Bob Mackie, Naked Dress Originator, Premieres ‘Naked Illusion’ Documentary With Cher, Pink and More

An all-star fan club came out Monday night in Los Angeles to toast the one and only Bob Mackie at the world premiere of the documentary “Bob Mackie: Naked Illusion.”

Cher, Carol Burnett, RuPaul and Pink joined the designer onstage after the screening to chat about his impact on their lives over his 60-year career, helping them get into character, giving them confidence and transforming them into solo stars.

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Five years in the making, Matthew Miele (“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s”) created a dazzling film tracing the life of fashion’s “Mr. Hollywood,” whose work is still resonating on the stage with young stars and on the runways. Namely Miley Cyrus, who wore Mackie on the 2023 Grammys stage, is featured in the doc, as is Tom Ford, whose work — along with that of Alessandro Michele and others — has been influenced by Mackie.

Although the film dips into the swirl of the Met Gala and CFDA Awards for dramatic effect, it focuses primarily on Mackie’s costume work in Hollywood. And it is a delight within the fashion doc genre because there is so much footage of his fabulous clothes in motion on stage and screen: from Cyrus’ stunning Grammys performance; to Mitzi Gaynor shimmying in what may have been the original naked dress in her 1968 TV special; to Cher at the Met Gala in 1974 in a naked dress that landed on the cover of Time magazine; and later at the Oscars podium in 1986 in the infamous Mackie naked mohawk revenge dress.

All three stars’ commentary about the process that went into creating the looks, like so many others in the film, is a treat to watch, as is the way Miele uses Mackie’s wonderful sketches of Marilyn Monroe, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and others throughout, bringing the joyful drawings to life.

He also spends time filming the Armenian seamstresses in Glendale, Calif., who have been bringing Mackie’s work to life since the 1980s, painstakingly embroidering his gowns, using his hand-drawn sketches for the exact sequin and crystal placement in an example of hands-on relationship between designer and craftsperson that is increasingly disappearing in fashion.

Pink and Cher
Pink and Cher

Pink, who helped bring Mackie to a new generation of stars including Kim Kardashian, Zendaya and more, recalled how the designer created her naked look for the 2010 Grammys when she performed “Glitter in the Air” suspended above the audience. “It’s wild standing naked in front of Bob Mackie,” she laughed during the panel discussion. “I think I’m responsible for teaching you two about poon stones,” she said of instructing Mackie and design director Joe McFate on the careful placement of rhinestones.

In the film, the pop star also shares how Mackie, who is the most unassuming guy you’ll ever meet, dressing himself like a Brooks Brothers dad, has a “soft power” in the way he works, which clearly has helped him navigate decades of Hollywood divadom.

Because Mackie is so guarded, Miele’s exploration of the personal side of his life in the film is revelatory and poignant, including his first marriage and divorce, the death of his son, who was a Hollywood makeup artist, and tender moments with his granddaughter and great grandchildren, whom he has gotten to know later in life.

The panel discussion, which also included Mackie, his longtime design director McFate, and the film director, was a love fest for the documentary, which is looking for a distributor for release.

“It was so long and I thought oh my god, I’m going to be bored to death, I know everything about him. But it was fabulous, I enjoyed it very much. He and I spent more time together than I spent with lots of boyfriends,” said Cher, recalling her weekly fittings with the designer for “The Sonny and Cher Show,” for which he made an average of 17 costumes per week.

His output for “The Carol Burnett Show” was even more impressive — sometimes hundreds of costumes a week, and a total of more than 17,000 for the 11-year run of the variety show in the 1960s. “He gave me my character. Sometimes, I didn’t know how I was going to do a character until I knew what he was going to put me in,” she said, sharing how Mackie helped her find Mrs. Wiggins walk, Starlett O’Hara’s curtain rod sight gag and more. “You talked about working from the outside in,” she said, motioning to RuPaul. “I did the same thing and it was because of him.”


RuPaul always had eyes on Mackie, from the very start of his stage career, because he’d seen and admired his work on TV. “I was doing a show at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and thought I would have Bob do my costumes because I’d seen Cher and Diana [Ross], so that’s what I did,” he said. “And years later, I got this contract to be the face of MAC Cosmetics in 1994, and they asked me who I wanted to make the outfit. He made this beautiful harlequin outfit, and the MAC people said ‘Oh no, no, no,’ and went somewhere else to get this thing done. But I still have that costume and I wore it forever in my nightclub act.”

In his “soft power,” Mackie was deflecting the attention. “You won’t be able to stand me after this,” he said. “Who would think there would be this many people gathered together to watch a bunch of old work.”

Launch Gallery: Inside the "Bob Mackie: Naked Illusion" World Premiere

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