Bob Mackie is having a moment. At the CFDA Fashion Awards on June 3, the legendary costume designer will receive a lifetime achievement award. Four days later, he will appear at the 73rd Tony Awards as the frontrunner in the best costume design of a musical race for his masterly work creating a stage wardrobe incorporating more than 500 costumes for The Cher Show on Broadway.
Meanwhile, a Cher signature — namely, a seductive Mackie nude-illusion gown — is a standout piece at the Metropolitan Museum’s buzzy exhibition Camp: Notes On Fashion.
And after last week’s Cannes Film Festival premiere of Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, one of the film’s most talked about components was costume designer Julian Day’s riff on the outrageous “New Age Liberace” meets “male showgirl” stage clothes Mackie conceived for Elton John’s 1970s stadium concerts. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele revived Mackie’s Elton period in a 2018 tribute collection he conceived, and Michael Halpern (the London-based designer who has made expensive sequins relevant to millennials) describes Mackie’s handiwork as “mind-blowing” and inspirational.
So, news that the documentarian Matthew Miele is at work on the first non-fiction tribute film examining Mackie’s life and work is both welcome and overdue.
”Mathew Miele (the director) has done some work I admire, the Bergdorf Goodman documentary and the Harry Benson film which I really enjoyed. I like his aesthetic,” Mackie told The Hollywood Reporter, when asked why he chose to work with Miele on the project.
Slated for a December 2020 release, the as-yet-untitled doc, which is being produced by Anne Chertoff, will examine the Burbank-based designer’s 50-year career, commencing from his start in 1961 at Paramount Pictures working as a sketch artist for Edith Head before moving on to assist Columbia’s costume designer Jean Louis. For Louis, Mackie innovated the nude-illusion sartorial concept by creating an illustration that proved to be the blueprint of the form-fitting, rhinestone-studded sheer gown in which Marilyn Monroe generated a sensation performing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.
Though Miele is not revealing all now during his preproduction phase, he will surely have Mackie ‘fess up about his fateful meeting in 1986 with Cher at her then-boyfriend Tom Cruise’s East 13th Street loft apartment in New York, where together they conceived the outrageous jet-beaded ensemble — complete with a towering two-foot headdress incorporating 800 black dyed rooster plumes — in which the singer-actress brought down the house presenting the best supporting actor prize to a bewildered Don Ameche at the 58th Academy Awards in 1986.
“Bob Mackie is an American original, and to be given a chance to showcase how he accomplished his life’s work and made each design worthy of amplified spectacle is something that will leave audiences inspired,” said Miele in a statement. “Like his costumes, Bob is wholly unique and unfiltered, which makes for a compelling and candid subject.”
Since Miele made a splash with his 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s — which chronicled business at Manhattan’s upscale department store Bergdorf Goodman — he has made four films in five years, including Crazy About Tiffany’s and Always at the Carlyle about Tiffany & Co. and the Carlyle Hotel, respectively. His industriousness makes him a good match for Mackie, who is surely the hardest working designer in show business. Miele will interview the women whom “Mr. Hollywood” not only made beautiful but enhanced their humor, including Carol Burnett and Cher — with whom he worked for over a decade from the late 1960s as the costumer for their hit variety TV shows — plus icons from the “world of fashion, music, theater, film, television and comedy,” added the filmmaker.
Miele promises to dig deep. Though Mackie is one of Hollywood’s sunniest personalities, he has weathered storms from the collapse of Bob Mackie Originals, his ready-to-wear fashion line (which was a hot ticket during New York Fashion Week in the 1980s) to the 2011 passing of his longtime partner, Ray Aghayan.
“We will examine Bob’s unique upbringing, those whom he has held dear within his inner circle, and the familial surprises in his life that have all contributed to the optimism and audacity present in his work,” explained Miele.
The designer’s painstaking manual craftsmanship is one of the film’s principal themes. “Because this film is fully authorized, we are being given access to the full Bob Mackie archive which has been meticulously kept and curated with many rare and unseen artifacts, including the outfits that didn’t make the cut,” continued Miele. “We are also capturing the over-the-top costumes as they get sequined and beaded from sketch to stage. Specific highlights include some of the soon-to-be lost art methods by old world artisans that help to make each outfit Mackie conjures something to behold and remember.”