The icon's longtime fashion collaborator opens up to PEOPLE about bringing her looks back to life for Broadway
“Make it bigger, Bob!”
Those four words built the foundation for designer Bob Mackie’s more than five-decade relationship with the ultimate stage and screen queen, Cher.
Cher herself admits that she would not be the style icon she’s known as today without Mackie, her fashion whisperer, bringing her visions to life. The duo met in the ’60s when Mackie was hired to do all the costuming for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. They would go on to create one of the most show-stopping wardrobes in history, with their creations landing everywhere from the Oscars red carpet to music videos to Vegas stages.
So when it came time to outfit Cher’s latest project, The Cher Show, a Broadway biopic of her life and career, she knew Mackie was the only person that could turn back time and bring her closet back to life. And she was right. On Thursday, Mackie earned a Tony nomination for Best Costume Design, leading a team that assembled over 450 costumes for the stage, most exact replicas from Cher’s famous closet.
“She’s never intimidated by anything she wears,” Mackie tells PEOPLE of Cher’s risk-taking sense of style. “She just wears it like a T-shirt and jeans. And she looks like she was born to wear it — because she was.”
The show follows Cher’s life through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, with three different actresses taking on each stage of her life: Star, Lady and Babe. And the clothes serve as their own character.
“They stand up and give standing ovations for his costumes,” Cher said in a recent interview with the Today show. “I was shocked the first time, but totally excited. At the end, people just stood up and started screaming.”
Below Mackie takes PEOPLE inside the show’s sparkly fashion closet.
Mackie Still Had Original Patterns from Cher’s Famous Wardrobe
“I kept all of the the original patterns from every look we did. We even had beading patterns from her most famous outfits, which all require thousands of beads. That helped craft the wardrobe on a short timeline. There were some absolute replicas, especially her 1986 Oscars gown. I had a wardrobe for years and we kept everything that we ever made, and for the Oscars we had the original one to look at, which made a big difference. If it was somebody else trying to do it, I think it would be a little harder. And it was hard enough.”
Speaking of the Oscars Dress… Bob Advised Cher NOT to Wear It
“I’m always the conservative one. At first I told her, ‘You can’t dress like that to give somebody an award, you’ll pull all the focus from them.’ And she said, ‘Oh, they won’t mind.’ Then there she is, and she’s on the cover of every newspaper all across the country. She knows what she’s doing. Of course she was the one that got printed. People liked it and hated it at the same time. Critics said, ‘Well, that’s not fashion.’ Well, it wasn’t meant to be fashion. She wanted to do it just because it was fun. Halloween is her favorite holiday, and she loves to dress up. She always says, ‘I don’t ever want to be dressed like a housewife in an evening gown.'”
The Entire Cast Wardrobe Took One Year to Make
“It wouldn’t have taken all that much time, but there are always re-writes on a script. When you do that, it changes the costumes. We worked on it for almost a whole year.”
There Are Upward of 450 Outfits Featured in the Show
“We have a huge ensemble to outfit. The Chers are just one piece. We have the most amazing group of dancers, all of Sonny’s outfit changes. It was really so much fun to create each and every look.”
There Is a Full-Time Beader to Fix Costumes Backstage
“A lovely and talented man, Philip, works on the outfits every day. He fills in beads and he makes sure everything is kept looking perfect. Which is the way you have to do it, because clothes like that usually are made to wear one night and then you put it away and say, ‘Oh, that’s what I wore to the Academy Awards.’ But every night that stuff goes onstage, and it’s put on and taken off. It wears out fast from all the quick changes.”
The Chers’ Understudies Also Had Complete Wardrobes
“Everything we made for each Cher was to the actresses’ exact measurements. And since we have a whole other group of talented women who are understudying these parts, and we had to make a complete new set of clothes for each of them as well. The costume budget is quite amazing when you think about what we have to make doubles of. I’m sure we went over budget. That’s part of what that girl’s story is all about.”
Mackie’s Least Favorite Cher Look Is the Turn Back Time Video
“When she was doing ‘Turn Back Time’ on the big boat with all the sailors, I hated that outfit, but she made me do it. And then she put a jacket on over it, and it made it look even more naked because you couldn’t see where the look started and it stopped. Anyway, I didn’t admit that I’d had anything to do with it for years. She’s gotten a lot of attention from the way she dresses and the way she looks. And she’s gorgeous. The thing about Cher is that her body was always so toned and so perfect that nothing, no matter how naked [it was], ever looked vulgar. It always looked immaculate. Like ‘Okay, I’m good. Everything’s in place.'”