I’m sitting at the gate for my flight from Memphis Tennessee back to Los Angles, the city I now call home. I came here to fulfill a childhood pact with my sister. When we were kids we promised that when we grew up we would visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Time went by and the pact seemed like a distant memory. My music career took off and eventually my sister did the trip in the 1990’s without me. I always assumed at some point in the past 20 years of a music career - a rollercoaster ride that took me all over the world and to every city in the USA - that I would somehow have ended up in Memphis and stumble across the place myself. But I never did. Until this week.
So here I sit writing this note after three days in Memphis with my big sister, where she paid for us to stay at the famous Peabody Hotel with its daily parade of ducks who walk through the lobby - and at the end of a trip that took us to Graceland, Sun Studios and amazing Southern food on Beale street. I thought Graceland was fascinating and I was very touched by visiting the first home Elvis ever owned - a smaller house on a gorgeous leafy suburban street. But my favorite part of the trip, by far, was my experience at Lansky’s - the men’s clothing store responsible for dressing Elvis for most of his career.
Most of you know how important fashion and style have been to my career. I always felt image was just as important as sound; both working together to create magic and fantasy and stardom. You probably remember my blue black hair. What you don’t know is this was a direct influence from Elvis. Like me, Elvis Aaron Presley was born with blue eyes, pale skin and sandy blonde hair. By coloring his hair black, it made his eyes pop and psychologically it transformed him from someone naturally beautiful to something from another world. I always loved the otherworldliness of his transformation and the moment I became a performer dying my hair black was the first thing I did.
Much of my style was influenced subconsciously by Elvis and blatantly by Michael Jackson. Strangely, I discovered on this trip, Michael was also inspired by Elvis. Not just by marrying a Presley - but in his use of tailoring and embellished clothing. When visiting Graceland I noticed all the similarities in the wrestler belts, the glasses, the police regalia and the embellishments on the clothes. It was staring me in the face all these years and I hadn’t noticed it. I guess they dressed like royalty.
Anyway the point of my story is to tell you what happened to me at Lansky’s clothing boutique. You can Google the name for more info but the short story is, Bernard Lansky was the man who sold Elvis in his very first, and sadly, his very last suit. There’s a famous quote from Bernard about Elvis visiting the fancy Memphis men's store in its original location on 126 Beale street in the 1950’s when Elvis was just a young man. He told Bernard ‘I don’t have any money, Mr Lansky, but when I get rich, I’m going to buy you out’. Mr Lansky replied, ‘Don't buy me out, just buy from me’. Indeed Elvis did. In fact Bernard picked out the suit that Elvis wore on the Ed Sullivan show for his first ever TV appearance and continued to dress Elvis throughout his entire career.
In the lobby of the Peabody hotel is what was, until recently, the sole home of the original store run by the family. They’ve just opened up a new location back in the original store location on Beale Street but the Peabody has been the epicenter of the brand for many years and still the most prestigious setting. Although Mr Lansky passed away some years ago, his son Hal continued on with the family business and now runs the label.
When I walked in to the boutique at the Peabody Hotel it was a magical moment. To be honest, I was immediately drawn to the store window before I knew it was the ‘Clothier to the King’. I just loved the prints and the fabrics. I saw a black paisley suit that reminded me of the suit Elvis wore when he married Priscilla. As you guessed, it was a direct copy of that famous outfit. Because it had been designed by Mr Lansky!
I went inside with my sister, who knew all about the famous store - and I saw a shirt that just jumped off the racks and begged me to try it on. It was pale blue with paisley of all sorts of colors and it was like something from a dream. When I put the shirt on I felt transformed. I felt like royalty. I came out of the dressing room to say, 'I’ll take it!' but my sister was finishing up paying for it. That’s how confident she felt about me wearing it! I loved it so much I asked if they had one more. I often do that if I find something really unique - I’ll buy a few so I always have a ‘back up’. Edith, the wonderful sales associate who worked there told me sadly she didn’t think they had another one. It was, like most of the designs, a limited edition. She said she would phone the factory and if anything ever came of it, she’d email me.
Regardless I told Edith that it was my favorite shirt I’d ever owned and I hadn’t even worn it yet! She said, ‘You might want to take a look inside. Hal always likes to put a little message inside his garments and it’s different each time depending on his mood’. Sure enough, inside the shirt was a label with the sentence ‘My favorite garment’.
It was meant to be.
This morning as I got up to leave the hotel the phone rang. It was Edith. She said she’d spoken to Hal and they found one more shirt in my size. The last one. She said if I came downstairs Mr Hal Lansky was in the store and I might meet him. Sure enough, I did. It was like looking at a picture of his father Bernard. Hal was a complete gentleman, thanked me for shopping at his store and shook my hand.
It was such a privilege to be in Memphis - to walk the same footsteps that Elvis did and to shake the hand of a man who has been a part of a chain of events that contributed to so many things I love about the world.
Thank you Hal, thank you Edith and thank you Memphis Tennessee. I will always hold a special place for you in my heart.