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NUNN ON ONE Legendary designer Bob Mackie talks sequins, coming out
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The legendary designer Bob Mackie has created garments for a huge list of spectacular entertainers, including Judy Garland, Madonna, Bette Midler and Elton John.

He was the costume designer for The Carol Burnett Show during the entire 11-year television run, and he then moved to the spinoff Mama's Family.

Mackie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design in the movie Lady Sings the Blues ( starring Diana Ross ) and was later nominated two more times. He has won nine Emmys over the years.

From Bart Simpson to Barbie dolls, all the big names have had their time with the sultan of sequins.

Recently, Mackie was honored with a Designer of Excellence Award from the Chicago Costume Council at the Chicago History Museum. He sat down to talk a bit about his career.

Windy City Times: Hi, Bob. You are known for sequins. Was it all hand stitching in the early days?

Bob Mackie: Oh, yeah. It was all hand-done. Over the years there have been fabrics beautifully done with sequins put on by a machine; those didn't exist when I started in the business. Norman Norell used to make clothes where each sequin was double stitched on the garment one at a time. It was a true mermaid and just magical. They do make a machine-made fabric now that is pretty close to it but not quite as good.

WCT: With stars like Cher, Carol Burnett or Joan Rivers, did you go over to their houses to work with them?

BM: They came to my office. They did eventually come to my house as friends. When you work with them that many years you are bound to eat dinner with them once in a while.

WCT: Did you keep any of their clothing?

BM: Yes; actually, I have quite a few things of different people—not everybody. In fact, I heard that Melissa Rivers has some things of Joan's and wanted to see if I would like to keep them. I did a lot of Joan's clothes when she was working in Vegas. It became the thing. She dressed way up in those days for Vegas.

WCT: What advice do you give to new designers?

BM: I tell them to go work for someone that they admire. They can learn from them and watch them. Sometimes, they might think they are making a mistake but I tell them to just watch them and see if they do or not.

WCT: Did you have a lot of apprentices over the years?

BM: Not so many. I worked for people in the beginning that I watched. I didn't have a lot of apprentices. I didn't have time. Apprentices you have to give a little attention. In those days when I was doing two and three variety shows a week I didn't have time for anybody that didn't know what they were doing. I know that sounds selfish but that is just the way it was.

WCT: Carol Burnett said it was a grueling schedule.

BM: It was. Carol is so smart and had minimal rehearsal time. She would play the songs in her car on her tape recorder on the way to work at the studio. She would know the words by the time she got there and would know the arrangements. She was one of those people. She would learn her lines the first time she read it.

I have seen her with other performers pretend to have trouble with Sondheim songs, which are so hard to sing, and she would learn them immediately. She is really smart but didn't want people to be uncomfortable and would pretend to have trouble.

WCT: Are you still be commissioned by RuPaul to design outfits?

BM: I haven't done anything for RuPaul in years. RuPual grew up idolizing Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Cher. Those are all my girls! When he had a chance to come to me and do something he had a good time.

WCT: You judged RuPaul's Drag Race before, didn't you?

BM: Yes—a couple of times.

WCT: How was the coming-out process for you?

BM: In those days one didn't know anything. Kids know everything now. They have computers. You spent your whole youth trying to please everybody, trying to be what everyone wanted you to be.

I enjoyed my time in high school but there was always that little thing. I was married. I had a son. I have great grandchildren now, so those are the good parts. It is tough but it doesn't need to be that way anymore. It really doesn't. People are smarter and know more of what is going on.

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