The Designer Who Put Tina Turner in Those Hemlines
The cardinal rule of dressing Tina Turner, the designer and costumer Bob Mackie said Wednesday night, was “you couldn’t cover anything up.”
Her legs were simply “too beautiful.”
Mr. Mackie, 84 and working on costumes for Pink’s upcoming tour, met Ms. Turner in the 1970s when she was a guest on the “Sonny & Cher Show.”
He was a college dropout who early in his career worked for the famed costume designer Edith Head. From there, Mr. Mackie went out on his own, designing costumes for stars such as Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and then Cher.
He and Ms. Turner got to know each other toward the end of her marriage to Ike Turner, the man whose abuse she suffered for around 20 years, before she walked away with nothing but a white, bloodstained Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit, two Jaguars and her last name. (Even that, Mr. Turner attempted to take away from her in court.)
She had been spending time in Europe (where she later moved) and, because there wasn’t much of a budget, Mr. Mackie said, “she would go to the Left Bank and buy inexpensive cocktail dresses, bring them in and say ‘Will you help me with these?’ I didn’t know what she meant, but then she would step into them and I would bring the scissors.”
The Turner/Mackie meaning of “more” soon became clear: less fabric.
Mr. Mackie also began designing shimmering dresses for her in red and gold, with stretching flames that covered her nipples. He knew the idea was a hit when other celebrities began requesting dresses that looked like the ones he was creating for Ms. Turner.
“I got a call from Raquel Welch. She said, ‘I want a dress like Tina Turner would wear.’ I had never really designed for Raquel Welch. I said, ‘I’d love to do that.’ A couple weeks later Tina calls me, and she says, ‘I just saw Racquel Welch wearing a dress I’d love to have.’ And I had to laugh,” he said, speaking by phone from his home in Palm Springs. “So I told her the whole thing. Tina thought it was great. She loved that those women were paying attention to her and what she wore.”
The group of women included Cher, who in 1977 performed with Ms. Turner on the “Sonny and Cher Show,” doing a rendition of “Makin’ Music Is My Business,” in matching red and gold dresses.
“It just worked,” he said, describing how Cher and Ms. Turner “vibrated off each other.”
But the seven-year stretch between the breakup of Ms. Turner’s marriage and the 1984 release of her hit album “Private Dancer” was not easy. “She was going from variety show to variety show, trying to stay away from Ike, hiding really. It was a scary time,” Mr. Mackie said.
It was also the era of Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, and Ms. Turner covered the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” So, for her performances — many at slightly cheesy hotels with casinos — Mr. Mackie made a shimmering silver gown with pleated, Targaryen dragon-wide wings.
Another Mackie confection was a zebra print dress with a tail on the back.
Initially, the idea of adding the tail made Ms. Turner “a little nervous,” he said. (And indeed, it is hard to imagine that sort of thing being approved by anyone now). But the tail was “great,” he said, the way it swung from side to side as she swayed her hips.
When Ms. Turner pivoted to rock ’n’ roll in the early ’80s, Mr. Mackie was ready with the black leather.
Between the video for “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and a slot opening for The Rolling Stones on tour, she turned into a global superstar.
Although Mr. Mackie helped create the Tina Turner look, she was not exclusive to him.
In 1985, she performed with Mick Jagger on Live Aid, wearing a leather bustier and miniskirt designed by Azzedine Alaïa, a dear friend of Ms. Turner who was sometimes referred to in fashion circles as the King of Cling. (Mr. Jagger ultimately ripped the skirt off. Which Ms. Turner took in stride, saying later that it was all part of his sense of play.)
In 1989, Ms. Turner did the cover shoot for the album “Foreign Affair” wearing a dark, fitted Alaïa dress that barely reached the top of her thighs. In one shot, she could be seen hanging from the Eiffel Tower, gripping its iron structure, as if strutting up it. And the way Ms. Turner as well as the photographer Peter Lindbergh later told recounted, that was her idea.
Never mind the absence of a safety net or Ms. Turner’s refusal to take off her heels. As Mr. Mackie noted, a defining trait of her personality was fearlessness.
In the coming years, she toured relentlessly and appeared in fashion shows for Mr. Alaïa. (One reason Ms. Turner moved to Europe, she later said, was that it was the place where she was as “big as Madonna.”) And when Mr. Mackie was in the same city, they would have dinner.
Sometimes, Ms. Turner and Mr. Mackie were together because he was working on costumes for one of her tours. She was a clotheshorse in her own right, too. She often arrived to work “dressed to the nines in simple loafers and gaberdine pants,” he said. Then, she would rehearse in full costume, becoming “a whole ’nother woman,” only to show up to dinner wearing yet another outfit.
In 2005, Mr. Mackie supplied Beyoncé with a flaming red dress for her tribute to Ms. Turner at the Kennedy Center Honors. Ms. Turner sat in the balcony, smiling down as Beyoncé did a rendition of “Proud Mary.” (Ms. Turner was wearing a beaded floral gown that was more demure than her stage costumes.)
Mr. Mackie also worked with Ms. Turner on her 2008 tour, which was billed both as a 50th anniversary of her career — and a farewell tour.
After it ended, she began to experience health complications and spent more time in Europe.
Mr. Mackie said he hadn’t seen her in years.
One of his last memories of her was back in rehearsal for the 2008-9 tour. Toni Basil had been hired as the choreographer, but there was Ms. Turner, coaching all the dancers on how to do the moves just as she did. “There was nothing like watching Tina Turner give a class to the girls on how to be Tina Turner,” he said.
Jacob Bernstein is a reporter for the Styles desk. In addition to writing profiles of fashion designers, artists and celebrities, he has focused much of his attention on L.G.B.T. issues, philanthropy and the world of furniture design. @bernsteinjacob
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