A cowboy fashion show, True Glitz: Rendezvous, Rodeo & Rhinestones, greeted an intimate audience at the Fashion Week El Paseo tent. There was no DJ or booming bass, but rather a stovetop hat-clad pianist who provided his early 20th century beat via a player piano that rested under a bag of feed. An MC wearing a black, sparkly cowgirl outfit narrated the entire show. The models, who showed off a mix of new and historical Western pieces from purveyors all over the country, actually smiled.
The show featured the quiet presence of fashion legend Manuel Cuevas, who simply goes by Manuel and flew up from Nashville for the Palm Springs Western Design Expo this weekend.
Cuevas learned how to cut a suit from Sy Devore, the man who dressed The Rat Pack. He dressed James Dean in Giant. And after opening his namesake shop in North Hollywood, he went on to the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Linda Rondstadt, and The Grateful Dead in his custom, intricately embroidered and bedazzled suits and shirts.
“My clothes are a product of the imagination,” he said backstage of Wednesday’s cowboy show. A collection of his elaborate, color-rich work was shown among more subdued deerskin fringe gowns, turquoise belts and one very large Buffalo-fur coat that made us want to hug a puppy. But among the traditional cowboy garb, it was Manuel’s beaded boleros and rose-encrusted pantsuits that made the biggest impact.
His love of roses — a constant throughout his work and an inadvertent symbol of the Grateful Dead after he embroidered the flower on their shirts — started at one Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena in the 1950s, where Manuel decided that his life calling was to create statement making, bedazzled western wear. But don’t call him a western wear designer.
“I make everything,” he said. “I’ll dress a beggar, I’ll dress a king. I just love to make clothes.”
Now 71, Manuel runs his Nashville-based business with the help of his two daughters and his son, also a clothing designer. And yesterday he hugged fans, posed for pictures with models and laughed as if he didn’t have a care in the world.