The Man Who Dressed the King: Bill Belew and Elvis PresleyPosted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on Jun 12, 2015 | 47 comments
Rock stars love the grungy look: sweat-stained T-shirts, ragged jeans, worn-out shoes.
But Elvis Presley was no ordinary rock star.
He was, after all, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and he dressed like it. Fans never saw Elvis on stage in anything less than the best. Even early on in his career, he carefully chose his fashionable stagewear. He wanted to give the audience a thrill – not just with his music, but with his look. All these years later, Elvis’ style is as iconic as his music.
Elvis had great fashion sense, but it was designer Bill Belew who helped take Elvis’ fashion to the next level. Belew designed clothes for Elvis to wear both on and off the stage.
“You could be daring as a designer and put anything on Elvis and he could make it work,” Belew said. “And the simplest outfits that didn’t seem particularly remarkable on the rack transformed into something spectacular when Elvis put them on. He was that beautiful and powerful a presence.”
On June 11, 1968, Elvis met with costume designer Bill Belew to go over ideas for his upcoming TV special.
Elvis’ famous black leather suit was designed by Belew, as were several other pieces that were seen in that special.
The suit is on display at Graceland; it was recently exhibited at Elvis at The O2 in London.
Belew designed for other musical acts and celebrities, such as Gladys Knight, The Band, The Jacksons, Brooke Shields and the Osmonds, but he’s especially remembered for his designs for Elvis.
Elvis is known for so much – his velvet voice, his Southern generosity, Graceland, his pink Cadillac and, of course, his eye-catching jumpsuits. Belew designed them all, and many of them featured elaborate embroidery by Gene Doucette.
There are actually two versions of Elvis’ Flame jumpsuit; the other version’s kick pleats are red, while this version’s is orange.
Belew said that many of Elvis’ jumpsuits were white to allow the stage lights to truly capture Elvis on stage. They experimented with several colors, however, such as red, black and blue.
Another of Belew’s celebrated jumpsuits is the American Eagle, which Elvis sported in the 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” special.
Eagles show up in several other of Belew’s jumpsuits. He also created a colorful Chinese Dragon jumpsuit, four Phoenix jumpsuits (white with turquoise, dark blue with silver, white with red and white with black) and one called the Black Butterfly, which is covered in beautiful golden butterfly studs.
Belew didn’t just design jumpsuits for Elvis. He also designed those elaborate belts, as well as three-piece suits and much more.
These outfits make Elvis’ already-powerful stage performances even more entertaining and memorable. And while some stars today go for the casual look on stage, many have been inspired by Elvis to make a statement on stage with specially designed, tailored, sparkling outfits. Belew didn’t just create eye-catching stagewear; he created works of art.
What’s especially incredible about Belew’s work is the detail. See these jumpsuits and outfits up close here at Graceland, or look for them at ELVIS: The Exhibition in Las Vegas or Elvis at The O2 in London (which has been extended through January 10, 2016).
Do you have a favorite jumpsuit or outfit that Elvis wore?