Guests were invited to enter the wonderful world of Bob Mackie at a luncheon at the Windsor Beach Club hosted by Stacey Lewis and Cynthia Bardes, to introduce “The Art of Bob Mackie,” a sizable book that is as fabulous as the designer himself. The book, which showcases some of Mackie’s most iconic costumes and gowns, was written by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross, who individually have connections to Lewis and Bardes.
Lewis said she met Vlastnik in 1996, when they performed in the Broadway musical “Big,” and they worked again in Broadway’s “Sweet Smell of Success.” In the small world that is Windsor, Laura Ross is the editor of Bardes’ delightful “Pansy the Poodle” mystery series.
Vlastnik delighted everyone with inside stories about the incomparable Mackie who, when asked who he designed for, answered, “I design for a woman who dares to be noticed.”
“And he has,” said Vlastnik, who regaled with slides and the inside scoop behind some of Mackie’s more famous clientele.
Notables included Bernadette Peters, “his (Mackie’s) dearest friend in the whole world”; Mitzi Gaynor, “who just turned 90 and is still full of P&V as they say”; “the fabulous” Ann Margaret; and “prime time soap opera rivals” Linda Grey and Joan Collins, “who both wanted to claim Bob as their own designer.”
Hollywood legends included Debbie Reynolds, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse and Julie Andrews, Fred Astaire, and his last dance partner Barrie Chase, “who is still around and still has those legs that go up to the rafters.”
His rock and roll clients included Tina Turner who, after leaving Ike, wanted Mackie to reinvent her image; Elton John, who would sometimes wear a costume for just one concert before retiring it; and Pink, who sang live on the Grammy Awards “upside down from a trapeze.”
“Another of his famous clients is his shortest one, she’s only 11 ½ inches tall, and that’s Barbie.
Bob has designed over 50 Barbies,” said Vlastnik.
Mackie got his start as a sketch artist for Edith Head at Paramount Studios and then at 20th Century Fox, sketching for Jean Louis who, with an original rendering by Mackie, designed Marilyn Monroe’s famous semi-sheer, rhinestone-laden gown.
“It was a moment in history of worlds colliding, with politics and show business and secrets,” said Vlastnik. Mackie’s nude-illusion dresses would later become popular with other stars, often to the dismay of the censors.
In 1967 he designed for Mitzi Gaynor, who wanted to change her image to be a “hip new Mitzi Gaynor.” In the audience at Gaynor’s Las Vegas show was a young Carol Burnett, who was “knocked out by the costumes.”
Mackie’s famed wit often took center stage with Burnett’s iconic characters. When she first saw the change Mackie made to the hysterical “Went with the Wind” dress, Vlastnik said Burnett fell on the floor and told Mackie: “That is the most brilliant sight gag I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Mackie first met Cher when she was a guest on the Carol Burnett show and discovered, remarkably, that they had exactly the same measurements. His Cher outfits are now so famous, they even took Broadway by storm; Mackie won a Tony Award for the musical “The Cher Show.”
“There was a 10-minute number that was basically just a fashion show called the Mackie, that was just one costume after another,” said Vlastnik.
In 1986 Vlastnik said Mackie was astonished to see the cover of a TV Guide that had an oversized head of Oprah Winfrey posed atop a promo shot of Ann Margaret taken 11 years earlier wearing a Mackie-designed gown. Amazingly, they didn’t deny it.
Giving credit to Ross for its witty title, Vlastnik said the chapter is called “Ann Margaret loses her head.”
The book includes a forward by Burnett and an afterward by Cher, his forever friends.
Photos by Kaila Jones