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From the Mackie collection

Works by the designer known for glitter and glitz and Cher's flamboyant Oscar garb are going on the auction block at Christie's.

November 01, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Bob Mackie is cleaning out his closets. One hundred and fifty pieces from the Sultan of Sequins' private archives will be auctioned at Christie's New York on Nov. 22, including costumes from "The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," red-carpet gowns, sketches, and flowered and feathered headdresses. Selected items are being previewed at the Beverly Hills Christie's location today through Friday.

"I've kept so many things," the designer said by phone Monday. "And I thought, 'You should really do something with these before you die and see them at Halloween parties.' "

Known for glitter and glitz, Mackie has been in the business for 40 years, creating costumes for TV, film and theater, and garnering nine Emmy Awards along the way. He was responsible for all of Burnett's memorable TV entrances, including her turn as Shirley Temple in a white organdy baby doll dress, expected to fetch between $3,000 and $4,000 in the auction.

Also on the auction block is the Queen Elizabeth I costume that Whoopi Goldberg wore to open the 1999 Academy Awards, valued between $3,000 and $5,000. "It was one of those wonderful sight gags," Mackie said. "I wasn't even working on the awards, but they asked me to do that one costume. And it's like a cage. A small family could live in that costume. Whoopi had her evening gown on underneath it. Even the headdress was like a cage so her hair could be up inside it."

Costume sketches for "The Judy Garland Show" are for sale, along with a group of Mackie's concert tour sketches for Elton John, including a 1975 sketch of the performer's famous "Donald Duck" stage costume ($400-$500).

"We fit the costume on him, but he never sat down on a piano bench," Mackie said. "So it was really a very memorable concert moment. He walked out on stage and he can't sit down because he's got this whole tail sticking out and flippers made to look like duck feet. And he just got hysterically laughing." (A portion of the proceeds from "Mackie: Costume and Couture From the Private Archives of Bob Mackie" will benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.)

The sale also highlights Mackie's fashion collections, with a 1990 aubergine backless, bias-cut, bugle-beaded evening gown ($1,800-$2,200), a matching Native American-inspired turkey feather "war bonnet" ($1,200-$1,800) and a 1992 fuchsia silk taffeta pouf coat that envelops the body like a gigantic blossom ($1,200-$1,500).

Mackie grew up in Southern California in the 1940s. After attending design school at Chouinard Art Institute, he began his career assisting Jean Louis, Edith Head and other Hollywood costume designers. By the 1960s, his work was appearing on TV's top variety specials, and in 1967 he was hired to design all the costumes for "The Carol Burnett Show." He had an 11-year run creating characters such as Eunice in her flouncy floral dress and Starlett O'Hara in her green velvet curtain-rod gown.

Mackie met Cher when she made a guest appearance on Burnett's show. Soon, the lanky singer asked the designer to create costumes for "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," and he spent several years working simultaneously on both shows. Mackie's clothes for Cher were both famous and infamous.

Who can forget her exposed navel and spider web headdress at the 1985 Oscars, back when the red carpet was fun to watch because it showcased both bad and good taste?

"Now, it's all about borrowing a dress," he said. "It's not the same as working with a celebrity to develop a look. And the ones who have the most get the most free stuff! There's something kind of classless about appearing as a mysterious star and telling people how you borrowed your dress and your jewelry and who did your hair. I loved the days when Lana Turner would appear as this magical creature and you had no idea how it all came together."

The designer points out that much of what he did for Cher in the 1970s and '80s has now become everyday garb. "As a costume designer, if I were to do a show today about hookers, I wouldn't know how, because all the matrons are dressing like hookers," he said. "I was at the Grove the other day, and I looked in a couple of windows and wondered: Who shops here? Sometimes I feel like an old fogy, but I've had enough butt crack to last me a lifetime."

Mackie launched his first ready-to-wear collection in 1982. Through the 1980s and '90s, his business grew to include fragrance, made-to-order gowns, collectible Barbie dolls, home accessories, and clothing and jewelry lines for QVC.

He travels often to West Chester, Pa., QVC central, to "pay the rent," he said. "We have a daily special value. Today it's a little washable suede and knit jacket, and we have 33,000 to sell."

"Our things go from extra small to 3X, and that's quite a range. You can't find that kind of range in any store," he said. "I've walked into Saks Fifth Avenue and seen saleswomen wearing my blouses from QVC. And they have Saks discounts!"

In May, Mackie received an honorary doctorate from the Otis College of Art & Design in L.A. He's been teaching at the school on and off for the past 22 years.

He's also writing a new book and recently completed work on the upcoming TV revival of the Broadway hit "Once Upon a Mattress" with his old friend Burnett. In the musical, which airs Dec. 18 on ABC, she plays the evil Queen Agravain. Mackie's inspiration? "Somewhere between Joan Collins and a major drag queen," he said.

We'd expect nothing less.

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