Friday, August 9, 2002

Mr. It

From suits to jumpsuits, Elvis always had a look.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

PHOTO COURTESY THE BERNARD J. LANSKY COLLECTION
“No sooner had he hit the store than that three-way mirror was his,” recalls Elvis’ outfitter, Bernard Lansky.
Elvis, for all the gold records, was probably just as well known for gold lamé. That and other fashion statements he made over the years. Remember the turned-up collar, the tight pants, the sideburns, the scarves? And who could ever forget those jumpsuits?

"He always wanted to be different," says Bernard Lansky of the Lansky Brothers store on Beale, which outfitted the young musician. "He was made for it. With Elvis, we always brought in something different that would make him look real sharp: the no-back-pocket pants, the pants with inverted pleats or stitches on the side."

The story, by now, is legendary. Lansky's catered to the rhythm-and-blues crowd at the time; Lansky met Elvis during his days as an usher at Loews theater downtown. "He would always come by and look in our windows, and I noticed him and invited him in," Lansky says. "He told me, 'I don't have any money now, but when I get rich, I'm going to buy you out.' I said, 'Don't buy me out, just buy from me.'"

Elvis made good on his word, having Lansky's outfit him in the early days and then telling everyone exactly where he had gotten his threads.

"No sooner had he hit the store than that three-way mirror was his," says Lansky. "He'd be in front of it, asking, 'How's this look?' I'd say, 'Sharp, Elvis. Real sharp.' He was the belle of the ball." Whatever he wore, others soon followed.

Lansky says that he made Elvis his first gold-lamé outfit. The king also had a penchant for sequins, velour, and, again, anything different. He wanted to be his own person with his own look.

"There were very few things he would turn down," says Lansky. "I had an idea that he would look good in pink and black. That was one of my ideas. I put him in a pink coat and a black pair of pants -- he was sharp. Everyone else was wearing white and black, and I pushed that pink on him and it blew their minds. It was dynamite."

Later on, as Elvis made his move to celluloid, he began wearing clothes designed for him by Bill Belew and suits by Nudie. The legendary jumpsuits -- which were worn with a cape and a flashy belt -- were the brainchild of Belew.

Does anybody have Elvis' sense of style today? People can copy Elvis' style, says Hal Lansky, Bernard's son and co-owner of Lansky's at The Peabody, but there isn't anybody who has "it" like Elvis did.

"Nobody comes close to the King," says Hal Lansky. "Everybody tries to emulate him, but nobody comes close." With the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death, Hal Lansky says that a lot of Elvis fans and impersonators will swarm Lansky's, most of them doing their best "Elvis." Some, he says, even bring their wives and girlfriends dressed up like Priscilla.

"People will be coming from all over the world who eat, sleep, and breathe Elvis. They all think they look like him, but I think they all look like each other," says Hal Lansky. "They have the sideburns. They'll dye their hair black. They'll wear the TCB necklace. But Elvis just had a style of his own."

Sometimes, these Elvii, from China to Tel Aviv, even try to curl the lip, but Hal says they just can't capture the way Elvis used to do it. There are some performers around Memphis who Hal thinks have an Elvis vibe -- the Dempseys and the Alexander Band-- but no one really has "it."

Lest you think Elvis -- or Elvis style -- has left the building for good, Bernard may have good news: that '50s-era Elvis look is coming back. It won't be in the same patterns and fabrics, but it'll be in the similar cuts and patterns.

"The style always changes, but it's nothing new," says Bernard. "It's always coming back to the same thing."

"What would Elvis wear in 2003? We're working on it," adds Bernard.

Fair warning: The word "lamé" was mentioned.

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