Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Autry Celebrates Michael Jackson's Western Style

This may be one of the more unusual stretches I've ever seen for a museum exhibit: "The Autry National Center presents an installation of Western fashion worn by one of the most successful and popular entertainers in history, pop icon Michael Jackson."

No lie: A new Autry installation "will reflect Jackson's ability to use classic Western styles in distinctive ways."

I know. I know.

Now, it's not unusual for the Autry to celebrate Hollywood stars -- hell, the entire institution is named after the Singing Cowboy himself, Gene Autry.

And yet, Michael Jackson was never synonymous in life with country music. In death, though, he apparently is now remembered as an influential player in the world of Western style:

His contributions to music, dance, and fashion made him a global icon for over four decades. In the world of style, his willingness to try different patterns and designs made Jackson truly unique. While many of his influences—from military jackets to aviator sunglasses—are readily apparent, his frequent use of Western wear has gone virtually unnoticed. The new installation at the Autry will reflect Jackson's ability to use classic Western styles in distinctive ways.

Surrounded by objects belonging to the likes of the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood in the Autry’s Imagination Gallery, a three-sided case with full-size mannequins will display outfits that Jackson wore in the 1970s and ’90s, as well as the famous white glove—all courtesy of his longtime costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush.

Curated by Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry's Associate Curator of Film and Popular Culture, the exhibit will highlight Jackson's early career by featuring a sparkling trimmed and rhinestone cowboy outfit worn on the television variety show The Jacksons on March 2, 1977. The costume was clearly influenced by Western entertainers like Roy Rogers and Rex Allen. In a video accompanying the display, visitors will be able to see Jackson’s performance of the hit songs "Cisco Kid" and "I Shot the Sheriff" on a set decorated to look like a Western saloon.

The display case will also examine Jackson's use of Western wear in the latter part of his career. As a solo artist, Jackson often wore a classic bib-front shirt, just like John Wayne and many other screen cowboys throughout the twentieth century. Following in the tradition of flashier stars like Tom Mix and Gene Autry, Jackson had shirts adorned with intricate designs and opulent buttons.

The red bib-front shirt with black trim was worn by Jackson in 1996 while promoting his "HIStory" World Tour in Sydney, Australia.

The Autry Museum’s Celebration of Michael Jackson’s Birthday takes place on August 29.

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