Designer Bill Belew Dies

January 17, 2008 8:05:52 AM PST
Costume designer Bill Belew, who created Elvis Presley's jumpsuits and the tight black leather outfit he wore on his 1968 television special, has died. He was 76.

Belew died Jan. 7 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs after battling diabetes, his longtime companion, Paul Dafelmair, told the Los Angeles Times.

In his nearly 50-year career, Belew designed costumes for many stars of stage, screen and television, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Gloria Estefan.

But it is his work with Presley for which Belew will be best remembered.

"Bill Belew changed the face of rock 'n' roll fashion," Presley costume historian Butch Polston said.

After creating the jumpsuits for Presley, "everybody wanted to dress like Elvis," Polston said. "(Belew) designed stuff for the Osmonds, the Jacksons, just numerous celebrities."

His collaboration with Presley began in 1968, when Belew was asked to design the wardrobe for the hourlong TV special that that became known as Presley's "comeback."

"It always seemed like people assumed he wore black leather, but he never did," Belew recalled in an interview with Salon.com in 1999. "He may have worn a leather jacket, but that's about it."

But the tight black leather outfit became an instant hit.

In the 1970s, Presley began wearing Belew-designed, bejeweled jumpsuits. They included a tall collar, pointed sleeves and bell bottoms, plus a matching cape and wide belts.

"I think when he got to the '70s, Elvis did have complete confidence in Bill's designs. Bill said they'd made the point about Elvis' masculinity and didn't have to worry about that," Julie Mundy, author of the book "Elvis Fashion," told The Associated Press in 2003.

Load Comments