Bob Mackie was born in Monterey Park, California, on 24 March 1940. He attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, but left after only two years to begin his career in costume design. In 1963 he teamed up with the costume designer Ray Aghayan for the television series The Judy Garland Show. For this project Mackie received his first screen credit and established a long working relationship with Aghayan. Mackie went on to design all the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978), while continuing to work on other television projects, such as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974). Throughout his career Mackie specialized in designing wardrobes for TV specials. His celebrity clientele brought him to Las Vegas, where he designed costumes for headliners and showgirls alike. Mackie has also provided costumes for numerous theater productions. His distinguished career has included seven Emmys and three Academy Award nominations. Over the course of four decades, he has dressed a dazzling array of celebrities including Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Madonna, and RuPaul.
Mackie's Costume Design
Two pervasive elements in Mackie's work are glamour and humor. His costumes for The Carol Burnett Show were instrumental to the program's character-driven comedy sketches. A perfect example of this is the "Starlett O'Hara" gown made of green velvet drapes-complete with curtain rod-which played a pivotal role in the "Went with the Wind" skit. The script had not called for the curtain-rod sight-gag, but the result was pure comedy genius and undoubtedly led to the skit's designation as one of "TV's Fifty All-Time Funniest Moments" by TV Guide. The Carol Burnett Show also provided Mackie with the opportunity to dress an impressive array of guest stars, including Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, and Sonny and Cher.
In 1971 Mackie began work on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, a series that amply displayed his distinctive design vision. Cher had met Mackie in 1967 when she was a guest on The Carol Burnett Show and asked him to provide costumes for her that would create a more mature, glamorous image. Cher's physical presence and her persona enabled Mackie to showcase his flamboyant designs without seeming too extreme. About her remarkable ability to wear his designs, Mackie once remarked: "There hasn't been a woman in the limelight since Garbo or Dietrich who could pull off such outrageous visual fantasies while maintaining her individual beauty" (Mackie, p. 176). The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour proved to be a ratings bonanza, since viewers tuned in weekly to see what Cher was wearing. Using nude soufflé, a soft spongy fabric and strategically placed beads, Mackie's designs drove network censors and viewers wild by showcasing her long, slender torso with cropped tops and low-slung beaded skirts. Her costumes were dripping with beads, feather, and fur, but Cher wore them with graceful nonchalance, as easily as if she were wearing a pair of blue jeans. With tongue firmly in cheek, she gamely accepted being dressed as a harem girl, an Indian princess, and even a snake. Cher is credited with making the "Mackie look" famous when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine in his nude soufflé gown in 1975.
Bob Mackie's collaboration with Cher continued over the decades, and his designs for her became an integral part of her image. He has provided the memorable wardrobes for her many public appearances, including her 2002 Living Proof-The Farewell Tour. Tending toward the outrageous, he dressed her as Cleopatra for the launch of her fragrance, Uninhibited, and a "Mohawk Warrior" for the 1986 Academy Awards he provided the sheer catsuit worn in her infamous "If I Could Turn Back Time" music video. This ensemble, which gave viewers a good look at Cher's tattooed derriere, was criticized as too risqué for daytime television, appearing on MTV only after 10 P.M. and sparked a national debate about decency standards. The "Mohawk Warrior," with its bare midriff and high-feathered headdress, shocked many at the Oscars presentation, but for Cher, who felt snubbed by the Academy for not being nominated for her role in the film Mask, it pushed all the right buttons. Creating controversy through her choice of costume, Cher stole the show. Of Mackie's designs she once remarked, "After we started working together, he just knew what I'd like. He walked the line between fashion and costume and that's my favorite place to go" (Decaro, p. 67).
Mackie made the natural evolution into fashion design in 1982 when he launched a line of high-end ready-to-wear; today his empire includes furs, home furnishings, fragrance, a line of clothing sold on the cable shopping channel QVC, and a thriving made-to-order business. In 1990 Mackie began designing a highly successful line of collectible Barbie dolls for Mattel featuring his trademark style.
In 2001 Bob Mackie was honored with a special award for his "Fashion Exuberance" by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). This was a particularly apt tribute, since Mackie's lighthearted design philosophy has often run counter to the prevailing whims of fashion. Shrewdly understanding that the public associated his name with outrageous luxury and opulence, Mackie remained true to his aesthetic even at the height of early 1990s grunge. The beads, feathers, and furs that had been such an important part of his costume designs were translated into high fashion with heavily beaded evening dresses and dramatically draped chiffon gowns. His irreverent sense of humor, seen in so many of his costume designs, is also an important element in his fashion designs. This humor has translated into bugle-beaded wetsuits and jackets adorned with miniature racing cars. Mackie's whimsical approach to fashion is particularly apparent in a beaded minidress from 1988, which featured a trompe l'oeil beaded "bandana" at the halter-style neck. Never afraid to push a design concept to the limit, the cowboy-inspired dress was accessorized with a ten-gallon hat, boots, and gauntlets.
In 1999 Cher was honored with a CFDA award for her influence on fashion, an influence created largely by Mackie's extraordinary vision. Through the power of television, Bob Mackie has made an important contribution to popular culture and helped to keep old-fashioned Hollywood glamour alive into the twenty-first century.
See also Celebrities; Fashion Designer; Theatrical Costume.
DeCaro, Frank. Unmistakably Mackie: The Fashion and Fantasy of Bob Mackie. New York: Universe Publishing, 1999.
Bob Mackie, with Gerry Bremer. Dressing for Glamour. New York: A & W Publishers, 1979.
McConathy, Dale, with Diana Vreeland. Hollywood Costume: Glamour, Glitter, Romance. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1976.
Morris, Bernadine. The Fashion Makers. New York: Random House, 1978.
Reilly, Maureen. California Couture. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2000.
Stegmeyer, Anne. Who's Who in Fashion. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1996.