If you could turn back time, you'd find designer Bob Mackie behind Cher's biggest fashion moments. Since the two met in 1967, they've collaborated on dozens of sartorial splashes. So when it came time to find a costumer for The Cher Show, a jukebox musical about the icon's famous life, there was only one man for the job—a man so synonymous with Cher, he's even a character in the show. Click through for an exclusive look at Mackie's designs for the new musical.
The musical features three women as Cher at various stages and ages in her career — Babe (newcomer Micaela Diamond), Lady (Teal Wicks), and Star (Stephanie J. Block). In the megasize closing number, the trio share the stage in signature styles of their era (like Babe's '70s bell-bottoms and fur vest). But while the designs hearken back to well-known outfits, there's one change: They all have more. More sparkles, feathers, everything. It's how Mackie has updated countless Cher looks over the years: "More elaborate. More covered in diamonds. More glamorous. More peekaboo."
One of Cher's most memorable dresses reimagined in the musical is the gown she wore on a 1975 cover of Time magazine that has since been dubbed the "naked" dress. Block, who plays the most seasoned iteration of Cher, gets to sport the iconic look, which Mackie calls a personal favorite and in some regards the epitome of Cher's style. He gushes, "Often when you do things with an illusion look, you say, 'No, that's too much.' But it never seemed to be too much for her." In fact, nothing usually is. "She walks in like she's in her jeans. That's part of [her] charisma."
One of Mackie's challenges has been costuming three different actresses with slightly different builds to look like Cher. "Every actress doesn’t have the same body and the same figure as Cher, so you have to make sure the audience thinks they do," Mackie notes. The "naked" dress, was one of the biggest challenges simply because he wanted to ensure actress Stephanie J. Block was comfortable wearing it. "It's very see-through. It just covers up what you need to cover up," he explains. "It’s funny. They were nervous about showing too much or too little. But then when they get it on and look at themselves in the mirror and then they go onstage and very often [their] boyfriend or husband says, 'Oh my god, you look amazing.' Then they relax a bit. Actresses have never played anybody that glamorous or that outrageous."
Mackie says it's been surreal watching the development of himself as a character in the show. "It’s very, very strange," he says. "He dresses up a little more than I probably do. He wears blazers and turtle necks and a little bit of a flared pant because it is the '70s. He was only going to have one change and he has three or four now...Every now and then I hear something in the script, and I go, 'I said that.' [laughs] They did their research."
While Bob Mackie calls The Cher Show's
claim that it has "enough Bob Mackie gowns to cause a sequin shortage in New York City,"
a "cheap quote," he has lost count of how many looks he's designed for the show. "There’s a big number where she comes to my studio and then we do this huge number where all the dancers wear all these outrageous outfits that are based on things she’s worn in the past," he explains of the vast number of costumes in the show. "It keeps increasing. We threw a couple out, but we put in a dozen more. I can’t keep track. One day I’ll sit down and figure it out, but so far I haven’t had time to do that. They wear a lot of stuff. The way she dressed was really a big part of the entertainment value of what she did and does to this day."
Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
Mackie says he and Cher shared an instant connection when they first met in 1967. "We were both starting our careers, and she loved clothes. She loved to get dressed up. She still does," he says. It's what gives him such joy in continually re-designing looks for her, like this design inspired by Cher's original "Gypsy" look. It's Cher's ability to rock any look and her distinctive features that continues to fuel Mackie. "She had a thing about her," he says. "Nobody knew quite what to do with her. She’s like a 1930s movie star. She has this beautiful body. She can look like any ethnic group you want to mention. All you have to do is just put her in the clothes. At the time [we met], she was wearing her hair long and straight and before you know it, all of America was wearing their hair parted in the middle and hanging down long and straight."
How do you deliver what fans are craving and create a new wardrobe of art? Mackie's costuming approach is "reliving the past and doing things that are very iconic to her, and yet at the same time something new." (For instance, his take on Cher's 1984 Oscar dress adds a heavier gold sheen.) Mackie says it's all about the wow factor: "Her whole thing in life is, 'I don't want to look like a housewife with an evening gown on.' We've managed to avoid that. It's part of what fans expect. They don't like it when she doesn't dress up." Don't worry, fans. Mackie's got you, babe.
The Cher Show
is in previews now ahead of a Dec. 3 opening night. More information can be found at the show's website