Six style lessons to learn from Cher’s costume designer, Bob Mackie

Bob Mackie. Even if you’re not so familiar with the name, you will most certainly have come across his designs. Legendary. Total Instagram-bait for generation #FashionFlashback. During the course of his 50-plus year career, he has rightly earned the title of Hollywood’s Guru of Glitter; masterminding blockbuster creations from Cher’s numerous “naked” dresses in the 70s and beyond (the singer has been his closest collaborator), working with Tina Turner (post-Ike) and dressing a young Diana Ross (“an empress in another life.”)

“I was doing the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show and Cher and Sonny were guests,” Mackie tells me inside a London hotel suite – in attendance are two Cher-like mannequins draped in liquid crystals. “She brought her own dress and everything and they were in the finale together – it was like a 19th century showboat kind of finale and I dressed her up. She was peppy, full of energy and so excited and says, ‘One day, when we have enough money, I want to come see you and you’re going to do some things for me!’ After a couple of years I get a call from her: ‘CBS has asked me to have my own show and I want you to do it!’ I was like ‘mmm, I’m going on vacation in two days!’ But I didn’t go on vacation…”

“When I was about ten or eleven I remember watching An American In Paris,” he remembers, referring to his biggest style influence. “I wanted to know who designed it. I had never been interested in knowing that [before]. Then I watched it again and thought I could do this.” And that he did – creating iconic sequin-drenched gowns for the likes of Cher, Liza Minelli, Madonna, Whitney, Tina Turner and more. Now 79, he’s got zero interest in retiring anytime soon: currently he’s designing costumes for The Cher Show, a forthcoming musical based on the singer’s life and gearing up for a huge sale at Julien’s Auctions, in Los Angeles and online, on 17 November. Oh, the Beads! Bums! Glitter! Glamour! After nearly six decades in the biz, the couturier to the stars to talk us through his life in fashion and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Don’t be a slave to a trend

“I’ve been around so long that every trend will make its return. And sometimes many times! Then it goes out and it’s the deadest thing alive. I think trends are fine – if you look good in them but just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean you should have it. What if you don’t look good in that colour or that cut? A lot of women don’t actually analyse what’s good for them.”

Embrace fantasy fashion (and head to your local library)

“It was the 60s and fashion was kind of changing. It was interesting to work with Cher then, of course she looked like nobody. She was a girl with long black hair, everybody at that time was blonde and big flips and beehives: all of that was completely not her. I thought she could look like a Hollywood vamp of the 20s and 30s and fall into that perfectly. So there was all this inspiration that just radiated out from her and she didn’t even know what these things were. I remember I gave her a book on the Hollywood stars of the 20s and 30s. And of course they all had their eyebrows plucked with just the tiniest little line and she’d plucked all her eyebrows out. Which became very 70s. Of course she had the most beautiful eyebrows and they grew back – fortunately!”

Don’t forget the bigger picture

“Get a two-way mirror so you can see your backside! Nobody ever looks at their backside and constantly I’m shocked [laughs].”

Repeat: Be. More. Cher. 

“Cher’s never said no to any of my designs and sometimes I have to calm her down a little bit, because she just wants to do it all! She’s still like that and still looks fantastic. An outfit never intimidated her or an idea or a costume. We used to call them ‘get-ups’ because they weren’t “fashion”, they were her own little world that she lived in. Sometimes I’ll try to get her to look more mainstream and she’s like I don’t want to look like a housewife in an evening gown. And I go, ‘oh I get you!’ Why should she?”

Take a break from Instagram

“Social media is certainly not good for being a human being and conversing with people. I go to restaurants and people are not even talking to each other, ‘what happened?!’ And at fashion week it doesn’t matter the clothes look like or if they’re beautiful as long as you get your picture [sighs]. In the 70s there was always that mystery – you saw a show but you couldn’t just take pictures, they’d be people sketching, and they’d print it in Womens Wear Daily. Now, there’s no mystery anymore.”

Break all the rules and be fabulous

“For Cher’s black Oscars dress [in 1988] she was like, ‘let’s just dress up and make it really fun!’ At the time she was giving an award to somebody – she was kind of pissed off at them. That year they sent out a little booklet of what the presenters should and shouldn’t do and dress. That’s the worst thing you could tell an actress! Because she will do exactly the opposite. Cher says, ‘As you can see, I read my book on what the serious actress should wear…’ and there she was. Iconic.”

JULIEN’S AUCTIONS LIVE AND ONLINE AUCTION, “Property from the Collection of Bob Mackie”, November 17, 2018 – for further information, head to

22 August 2018

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