The zipper-covered Beat It jacket. The military-inspired coats with their epaulettes, crests and insignias. And, of course, that glittery glove.
For Michael Jackson, who would have turned 54 tomorrow, what he wore was as singular as his musical style and dance moves. Millions imitated his pegged trousers and penny loafers, a fedora cocked just so.
Jackson’s longtime costumier reveals the secrets behind the King of Pop’s meticulously crafted, regal rock-star look – and an intimate glimpse into the man himself – in a colourful new book due out on October 30, The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson.
“When you worked with him, you couldn’t wait to get there and you didn’t want to leave when you got done,” says the author, the costume designer Michael Bush who, with his late partner Dennis Tompkins, dressed Jackson for more than a generation. “It was hard to imagine anyone that projected fashion and style any -better.”
What most people don’t know about Jackson, Bush says, is he was a joker – a playful prankster who loved to laugh and often teased those closest to him the most.
Bush tells of meeting Jackson for the first time in 1983, when both men were 25: the King of Pop hadn’t retained a costumier yet and Bush was up for consideration. Jackson had been holed up for hours in his trailer on the set of Captain EO. Bush could hear a monkey squealing as he approached. It was dark inside and “like, 120 degrees”. Jackson was snacking.
Eager to please as he prepped the pop star’s clothes, Bush felt something hit him gently on the head. A cherry stem. A few seconds later, it happened again. When it happened a third time, Bush lobbed a cherry at the rising superstar. Jackson tossed a handful back, and thus began a close professional and personal relationship that spanned the remainder of Jackson’s life.
“I think he wanted someone he could play with. He just wanted to see, ‘Am I going to have fun with this person?’” says Bush, an informally trained clothier from Ohio who learnt his craft from his mum and grandmother.
“And I laughed every day until he died.”
Bush won’t discuss the time Jackson wore pyjama bottoms to court during his child-molestation trial in 2005, but relishes in other details of the entertainer’s unique approach to his performance attire.
“Michael’s concept was, ‘I want the fashion designers in the world, the big conglomerates, I want them to copy me. I don’t want to wear what’s out there. I want to push my individuality and being that my music is me, my look should be me’,” Bush says.
In the book, Bush writes that Jackson preferred Chinese silk, silk charmeuse and stretchy fabrics: “Spandex made Michael feel sleek and secure and worked for his dance style.”
Then there were the military jackets, the rhinestone-encrusted interpretations of British war uniforms such as the one Jackson wore at the 1984 Grammy Awards, when he raked in a record eight awards for Thriller.
Jackson had a childlike fascination with rhinestones, Bush says.
“Sometimes I’d drive three hours to retrieve loose rhinestones straight from the factory, just because looking at them in that raw form pleased Michael to no end. Every time I opened the swatch of white felt that encased the rhinestones, he’d gasp,” Bush writes. “He’d take them from me and delicately move them around with his fingertips and whisper: ‘Can you imagine being a pirate opening a treasure chest? And seeing all the glitter inside? What a fascinating life, to be a pirate like that.’”
Bush declines to share any details about Jackson’s health or demeanour in his final days. He does say, though, that the King of Pop had always hoped his costumes would be celebrated in books and museums, and Bush is humbled by making that dream become a reality. The costumier will exhibit some of Jackson’s performance outfits in South America, Europe and Asia before releasing his book. Many of the costumes will be sold at auction in December, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Recording Academy’s MusiCares charity.