Man who dressed Cher admits his links to the Mob: When Bob Mackie hit financial trouble he turned to the Mafia for help. Marion Hume reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BOB MACKIE, the glitzy American fashion designer best known for creating Cher's 'cobweb of nothing dress' for the 1988 Academy Awards, has ties with the Mafia.

Mackie is not the first fashion designer to be suspected of having dealings with organised crime. One internationally renowned name is widely rumoured to have received underwriting for a fashion business in the form of laundered money, while some of the frothiest creations from the Parisian haute couture are believed to be ordered by the wives of leading criminals.

However, Mackie's is a rare case where the link between glamour and the proceeds of crime has been admitted. His eponymous company accepted loans from the Gambino Family, part of the New York branch of the Mafia.

Mackie's business had run in to trouble in the mid-Eighties. It was then supported by a sizeable loan from a company controlled by the Gambinos. The designer tried to pay off the loan first by giving dresses free to Arlene Gambino, wife of Joey Gambino. He then provided free dresses for guests at a Godfather-style Gambino family wedding. Joey and his brother Thomas last year paid a dollars 12m ( pounds 7.8m) fine to avoid a prison term over charges which included extortion.

Mackie, 53, once dubbed 'the man who never met a sequin he didn't like,' has glittering clients including the trophy-wife-turned- businesswoman, Ivana Trump of Ivana INC, and the actress, Carol Burnett, as well as his most celebrated client, Cher. Mackie is said to have approached his rich clients for further loans when the company's financial situation grew more out of hand. Cher gave dollars 100,000 ( pounds 65,000) and Carol Burnett bought company stock.

According to an article by Nikki Finke in the new edition of Vanity Fair magazine a representative of the Gambino family would visit Mackie's New York offices in search of late payments.

Mackie is based on the 22nd floor of 550 Seventh Avenue, arguably the hub of American design because the skyscraper also houses Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. The only major US fashion designer not housed in 550 is Calvin Klein, whose offices back on to the building.

Bob Mackie remains in business, albeit for less star-spangled versions of his American couture and he held a small show during Manhattan collection week in April. He has also designed the costumes for Bette Midler's televised re-make of the Broadway show, Gypsy.

(Photograph omitted)