"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."
"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."
"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."
(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)
"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"
"Absolute id crashed into absolute superego...as the uptightset man in America shook hands with just about the loosest."
(Mark Feeney on the 'Elvis meets Nixon' meeting)
"Elvis is everywhere"
(Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper)
"...especially in the South, they talk about Elvis and Jesus in the same breath"
(Michael Ventura, LA Weekly)
"The image is one thing and the huiman being is another...it's very hard to live up to an image"
(Elvis Presley, Madison Square Garden press conference, 1972)
"Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was actually stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something"
"No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme"
"I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother...there'll never be another like that soul brother"
(Soul legend, James Brown)
EIN interviews Bernard Lansky
- Elvis' friend, as well as stylist -
Exclusive EIN Interview by Piers Beagley
|Nov 15, 2012 - Bernard Lansky Dies Aged 85: Bernard Lansky, the Memphis retailer who helped a young Elvis Presley establish his signature clothing style of pegged pants, two-toned shoes and other flashy duds in the 1950s, has died. He was 85.
Julie Lansky, the clothier's granddaughter, said he died Thursday Nov 15 2012 at his Memphis home.
Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy started a retail business in Memphis in 1946, with help from a $125 loan from their father, Samuel.
After World War II, the store started selling Army surplus goods on Beale Street. When the supply dried up, they opened a high-fashion men's store, where Bernard Lansky established his reputation as a natural salesman and storyteller.
Lansky Bros. ended up supplying Presley with the pink and black shirts and other outfits.
"It's a statement to say that he dressed one of the most influential entertainers of all time," said Julie Lansky, "He knew that for any entertainer, they had to look different."
Even though his style of dress changed over the years — including sparkling jumpsuits — Presley shopped at Lansky Bros. the rest of his life. Lansky even picked out the white suit and blue tie that Presley wore when he was buried.
"I put his first suit on him and his last suit on him," Lansky was fond of saying.
|By the early 1950s, Lansky's shop was known as a place where a man with a taste for flash could find the styles Lansky referred to as "real sharp."
At the time, Beale Street was a hot spot for blues, rhythm and blues and jazz, and drew a colorful parade of musicians, gamblers and hustlers from the Mississippi Delta.
Presley began hanging around Beale Street as a teenager and picked up quickly on its music.
Lansky first met the future King of Rock 'n' Roll when Presley was just a teenager working as an usher at a nearby theatre and liked to window shop at Lansky's.
After Elvis' success the Lansky brothers often opened the store at night so Presley could avoid drawing crowds and took outfits to Graceland for him to check out.
Lansky dressed him for the "Louisiana Hayride" and his first TV spots on the Tommy Dorsey and Ed Sullivan shows.
Actor Jonathan-Rhys Meyers who played Elvis in the recent CBS TV
mini-series recently met with Bernard Lansky, of the famous Lansky's
clothing store where Elvis regularly used to buy his clothes.
EIN interviewed Bernard Lansky who, although over 80 years old, is still
as feisty and as forthright as ever and has some great stories to tell.
Elvis was just a teenager when he first spent lunchtimes soaking up the
music of Beale Street while gazing at the fashionable clothes in Lansky
Brothers' shop window. Bernard Lansky was the man who sold Elvis those
famous threads that changed the look of popular fashion. With flash
pink-edging and wonderful textures these clothes even stood out on
fifties black & white TV and their style still affects the way we dress
Bernard Lansky is as energetic as ever and works every day at their new
store in the Peabody Hotel in the centre of Memphis.
Even with the
pressure of Elvis Week 2002 he was nice enough to talk to EIN's Piers Beagley (left, with Bernard Lansky) and tell us
some great stories.
EIN - Mr Lansky you've been selling clothes in Memphis since the 1940's
yet it is still hard to find a quiet moment to talk to you because you
are still working, even on a Sunday!
Bernard Lansky - That's right, I still work 7 days a week. I open these doors at 6
o'clock every morning and I go home about 4 in the afternoon. Sometimes
we're busy and especially when it is like this in Elvis week, I can stay
until 9 or 10 O'clock. And then I still come back the next morning at 5
o'clock. When you're on a roll, you're on a roll & you don't want to
|EIN - You are the man who put Elvis in his first suit and his last suit. How did it all start?
B.L - When we first started out we were in Army surplus and when that ran out there was a void in the market for high fashion men's wear which we moved in to. People down on Beale Street thought that we were crazy. In those times it was full of pawn shops and stuff like that. I wanted to do something different. My family had been here in the Memphis area since the 1800's. We first moved here to Beale Street in 1946 and at one point we had 12 stores. We could have had a hundred stores but we just couldn't find the right people to work them. We serviced all over Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
EIN - You mentioned dressing people like Count Basie & Lionel Hampton so
you were dressing people in a contemporary style way before Elvis?
B.L - This was way before Elvis. Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine with the
Hi-Boy collar shirts. Then we came out with the no-back-pocket pants. We
were ahead of the style at the time and people just thought we were
crazy coming out with all this merchandise.
EIN - It shocked me when I read that your Lansky store had moved out of
Beale Street to here in the Peabody Hotel. How did that happen?
B.L - It was a shock to move from Beale Street but Elvis Presley
Enterprises asked us to negotiate. We had an offer to sell for 2 million
dollars but we knew what was happening. Priscilla liked to come in our
store, Elvis used to bring her and she used to come down here to shop
and bring her girlfriends. We knew each other and just kidded each
other. It was coming around to the twentieth Anniversary and EPE wanted
to get this thing up and running. If you don't have brains you just buy
them and that is was Priscilla did with Jack Soden. Jack Soden is a
We were headed for the twentieth year and so I told Jack
that we had an idea to lease this property. They didn't have much time
and they had to gut the whole place all the way down to the basement. I
made a long term lease and a great financial deal - 20 years and then
You know, if you fall in love with what you have, then suddenly you find
that you won't have them because everything will dry up. You got to get
into other things and keep moving along.
EIN - So you dressed the Jazz era and then the Rock 'n Roll stars and
then all of the Soul greats too, Otis Redding etc. Do you ever see any
of them like Jerry Lee Lewis still?
B.L - I see Jerry Lee every once in a while, sure do. I've seen every
type of music and every generation. We had B.B King, Bobby Blue Bland
and all those Stax stars buying our threads. They all used to come to
our store. We had the Rhythm n' Blues guys and the Gospel performers
too. On Sunday morning all you could hear on the radio was black Gospel
and where did they all get their outfits from but Lanskys. We took care
of them all and they were large groups of five or six. Working with
Elvis was easier 'cos there was just one of him!
EIN - Do you remember when you first met Elvis?
B.L - He was coming down the store looking in the window. I really
didn't know who he was. We used to hustle people and try to get them
into the shop. He was working at Lowe's Theatre and used to take his
break and come down and look in the window and listen to the music down
Beale Street. First week after I met him he bought a shirt and you know,
we were the first store to give Elvis a charge account. Another guy was
David Porter who is like a brother to me and did all that work with
Isaac Hayes. He was one of the biggest soul musicians and writers. He
used to work in a grocery store across the street and used to be a
'sacker'. He made himself a million. He wrote those great songs. You
know 'Green Onions'? Well Steve Cropper the guitarist used to get his
suits from me - all of Booker T. and The M.Gs. It was nothing new for
me, just good-looking Bolero coats with no-back-pocket pants! - And the
EIN - There is a great quote that "Lansky Brothers is the store that permanently changed how America dresses"
B.L - That is exactly right and Elvis was our P.R. man. When Elvis put on our threads, that changed the whole of American society. Those clothes with the pink trim. Whenever they asked Elvis where he got his clothes from he said "Lanskys" and they had to go with the flow. You know we bought this stuff up and people thought we were crazy. Beale Street wasn't a flash part of town at the time - this was where the Blues started yet we were putting flash type clothes in the window. It was fantastic.
We had our own tailor shop and what really put us on-the-ball was that they'd come in on Monday and by the next Friday we'd have their clothes ready for the weekend. We had so many people in the store that everything had to be ready by 5.30pm so that they could get out to their clubs and shows. We had so many clothes that the wall of the shop looked like a rainbow.
EIN - That is an interesting point since this was the era of Black & White TV and yet you were dressing Elvis in all these flash coloured clothes. So when you see him on Ed Sullivan you can see the textures but not the colour.
B.L - On TV the colour of the clothes were never 'popping'. They looked
like nothing compared to real thing, but they still looked cool. I still
see that video and think - "That's the suit I made".
EIN - Did you see Elvis much in the sixties?
B.L - I saw him quite a bit. He used to come in the store all the time.
In that Hollywood era they were just carrying him too fast. They were
selling him too fast. It was all to do with timing but his pictures were
shit! It was too fuckin' fast. He was no fuckin' movie star, but they
put him in there you know. The Colonel wanted to make a buck.
I met The
Colonel and you know what? - I liked the Colonel! He was like me. There
was no bullshit, hell he wouldn't fuck with you. His attitude was - If
it ain't "Mr. Green" don't fool with me! I understand why people didn't
like him - but hell if he had worked for me... man he did a very good job!
He put Elvis in the front. He never let anybody over-work Elvis. He'd
over-ride them, and he didn't let Elvis get burnt out. When Elvis came
back after the army he did a hell of a deal with Frank Sinatra. The
Colonel was a tough guy and he was a guy that knew what was happening.
He was a Merchant, that's what I would call him.
EIN - When was the last time Elvis bought any clothes from you?
B.L - He still came around in the seventies. There was that pink
Super-Fly suit that is hanging in our store from that time. I made eight
of those wild coats for him and those hats he wore - fur hats. We still
took care of him in the seventies. I was always buying stuff and taking
care of business. I knew what he wanted - "When you snooze you lose" - I
knew what I was doing!
EIN - A lovely quote that makes me laugh out loud "There was no back
pockets in those pants because the entertainers wanted to show their
bootys". Did you really say that?
B.L - That's so right! We used to call them "Booty Tight". Exactly that,
with no back pockets and then with inverted pleats. We made the shirts
to match. And with those bloom sleeves too. That's where those shirts
come from with Elvis. It's nothing new. I've been making this stuff for
the local black guys all the time. I was making those short Bolero coats
- That's what they all liked. Think of those Stax performers. It's all
Rhythm N' Blues and Rock 'N Roll. I've seen it all.
EIN - Do you know Lisa-Marie very well?
B.L - Sure I know her. She is here this week. She's nice very nice but
she is like Elvis when he started out, very shy. Her husband now (in 2002),
Nicolas Cage, a nicer guy you couldn't want to meet. He is so fine, he
is unreal. He loves Elvis. I just talked to her uncle but she is here in
the Peabody. She makes so much money now that she doesn't know what to
do with it. They got on her arse not too long ago about over spending,
but as long as she's happy.. She's high maintenance. She doesn't know
the value of what's happening. You know "Easy Come, Easy Go", just like
her Dad. When you got it comin' in, what the fuck you care!
EIN - I thought her challenge was that she married Michael Jackson. Can
anybody explain that?
B.L - I didn't understand that. Never asked, didn't give a shit!
EIN - One final question. What was it like making that final white suit
for Elvis to be put to rest in? That must have been quite emotional for
B.L - It sure was. In fact it didn't have sides - it only had the front
of the suit. I was down in Dallas at the markets at the time when we
heard the bad news. We rushed back home because we knew that we had to
do something. I never thought that it would happen. We all thought that
Elvis would be here forever. In fact I was on the outside looking in -
His life wasn't my business. My business was to sell him and dress him.
You know we didn't bump heads or bump asses together. I used to go up to
Graceland and present him with the clothes or throw them in to his room
and ninety percent of the time he liked them. It was 'something
EIN - Mr. Lansky, thank you so much. You are 'something different' and
it was fantastic talking with you after all this time.
B.L - I ain't getting no younger but, life I love it !
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN August 2002
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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Interviewed by EIN's Piers Beagley during Elvis Week, August 2002. EIN copyright 2002.
Click here for our interview with author Pamela Keogh.
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