- The King of rock-and-roll (and style)
Zoey Goto, an English fashion journalist, was perturbed as to why Elvis Presley's sense of style has never been adequately covered. So, she decided to do it herself. Elvis Style: From Zoot Suits to Jumpsuits makes the argument that Elvis was a fashion innovator. Goto will be signing the book at Lanksy Bros. on Wednesday.
I first became interested in Presley around fifteen years ago, when I was flicking though a magazine and came across a photo of Elvis — who was, and still is, the most visually stunning person I had ever seen. I was hooked and quickly jumped on a plane from London to Memphis to visit Graceland and write an academic paper on Elvis. I then built up a career in fashion journalism and couldn’t understand why more hadn’t been written about Elvis and his style, so I decided to take the plunge and write the book myself, calling on my contacts in the fashion industry to offer up their insights. I see Elvis as the perfect subject for a style book. There have been many snappy dressers throughout history but few that had or continue to have such a cultural impact as The King.
I also think that if you’re going to dedicate a number of years to writing a book, it needs to be something that you feel passionately about. Elvis ticks this box for me and has become an integral part of our life — to the extent that when my daughter was about three she used to include Elvis in her drawings of our family, complete with a sky-high pompadour!
Your book spans Elvis' career. Are you partial to one look or period?
I have two favorite eras for Elvis’ style – the mid-fifties and the seventies. Elvis’ youthful style in the fifties, with the slick pompadour, flashes of pink and the upturned Lansky Bros collar, remains his fashion legacy. Elvis quite literally changed the way that America dressed at the time and you can still see variations of this style on the streets today.
I also have a fondness for his seventies Vegas stage-wear as it really pushed the fashion boundaries. Who else could have worn those fantastic bejewelled jumpsuits and still have come across as such an alpha-male?!
You spoke to well-known fashion insiders about Elvis' influence. Was there an insight that surprised you?
I interviewed Victoria Broackes from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, who had curated a very successful exhibition called David Bowie Is a few years ago. She really knows her stuff when it comes to the history of fashion and she is also an Elvis fan, who gets how significant his style was. She pointed out that Elvis’ impact reached right across the pond, and that his stage-wear in the seventies was influencing the British glam rockers, especially performers like David Bowie.
It might have seemed a bit left-field for Elvis to start wearing the jumpsuits and capes in the early seventies, but within the context of the times, Elvis was trailblazing the whole flamboyant, male peacock movement.
Your book argues that Elvis' influence isn't just about clothes and hair but covers cars and home design as well. How so?
I think Elvis was ahead of the curve in many ways, not just purely clothing and hairstyles. For example, it is now pretty standard for celebrities to be photographed at home, showcasing their luxurious private world, but Elvis was doing this way back in the mid-sixties when he invited Mid South Magazine into Graceland to photograph him and his interior choices.
I also found that looking beyond just the clothing revealed so much more about Elvis. He had style across the board and he was was utterly consistent. It wasn’t as if Elvis wore these expressive, wild outfits and then went home to his minimalist, white cube of a house! The jumpsuits, pimped-up cars, and thematic interiors all mirror each other and tell us much about the wonderfully creative, playful and at times extreme person that Elvis was.
Where do you see Elvis in contemporary fashion and design?
My book Elvis Style is making the argument that Elvis is a pivotal figure in menswear and should get recognition as such. I don’t feel the fashion world really appreciates Elvis’ impact. For example, I was telling a fashion editor friend about my book a while ago and she wanted me to reassure her that I was venturing into this with an ironic slant. I was like “No, I am really serious about this! Elvis should be included in the syllabus at fashion universities because his impact is that important” I think it helps that I got people like Patricia Fields (stylist on Sex & The City) and the costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Michael Jackson’s Thriller) to back up this argument. Deborah even says in Elvis Style that there wasn’t a costume designer alive who hasn’t been inspired by Elvis.
Your next book is on Dolly Parton! How are you approaching the subject?
I’ve actually decided to broaden my next book out and write about the icons of country music, from a fashion perspective. There will be lots on the lovely Dolly Parton but I also want to include other greats such as Hank Williams in his Nudie suits, and the Maddox brothers and Rose in their coordinating Nathan Turk costumes, right up to contemporary stars such as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. Before I come to Memphis for the Lansky Bros book signing on the 12th April, I will be in Dollywood and Nashville researching this book on country style, interviewing some of the people who have helped to craft these famous star’s images and photographing some of the costumes in all their dazzling, rhinestone glory!
- Zoey Goto