Beth Snow: Designer’s Fantastic Fashion Featured in New Book | Lifestyles

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 something to turn around the fatigue before spring appears on the horizon.

Today’s book meets that criteria for me, being a fun diversion from the post-holiday “blah”.

“The Art of Bob Mackie” per Frank Owner and Laura Ross absolutely brings brilliance to the realm of coffee table books. Its dark blue front cover is framed by shimmering turquoise flames and sprinkled with tiny silver bubbles. The title and authors are printed front and center in a shiny silver Art Deco font.

The effect is reminiscent of many of Mackie’s creations — cutouts crowned with billowing strips of opulent fabric suspended in a crystal-studded illusion. Just looking at the gorgeous cover brings a bit of the fantastical to my day.

Known to some today as the clothing retailer on QVC, Mackie is a veteran costume and fashion designer with a career spanning six decades. He made his mark on television designing for film, Broadway, pop stars and Las Vegas shows. His signature style combines boldness, humor and glamor for a look that ranges from campy to flamboyant.

Originally from Southern California, Mackie briefly attended college and then art school before going to work in Hollywood. He started his career in 1961 as a freelance sketch artist at the Paramount studio under the guidance of the famous costume designer Edith Head.

The following year he moved to 20th Century Fox, sketching for his client, Jean Louis. While there, Mackie created sketches for the designer dress worn by Marilyn Monroe at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday party (the same dress worn by Kim Kardashian at 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 TV work grew into a full partnership with Aghayan focusing on variety shows and musicals and preparing Mackie for his solo career and best known successes, weekly variety shows for Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher.

Mackie’s career exploded while working with Carol Burnett and Sonny & Cher in the late 1960s and 1970s. He created everything from sequins, feathers, ornate contraptions for Cher’s musical numbers to the infamous “garnish dress” (now in the Smithsonian) for Burnett’s Gone With the Wind parody sketch. For Burnett’s variety shows alone, he designed 60-70 costumes each week for 11 years, totaling approximately 17,000 outfits — an incredible feat of imagination and endurance.

His weekly television work has expanded to 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. It 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 he designed: film, TV, stage, music. The book claims to be “the first comprehensive and authorized account of the life and work of the legendary designer, containing more than 1,560 photographs and sketches – many from Mackie’s personal collection.”

It’s large, though not overly thick, and every inch is packed with drawings and photos (often of the same costume, showing his evolution) in an eye-catching layout. Both types of illustrations, large and small, are tucked around the text or spread out in larger spaces. 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 much to see in this book; the authors do not skimp on Mackie’s visual contribution. It’s a great title for anyone interested in costume design or fashion illustration as it provides a window into the designer’s process and artistry.

For example, it’s easy to follow the course of Mackie’s collaboration with Cher and its subsequent effect 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 rife with dated, cheesy, overly chatty additions and descriptors that sound like they came from a mid-century Hollywood gossip magazine. Read it for the factual basis and ignore the rest. That’s okay: this book is ultimately all about amazing art. Dive deeper or come back to it for smaller parts – it works either way.

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 and many other topics can be found in the library, where there is something for everyone. Happy reading!

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