Bob Mackie on the rewards of being a fashion designer

The legendary clothing designer explains the greatest challenge of his career and more. Photo: The famous Curtain Dress from "Went With the Wind" Smithsonian

FLORIDA, February 18, 2013 — As I mentioned yesterday, Bob Mackie is one of our most famous clothing designers.

For the last several decades, his work has been worn by too many celebrities to even mention here. His clothing designs have also been featured in television movies and series alike. What sets Mackie’s designs apart from the standard Hollywood fare, though, is their imaginative quality and sweeping grandeur.

In the first part of our discussion, Mackie explained how he was inspired to become a designer, his first major break in the fashion industry, and what he thought was the distinctive quality of his work that people find appealing.

Bob Mackie

Now, he tells us about the greatest challenge of his career, what the best reward of his career has been, and whether or not he sees a trend toward more formal fashion norms in the future. 

Joseph F. Cotto: What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

Bob Mackie: I don’t know; I think that everyday is a challenge. When I come into work, if I’m designing a new print or embroidery or if I’m designing an entire show, the thing is, it’s all just a challenge. Somebody said, “You treat it like the daily crossword puzzle. You have to solve the problem.”

I try very hard to do it that way but also to inspire and make it more fun and, to me, I’m doing just what I did always as a kid, and I just kind of worked right into adulthood and kept doing it forever. 

Cotto: From your standpoint, what is the best reward of being a designer?

Mackie: I don’t know. I think, again, the best reward for me is solving the problems and doing it well, and having it absolutely work. Of course if you’re a fashion designer, you want it to sell. You want to make money on it. That’s the whole point. I don’t approach it that way particularly; I never have, but there’s a certain sense of satisfaction when something really works beautifully and people like it.

You know, your customer likes it, but again, that could be a producer or a star or it could just be the lady next door who ordered it off of television. If they’re happy and we sell lots of something and we don’t get a lot of returns, of course that’s a good thing. 

Cotto: Over the last several years, fashion norms have become far more casual than in the past.  Do you see a trend toward formalization in the future or casualization?

Mackie: You know, you just go on an airplane and see what people wear or just what they come to work in sometimes. Lately, I’ve noticed that the young men in fashion have started wearing suits and ties and they feel just so dressed up and fabulous. Then I think, “Hey, we used to do that everyday.” I like it; I think clothes can be so boring, and very often they are. I try very hard to, within today’s fashion, make them less boring and more fun to wear and beautiful colors and maybe an embellishment here or there that makes it really exciting.  

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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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