Born: Robert Gordon Mackie in Monterey Park, California, 24 March 1940. Education: Studied advertising and illustration at Pasadena City College; costume design at Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, 1958-60. Family: Married Marianne Wolford in 1960 (divorced, 1963); children: Robin. Career: Sketch artist for film designers Frank Thompson, Jean Louis, and Edith Head, 1960-63; worked in television as assistant designer to Ray Aghayan, receiving his first screen credit for The Judy Garland Show, 1963; designer for The King Family Show, 1965, Mitzi Gaynor's night club acts, from 1966, The Carol Burnett Show, 1967-78, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, 1971-74, and The Sonny and Cher Show, 1976-77; designed swimwear for Cole of California, 1976; independent designer of ready-to-wear fashions, with own label Bob Mackie Originals, New York, from 1982; created 1950s costumes for Moon Over Buffalo, 1995; introduced fall collection, 1996; designed 1970s
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Bob Mackie is one of a handful of designers to work with success in the related but disparate fields of theater and fashion design. He is probably best known for the wittily revealing, glamorous beaded and feathered ensembles he designed for actress and singer Cher since the early 1970s. This collaborative image remains so strong that to visualize Cher is to see her dressed by Mackie. His true genius as an interpretative designer, however, can best be seen in his work for comedian Carol Burnett.
For 11 years, Mackie designed costumes and wigs for Burnett's weekly variety show, including full-scale production numbers to showcase guest artists in elaborate parodies of such classic cult films as Sunset Boulevard or Mildred Pierce. These character sketches were written for Burnett's company of regular performers, with ongoing stories starring Burnett as one of her various alter egos. In Mrs. Wiggins, for example, Mackie and Burnett created the archetypal "keep busy while doing nothing" secretary, complete with overlong fingernails, brass spittoon-colored perm, stiletto heels, and a skirt so tight walking seemed doubtful and sitting impossible. In this case, the costume first defined the character and thus gave direction to the ensuing scripts. Visually, audiences were led away from the personality of the performer and toward that of the character portrayed. In contrast, Mackie's designs for guest artists always enhanced their
When he turned to ready-to-wear in 1982, Mackie's name had been before the television viewing public for 15 years. Women who had admired the casual but elegant tailored outfits Burnett wore to open and close her show or the dramatic allure of Cher's gowns formed an eager and ready market for the first designs from Bob Mackie Originals. The fashion press took rather longer to convince that the aptly dubbed "sultan of sequins, rajah of rhinestones" had the necessary seriousness of purpose to sustain a career on Seventh Avenue. Yet Mackie has always designed day and evening clothing in addition to his theatrical work. As early as 1969, he and partners Ray Aghayan and Elizabeth Courtney established their Beverly Hills boutique, Elizabeth the First, which in turn spawned the short-lived wholesale firm Ray Aghayan/Bob Mackie.
In his 1979 book, Dressing for Glamor, Mackie states his belief that glamor is "a state of mind, a feeling of self-confidence." His strength as a designer is an intuitive understanding of what makes a woman feel self-confident and well dressed—solid craftsmanship, attention to detail, clothes that combine wit and artistry with a sense of flair and drama.
In 1995 Moon Over Buffalo took to the stage. With Mackie's outstanding costume design and makeup artistry, the Broadway production became a hit. Directed by Tom Moore, the play featured Carol Burnett and Philip Bosco yearning for Hollywood careers. It takes place in the 1950s, in a time where actresses never went anywhere without being made up. Mackie had his work cut out for him: costumes were bold in color and contrasted with room schemes. Referring to a purple-and-white ensemble and a bright green suit, Mackie says, "Those colors are accurate to the period. Clothes were a lot more flamboyant in the 1950s than we're used to seeing now."
In March 1997 TV Guide sat down with Mackie to discuss the importance of shock value in fashion. "It gives you something to talk about at the office the next day," the designer explained. But when it comes to hairstyles, Mackie said to stick with what you know, "It's like on your wedding day, don't try a new hairdo. You should look like yourself. My idea of a real movie star is someone who you know who they are, no matter what they play or where they are."
With costuming Vegas showgirls, disco divas, Cher, and numerous Broadway productions in his past, Mackie took his career to a new and different level—ballet. Danced to master recordings of Elvis Presley songs, the Cleveland San Jose Ballet's Blue Suede Shoes was the first project in which Mackie designed not only costumes but the sets as well. He is, in fact, one of the few costume designers who has expanded his work into set design.
Responsible for 230 costumes and 12 sets, Mackie's flashy style fit right in with the 1970 trends. With men in bell-bottomed pantsuits and showgirls in brightly sequined body stockings, the show's well-deserved applause speaks for itself. In the off-Broadway musical Pete & Keely, Mackie once again nailed the era—the 1960s—perfectly in his designs.
Renowned for costume design after costume design and even set design after set design, Mackie is the first to admit he can't take all the credit. The modest legend claims, "I was showing lingerie while everybody else was showing evening gowns. I was rather well known because of all the people I dressed at the time." That may be true, Mackie, but now perhaps, you're the reason others become known.
updated by Diana Idzelis