Monday, March 24, 2014

Sparkle, Plenty

If Adrian and Erté had gone for marriage equality avant la lettre and had a son, with Liberace sitting in as godmother... seems very likely that he might have turned out like today's birthday boy, the fabulous Mr. Bob Mackie.  We now associate his name so much with a few landmarks - Cher's magnificently understated Oscars outfits, Carol Burnett in Went With the Wind coming downstairs in a green-velvet fantasy complete with curtain rod ("I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist!") - that we can forget just what a long and varied (if consistently sparkly) career he's had.

He's dressed Vegas showgirls and Barbra Streisand (not to mention John Travolta in the triumph that was Staying Alive), and his credits range from TV specials for Raquel Welch and Goldie Hawn (among many others) to aesthetic heights along the lines of Lady Sings the Blues and, it must be admitted, the occasional low (The Star Wars Holiday Special springs to mind, however hard I work to keep it at bay).  While his range may not be vast, in his fach - sequins, bias cuts, and feathers, feathers, feathers - he has no rival today and few even looking back into the world of burlesque, vaudeville, and revues in which his kind of style has its origins.

When you think of certain entertainers - Mitzi Gaynor, Diana Ross (and, as here, even the post-Ross Supremes), and most especially Cher - it's probably a Bob Mackie vision you're conjuring up.  With his longtime companion (and isn't that sounding like an increasing quaint old phrase?), the equally glam-inducing Ray Aghayan (who among many other things did wonders with Judy Garland in the later stages of her career), he summoned up a mixture of elegance and excess that connected Hollywood new and old.  It's a surprisingly subtle form of vulgarity, really - look at those dresses up there, simultaneously almost austere and almost insane.  The girls look amazing, goddesses come to earth and floating in on a wave of dyed-to-match plumes.

Today, he's 74, and while he's lately been in the news mostly for declining to dress Cher one more time for her upcoming tour, I hope we've not seen the last of his magic.  He could usefully inject some discipline into the kitchen-sink-on-Mars looks adopted by Lady Gaga, help poor Miss Cyrus better understand the sometimes covered up can be sexier than showing all, and I genuinely think he could make Katy Perry look quite astonishing.  I hope that he feels as ageless as his best work.


  1. I don't know if drag queens owe him an immense debt or the other way around.

  2. I remember going into their old design studio years ago to pick something up from Ray. It was either on Beverly or 3rd. Not like one would expect, it was *underdone*. Practically spartan and very functional. And quiet. There was no music. The women in the workroom worked in silence. I'm sure the loudest thing during my 15 mins. there was my heartbeat.

    1. It doesn't suprise me at all to know that it takes a lot of quiet concentration to look that loud.