The creator of Michael Jackson's iconic wardrobe
(Pictured right: The author with Michael Jackson. Photo courtesyMJJ Productions.)
The military silhouette, the sparkling white glove, the slim-fit pants and the bunched-up socks: These were Michael Jackson's trademarks. And the man behind them? He wrote a book. A 216-page coffee table book, filled with the details behind the iconic performer's signature style. In "The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson," writer and designer Michael Bush details just how he and partner Dennis Tompkins came to work with the King of Pop for 25 years, right up until the entertainer's sudden passing.
The author, an Ohio native, is visiting The Book Loft this Thursday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. as part of his book tour. We talked with him about the trends Michael Jackson launched and what it was like to choose his outfit for the final time.
-Taylor Rogers, @rogerstaylorj
What made you want to write this book?
It started with Michael. He was always fascinated with the behind-the-scenes of what it took for an artist to get from conception, mental process, to actually having it finished. And Michael said, "You need to show how these clothes came about, the amount of time it took, the detail, the artistry of costume design." Every time we started the book, an album would come out, we'd go on tour. It just always got shelved. After he passed away, it was like, OK, this is the perfect time. I need to do this because it was something that he really wanted to be put out for his fans. It helped a lot for me, too, because I was so close to him. It's hard because every time you go into any department store or hear the radio, the music is there. Any city, any place in the world. With the book, it just kind of helped me. This was a wish that he had that he never got to see through. And I did it. And now it's embraced by the world. It's just so humbling.
What did Michael wear when he wasn't on stage?
He was just like you or me. Oversize, elastic waist, sloppy. Everyone always thought Michael ran around with that rhinestone glove on. No, that's showmanship. He understood that, that when he goes out in public, they wanted to see the show Michael Jackson, the visual entertainment guy. When he was at home, it was oversized, mismatched comfort clothes. Corduroy was the fabric of choice.
Why do you think the white sequined glove became so iconic?
Michael wore the glove way before I ever met him. He wore it in the late '70s. And he said nobody ever noticed he wore the glove until he did the Motown 25th Anniversary in '83 when he premiered the moonwalk for Billie Jean. It was used because your eye will follow the light. Michael's hands danced as much as the rest of his body did, so your eye would constantly be following this shiny white glove. It wasn't an unusual piece of clothing-people wear gloves. But because Michael had one on, you'd constantly be getting the question, "Where's his other glove?" Ninety-nine percent of the time, it was on his right hand. A few times he put one on his left, and the whole world got upset. "What does it mean? Why does he have one on his left hand now and not the right?" It's like, well, you paid attention. They noticed. Most people will remember something that's unusual.
You wrote that Michael pushed you and your partner to look beyond trends. How did that help you when you were designing for him?
He was always trying to set a trend. He wanted other artists to be inspired by what he had done. He would constantly be sending us to Europe because everyone in America thinks that the French, the Italians are setting the pace for fashion. So we'd go over there and look around. We'd go into night clubs and on the street, and we'd ask, especially Michael's fan base, the night-club people, "Why'd you put that on? Why do you wear that?" And they'd say, "This is what's current right now." We were always trying to figure out the next level, to out-guess fashion. Ninety percent of the time, the answer to the question "What are you going to put on next?" was, "We're waiting to see what Michael Jackson's going to put on." It's like, I don't want to hear that. The music industry of that time was so over the top, and Michael was one of the biggest visual artists of that time, and everybody was looking at what he had on.
The Jackson family requested you dress Michael when he was laid to rest. Can you talk about that experience?
La Toya [Jackson] called and said, "The family wants you to do Michael's outfit." And I said, "I don't think I can do that." And she said, "Michael, you would know exactly what he would want to wear. You have to help us." This is my best friend-what can I do? Over the years, we asked Michael what his favorite outfit was. Every time we got the answer, "Oh, they're all my favorite. " Through the years, he finally admitted that the jacket he wore with Janet to the Grammys in '94 was his all-time favorite jacket. When he put that jacket on, as he said, "I felt like Michael Jackson." That's when we came up with the idea to use that jacket. The next question is: Where's that jacket? We still don't know where it is. Luckily, we went through the archives at the studio, and we found the pattern, the beading pattern and what we needed to be able to reproduce it, which is the only jacket I will ever reproduce that I've done for Michael. We added some new stuff to it. There were many things we found that we put on his clothes that we knew really inspired him. After we got it done, I called La Toya and told her the clothes were ready. And I said, "Do you want his show boots on, or do we put Michael's dancing shoes on?" La Toya said, "My brother has to go out of the world dancing." So we put on his rehearsal shoes from [the tour] "This is It." When we got the clothes done, I was prepared to take them to the mortuary and hand them to the mortician and leave. And they said, "No, they want you to be here." And I physically dressed him. That was my final goodbye to my best friend.
Do you have a favorite Michael Jackson song?
I would say "Another Part of Me" because that was one of the first songs I heard him sing when we were doing "Captain EO."
What about a favorite design you did for him?
It would probably be the jacket on the cover of the book…that jacket was the first major photographed piece we had done with him. It was on every bus bench, it was on the side of buses, it was on billboards, it was on the front page of the newspaper. We'd check into a hotel and turn on the news, and there'd be a picture of Michael, getting off of a plane someplace with that jacket on. And I'm going, "I made that."