Designer Bob Mackie on Dressing Cher, Shopping Smarter, and Enhancing Your Personal Style


 (Courtesy of Bob Mackie.)

Bob Mackie knows how to make any Hollywood star shine a bit brighter.

The 73-year-old designer, who first began sketching costumes in the early ‘60s, has had a decades-long career working with some of the top leading ladies in show business, including Barbra, Madonna, Liza, and even Barbie. His flashy costumes have led some to call him the “sultan of sequins” and “rajah of rhinestones.” Mackie has garnered 31 Emmy Award nominations, including nine wins, several Oscar nominations, and is the only costume designer to be inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Now, Mackie is reuniting with longtime collaborator and friend Cher to design the costumes for her upcoming farewell concert tour.

Mackie chatted with FOX News Magazine about his design process, revamping your wardrobe for fall, and what he really thinks about one his best-known costumes.

FNM: A lot of people have been talking about Cher’s return to touring.

BM: Yes, that’s actually crazy. I’ve been working with her for so many years, but truthfully I won’t have any answers [about the upcoming designs] because I’m still not sure what they’re doing. I probably won’t know until the beginning of the year. I guess she’s supposed to open in March, so she won’t make up her mind until it’s really late, like always. *laughs*

FNM: When it comes to designing, does she give you a vision or is there a collaborative process?

BM: She and her director usually come up with a product. Sometimes they’ll take a song that has no time or period and then stick it in a different time span. That could be medieval, ancient Greece, or any one of those things. And I just run with that look, whatever it may be. It’s interesting because it’s always about designing Cher as a different kind of goddess, whether it’s a biker chick goddess, an ancient Greek goddess, or an Egyptian lady. That’s what makes it fun.

FNM: Why does Cher continue to be such a major inspiration for you, not only as a designer, but as a friend?

BM: The thing is that most people are normal. Even if they’re performers, yes they dress up, but once the show is over, they’re dressed like themselves. With Cher, it’s always a fantasy trip of some sort. The audiences love it and they expect it from her. Of course, she’s also known for wearing very little or see-through things. We’re still doing that sometimes, too.

FNM: The fall season is almost here. How can women transition their style for autumn?

BM: It doesn’t happen overnight, like all of a sudden it's fall and you don’t want to wear your little summer things anymore. It all depends on your lifestyle. A lot of women might buy too much stuff and they don’t have a lifestyle that uses those pieces. I always say buy better and buy less. It really all comes down to your lifestyle. Save your money and don’t pretend you have a lifestyle that you don’t.

FNM: What are some of those pieces every woman should have in her closet?

BM: I always think a good-fitting blazer or jacket always works well for fall and even spring or summer. Something that’s lightweight and looks good over a beautiful print dress, like a crisp white blazer or jacket in cotton or linen. In the winter time, a good black coat can take you everywhere. If you wear pants, make sure that they’re well-fitted and not some other person’s size, if you know what I mean. Size is only a number. It doesn’t make any sense to be wearing it just because it’s the size you want to be or maybe you were once. All it will do is make you look heavier. Size shouldn’t define you. Also, decent-looking shoes can make your whole outfit. You can have a lovely, inexpensive dress from H&M and if your shoes look good, the whole outfit comes together. Have a couple of good handbags. There’s no need to own a lot of cheap handbags that you’ll only use once. And good little under things to wear under your jackets, like a beautiful blouse or sweater. Just a few that you can turn into a great outfit whenever you need it to go anywhere.

FNM: What about for women who like to play it safe by wearing black all the time? How can they have more fun with fashion?

BM: There's a lot of color and prints now to explore. It’s changed within the last couple of years. It used to be that color was very rare. It was very boring. Now there are colors. You should have your basics, like black pants. If you think your rear end looks too big in bright colors, stick with black. And even in the summertime, there are a lot of black and white prints you can wear. I know a lot of women don’t want to give up their black pants, even in the summertime. But black leggings in the summer are just terrifying on the wrong woman. Most women need to look at themselves in a two-way mirror and see the back side. Then they’ll decide if they really want to go out in those hot pink leggings.

FNM: No hot pink leggings then?

BM: Hot pink leggings are fine if you’re a long tall stick. Everyone can’t wear everything. When trends come in, women should first consider whether it’s really for them. You may be desperate to wear it, but know that you may not look good in it. When you go shopping, take a look in the mirror before you buy it. That’s what they’re there for. But I know a lot of women talk themselves into it. They’ll look at the mirror, squint, and hope they’re seeing what they want to see.

And also, it’s important to remember that sizes have changed, so you can still look great in a beautiful color or print as long as it’s the right size. When I was a little boy, a size 12 was like a size 6 now. It doesn’t make any sense, but sizes are going lower so women can feel like they’re not wearing a huge size, hence the size 0 and double 0, which is ridiculous.

FNM: Could you talk about the importance of dressing with confidence?

BM: Dressing appropriately is what’s going to give you the most confidence. If you overdress and you’re in the wrong place then you won’t have any confidence. If you under-dress in a place where you should be a little more formal, you also won’t feel right. Again, think about your lifestyle. Focus on your basics. Now it’s time to get all your fall things out of the closet and really look at them. If it looks worn out, then those are the things you should be looking for when shopping to get the most use out of them. And don’t wait until the last minute to buy what you need. Now’s a good time because it’s still early and you’ll find more sizes available on the racks to ensure you’re getting the best fit for you.

FNM: Where does your inspiration come from?

BM: My inspiration comes from my work. If I’m designing a costume for a specific character in a play, I’ll read the script, study the woman, and try to understand what she’s trying to say in that particular scene. And that even applies with the personalities I work with. You don’t just design anything and hope the person will model it effortlessly. Since clothes nowadays are much more casual, some women assume it’s OK to wear anything and they do. But they look horrible. They don’t look polished or put together. They can’t possibly feel good about themselves. Think about your lifestyle and the message you want to convey.

FNM: Have you ever had any hesitation about a design, only to have it turn out great?

BM: There were certain pieces that I was talked into doing. Even now, I’ll go, ‘Oh my God, why did I say OK to that?’ But when it comes to design, it’s all about your client. You try to please them, but also try to protect them and enhance their look. The one particular piece we always laugh about is Cher when she was on the big battleship for the song ‘Turn Back Time.’ She’s out with all these sailors in this sheer biker outfit with a big strip up the crotch. It was so vulgar that I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had anything to do with it. I remember shaking my head and going, ‘Oh, no.’ Cher wanted to wear it, but oh, it was too much! And then she had her 12-year-old son playing bass in the band, which made it even worse than all those sailors around her. She actually put on her biker jacket because she felt so naked. But it became a popular video, to say the least.

FNM: It all goes back to confidence.

BM: She has more confidence than anybody, but on that day, she kind of lost it on that one. She wasn’t used to be around that many sailors all screaming and hollering for her.

FNM: Out of all the people you’ve had the opportunity to work with, who has been your favorite to dress?

BM: You know, each one has their own personality and style. But probably my most favorite was Carol Burnett because she played so many crazy, funny characters, women who had horrible taste or were just a mess. That was a lot of fun. But then on the other hand, she always wore something really nice to greet her audience and that was fun, too. I think I enjoyed that the most because I love doing clothes that would get a laugh. Sometimes you get a laugh when you shouldn’t, but that’s another story.

FNM: And who would say was the most surprising to work with?

BM: There are a few I won’t even mention that I hoped to never have to work with again, but usually those didn’t last very long because I couldn’t deal with that. *laughs* Everyone has their quirks on what they like or don’t like. Sometimes I’ll get someone who’s like ‘I cannot wear this color.’ And you know they would look amazing in it if they would just wear it. But for whatever reason, like an incident in high school where they were told to never wear it, it just stayed cemented in their brain.

FNM: Let’s talk about your love for rhinestones and sequins. How can women add these elements to their daytime wardrobe?

BM: *laughs* Well, I’ll tell you. It’s all over daytime wear now and every child is now covered head to toe in sequins. Little girls love glitter, right? Women still wear a lot of glitter in the daytime and I don’t like it. Save it for after 5 p.m. when you’re going out for a cocktail or dinner. Make it for something special. It’s become so normal that it’s no longer just for evenings and I miss that. There are plenty of choices for daytime wear. You don’t have to get all done up like you’re going to climb the trapeze and do a trick just for the day.

FNM: Is there anything you won’t do when it comes to design?

BM: I’ve never thought about that before. *laughs* I’m not really big on designing pieces that look so vulgar. And I know people will laugh at this because I’ve done so many crazy and overly sexy things. But it’s for show. There’s always a reason behind it. When it comes to real clothes, I don’t approve of that at all.