Television has made stars of actors, directors, newsmen, dogs, cats and horses—and now it’s a costume designer. His name is Bob Mackie, and veteran Edith Head says of him: “I think he’s possibly the best young designer not only in America but in the world, in his own specific field.”
Mackie himself acknowledges, “Television has really made me. It takes the place of all the things I used to love in the movies. It has glamour.”
So do the show-biz stars he dresses on and off the little screen: Mitzi Gaynor, Cyd Charisse, Barbra Streisand, Ann-Margret, Carol Burnett and—his own special concoction—Cher. For his efforts, Mackie is the only designer to win two Emmy awards, one with partner Ray Aghayan (for Alice Through the Looking Glass) and one solo (for Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations on Broadway). He has been nominated for four others.
What’s his secret? “My vision is romantic,” says the boyish-faced, 34-year-old Mackie. “But after a while, even glamour gets boring, so I love to combine it with the silly. It kind of wakes you up.” Mackie’s formula is thus a mix of feathers-and-sequins, high fashion and the occasional kinky accessory. “He’s one of the few designers who has a signature,” Edith Head adds. “When you see something he’s done, you know it’s a Bob Mackie.”
The women who sing and dance in Mackie clothes agree with his own tart assessment: “There is nothing more boring than going to Las Vegas and listening to someone just standing there in a black dress.” Mitzi Gaynor says, “He’s the best. His clothes work for me.” Streisand agrees: “He captures the essence of the people he designs for.” Carol Burnett, who first spotted Mackie’s name on Mitzi’s show, adds, “Bob does beautiful gowns, but just get me into that outfit with the fake rear end. That’s when I really appreciate him. He’s saved comedy sketches with his costumes.”
Mackie, with his confections of spangles and glitter, has virtually created Cher’s persona. “You can put clothes on her, and she wears them,” he says. “They don’t wear her.” Mackie first met Cher in 1967 when she and Sonny were planning a nightclub act, and, when she heard his prices, she gulped and left.
With a TV contract, Cher could afford the $1,500 costumes, and when Sonny and Cher split up, Cher got custody of Mackie for her own TV show. “She doesn’t look good in average clothes,” says Mackie. “The camera just adores her, the structure of her face, the body.” To date, Mackie has created 1,100 costumes for Cher, and even he sometimes wonders if the end isn’t in sight. Asks Mackie somewhat rhetorically, “How many ways can you find to show off a piece of flesh?”
Countless—as Mackie knows from all the Saturday afternoons he spent at the movies during his star-struck youth in Los Angeles. He would choose double features and sit through the musical twice. After art school he apprenticed as sketch artist for Jean Louis, Edith Head and finally Ray Aghayan, who, after Mackie did the chorus costumes for a 1963 Judy Garland TV show, made him a partner.
Even with weekly television deadlines, Mackie finds time to design the costumes for Streisand in Funny Lady, a nightclub wardrobe for Cyd Charisse, clothes for Ann-Margret’s Tommy premieres and nearly 1,000 feathered costumes for Vegas’ current Hallelujah Hollywood spectacular. All this leaves Bob Mackie, now divorced and sharing bachelor quarters with Ray Aghayan, a reeling workaholic. He complains of having no free hours at all, except for an occasional refreshing trip back to the old wellspring. “I still love movies,” Mackie confesses. “There are months when I don’t have time. So when I finally get to a movie, it’s really a treat.”