The music world makes for some strange bedfellows, both literally and figuratively. One surprising example is Liberace, who got Elvis Presley to wear his signature flashy outfits later in his career.
When Legends Meet
Liberace was a child piano prodigy who initially performed traditional classical music. He began moving away from this approach in the 1940s, and in the 1950s, his flamboyant act was a hit around the world. He parlayed this into a number of successful television specials and a series where his intimate connection with audiences gained even wider success.
Liberace and Elvis Presley first met in 1956 in Las Vegas. Liberace was the more established star, but Presley was on his way to taking the music world by storm. Happily for fans, rare footage exists of these early encounters.
While the two men may seem like an odd couple, they shared one conviction: They put on shows, not just concerts. At the time, Liberace was famous for his over-the-top stage act, while Presley built his bad-boy image by suggestively shaking his hips.
To increase Presley’s showmanship, however, Liberace suggested he lose the rockabilly look and embrace gaudier, flashier outfits. And with that, the iconic Presley jumpsuits were born.
The Flamboyant Elvis Presley
Presley was a man of excess, and he took Liberace’s advice to heart. In the sixties, he became even more famous for his stage shows. These included elaborate custom jumpsuits for each tour and special concert events. In 2008, Presley’s peacock jumpsuit, designed by Bill Belew, sold for $300,000.
Perhaps no better example of the “Vegas” Elvis exists than his 1973 live television concert “Aloha from Hawaii.” Belew designed the iconic outfit, based on Presley’s Vegas suits that featured rhinestones, Napoleonic collars, and gabardine stretch fabric. The original design had a 20-pound cape, but he cut it down to 12 pounds shortly before the show because it was too heavy.
Presley threw the cape into the crowd at the end of the concert. Everyone assumed it was lost forever, but in 1995, Graceland museum curators got an unexpected call from Florida.
“It was the mother of a man who had bought the cape and wanted us to have it when he died,” said Angie Marchese, Elvis Presley Enterprises archives director. “It was always one of those pieces we wondered about. I never thought that I would see it, and when it was laid out on the table, (it) was amazing. The condition is amazing, too. It is only missing one blue stone.”
While many of Presley’s most famous outfits belong to private collectors, this online archive provides a thorough overview of them.