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'Just the Frosting'

Bob Mackie's first collection in four years is all glamour. Isn't that what we want?

July 11, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

With a swish of chiffon, a glint of sequins and a clatter of bugle beads, Bob Mackie has returned with his first ready-to-wear collection in four years. "Mack the Knife" played as it was shown this spring to the fashion press in New York, but for the Emmy Award-winning costume designer's many fans, "Look out old Mackie is back" has only one very welcome meaning.

Show-stopping evening clothes have been Mackie's specialty in the 25 years he's been dressing a list of divas that includes Cher, Madonna, Diahann Carroll, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers and RuPaul. In his latest ready-to-wear venture, Mackie dispensed with business or casual clothes. "I only wanted to do evening and cocktail because that's what everyone wants from me anyway. It's like doing just the frosting and not bothering with the cake," he said in a telephone interview from his Studio City office.

Even the most elaborate gowns, now available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, aren't as expensive as Mackie's extravaganzas were in the glittering '80s. The new collection is priced from $700 to $3,000. "The dresses don't go up to $10- or $12,000 the way they used to, but they look like they do," Mackie said.

When not providing for women with demanding after-dark schedules, Mackie designs for films, television, the theater and Las Vegas productions. He's creating the costumes for Angela Lansbury's Hallmark Hall of Fame musical, "Mrs. Santa Claus." Working with performers has taught him the importance of comfort and modesty. "Most women are insecure about this and that and I try to keep that in mind," he said. "They like beautiful dresses that cover what they don't want to show off, and I believe you're going to have a much better time at the party if you're comfortable and don't feel totally exposed."

Poor management led to the bankruptcy of Mackie's last company, and he used his forced freedom to concentrate on entertainment industry work, a number of successful licenses and appearances on QVC. Why venture back to the stores? "I think it was the right time," he said. "Everyone's tired of looking at deadly plain clothes that are really quite boring. Fashion's all about being able to change, or we'd all be wearing Mao jackets and looking like we're in uniform, and we almost got there. There was an anti-pretty moment in time, but women are saying it's OK to wear something opulent again. So many people said, 'Please come back.' When I hear that, my ego can't stand it."

*

What to Wear to an Alien Barbecue: Judging by the characters busy saving the world on the nation's movie screens over the long holiday weekend, a tightly ribbed white tank top is the correct wardrobe item for meeting environmental or intergalactic crises. In "Twister," tornado-chaser Helen Hunt wore hers under a tan coverall, peeling off the jumpsuit's top and knotting the sleeves at her waist the way skiers do when they come in from the cold. Both Jeff Goldblum and his "Independence Day" ex-wife, Margaret Colin, layered tanks under cozy plaid shirts, a very J. Crew way to face the apocalypse.

* Sense of Style appears on Thursdays in Life & Style.

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