1983's THRILLER video, designed by Deborah Nadoolman Landis
We here at Frocktalk mourn the untimely passing of Michael Jackson: musician, recording artist, superstar and costume icon. I asked costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis for her thoughts on this amazing performer, with whom she had the privilege of working. Here’s what she had to say:
Michael was one of the most naturally and intuitively elegant men on this (or any other) planet. His look evolved from 70’s variety show crystal and fringe to the narrow, lean, clean silhouette inspired by Fred Astaire (with whom he was close friends.)
Images from the video BLACK OR WHITE, designed by Deborah Nadoolman Landis
When I designed the video Black or White with Michael, we paired his costume down to a white shirt, black trousers, white socks and black loafers – pure Astaire. Black or White was visually lush and filled with costumed dancers from Thailand, Africa, and cowboys, Michael’s brilliance needed no embellishment – his unique talent shown through the lavish sets, special effects and complicated choreography. I pushed him to lose the baroque gold braid of his personal wardrobe and get modern with his dance clothes and he responded happily. He was a great creative collaborator.
BLACK OR WHITE, designed by Deborah Nadoolman Landis
Michael was aware of his impact and reveled in his own unique style and was aware that a satin face mask and St. Pepper band uniforms became a signature look that he played with for years. He always took the look one step further and that took guts. He was a style icon because he created his own fashion and followed no one.
Michael Jackson, Costume Icon
I don’t know about Billie Jean or Beat It but Thriller was all mine. As a motion picture costume designer, my role is to make characters come to life. The Thriller jacket had to work in the story and pop in the dance number. I got the script and talked about the first part – Michael’s letterman jacket and the dance jacket – and by the way – the rest of the costumes.
We were making a little movie that was written and directed by John Landis. This short film was made for theatrical release and we made it as a movie. I brought the sketches for the Thriller jacket to Michael at midnight while he was recording his following album. As a mother of two small kids, I slept on the sofa across from the receptionist until he could meet with me at 2am! When I got into the studio we sat around a big table and talked ideas. I like a clean look with a big silhouette – nice virile shoulders to add some bulk to this 99 pound dynamo. Michael loved it – he could have pushed for the studs and metal of the old videos but he really let me be the designer. I had already designed Indiana Jones – perhaps he knew his leather jacket was in good hands!!!
I picked RED because the jacket would POP infront of the graveyard Ghouls and the big V was a design element to evoke the DEVIL – chevrons are traditionally a fashion signature of evil! I designed the jeans and dyed them red – and of course the look was finished with Fred Astaire’s classic white socks and black loafers. I wish I had a nickel for every copy!
Michael is an ICON. His music and his talent will live forever. I loved him very much and I am heartbroken to lose him as a friend.
Thank you for asking me to contribute to his memory.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis
Thank you, Deborah, for your thoughtful comments. I will continue to post more on Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett as I receive it. Have a good weekend, everyone.