Made to measure: Manuel Cuevas interview
From humble beginnings in a small Mexican village making prom dresses, to designing some of the most iconic outfits in rock ‘n’ roll history, fashion designer Manuel Cuevas has come a long way.
Affectionately known as the ‘Rhinestone Rembrandt’, Manuel has worked with a client list as star-studded as his famous creations, featuring everyone from elvis presley, John Lennon and Johnny Cash to The Killers and Jack White.
Your Move caught up with the designer as he prepares to head to Liverpool for the first major exhibition of his work outside of the US.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
This exhibition is the first time your creations will be on display outside of America. why now? What can people expect?
Well, I should say that I showed at Fashion Week in Mexico City many, many years ago and more recently as part of my lifetime achievement celebrations in my home state of Michoacán. But England is a totally different thing and Liverpool is a super long swim across the pond.
I’ve never had an exhibition of this quality and I will be making new creations to mark the event.
Expect colour and shine, but let’s not give too much away yet. I love surprises. British audiences are going to discover that they have seen some of my suits here and there in the entertainment world for years.
How did you get started as a designer?
It was a calling rather than an ambition, and once I got started as a child I haven’t been able to get off the sewing machine or cutting table since.
My brother Adolfo first taught me to sew when I was seven. I asked him out of sheer curiosity and that was my first experience.
First I was making prom dresses for girls in my hometown when I was 12 and that grew into a business. All the girls begged their mums to let them get their prom dress from me; I was making quite a name for my individual designs.
I never had the ambition of being a designer, I started making clothes for myself and loved it – I created my own style.
I decided I would keep going, something inside clicked and I followed my calling.
“I didn’t see those guys as ‘The Beatles’, I saw them as friends, in particular John – we would really philosophize together.”
You’re known for your rhinestone-studded creations. How did they become your trademark?
It was a discovery for me that happened in California. I was watching the Rose Parade and I loved the flamboyance and sparkle. I wanted to add a touch of that to the western wear I was making.
I don’t claim to be the only one doing it, but it has become something that people come to me for. After 60 years of practice some people see me as the only one doing it.
What creation are you most proud of when you look back over your career?
The creation of the 50 State Jackets for sure. It was an expression of my gratitude to the United States.
I’m a great believer in giving back, not only for who I am but what I have achieved.
Everything I used was original, hand drawn by me except the seals of the state.
I started the project in 1986 and completed it in 2003.
The project was a labour of love. I completed lots of research in libraries and by going from state to state. I’m not and never will be an internet man. America is not my native country but it’s been very good to me, it gave me a great welcome and eventually I was asked to become a citizen. This made me feel welcomed, wanted and appreciated.
“Ringo was in my store just the other week, he bought a beautiful black jacket. In the past I’ve made suits for him and his wife.”
As the exhibition will take place in Liverpool, people will be interested in the clothes you made for The Beatles. How did you find working with them?
I measured them when they came to Nudie’s [tailors] in Hollywood and I got to know them from there.
Each one of them had a different vibe for their own clothing. They were stylists of their own personalities.
My brother Ringo [Starr] was in my store just the other week, he bought a beautiful black jacket. In the past I’ve made suits for him and his wife, several pieces for John [Lennon] and a lovely white jacket for George [Harrison].
I didn’t see those guys as ‘The Beatles’, I saw them as friends, in particular John – we would really philosophize together.
Do you feel Liverpool has some similarities with your adopted hometown of Nashville?
Nashville is growing rapidly at the moment and I think the music communities here and in Liverpool are very similar.
I see a lot of people from Liverpool in Tennessee – the two have a marriage based on music.
The Nashville Boogie attracted a lot of Liverpool folks too. I hope to see them when I am over in September.