Some see the flowing, chinchilla-trimmed coats and rhinestone-encrusted slacks favored by ivory tickler Liberace as little more than a tacky remnant of the Las Vegas of yore. But for Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett, authors of the new “Liberace Extravaganza!” (Harper Collins), the feathered capes and Art Deco pantsuits are shimmering works of art. They glimpse Liberace’s influence in present day pop stars like Lady Gaga and CeeLo Green.
Their book documents 50 of the late performer’s most ostentatious stage costumes, and the timing couldn’t be better: The HBO docudrama “Behind the Candelabra” starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas airs Sunday at 9 p.m. Jewett, who has worked as a costume designer for Bette Midler and Cher, couldn’t believe that a book on Liberace’s wardrobe had never been
“These are some of the finest examples in the world of this kind of beading and stonework,” said Jewett. “There are techniques that are used to make these costumes that are disappearing. This is couture.”
It was after traveling to the Liberace Museum — a now-closed shrine to his crystal-covered universe — that the two women embarked on the extensive project. With apologies to the authors, Liberace’s ruffled Rococo suits were undeniably a gaudy gimmick (“An expensive gaudy gimmick!” corrects Solomon). But they are also delicious riots of color and texture. They’re guilty pleasures that deserve your respect.
From a distance, the costumes simply sparkle, transforming the wearer into a human disco ball. But in the close-up photos of “Liberace Extravaganza!,” the patterns of ostrich feathers surrounding rim-set mirrors, sequins, bugle beads, pearls, and crystals are hypnotic and stunning. Laugh if you must, but this is workmanship that should get a standing ovation.Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.