Bob Mackie’s Fifty Years of Excellence

After recent celebrations for his 80th birthday, we take a look back at Bob Mackie’s sparkling career adorned with flamboyance, sequins and Cher.

The Big Break

Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress, 1972

Bob Mackie was born on 24th March 1940 in Southern California and studied costume design at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In the early 1960s, Mackie dropped out of education before graduating in order to start his career as a costume designer in Hollywood, sketching for designers such as Jean Louis and Edith Head. He received recognition while working on musical television series The Judy Garland Show in 1963 with Ray Aghayan, whom Mackie developed a strong personal and professional bond with until Aghayan’s death in 2011.

Mitzi Gaynor, Diana Ross and Tina Turner in Bob Mackie

He designed costumes for singer and dancer Mitzi Gaynor, specifically for her iconic nightclub performances and by 1967, Mackie received the job to design all the costumes for the comedy series The Carol Burnett Show until the show ended in 1978.

Meeting Cher

Left: The Sonny and Cher Show. Right: Costumes by Mackie created for The Cher Show musical, 2018

“Oh, no, what I am going to do with that girl?” was the first thought that came to Mackie’s mind when he saw Cher on the set of The Carol Burnett Show where she was guest starring with Sonny in 1967. Before he knew it, the designer was working with the music icon on the Sonny and Cher Show just two years later. He designed 20 costumes for each show with every costume having designated screen-times ranging between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

Mackie and Cher are now synonymous to one another and have worked closely for five decades. Some of the most memorable looks are Cher’s naked feather dress that she wore to the Met Gala in 1974 ended up as the cover of the Time magazine in March 1975 and the ebony feather wig and sequinned dress from the 60th Oscars in 1986, still appearing to this day in best red carpet fashion lists.

“There were a lot of people who said, ‘that’s not fashion!’ And I said, ‘of course it’s not fashion. It’s a crazy getup for attention.’ And it did get attention-people talk about it still.” – Bob Mackie

Mackie and Cher at the MET Gala 1985 where the theme was “Costumes of Royal India” (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Last December, Cher produced and performed in a biographical Broadway musical entitled The Cher Show. As Bob Mackie has been a significant figure in Cher’s career, he was both a character onstage and a costume designer behind the curtain, designing over six hundred costumes and headpieces for the show.

“Anything I put on her, she went, ‘Oh, that’s fun. It never occurred to her to wear anything ordinary.”

Costumes for the Stars

Elton John wears a Devil and Angel inspired costume; pictured in 1986; wearing a Donald Duck costume in 1980

On being asked how the designing and producing of certain costumes work with the celebrities, Mackie emphasized on the importance of sketching. Specifically with Elton John, Mackie would sketch several designs and the Rocketman would be spoilt for choice, wanting all of them made in 48 hours.

The designer’s sketches

Carol Burnett and Cher used to shoot in the same building, making Mackie’s life easier. He could be more present and work on costumes for both the shows simultaneously. The two stars would borrow outfits from each other and would often share their wardrobe spectacles with none other than Diana Ross.

Experimenting with Ready to Wear

Vintage Bob Mackie clothing sold on

Others working in the fashion industry frequently told Mackie that his costumes were only intended for performance value; no one would want to buy them. This made Mackie move to New York in the 1980s where he launched his own ready-to-wear collection called Bob Mackie Originals. According to Mackie, it did not receive a good response as people demanded his usual glamour of glitter, beads and pearls which simply could not be produced commercially. As a result, he shut down the clothing company and returned to his couture core.

Recreating an Icon

Kim Kardashian is one of many stars who has recreated Cher’s famous looks

Harpers Bazaar asked Mackie what he thinks about Hollywood recreating Cher’s looks at Met Gala. He said that nobody really cared about those kinds of dresses back in the 70s but nowadays, largely because of the internet, everyone knows what happened half a century ago. Cher now often receives calls from celebrities saying that her outfit inspired them. But the designer has no qualms about current celebrities recreating his costumes. As we know in our hearts, anyone can imitate a look, but no one can mirror the magical bond of Cher and Mackie.


Let us know what your favourite Bob Mackie costume is in the comments below.


Text: Pinanki Shah
Images: Harpers Bazaar, Dailymail, Getty Images, Billboard


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