LOS ANGELES — The zipper-covered “Beat It” jacket. The military-inspired coats with their epaulets, crests and insignias. And, of course, that glittery glove.
Michael Jackson’s fashion sense was as singular as his musical style and dance moves. Millions imitated his pegged pants and penny loafers, a fedora cocked just so.
Jackson’s longtime costumer 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 colorful new book, “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,” said author/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.”
Bush wouldn’t discuss the time Jackson wore pajama bottoms to court during his child molestation trial in 2005, but he relished in 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 said in an interview at a warehouse in Los Angeles, racks of glittery history behind him.
Jackson’s stage costumes were designed to display his dance moves, so Bush and Tompkins, who died last December, were treated to regular private dance recitals to inform their work. Jackson danced five or six hours a day whether he was on tour or not, Bush said. “He traveled with a hardwood floor in a road case.”
All that dancing, such as during the 1987 “Bad” world tour, meant Jackson could drop so much weight during a concert that the costumes for his closing numbers had to be smaller than the ones for the show openers.
“Michael was usually a 28-inch waist, but by the midpoint of the show, when he was ready to perform his magic act of choice, right before ‘Beat It,’ he’d already lost five pounds of water, and his waist dropped to 27 and a quarter,” Bush writes in “The King of Style.” “If we didn’t have clothes hanging on the rack in the right order that were getting progressively smaller, we’d risk him putting on a pair of pants that would fall to his ankles with each rhythmic move of his body. And there is no magic in that!”
The King of Pop preferred China silk, silk charmeuse and stretchy fabrics. “Spandex made Michael feel sleek and secure and worked for his dance style,” Bush writes.
Then there were the military jackets, the rhinestone-encrusted interpretations of British war uniforms like 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 said.
“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,” he 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 and Tompkins worked with Jackson until the pop star’s death in June 2009. Though they weren’t in charge of the costumes for the ill-fated “This Is It” comeback tour, Jackson’s longtime costume designers created ensembles for seven songs, including a reprise of his “Billie Jean” outfit with its loafers and spangled socks. There was also a burgundy and gold monogrammed top with a Chinese collar and bell sleeves, and a pair of black bedazzled shin guards.