I’m a firm believer in the power of sparkle and shine to brighten up the short, dark, cold winter days, especially those after the holidays. It doesn’t have to be a lot – just a little to calm you down before spring is on the horizon.
Today’s book meets that criteria for me and is a fun diversion into post-holiday “bliss”.
“The Art of Bob Mackie” according to Frank Owner and Laura Ross absolutely brings bling to the realm of coffee table books. Its dark blue front cover is framed with shimmering, turquoise flames and studded with tiny silver bubbles. The title and authors are printed front and center in shiny silver Art Deco type.
The effect is reminiscent of so many of Mackie’s creations – necklines fringed with billowing strips of opulent fabric suspended in a crystal-studded illusion. Just looking at the sumptuous cover brings a little bit of fabulousness into my day.
Today, Mackie is known to some as a QVC clothing merchant, costume veteran and fashion designer with a career spanning six decades. He made his mark on television by designing for film, Broadway, pop stars and shows in Las Vegas. His signature style combines boldness, humor and sparkle for looks that range from camp to dazzling.
A native of Southern California, Mackie briefly attended college and then art school before leaving to work in Hollywood. He began his career in 1961 as a freelance sketch artist at Paramount Studios under famed costume designer Edith Head.
The next year he moved to 20th Century Fox, drawing for its client Jean Louis. While there, Mackie created sketches for the designer dress Marilyn Monroe wore to President John F. Kennedy’s birthday party (the same dress Kim Kardashian wore to the 2022 Met Gala).
In 1963, Mackie began working as an assistant to costume designer Ray Aghayan on “The Judy Garland Show.” From there, the television work grew into a full partnership with Aghayan, focusing on variety shows and musicals and preparing Mackie for his solo career and best-known achievements, weekly variety shows for Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher.
Mackie’s career exploded working with Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher in the late 1960s and 1970s. He created everything from glittery, feathery and over-the-top medleys for Cher’s musical numbers to the infamous “curtain dress” (now in the Smithsonian) for Burnett’s parody sketch “Gone With the Wind.” For Burnett’s variety show alone, he designed 60-70 costumes every week for 11 years, totaling 17,000 outfits – an amazing feat of imagination and stamina.
His weekly television work has expanded to include other media and performers. Mackie’s work has been nominated for more than 30 Emmys (winning nine), three Oscars and won a Tony. In 2019, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He continues to work today.
“The Art of Bob Mackie” is a chronological journey of Mackie’s career loosely divided into sections for each type of performance for which he designed: film, television, stage, music. The book claims to be “the first ever comprehensive and authorized display of the legendary designer’s life and work, featuring more than 1,560 photographs and sketches – many from Mackie’s personal collection.”
It’s big, though not too thick, and every inch is packed with drawings and photos (often of the same costume, showing its development) in an eye-catching layout. Both types of illustrations, large and small, are tucked around the text or arranged in larger spreads. While Mackie’s better-known works – such as his creations for TV variety shows and for pop icons Cher, Diana Ross and Elton John – get more space in the book, there is good coverage of interesting (and sometimes surprising) work throughout his career. .
There is a lot to see in this book; the writers don’t skimp on Mackie’s visual contributions. This is a great title for anyone interested in costume design or fashion illustration as it provides a window into the designer’s process and artistic skills.
For example, it’s easy to follow the progression of Mackie’s collaboration with Cher and its subsequent influence on her career as she transitioned from ’70s-influenced streetwear to his beaded, feathered and sometimes shocking outfits.
Unfortunately, the quality of the short text does not match the quality of the illustrations. The written content is littered with old, cheesy, overly chatty pages and descriptors that sound like something out of a mid-century Hollywood gossip magazine. Read it for the factual basics and ignore the rest. That’s OK: This book is ultimately all about amazing art. Dive in deep or come back to it for smaller chunks – it works both ways.
Whatever you think of his work, “The Art of Bob Mackie” offers a glimpse into the career of one of America’s most influential costume designers. More information on this topic and much more can be found in the library, where there is something for everyone. Happy reading!