Who would Michael Jackson have been without his jackets, shiny shoes, fedoras and gloves? His image was as iconic as his groundbreaking music and dancing, and key to his success as the King of Pop.
After 25 years behind the scenes, Jackson’s costume designer Michael Bush is stepping into the limelight. He signs copies of his new book, “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson,” at Book Passage on Tuesday in The City. Some of Jackson’s costumes also will be on view.
“When I met Michael, he was having some problems with costumes,” Bush says. “He needed them to perform as well as he did and wanted them to be as interesting on the hanger as they were on him. He knew what he needed. He kept saying, ‘I dance the beat, you have to help me show the beat.’”
Bush first met Jackson in 1985 on the set of “Captain EO,” working as a dressing assistant. After that production, he and co-designer and partner Dennis Tomkins, a former ice dancer who died in December 2011, began making costumes for Jackson.
“Michael was one of those people who could see things that you didn’t know you had,” Bush says of his move from dresser to designer. Jackson also bought Bush a camera, which he used to photograph designs for his own reference.
“I shot most of the photos in the book myself because of Michael,” Bush says. “He saw my slides and kept saying, ‘You should do a book,’ and I kept saying, ‘Yeah, right.’ He was just one of those mentors that could see all the different levels of how you become an artist.”
In a way, Bush’s career path was ironic. As a child, he helped his mother with an alteration business and hated every minute of it. He swore off sewing until he fell into dressing work in Los Angeles in his 20s.
Bush, who frequently went to Europe to do street fashion research at Jackson’s request, says his boss’ penchant for military garb stemmed from a desire to accentuate his stage movement and be a commanding presence.
“We’d visit museums and he’d see how kings and queens used to dress, and the men were often in military gear,” Bush says. “He loved the detail, the fit and how they’re designed to show off the body but made for movement.”
Jackson also wanted to up the ante designwise, using leather, plastics and rubber to push a rock image.
Touring Europe to promote the book, Bush has met thousands of Jackson fans. He says, “Some of these people are soccer-playing businessmen. But they want to hold the glove.”
He’s also very grateful to have worked with the superstar: “It’s astonishing what Michael has given me. Sewing was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and I ended up making some of the most photographed clothes in the world. It’s very humbling,” Bush says.
IF YOU GO
Where: Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, S.F.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 835-1020, www.bookpassage.com
“King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson”
Written by Michael Bush
Published by Insight Editions