Designers Adam Selman and Bob Mackie reflect on skin-baring style

By catherinekast
Updated December 10, 2014 03:30 PM

When Rihanna chose to go practically nude on the red carpet at the CFDA awards in June, you might say she broke the internet before, well, that other person did. But despite the shock, we couldn’t help but notice that another top diva has donned similarly revealing gowns long before RiRi. If you guessed Cher, good job. The star has been stepping out in skin-baring look after skin-baring look for the past 30 years (like at the 1988 Oscars, below).

In a true meeting of minds on the fashion site The Thick, Rihanna’s go-to designer Adam Selman and iconic costume creator Bob Mackie, 74, interview each other about how they went from retail to runway and what it feels like to be the kings of showing skin.


Mackie is best known, of course, for dressing Cher on and off for years, and for outfitting notable divas like Diana Ross and Carroll Burnett. When Selman asks him if he ever gets sick of being associated with one specific genre, he replies, “It’s not always good, because some people think that’s all I do. I’d like to design costumes for straight plays, but do you think anyone would ever call me for that? No. They put you in a bit of a niche. You’re going to be making see-through dresses for the rest of your life!” Selman agrees: “I will always be associated with that.”

But could Selman’s shimmery gown become mainstream on the red carpet? Maybe, says Mackie. “When Cher was on the cover of Time [below, in 1975], in her see-through dress, every tired old broad in Hollywood called asking me for one just like it,” he says.


Mackie also shares that though his garments may last through powerful performances, they’re not indestructible: “Beads fall off. Those kinds of clothes need constant upkeep. But it’s easier to make a beaded dress than a beautiful, simple, crepe one, where everything has to be perfect.”

One of Selman’s top lessons when dressing a celeb just might be that: “You can give people good clothes, but you can’t give them style.” According to Mackie, you’re just trying to amplify the woman you’re dressing. “There are different characters, just like in a play,” he says. “Women already have an image; as a designer, you have to enhance that. Rihanna has to be Rihanna, you know? She can’t be Gwyneth Paltrow.” Amen!

Mackie reveals that he actually “detests” fashion! “My heart is in theater, in performance,” he tells Selman. But he was able to bring drama to the runway in the ’80s and ’90s. Selman is a fan of Mackie’s 1990 show, “all the girls with their lemon hats and lemon-print dresses,” (seriously, check it out), “… that’s the kind of stuff I live for, that people don’t do anymore,” he says.

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For Mackie, that’s because it’s cost-prohibitive: “It’s so expensive! Some bitch held up my show one year because her ice sculpture wasn’t finished. Putting on that kind of production is ridiculous, but I hate to take fashion so seriously.”

But it turns out he does take it a wee bit seriously; Although his muse Cher’s Dressed To Kill tour was canceled on November 20th, Mackie shows no signs of slowing down. “People keep asking, ‘Bob, when are you going to retire?'” he says. “Then what, I just go home and die? I’m not that interested in doing that.”

–Catherine Kast