Illustrious Talent

Cover artist Bob Mackie creates this new magazine’s launch cover that symbolizes the timeless social scene.

By Lance Avery Morgan
Illustrations By Bob Mackie

Every design begins with a sketch and our cover artist this month is none other than fashion designer-to-the-stars Bob Mackie, whose creations came into the living rooms weekly with The Carol Burnet Show, The Sonny & Cher Show, Mitzi Gaynor’s specials, among many others. He has sketched and created thousands of gowns, costumes and clothing for the biggest names in show business history in his five decade-long career as a fashion visionary and he’s offering some of that glamour to his fans these days.

Instead of selling the vivacious sketches at auction, Mackie and his team are offering 46 of the designer’s sketches online at his site, Astoundingly, Mackie has kept most of the sketches he has drawn over the past 50 years. “I’d better save these,” Mackie says. “Once in a while I gave them away but basically I have kept most of them.” A few years ago in 2005 he let go of a limited number of sketches as part Christie’s auction of Mackie’s couture and costumes, which brought in almost half a million dollars. Now the designing dynamo has decided to go directly to his fans, the consumers. “It’s what’s going on these days,” says Mackie. “I’m an old dinosaur, but even with my QVC business, about 25 percent of the business is online. That’s a lot.”

Mackie, without a doubt, is in control his brand. In addition to selecting the illustrations he his initially offering, Mackie also chose the perfect matte and frame match for each. All of the sketches are available in two sizes — 14 x 17 inches for $69 or 21 x 25 inches for $179. “It is a certain type of customer who relates to it in one way or another,” he said. There are a variety of choices in categories such as Putting on the Ritz, The Roaring Twenties, Belle of the Ball, Drawing Room Comedy and more. We love them all and I recently caught up with Mackie in his studio in Los Angeles as he shared some highlights of his memorable  career in an exclusive to The Society Diaries.

“A woman who wears my clothes is not afraid to be noticed,” says the Sultan of Sequins Bob Mackie. The prolific designer should know. He’s won nine Emmy Awards (and has been nominated for 31) and has also been nominated for three Academy Awards. But it’s not just the accolades to Mackie. It’s about the creative process. Mackie remains a sought after designer for made to order for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and helms successful products with his QVC network appearances. He’s still very much in the costume design game since he was nominated not too long ago or another Emmy for Carol Burnett’s costumes for her role in this past season’s television special, Once Upon A Mattress. He still has that inimitable dynamic touch.

Cameron Silver, owner of the chic Los Angeles store, Decades, specializing in vintage couture, comments on Mackie’s talents, “Just look at the last Dior Haute Couture show by Galliano and you see Mackie’s influence. When Cher was overheard saying it was her favorite show and she would wear all the clothing, it’s a great validation that costume and fashion have fused at the highest echelon of style.”

Bob Mackie has been able to mix his profound talent as a costume designer with his couturier ability to create some of the most memorable fashion images of the 20th century.”  Mackie wowed audiences every week on Burnett’s show with an outrageous array of imaginative colors, luxury fabrics, beading, feathers, fur and just about any other sort of adornment that could create an instant impression. He created a body of instant impressions that’s lasted to this day, decades later.

“I’ve been to Texas many times. I loved doing trunk shows at Neiman’s when I had a clothing line there. Austin’s great, too. It’s very hip,” says Mackie of his Lone Star State ties.

I ask him about his designing career these days differs from when he created clothing for just about every star including Cher (while simultaneously doing Burnett’s show), Barbra Streisand, Lucille Ball, Elton John, Sharon Stone, and so many more. “It’s all about shopping now,” he says. “The way the designers – or personal stylists, really, bring in a rack so the star and director can choose what will be worn. It’s just different. I did Carol’s show for 11 years and I never once had her wear a pair of jeans.”

Since Burnett put him on the pop cultural map early on in his career, he told me that there were some challenging aspects of The Carol Burnett Show. “I did everyone’s clothes, including the guest stars’, which was like running a race each week,” confides Mackie. “It was exciting to find out what the script would be like on a Friday for the next week’s show. There never seemed to be enough time. I made it work. You could say it was an adrenalin rush.”

When I tell him that Carol Burnett herself told me he designed almost 50 costumes a week for the show, I wondered if he had a large team to implement the costumes at the time. “Not really,” he states. “I had male assistant who would help with the men’s clothes. If there were uniforms, we would just rent those. I had a female assistant to help with the women’s costumes. Although I designed so much, for some characters, like a housewife part, we’d just buy a dress.

His favorite costume for a Carol character? “Gosh, we did over 200 shows and the one that got the most attention was the Gone With The Wind outfit,” says Mackie. It was recently on display at a television costume exhibit for at the FITM Design School. But mostly, it was just another week, another show.” Mackie also designed for the classic film homage skits, too. “Those were really fun,’ he re-counts about designing for the take-offs of movies such as From Here to Eternity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce, among many others vintage flicks. “Remember, that was back in the day before VHS and DVD rentals.”

Mackie didn’t have to depend on his memory, or airings of The Late, Late Show as a resource, though. “I have a collection of fashion books that I could reference, plus I’d seen all those old movies and loved them,” Mackie recalls fondly. “Sometimes, though, it was tough. For instance, in the books, they might not have a photo of the bottom of the skirt…the hemline. So, I just made do. Looking back, and having access to those movies now, I was pretty close. I just had a feeling of the film and its period.”

He also designed Carol’s opening segment where she would answer questions from the audience. The gowns were gorgeous, many with his signatures beads and sparkles. His inspiration for the costumes was practical, too. “With her opening gowns I wanted Carol to wake up the audience, and to have her not only look attractive, but also for her to look like their friend,” states Mackie. “I knew that later she’d be in one crazy costume after another, so I wanted her to be seen as more real in the opening outfits. When I see a group of those show openers now, I think ‘wow, she could wear those today.”

When asked about his favorite aspect about working with Carol over the years, Mackie is succinct. “It was a gift because I loved the movie musicals growing up. It was the first weekly variety show with a lady star. Also, to do comedy, dance, singing and the musical numbers. It was all a dream for me.“