When the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards were held in Las Vegas last weekend, plenty of stars were looking good on the red carpet — but it was newcomer Frankie Ballard who made quite the splash, dressed to kill in a unique brightly embroidered suit that caught everyone's eye.
Turns out there's a long story behind the cool threads. Ballard's suit was created by legendary tailor Manuel. If the name doesn't sound familiar, rest assured — you’ve definitely seen his work. The 80-year-old designer, known as the “Rhinestone Rembrandt,” is responsible for some of the most iconic looks in music, from Elvis Presley’s over-the-top jumpsuits to the outfits that eventually led to Johnny Cash’s most famous nickname.
Manuel Cuevas was born in Mexico and learned to sew when he was 7. He immigrated to the U.S. at age 17, and started working for a Los Angeles tailor at the rate of $1 an hour. Those first years heavily influenced his designs — particularly his penchant for flamboyant embroidery and the American cowboy archetype, both of which led to another of his monikers, “The King of Cowboy Couture.”
Southern California in general was an inspiration for many of his ideas. For example: The roses he adorned outfits for Dolly Parton and Elton John, among others, were inspired by the first time he ever saw Pasadena's famous Rose Bowl parade.
Manuel eventually began working for famed clothing house Nudie in the '70s, where he created outfits for The Beatles (the Fab Four wear his work on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper"), the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and of course… The King.
The tailor not only created unforgettable looks for his stars, he even helped create their personas in some cases. Well-known for listening carefullly to an artist's request for a certain kind of design, he'd often go ahead and create something completely different that he felt suited the star's personality better, a technique he told the L.A. Times was a "surprise" and "a gift" to his client.
And a gift it was, indeed, to many. Proof positive: It was because of this that Cash ended up with his all-black wardrobe, hence becoming "the Man in Black."
However, sometimes Manuel cleverly gave the artist exactly what he or she wanted. He once said in an interview with the Chicago Times that he overcharged notorious over-spender Elvis for a suit, sensing that an inflated price tag was “exactly what he wanted.”
Overpriced or right on the market, a Manuel outfit did not, and still does not, come cheap. His creations can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, with certain designs going all the way up to $20,000. However, those who indulge in one of his wearable works of art can rest assured of one thing: It will be one of a kind. The great tailor refuses to ever duplicate a garment.
And he means what he says. Proof positive: When Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics pleaded for a replacement jacket to a treasured white suit he'd purchased, Manuel sewed him another.
However, he created it in black.
This week on Twitter, we asked who YOU thought had the best style in country music. Follow host @Cornelia_Rowe for our "Tweet of the Week" question and share your thoughts with the #RamCountry tag. Your answer just may make the next episode of the Ram Country Report!