Celebrity designer Bob Mackie explains how he ‘designed’ his career

The legendary clothing designer on how he got his start in the business as well as the enduring popularity of his work. Photo: Bob Mackie has designed dresses for everyone from Diana Ross to Cher

FLORIDA, February 17, 2013 — Let’s face it: the world can be a boring, or even depressing, place.

Fortunately, great artists have tried to find ways around this throughout the ages. Some wrote books that transported the minds of readers to faraway lands brimming with daring knights and noble princes. Others made films that showed audiences no small amount of the glamour and intrigue that life can offer.

Yet others, however, did something totally different. Rather than focus on the entertainment media, they decided to do everything short of bringing fantasy worlds to life.

Bob Mackie is one of our time’s most famous clothing designers. For the last several decades, his works have been worn by too many celebrities to mention here. They have also been featured in television movies and series alike. What sets Mackie’s designs apart from standard Hollywood fare, though, is their imaginative quality and sweeping grandeur.

In this first part of our discussion, Mackie tells us about how he was inspired to become a designer, his first major break in the fashion industry, and what he thinks the distinctive quality of his work is that people find to be appealing. 

Joseph F. Cotto: You have been a noted fashion designer for decades on end. What inspired you to pursue such a demanding career?

Bob Mackie: Well, the thing is, I really started out as, and I still am, a functioning costume designer. I really never think of myself as a fashion designer; I think of me more as a costume designer who does fashion now and then. You know what I mean?

Cotto: Oh, I think I do. So, if you consider yourself to be a costume designer, then, what would you say is the most interesting aspect of designing costumes?

Mackie: Well, the most interesting part really is being part of the overall entertainment value and progressing if there is a storyline, progressing it in helping the actors become that character or become that person or, if it’s one of those star endeavors, you have to enhance them as a personality.

Maybe they’re famous already, and so you just kind of make them look even better than the people expect them to look. Does that make any sense?

Cotto: It does. What was it that inspired you to pursue the career of designing costumes or fashion?

Mackie: I was a little kid who loved to go to movies; to go see movie musicals and all of that. It never occurred to me that I would be a costume designer. I just loved going and I would come home and draw these pictures and make my own little stage sets and little people and make it like a story. I turned on the music on my little record player and there it was. Then, I would look at it and say, “Oh, now I’ll go do another one”.

I still do that very same kind of thing, except it’s on a big scale in real life.  

Cotto: What was your first major break in the fashion industry?

Mackie: I think probably when I started becoming sort of notorious for designing evening clothes and gowns; things for celebrities. I started getting calls about “Would you be interested in selling to George Abbott or going to business?” Eventually, I just did it because I thought it might be fun. It wasn’t so much fun, but I did it anyway, and I still do fashion in a funny way for QVC, because those are real people and you’re making thousands of one thing, and not just one per customer. 

Cotto: Your clothing designs have a distinctive quality that people find to be very appealing. In your opinion, what is this?

Mackie: Hopefully, they’re clothes that make them look better and feel better about themselves. Fashion has become a very casual kind of thing. Take everyday fashion; we’re living in a sort of jeans and T-shirt generation.

So, we try to stay within those limits with jackets and accessories and things that can kind of liven up all those basics that are certainly comfortable and easy to work in and live in, but not always.   

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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