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FASHION : Down-the-Aisle Style

June 30, 1989|GAILE ROBINSON

Bob Mackie wedding gowns. What a concept. The master of strategically placed sequins, turning his hand to veils of illusion. It was a must-see event, when Mackie's orange-blossom special roared through the bridal salon at Bullocks Wilshire.

The man has a talent for tapping into women's pre-adolescent, closet fantasies. He touches that moment, sometime between the first Barbie doll and the first car date, when visions of strapless, glitter gowns trimmed in marabou sear themselves onto a young girl's subconscious. No matter how many layers of enlightenment and years of sophistication later, a Mackie fashion show can open up the floodgates of unrequited preteen desire.

But anyone expecting to see long, slithery, sequined show-stoppers found racks of poufy, white satin cumulus clouds instead. Mackie has designed his bridal collection for the peal of wedding bells rather than the ba-boom of a backup band. Not a single gown exposes a midriff. Nary a one has a revealing neckline. No part of a body shows through, or shows off to excess. And brides will have to bring their own cleavage. Mackie did not build it into these gowns.

"It's funny how classic most women want to be," he said of his rather traditional dresses. "A lot of women have that sort of fairy-princess vision in their heads when they get married. They want to be what they thought of as a bride when they were a little girl."

It's as if he's been peeking into that forgotten trunk of dress-up fantasies. And no matter how far anybody thinks women have progressed, Mackie's got the inside story. He's seen his pristine confections put a hammerlock on the most stalwart of the sisterhood.

"They might be the hardest-edged career woman, but they melt when they start putting on these big white dresses," he said.

And the gowns are white. For variations on the virginal color scheme, he adds ivory and rum pink, a soft blush tone. And that is the extent of the colors to choose from.

They all have the Mackie touch. Mixed in with the other dresses from the Diamond Bridal collection, Mackie's licensee, his are easy to spot. They are more form-fitting, or their skirts are yards fuller.

For a hint of showgirl, some are embellished with bugle beads, rhinestones and, yes, even sequins. Others are steeped in literary references, ripped from the pages of fairy tales or lifted off the covers of romance novels. A pink satin gown with pearls and rhinestones at the neckline had a matching pink satin tiara. It was just the sort of dress a fairy godmother would create with a wave of her wand.

A dress with white fox fur trim around its portrait neckline had two dowagers arguing over its Russian roots.

"Anna Karenina," said one emphatically. "No, no," disputed her friend, "Lara, from 'Dr. Zhivago,' I'm sure of it." Their debate continued as they toddled off to the tearoom leaving a cloud of Youth Dew cologne in their wake.

Following their lead, Mackie too retired to the tearoom. Over a slab of coconut cream pie (there was no way to escape the white confections), he reminisced about weddings.

Before he ever entered the ready-to-wear business with the dress and suit line he introduced several years ago, his clients would come to him and ask that he do their wedding dresses.

"I used to turn them down," he confessed. "It's such a traumatic thing. A bridal gown had to be their dream dress, and it was hard to live up to their dreams."

He says he's getting used to the obligatory schmoozing that "civilian" customers expect. (He used to make costumes for stars only--Cher, Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters among others.) He's also found the bridal business to be completely different from either his ready-to-wear or costume divisions.

Admittedly, he said, "there is a certain sameness in every bridal collection. There's a tradition that one has to adhere to." But the showman came through when he said: "I try to give my gowns an extra zap."

Brides are different from any other sort of shopper. "The bridal customer buys all those magazines--Modern Bride, Southern Bride--there are all those different ones. And they go through them with a magnifying glass to find what they want," Mackie said shaking his head in disbelief.

"Nine times out of 10 they come in with the picture in their hand and that's the dress they'll buy."

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