Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027
The Autry National Center presents an installation of Western fashion worn by one of the most successful and popular entertainers in history, pop icon Michael Jackson. His contributions to music, dance, and fashion made him a global icon for over four decades. In the world of style, his willingness to try different patterns and designs made Jackson truly unique. While many of his influences—from military jackets to aviator sunglasses—are readily apparent, his frequent use of Western wear has gone virtually unnoticed. The new installation at the Autry will reflect Jackson’s ability to use classic Western styles in distinctive ways.
“The Autry is thrilled to showcase global superstar Michael Jackson in a whole new light, with items on loan from the collection of Tompkins/Bush. Through his Western-inspired fashion, the public will be able to draw connections between the past and the present as they walk through our Imagination Gallery. We hope this installation and our other exhibitions inspire people of all ages to feel that the West belongs to everyone—from cowboys and Native Americans to women and pop icons,” said John L. Gray, Autry President and CEO.
Surrounded by objects belonging to the likes of the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood in the Autry’s Imagination Gallery, a three-sided case with full-size mannequins will display outfits that Jackson wore in the 1970s and ’90s, as well as the famous white glove—all courtesy of his longtime costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush.
Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush fondly recall, “Michael Jackson’s request, with everything we made for him, was always the same . . . ‘Dennis, Bush, this has to be museum-quality. This needs to be able to be displayed in a museum. . . . It has to be detailed.’ When the Autry approached us in early 2009, about contributing to this exhibit, we discussed it with Michael and he was excited and humbled by the idea. It is our honor and privilege to be able to share with the world a glimpse into the artistic collaboration we were so fortunate to have had with Michael Jackson for almost 25 years and contribute to furthering his incredible legacy for generations to come.”
Curated by Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s Associate Curator of Film and Popular Culture, the exhibit will highlight Jackson’s early career by featuring a sparkling trimmed and rhinestone cowboy outfit worn on the television variety show The Jacksons on March 2, 1977. The costume was clearly influenced by Western entertainers like Roy Rogers and Rex Allen. In a video accompanying the display, visitors will be able to see Jackson’s performance of the hit songs “Cisco Kid” and “I Shot the Sheriff” on a set decorated to look like a Western saloon.
The display case will also examine Jackson’s use of Western wear in the latter part of his career. As a solo artist, Jackson often wore a classic bib-front shirt, just like John Wayne and many other screen cowboys throughout the twentieth century. Following in the tradition of flashier stars like Tom Mix and Gene Autry, Jackson had shirts adorned with intricate designs and opulent buttons.
On November 17, 1996, while promoting the HIStory World Tour in Sydney, Australia, Jackson wore a red bib-front shirt with black trim. The shirt was designed by costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush, who are responsible for many of the Western influences found in Jackson’s clothing. Jackson complemented the shirt with a pair of black Levi 501 jeans (with embellishments by Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush), another Western essential. The black fedora and aviator sunglasses he wore with the outfit will also be on exhibit, along with Tompkins and Bush’s original sketch of the shirt.
At the center of the installation, the most iconic Jackson clothing accessory, also made by Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush —a single white glove—will be displayed. Western entertainers throughout history have worn gauntlets or gloves. Gauntlets originally had a practical purpose on the American frontier, but like the majority of Western wear, entertainers customized their gloves with flashy beads and intricate designs merely for show. Following in this tradition, Jackson started wearing one glove in the mid-1970s—and, most notably, at the historic Motown 25 performance in Pasadena, California, in 1983. It quickly became a cultural phenomenon, and Jackson ultimately donned a variety of gloves throughout his career. The glove he wore on the March 2002 cover of Vibe magazine will be on display in a special section of the exhibit. It was the last time he was professionally photographed wearing his trademark accessory.
Other items on display will include a Western-style belt and buckle that Jackson wore on several occasions, most noticeably for the “Beat It” single record cover and promotional materials—and a pair of steel cowboy boots, designed by Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush, that Jackson wore to the White House in April 1990.
Access to the installation in the Imagination Gallery is free with museum admission. The Autry Museum’s Celebration of Michael Jackson’s Birthday will take place on August 29. Visit www.TheAutry.org for details.
The Michael Jackson installation is made possible by the generosity of costume designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush. All of the artifacts are from their private collection. The Autry would like to thank them for their support.
About Tompkins Bush
If you ask Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush to define their craft, they will humbly tell you they design “show clothes.” But that hardly captures the tremendous impact they have had on pop culture with their show-stopping designs on some of the most famous performers of our time and their more than 25 years with Michael Jackson, the “greatest entertainer that ever lived.”
Through their boundless creativity and relentless ingenuity, the formidable team of Tompkins Bush makes show clothes like none other—clothes that are unique, work innately with the entertainer, enhance the performance, and are choreographed into every element, but never compete or upstage—and are, without a doubt, visually riveting.
Since 1985, Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush created, styled, and designed almost all of the clothing and costumes worn by Michael Jackson. He wore their masterful creations for countless concerts, video shoots, three world tours, and presidential and royal meetings, as well as appearances and photo shoots that spanned the globe and made pop culture history. The show clothes they made for Michael Jackson have been some of the most photographed in history.
Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush spent hours in rehearsal studios observing Jackson sing and dance so they could incorporate every element of his performance into their designs and see how the garment needed to move. Their design philosophy has always been firmly grounded in the belief that the clothes need to make the performance look effortless. Ultimately, the clothes were as choreographed as Michael Jackson and specifically constructed to work with each and every beat.
Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush very rarely talk about their work publicly. They knew at all times who the star was, and they never competed for that spotlight. Quietly and without fanfare, they left their indisputable mark on fashion and entertainment and made the world stop and look. As they fondly recall, “Michael Jackson was always ‘show time.’ He wanted to set the pace, not copy one.”
Most recently, in early 2009, Michael Jackson called on the artistic abilities of Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush once again, to design the costumes for “This Is It,” which would have been their fourth tour together. Tompkins/Bush have also designed show clothes, costumes, and personal wardrobes for the Jackson Brothers, Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears, Siegfried & Roy, *NSYNC, Denzel and Pauletta Washington, 3T, and many others. They reside in Los Angeles and continue to design for select clients.
About the Autry National Center
The Autry National Center is an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West. Located in Griffith Park, the Autry includes the collections of the Museum of the American West, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, and the Autry Institute’s two research libraries: the Braun Research Library and the Autry Library. Exhibitions, public programs, K–12 educational services, and publications are designed to examine critical issues of society, offering insights into solutions and the contemporary human condition through the Western historical experience.
Weekday hours of operation for the Autry National Center’s museum at its Griffith Park location are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Autry Store’s weekday hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the Golden Spur Cafe is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday hours for the museum and the Autry Store are 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The museum, the Autry Store, and the cafe are closed on Mondays. The libraries are open to researchers by appointment.
Museum admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and seniors 60+, $3 for children ages 3–12, and free for Autry members, veterans, and children age 2 and under. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.