17: Renowned costume and fashion designer and nine-time Emmy winner, Bob Mackie, is photographed in his Los Angeles, CA, office, May 17, 2019. In addition to a 2019 Tony nomination for his work on "The Cher Show" musical, Mackie is set to receive the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA). (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
 
 
Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
 
 
Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' who dresses the world's divas
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Written byHelen Jennings, CNN
 
Bob Mackie's client list reads like a who's-who of 20th-century legends. Cher, Tina Turner, Bette Midler, Judy Garland, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Liza Minnelli, Marlene Dietrich... No one could pass up a bit of his magic.
Cher, wearing a Bob Mackie design, accompanies the actual Bob Mackie to the 1974 Met Gala.
 
 
Cher, wearing a Bob Mackie design, accompanies the actual Bob Mackie to the 1974 Met Gala. Credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
The year, the showman is in the limelight once again. Mackie has just won his first Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Musical for his work on "The Cher Show" on Broadway. He has a look in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition "Camp: Notes on Fashion." He's seen his 1970s looks for Elton John reimagined for the biopic "Rocketman." And to top it off, he has been honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award.
"When (former CFDA chairman) Diane von Furstenberg called me to tell me I'd be receiving this award, I thought, 'Really?' because in my mind's eye I'm still 35. But then I realized I'd just turned 80, so I figure it's okay," Mackie said over the phone from his New York hotel. "It's interesting. I've never been the darling of the fashion world. I'm a costume designer, that's what I've spent my life doing. So the CFDA was a surprise. But you know, everybody likes to be loved."
Bob Mackie poses with models during New York Fashion Week in the late 1980s.
 
 
Bob Mackie poses with models during New York Fashion Week in the late 1980s. Credit: Images Press/Archive Photos/Getty Images
And Mackie is indeed beloved. Fern Mallis, former executive director of CFDA and founder of New York Fashion Week, remembers getting to know him in the early 1990s.
"When he did fashion shows, they were so spectacular and theatrical," she said in a phone interview. "He invented the naked dresses with the strategically placed beads. Now everyone who walks the red carpet, or designs for the red carpet, owes him a debt of gratitude, whether they know it or not. He's a treasure; he's one of a kind."
Mackie was born in Los Angeles County. He spent his boyhood at the movies where he fell in love with the Technicolor glamour of Carmen Miranda, Gene Kelly and Betty Grable.
Madonna wears one of Mackie's designs at the 1991 Oscars.
 
 
Madonna wears one of Mackie's designs at the 1991 Oscars. Credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
"I decided when I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a costume designer," he recalled. "After design school I thought about going to New York to get into theater, but it was winter and I had no money to buy a coat, so I took my portfolio around the studios and wound up at Paramount."
He learned the ropes as a sketch artist for Paramount costumier Edith Head, and Jean Louis, for whom he drew the nude illusion dress Marilyn Monroe wore to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." He also assisted designer Ray Aghayan, who later became his life partner.
By the mid-1960s, Mackie was one of TV's most in-demand designers. While working on the "The Carol Burnett Show" in 1967, he had his first encounter with Cher in 1967, sparking a lifelong collaboration that would last from the singer's Sonny & Cher years right through to her current tours.
Sonny Bono And Cher at the 1973 Oscars.
 
 
Sonny Bono And Cher at the 1973 Oscars. Credit: Ron Galella/Getty Images
"She had the most beautiful little body. She loved to get dressed up and if she didn't understand a look, I'd show her a history book: 'Today we're doing Samson and Delilah,'" Mackie says. "She became known for her clothes -- or her lack of clothes! And she's still out there doing it at 73. It's amazing."
Mackie has had an equally long friendship with Diana Ross, who he initially dressed in 1969: "I certainly have a soft spot in my heart for that little girl from Detroit who could wear clothes like nobody else. She must have been a royal goddess in another life," he says.
Singer Diana Ross poses in a Bob Mackie catsuit in 1974.
 
 
Singer Diana Ross poses in a Bob Mackie catsuit in 1974. Credit: Harry Langdon/Archive Photos/Getty Images
As for Elton John, their combined imaginations resulted in the musician dressed on stage as everyone from Minnie Mouse to Donald Duck. "He had a horrible time sitting at the piano with the Donald Duck backside sticking out, but he got a kick of it all."
Elton John wears Bob Mackie during a performance in New York's Central Park in 1980.
 
 
Elton John wears Bob Mackie during a performance in New York's Central Park in 1980. Credit: Chris Morris/Shutterstock
With the awards season over, Mackie is looking forward to checking out of New York and heading home to California. "I have no intention of retiring, but a holiday would be good," he quips.
Next, he's the subject of an upcoming Matthew Miele-directed documentary. Due for release in December 2020, the film will examine Mackie's entire career, reveal the craftsmanship that went into his most famous piece, and feature interviews with his inner circle.
Tina Turner performs in a sequined Bob Mackie dress in the late 1970s.
 
 
Tina Turner performs in a sequined Bob Mackie dress in the late 1970s. Credit: Gai Terrell/Redferns/Getty Images
"Bob Mackie is an American original, and to be given a chance to showcase how he accomplished his life's work and made each design worthy of amplified spectacle is something that will leave audiences inspired," Miele said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
This ongoing fascination with Mackie's work comes as no surprise to his close friend Jan Strimple, the show producer and former model who whose international career he helped to propel in the 1980s.
"Bob is a prolific creator. His designs exude confidence, sensuality, unapologetic glamour and wit," she wrote in an email.
"I think that in our angst filled world, we all want to lighten up. Bob has never left that mindset. He gives us the same thing that early Hollywood gave him: reasons to laugh and moments of beauty that take our breath away."
 
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Regular Contributor
Posts: 633
Registered: ‎03-29-2019

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

Holy cow!

 

 

That first picture of Cher!

 

 

And we think that stars dress risque today!

 

 

The K girls have got nothin' compared to what Cher was wearing in 1974!

Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 5,292
Registered: ‎05-19-2012

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

Anonymous,

 

On another thread, someone wrote that every designer who thinks he or she designed the "naked dress" owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob Mackie.  He did it first.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 10,978
Registered: ‎01-01-2011

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

Love the bohemian loveseat.  Cher was the perfect vehicle for his designs.

Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. ~Greek proverb~
Regular Contributor
Posts: 633
Registered: ‎03-29-2019

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)


@Goldie76 wrote:

Anonymous,

 

On another thread, someone wrote that every designer who thinks he or she designed the "naked dress" owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob Mackie.  He did it first.


 

 

 

 

@Goldie76 

 

 

 

 

 

That is true, but people today complain about how female stars are on the verge of showing their breasts, like it's a new fad, or something.

 

Cher was actually showing hers 44 years ago.

 

 

 

Super Contributor
Posts: 296
Registered: ‎04-03-2010

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

I wonder if there is a coffee table book on Bob Mackie's designs and photographs of all the stars wearing his creations.  As risque as some of his designs were, they never appeared to be vulgar.  Everything was an illusion with strategically placed design.

 

Cher just looks fabulous in his outfits.  Back when she had a more naturally thin and toned physique she could just wear anything.  She had an exotic look before that was the in thing.  Her long hair was SO shiny.  Or was that a wig too?  I always thought in her youth the long hair was actually hers. 

 

Interesting that he drew the sketch of the Happy Birthday Mr. President gown.  That was VA VA VOOM!

Valued Contributor
Posts: 686
Registered: ‎10-03-2014

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

Why isn't he designing dresses like this for us...at QVC LOW prices, of course?

Valued Contributor
Posts: 623
Registered: ‎09-18-2010

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

@Goldie76   Thank you for the article!  I did not realize that he did the Donald Duck costume for Elton John!  He has a wicked, fun sense of humor.

 

His life was not all sequins, feathers and fluff.  Filled with sadness at times, too.  He lost his son, Robin in 1994.

 

  Father of son Robin Gordon Mackie (B. October 15, 1959) with Lulu Porter. Robin started using drugs at 15 and by the time he was in his early 20s had lost interest in almost everything, though he worked occasionally as a makeup artist. Robin died of complications from AIDS on March 15, 1993 in Los Angeles after a long battle with drugs

 

So delighted that he is reaping so many awards this year!  An amazing designer and a lovely person as well and known for his kindness.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 10,916
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

Love him...a true gentleman.He certainly was instrumental to Cher’s career.

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Registered: ‎08-20-2012

Re: Bob Mackie: The 'Sultan of Sequins' Who Dresses the World's Divas (and QVC Ladies)

[ Edited ]

         Thank you for the interesting, historical look at 
Bob's designer life!!  I own several of his early QVC pieces and love them!!  And I really enjoy his shows on QVC, even if I don't purchase much anymore!