ELVIS STYLE from zoot suits to jumpsuits
by Zoey Goto
review by Nigel Patterson
Libri Books, USA/Redshank Books, UK, 2016, Softcover, 218 pages, Illustrated, Bibliography, Photo Credits, Acknowledgments, Index, ISBN-13: 978-0993000225
Elvis’ career and personal style were bookended by sheer brilliance (Zoey Goto)
|Now updated with Reader's Feedback below
A new book Elvis Style from zoot suits to jumpsuits, by fashion and design journalist, Zoey Goto, is a wide ranging and fascinating 'celebration of the aesthetic world of Elvis Presley'. It is a canvas which investigates why Elvis was (during his lifetime) and continues to be (post death), an icon of style through his 'wonderfully expressive hairstyles, clothes, cars and interiors'.
That Elvis was interested in style is obvious. Yet, as Zoey Goto states, it is an area of the Elvis story largely ignored in standard biographies more concerned with his musical impact. There have been several other books about Elvis’ style (predominately his fashion style), most notably Elvis Fashion From Memphis To Vegas (Julie Mundy 2003), Elvis The Man. The Life. The Style. (Pamela Clarke Keogh 2004) and Fashion For A King (Tommy Edvardsen and Atle Larsen 2011).
While these releases have their strengths their focus on Elvis' dress attire lacks the breadth of (dress) fashion and non-dress fashion style and design offered by Zoey Goto in Elvis Style.......her considered examination not only embracing Elvis’ fashion style but also his style in relation to personal grooming, food, automobile and (interior) architecture.
Another important advantage over earlier books Elvis Style has as a record and examination of Elvis' style is that Ms Goto is a globally respected fashion and design journalist (and this is clearly reflected in the quality of her writing and analysis of conceptual issues).
The wide ranging arc to the subject matter in Elvis Style is nicely encapsulated by its core chapter titles:
The Hillbilly Cat – 1950s
Rebel without a style – 1960s
The Las Vegas Peacock – 1970s
Shotgun to Social Housing – The Early Years
Baby Let’s Play House – Elvis and Graceland
The House of Tomorrow – Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway
The author's narrative is a stimulating blend of description and analytical consideration. Zoey Goto delves below the surface to establish the motivating forces for Elvis’ choice of stage attire and in other aspects of style from his early days visiting Lansky Brothers in downtown Memphis when, according to Bernard Lansky, he “would rather shop than eat”, to the increasing flamboyance of his jumpsuits in the 1970s as his stage performances became more erratic in the face of mounting personal issues. Ms Goto's words are expressive, vivid and engaging:
Quote: At Lansky Brothers it is always show time, with the stage worthy styles attracting the local pimps and entertainers like bees to the honey.
Importantly, she provides history and context in discussing elements of Elvis’ style. From the distinction between the 'branding of Elvis' and 'Elvis the man' to the significance of, for example, color pallettes, necklines and cuffs, the reader is offered a more rounded canvas on which to more properly consider how the concept of style applies in the Elvis story (both Elvis directed and non-Elvis directed).
Elvis’ early stage performances provoked both outrage and admiration. A young Roy Orbison described the awe with which he watched his first Elvis concert in 1955.
"First thing, he came out and spat on stage. In fact he spat out a piece of chewing gum…his diction was real coarse like a truck driver’s…I can’t overemphasize how shocking he looked and seemed to me that night."
And in discussing Elvis' style Ms Goto examines not only the impact that Elvis made during his lifetime but also his enduring influence on contemporary design culture - from pop stars and high-end fashion houses to street style (the latter will be of particular interest to younger fans).
Hands up those who know what brand of hair pomade Elvis preferred in the 1950s or what item owned by Elvis had a handle moulded into the shape of a naked woman?
Many readers will be intrigued by the reference to Elvis wearing zoot suits in the title of the book. In this respect Zoey Goto writes:
“The youthful Elvis also experimented with the zoot suit – a sartorial style recognisable for the high-waisted, voluminous trousers that tapered into a tight cuff at the ankle. The coat was long and flared with wide shoulders and lapels, and a large pleat running down the back, often topped off with a wide-brimmed hat or duck’s tail hairstyle.” *
* EIN will explore Elvis' experimentation with the zoot suit in our interview with Ms Goto (to be published in July - see below )
There are many fascinating stories included in Elvis Style brought to life through Ms Goto's evocative and easy going writing style.
"Elvis' influence on men's style is incalculable and you can still see his legacy everywhere. For example, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys is channelling the ‘68 Comeback Special even when he's just popping to the shops for cigarettes," comments Esquire magazine’s Alex Bilmes.
Like other icons of the era such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, Elvis understood the allure of the defiant outsider.
This photo taken in 1956 shows Elvis challenging his inner rebel, while sitting upon his Harley-Davidson bike outside his Memphis home.
Car enthusiasts will enjoy the account of the customised 1973 Grand Ville which Nudie Cohn (designer of Elvis’ famous Gold Lame Suit) wanted to gift to Elvis but which Elvis never received.
Admirers of Elvis’ intricate 1970s jumpsuits will relish details of the neo-mythical 'Laser Suit' which designer Bill Belew was apparently designing at the time of Elvis’ death. There are also wonderful insights into how Bill Belew approached and evaluated his work.
For those interested in Elvis’ residences it is staggering to read how, after buying Graceland for what was in 1957 a very princely sum of $100,000, Elvis then spent a further $500,000 on the house in his first six months of residence alone.
It is also most interesting to read who it was that reassured Elvis when he initially expressed doubts about being able to afford and maintain the Graceland mansion.
Quote: ‘Elvis was very packageable; the name, the hair, the music and the clothes’ Andy Spade (of Jack Spade and Kate Spade).
We also discover Elvis’ reaction to being styled to resemble Rudolph Valentino for his 1965 musical comedy Harum Scarum (note, as presented in Elvis Style the full page publicity colour image of Elvis used to promote the film is gloriously magical).
And in affirming how important style was to Elvis, the author recounts how in the 1960s Elvis became a forerunner for the contemporary phenomenon of the self revealing celebrity, when he invited Mid South Magazine into Graceland to photograph him posing in various rooms throughout the mansion.
Dotting the more detailed accounts in Elvis Style are fascinating tit-bits, such as that eating squirrel was likely not part of Elvis’ style and stories offans who traveled across America to visit Graceland when Elvis was alive and kissed the ground outside the mansion. There is much food for thought in both of these observations.
Providing Elvis Style with an added dimension of authority is the inclusion of insights into Elvis’ style choices by recognised contemporary design experts.
In researching Elvis Style the author interviewed a who’s who of the industry including Sex and the City stylist Patricia Fields, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Michael Jackson’s Thriller), Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges (The Artist), Savile Row tailor Edward Sexton, celebrity hairdresser Trevor Sorbie, George Barris (creator of the famous Batmobile used in the 1960s cult TV series Batman) and a more familiar name to many Elvis fans Hal Lansky (son of Bernard Lansky), who provides the Foreword to the book and offers a seminal insight as to why Elvis’ style is still relevant.
(Right: Elvis with Bernard Lansky - "Elvis would rather shop than eat”)
A key driver of Zoey Goto’s approach to the idea of Elvis style is her critical examination and appraisal of how that style influenced and continues to influence the world. In one sense, Elvis’ sense of style mirrored his musical genius and it is worth seriously considering whether, because of their often complementary nature, without both, Elvis’ musical success may not have been what it was.
Quote: ‘Elvis's influence on men's style is incalculable. You can still see his legacy everywhere - that indefinable but instantly recognizable point where preppy meets rocker meets work-wear meets tailoring’ Alex Bilmes, Esquire editor.
Throughout Elvis Style the reader is given plenty of ‘Elvis style’ to contemplate, then and now, be it the components of the instantly recognisable signature style worn by the youthful Elvis, the towering bouffants of contemporary Japanese rockabillies or eco-friendly suit designs marketed by a leading high end retailer:
”Elvis understood the power of attention-grabbing white stage wear, memorably using it for the tailored suit worn for the ‘68 Comeback Special. The high street retailer H&M created a similar, Southern-plantation-style suit for their eco-conscious collection in 2013.”
There is also an interesting discussion of Graceland, including internationally acclaimed artist Hugh Merrill's observation that it was “Presley’s plantation of bad taste?”, its role in the gentrification of the Whitehaven area of Memphis and its post mortem reconstruction to make it accessible to more than 600,000 visitors each year.
If the narrative element of Elvis Style is illuminating its visual element is equally striking.
From potent 1950s black and white images of the young Hillbilly Cat to the full color sartorial presence of the King in the 1960s and on stage in the 1970s, the imagery in Elvis Style is pertinent, wonderfully presented and does not disappoint.
Elvis’ famous ‘68 Comeback Special black leather jacket, trousers and boots are given additional gravitas through a nice tinge of blue in the captured image while the fantastically egocentric jeans Elvis gifted to Linda Thompson will bring a smile to your face.
Another stand-out visual is the hot pink jumpsuit made for Elvis by legendary rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn.
A colorfully evocative two page image of the sunken lounge at Elvis and Priscilla’s Honeymoon Hideaway is stunning (although the same cannot be said of a, nevertheless, imposing neighbor of Elvis' in the Palm Springs neighborhood, Mr Rex.........undoubtedly some will say he is really a bit of a dinosaur).
Other eye catching items feature an Elvis worn smoking jacket and kaftan and interesting Elvis film related artefacts such as Oscar winner Edith Head’s costume sketch for Elvis in Fun In Acapulco and a continuity sheet from King Creole detailing what Elvis’ character, Danny Fisher, would wear.
Quote: ‘Elvis redefined what being sexy meant for men – he made peacocking desirable again’ Edward Sexton, Savile Row tailor.
The book design is strong. The paper is a high quality gloss stock with great use of white space to allow the hundreds of impressive visuals to shine. The font size and line spacing will please readers of all ages. Importantly, Elvis Style also gets the balance right between its visual and narrative elements, ensuring both have an appropriately effective impact.
Verdict: As already mentioned, Elvis’ influence on design and fashion has been largely ignored in examinations of his impact. With Elvis Style from zoot suits to jumpsuits Zoey Goto has produced a highly impressive narrative-visual record which rectifies this situation and in so doing opens up our minds and eyes to the “crazy, cool and at times kitsch world” of Elvis the style icon. It is an important release in the vast Elvis book canon! Any serious Elvis library should have a copy in its collection.
Elvis Style from zoot suits to jumpsuits is due for release on 1 July.
About Zoey Goto: The author is a journalist specialising in fashion, design, art and lifestyle. Her articles have appeared in many leading international magazines including GQ, GQ style, Elle and Numero.
One of her recently published works is her interview with film and TV star Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), published in the international men’s lifestyle magazine, Numero homme.
Elvis Style from zoot suits to jumpsuits is her first book.
....EIN will publish its one on one interview with Zoey Goto see below....
Comment on this review
Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN June 2016 -
EIN Website content ©
(Interview) Zoey Goto (author of Elvis Style from zoot suits to jumpsuits: EIN's Nigel Patterson recently interviewed Zoey Goto about her very different and very interesting book about Elvis and his style - style that encompasses not only his outfits and personal grooming but also Elvis' style in automobiles, food and architecture.
In a fascinating discussion Zoey discusses Elvis and the zoot suit, the controversial Nudie Cohn pink jumpsuit, how Elvis still resonates today in youth culture and a lot more. (Interview, Source: EIN)
I would like to express a warm welcome to Ms Zoey Goto’s new book : Elvis Style: From Zoot Suits to Jumpsuits. As famous composer Leonard Bernstein put it :
“Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it's a whole new social revolution… the 60's comes from it.”
I cannot wait to read and enjoy what surely will bring a fresh and instructive piece of work about the greatest entertainer ever. Elvis in fashion is certainly an exciting and innovative angle that has been wrongly disregarded up to now. It is time to set the record straight!
Congratulations to Ms Goto, her book will definitely finds the place it deserves among my Elvis books collection and archives!
Thank you EIN for keeping us updated about the King and for your flawless dedication- and yes hands up, I’m proud to say that I knew that Elvis was using Royal Crown hairdressing to shape his iconic Pompadour!
Kind regards, Joseph Rene.
(Author of 'Elvis, The Numbers')
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