ADAM SELMAN & BOB MACKIE

ADAM SELMAN & BOB MACKIE

FADE IN:

INT. ROUND TABLE RESTAURANT, THE ALGONQUIN HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY — MORNING

The main lobby of The Algonquin Hotel, on West 44th Street, buzzes with activity. Through a sitting area is the restaurant, where New Yorkers and tourists sit sipping coffee, reading the paper, and picking at their breakfasts. ADAM SELMAN enters, and sits at a round table beneath A Vicious Circle, the painting of the celebrated literary group that once frequented the hotel.

CUT TO:

A lobby elevator opens and BOB MACKIE walks out. BOB sees ADAM sitting in the restaurant, and walks over to greet him. ADAM stands, and the men shake hands before taking their seats.

BOB
When I was a kid in the ‘40s and ‘50s, I loved movies about show business — the huge stars, the big montages, playing the Palace theater — I wanted to be a part of that. But back then I didn’t know there was such a thing as a costume designer. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and then I moved to Hollywood when I got my first job.

ADAM
We actually have a really similar career trajectory. I work a lot with Amy Sedaris, who’s a comedic actress, and you kind of bridged the gap between comedy, fashion, and costume. Did you always want to do design?

BOB
I always wanted to be involved. I went to this little design school in California called the Chouinard Art Institute, and had all kinds of funny, part-time jobs: Washing dishes, doing department store displays, painting murals. I thought, “This has got to stop.” So I got an interview at Paramount. This was when Edith Head was there, and she brought me in to the costume department. A few weeks later, I went over to work with Jean Louis at Fox, and then began to go back and forth between the two studios, sketching designs for both.

ADAM
It seems you worked like a crazy person for years. I don’t know how you found the hours in a day to make it happen. Were you just working, or were you a man about town?

BOB
What’s a man about town [laughs]?! I was working — the first decade I really got into it was the ‘60s, and of course, no time was better than the ‘60s. Every look in the world was happening then. I was at Fox during the production of Something’s Got to Give, the Marilyn Monroe film that was never completed, and I worked with Jean Louis on a dress that ended up being the one Marilyn wore when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy.

ADAM
That’s the fun part about fashion, and costume. It’s not just: here, wear this; it’s: let’s work together. You’ve said that you consider yourself a costume designer that just happened to do fashion.

BOB
My heart is in the theater, in performance. I understand it, and I do it better. I had a big peak in my career there in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s. Then I started doing fashion, which I detest.

ADAM
But you bridged the gap so well. Your pieces were all fabulous and amazing, but still very fashion. I thought your 1990 show was incredible, all the girls with their lemon hats and lemon-print dresses. That’s the kind of stuff I live for that people don’t do anymore.

BOB
It’s so expensive! Some bitch held up my show one year because her ice sculpture wasn’t finished. Putting on that kind of production is ridiculous, but I hate to take fashion so seriously.

ADAM
It was inspiring because you took these weird ideas and still made them clothes. You seem to have fun with everything you do.

BOB
It’s funny how people get so serious, as if fashion is a religion. How boring.

ADAM
We’re two of the lucky ones, who work hard and do what we want to do. It took me a long time to figure out what direction I wanted to go. I was a terrible student, and too focused on working — I worked in retail full-time. It was tiring, but I learned a lot because I saw how people wore clothes.

BOB
Women already have an image; as a designer, you have to enhance that. Rihanna has to be Rihanna — she can’t be Gwyneth Paltrow. There are different characters, just like in a play.

ADAM
You can give people good clothes, but you can’t give them style.

BOB
Working for Cher, it was easy to do fashion, but at the same time I had to take it somewhere else.

ADAM
Exactly. If she wants to wear an Egyptian costume, you can’t —

BOB
She’s always some sort of fucking goddess [BOTH laugh].

ADAM
But that’s what makes it fun. You’re not really giving people Egyptian, you’re taking it somewhere further. Do you ever get sick of being so associated with one specific thing?

BOB
It’s not always good, because some people think that’s all I do. I’d like to design costumes for straight plays, but do you think anyone would ever call me for that? No. They put you in a bit of a niche. You’re going to be making see-through dresses for the rest of your life!

ADAM
I know, right [BOTH laugh]? It’s amazing, but I will always be associated with that.

BOB
When Cher was on the cover of Time in her see-through dress, every tired old broad in Hollywood called me asking for one just like it. Mitzi Gaynor actually wore the first nude dress I ever made on a television special.

ADAM
I read somewhere that Mitzi said you designed a dress she wore for seven days a week and a bead never fell off.

BOB
I love Mitzi, but that’s bullshit [BOTH laugh]. Beads fall off. Those kinds of clothes need constant upkeep. But it’s easier to make a beaded dress than a beautiful, simple, crepe one, where everything has to be perfect.

ADAM
It’s so true.

BOB
We learned that early on — the sparkle code! Where do you make your garments, do you have your own workroom?

ADAM
Yeah, and I’m very hands on. I’m kind of old school in that way.

BOB
Old school is really the only way to do it. You have to follow your heart, and grab breaks when they come. When you get to be a certain age, there will always be new up-and-comers on the scene, and that’s okay. You have to say, “Now, it’s their turn.”

ADAM
Well, you seem to have lived your life, and I think that’s inspiring.

BOB
People keep asking, “Bob, when are you going to retire?” Then what, I just go home and die? I’m not interested in doing that.

CREDITS

Photography byChris Bernabeo

Conversation moderated byAnthony Rotunno

Special thanksThe Algonquin Hotel

Adam Selman is a designer based in New York City. His current collection is available online and in select retailers.
Bob Mackie is a designer based in Los Angeles. His collections are available online, through QVC, and in select retailers.

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THE END