Bob Mackie: From Cher and Bette to Madonna and Pink
By BRITTANY SPANOS
May 29, 2019
Bob Mackie has been working with Cher for 50 years, helping define and redefine her style through all its dramatic changes. Naturally, Mackie is also a huge presence in The Cher Show, the Broadway adaptation of Cher’s life. Mackie’s ostentatious, intricate designs get their own runway show during the musical. The Oscar- and Emmy-winning designer even got his first Tony nomination for his contributions to the show, for Best Costume Design.
Beyond Cher, Mackie has a long history of helping make some of the most iconic garments for several larger-than-life pop legends: He’s dressed everyone from Elton John to Bette Midler to Pink, making him a go-to for thrilling performers who want to wear clothes that match their personalities.
“These are all big personality people. They’re not just up there dressed up,” Mackie tells Rolling Stone. “You’re always looking for that look, that gag that makes the acting special. It’s all about making them look good and entertaining the audience visually as well.”
Pictured: Elton John, Cher, Flip Wilson, and Bette Midler pose for a portrait at Cher’s first TV special, 1975
Ann-Margret – Vegas
“That was for her to play Vegas [in 1978]. Ann-Margret was glamorous and sexy. Just fantastic. [She] had a whole image from the movies they made happen on the Vegas stage as well. She was known as a very sexy woman and was visually gorgeous with that red hair. She danced like a wild woman. She was fabulous. [I made] something that she could move in. I remember at one point there was a whole billboard of her in this costume on Sunset Boulevard.”
Bette Midler – Parrot
“That was a whole outfit for one of her road tours that she did. With Bette, you never do a normal dress, really. This one started off with coverage over the bosom and she’s dressed as a parrot but in a tight skirt. Then the whole thing got ripped off and it looks like it does there. She was in New York and I was in L.A., so she had it copied in other colors, but I did the first one for her.”
Cher – Academy Award Presenter
“Everybody on the Oscars that year was given a book on what was proper to wear on the Oscars. You know what she thought about that [laughs]. She said ‘Oh, let’s just dress up like I used to do.’ She had done a lot of movies where she was playing very dowdy characters that weren’t that dressed up. She thought she should’ve had a nomination, but she didn’t get it. She said ‘I’m just going to dress up and have fun.’ So she did! They’re still printing that picture every year.
“The whole outfit, exactly the way it was, is in The Cher Show. We copied it exactly. It’s so interesting that the audience after all these years knows that outfit so well because when Stephanie J. Block comes out wearing it, the audience explodes in applause. It’s so fun.”
Cher – Turn Back Time
“There’s been a version of that outfit for many many years. It changes slightly from time to time. But basically, it’s pretty much like that. We used to call it ‘the diamond-studded Swiss cheese.’ We didn’t release that at the time. We just thought it looked like Swiss cheese with all those naked holes and things in it.”
Cher – with Elton and Diana
“That was an outfit I just did for her. It was a favorite: solid bugle beads and diamonds and the whole works. At that point in time, the body was so phenomenal that she could wear anything, really.
“It’s interesting that at some point there was Elton, Diana Ross, and Cher at some event. I don’t even know what it was. The outfit wasn’t done for that event but she thought that would be appropriate. Of course, Diana wasn’t particularly happy because she was way pregnant at the time.”
Diana Ross and The Supremes, 1968
“[These garments] were all for performers, one way or another. Whether for television or the Academy Awards or a special like these for Diana Ross and the Supremes. That was for a TV special in 1969. They’re known for their glamor. They were better dressed than any other girl group in the country. They became famous for the glamor. Diana was the ringleader. She had to like it. At this point, it was called Diana Ross and the Supremes. This was before she broke out on her own, shortly after that special.”
Elton – Devil
“I also did one of him as an angel with these huge, huge sequin feather wings. I noticed in the new movie Rocketman, they do a ‘devil’ on him as well. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s certainly inspired by this one.”
Elton – Donald Duck
“He loved to get dressed up and wear fun things. He was amused by it. For somebody who has to sit behind the piano and sing for the entire show, he just thought ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I had some costumes like Cher?’ We did the Dodgers baseball uniform all in sequins. He had a Minnie Mouse costume that he wore and did a whole concert in.”
Madonna – 1991 Oscars
She was photographed in my sample gown of that that was in my line of gowns and clothes at the time. She was on the cover of Vanity Fair in that dress. She said, ‘I need something to wear at the Academy Awards.’ Dick Tracy was the movie and she had that sort of Marilyn Monroe look with the hair and the whole thing. She said, ‘This would be great.’ The stylist said, ‘Call Bob Mackie. He’ll make you one.’ We made her very own, and she wore it on the show. She wore it to all the parties. Her date that night was Michael Jackson, so of course, it got printed everywhere.”
Pink – Freddie Mercury Tribute
“She did a whole medley as a tribute to Queen and Freddie Mercury. I looked at some of the things he wore and was inspired. He had a jacket very similar to that and he had the harlequin black-and-white print on another outfit. It was a combination. Then, of course, she probably got up in the trapeze and did a whole wild kind of trapeze thing that she does.
“Later in the act, she put on a huge, black-and-white ostrich feather skirt. It was a whole outfit that kept changing and moving as it went through the act.”
Pink – Grammys, Glitter in the Air
“When she was on the Grammys, they strung her up, she dropped her dress off and was in this strip-y thing. They spun her around and dropped her in a whole big pool of water, and the water splashed over everything. It wasn’t your usual genteel song and dance.
“You have to be very careful when people are hanging by their fingernails up there. It’s so terrifying to me. Everything has to be perfect. There can’t be any mistakes because just a little wardrobe malfunction could be disastrous when you’re up in the air like that. It terrifies me when I go see her. I really hate to even watch!”
Tina Turner – Gold Wings
“That was in the late Seventies when she had split up with Ike. They were separated and she was doing a nightclub act before she started doing the huge stadium rock & roll things with Mick Jagger. This was very Tina. She had so much fun with those wings and all that fringe. The woman was just amazing and still is of course.
“It was interesting [to see Tina the musical] because I had lived through some of those events with her.”