They call him the King of the Rhinestone Cowboys, the Dean of Dazzle, the Godfather of Glitz. And Los Angeles designer Tony Alamo deserves the titles. For nearly two decades now, he has been making sparkling, showy stuff for the stars.
Frankly, almost everybody who's anybody in entertainment has worn Alamo's designs. Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Larry Hagman, James Brown, Elvis Presley, Liberace, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna and Mr. T - that's just a small sampling of the big names who've relied on his costuming artistry.Now, Alamo's making his razzle-dazzle available to the masses by marketing denim jackets, airbrushed with dramatic artwork and emblazoned with fabulous fake jewels. Done in a variety of dramatic motifs, the glitzy garments are real eye-catchers (they brought down the house at the recent Men's Fashion Association press preview in California). Of course, you have to be willing to pay the price. And in these times of tight money, what could possibly make the jackets worth $1,000 and sometimes more?
Well, they're art-to-wear, fashion experts point out. Collectibles. But more important, they can make an ordinary person feel like a stellar personality.
Just where did the idea for the twinkling togs originate?
The denim jacket, which acts as a canvas for Alamo's "artistry in glitz," dates back to the designer's growing-up days in Montana. All the cowhands in Big Sky Country wore them, he said. As for the glamorous touches, they were inspired by the theater and the world of entertainment - a world his father, a dance coach and artist, taught him to love.
For a while, in fact, young Tony contemplated becoming an entertainer. But soon he switched from country-western singing to designing, opening a business in in Nashville where he catered to the clothes-conscious cast of the Grand Ol' Opry.
The designer's fame spread from Nashville greats to Hollywood luminaries (he now lives in L.A.). Ordinary folks found out about him, too.
"People came to us from all over the world," said Alamo. "The denim we were doing symbolized the West to them - the spirit of America. They wanted to special order, and they were especially interested in beaded jackets."
Recognizing a great business opportunity, the designer decided to develop a line for public consumption. The sparkling denim jacket became his signature item.
Today, there are outlets from coast to coast. Stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus can't keep the jackets in stock. Alamo's store in Nashville has orders about a mile high. And in posh resort places such as Beverly Hills and Aspen, the ritzy-glitzy jeanswear is especially hot.
A staff of about 400 virtually works around the clock these days to meet the demand.
To complete one of the flashy fashions takes anywhere from two to 12 hours, depending on the amount of beading and painting involved. Each jacket is cut without a seam, acid washed, painted by hand and then lavishly embroidered with twinkling Austrian crystals, sequins and such.
His "city lights" jackets featuring dramatic skylines, are the biggest sellers - New York, Chicago, Boston, Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are among the favorites. There also are western numbers emblazoned with with such words as "Rodeo" and "Horsin' Around." And there are animal jackets featuring spectacular paintings of cats, leopards, panthers and wolves.
The main fabric Alamo uses, of course, is denim. But he also likes leather and is seldom seen without his leather cowboy hat trimmed with jewels. As for clothing silhouettes, bombers and tuxedos lead the parade, followed by minis, midis and beaded boleros.