The King Of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson - Rolling Stone
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The King Of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson

New book from the late superstar’s costume designers

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From his white fedora to his U.S. patented "lean shoes," Michael Jackson's larger-than-life image came out of a 25-year-long collaboration between Jackson and his longtime costume designers, Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins. "His costumes had to perform onstage as well as he did," Bush tells Rolling Stone. "They had to be like his second skin – wearable art accentuating both his style of dancing and the beat of the music."

In his new art book, King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson, Bush revisits the making of the entertainer's spellbinding stage costumes, his iconic accessories and his one-of-a-kind pop regalia. By sharing his personal take on some of the pieces featured in the book, Bush also gives Rolling Stone a glimpse of the man underneath the elaborate garments.

King of Style (Insight Editions) will be available on October 30th.

By Oscar Raymundo

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A Man in Uniform

"My clothes should be as entertaining up on a hanger as they are on me," Jackson once told Bush. This military jacket featured on the cover of King of Style came out of Jackson's fascination with form-fitting uniforms. "And it really pleased his female fans," Bush told Rolling Stone. "Who doesn't love a man in a uniform? It was about that creating the sexual mystique. But Michael made it his own by pushing the envelope, rebelling against the establishment the uniform is supposed to represent with all those badges and making it rock & roll."

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Renaissance Man

The German velvet "Renaissance jacket" Jackson wore to escort Elizabeth Taylor on her seventh walk down the aisle made the cover of People. "Michael would come out of European museums inspired to wear the antique costumes that were up on exhibit," Bush said. "So he did."

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11,000 Light Bulbs

The "Thriller" jacket created for the Bad tour in 1988 contained 11,000 light bulbs that would light up remotely during the performance and pulsate to the beat of the song. "Michael didn’t want to be the one that turned on the switch," Bush recalled. "That wouldn’t have been magic."

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It took three engineers to wire the electrical jacket with a battery back, a computer board and cords stretching all the way down the sleeves.

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Super Bowl

Bush recalled that Jackson's level of commitment to his costumes depended on his recording and touring schedule. "When he was singing and recording in the studio we'd leave him alone, but when the album was finished, all that creative energy would go into the music videos, the live shows and the performance, and then Michael would be very involved in what he wore, starting by sketching out his vision." His full creative energy was certainly at play during his 1993 Super Bowl performance.

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According to Bush, Jackson was also very inspired by British heritage. "Even though these costumes were grand, it was all in the details," he said. The bullion crest accessory during the live performance of "Billie Jean" was made of 18-karat gold and sterling silver. "It wasn’t an ostentatious thing – it's because Michael believed that silver photographed differently than chrome. And silver weighed a lot less, which made it more danceable."

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The Entertainer

When designing his stage outfits, Jackson followed a "look but can't touch" mentality. "He would often say that if the guy sitting in the front row was wearing what he was wearing, then he’d stop being the entertainer." Not too many of his fans were able to afford the custom-made shin guards plated with 18-karat gold he wore during the HIStory tour of 1996.

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Make Me Laugh

Over their 25 years working with Jackson, Bush and Tompkins became the entertainer's personal dressers, following him on tour and to video shoots to "dress him and make him laugh." "This photo was taken at the Disney farm in 1987 during the 'Moonwalker' video shoot. Michael teased me about looking like Barry Gibb that day."

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America’s Pastime

Jackson was intrigued by baseball being considered America's favorite pastime. "Why do only baseball players get to wear shin guards?" Jackson once asked Bush. "I'm going to wear them." The equipment also served to protect Jackson's knees and shins from his own athletic drills during his aerodynamic dance routines.

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One Glove

Jackson's rebellious sartorial streak led to him infamously wearing only one glove. "Everyone wears two gloves," Bush recalled Jackson saying. "I'll wear one and make them pay attention."

Lean Shoes

Jackson's "lean shoes" were an engineering feat for the creative team, making it possible for the performer to lean forward 45 degrees. Jackson, Bush and Tompkins shared the U.S. patent for the shoes.

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Many Hats

Jackson wore many hats, some pictured here on display in Bush's L.A. studio. From top to bottom: the hat the 12-year-old Jackson wore for his first televised appearance in 1969 performing with the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan Show; the "Thriller" mask; a chrome tour helmet worn by Jackson to protect from pyrotechnics, explosives and sounds; the white "Smooth Criminal" fedora; a turban worn to disguise himself in public; and the black "Billie Jean" hat.

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"This was Michael's favorite thing he ever wore," Bush said. The white pearl jacket he wore when sister Janet presented him with the Grammy Legend Award in 1993 was a redesigned version of the jacket he wore when he accompanied Madonna to the Oscars in 1991. As for the pearl jacket's whereabouts now, "I have no idea," Bush confessed. "Michael probably gave it away to a fan."

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