Last week, we discussed how you can now go to Graceland and see 72 Elvis jumpsuits, 58 of them housed in the new Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access exhibit. I hope the exhibit signage and the catalog give proper credit to the men who created them.
Yes, I said men. Although many fans immediately think of Bill Belew when Elvis jumpsuits are mentioned, there is more to the story.
Bill Belew started his connection with Elvis by designing the famous black leather suit Elvis wore in the 68 Comeback Special. Belew next created the earliest two-piece Karate-style outfits, designed to allow freedom of motion for kicks and other moves. Soon, he created a series of increasing intricate one-piece rhinestone-studded jumpsuits. Belew came up with the first large flashy belts, and he originated the capes at Priscilla's suggestion. A few of the more famous Belew designs are Powder Blue, Burning Flame of Love, and Red Dragon.
Belew also designed costumes for dozens and dozens of other entertainers and for theatrical productions, the Grammy Awards, television shows and specials, movies, and the New York City Ballet.
By 1972, Belew’s career was booming, and he was in big demand, so he started farming off the Elvis work to Gene Doucette. Doucette had made some noise at Pzazz Designs, but he stayed in the background while Belew continued to be synonymous with Elvis costumes. The names of some of Doucette’s best-known jumpsuits show the variety of his imagination: Peacock, Sundial, Tiger, Aloha, and American Eagle. He is considered a wizard for his intricate embroidery.
Both Belew and Doucette are now associated with B & K Enterprises, one of several companies that will come up when you Google Elvis jumpsuits. How much do you think really classy reproductions of Elvis’ most famous outfits go for? Here’s a sample from B & K:
Gold Lamé suit $1900
Powder Blue Jumpsuit $1700
American Eagle $2800
68 Comeback $1300
If you go to www.b-k-enterprises.com/costumes.html, you can spend a lot of time just looking through the 57 Elvis costumes they offer. You get front, side, and back views on some suits, front and back on the rest. There are close-ups of many capes and a few outrageous belts.
Gene Doucette had a couple of memorable quotes on Elvis and his jumpsuits: “I had the world’s greatest easel in front of me.” “If you took any one of these suits to the farthest ends of the Earth, …they’d know whose it was.”
Bill Belew said, “You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work.”
I am certainly looking forward to seeing the work of Bill Belew and Gene Doucette in Memphis this summer at the Elvis Jumpsuits: All Access exhibit. Again, I applaud Graceland for the insight to present this exhibit, and for the good sense to charge us only $7 to see it.
© 2007 Philip R. Arnold All Rights Reserved www.elvisblog.net
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