Monday, April 26, 2004

Glam gowns of Supremes in rock hall

By M.R. Kropko
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Glitzy gowns that helped shape the sophisticated image of the Motown trio the Supremes are being pulled out of storage closets and footlockers for a new display.

A collection of clothing worn by the group go on display Wednesday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and include the first gowns purchased by Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard when they were still known as the Primettes.

Various gowns on display were worn for the Supremes' television specials or album covers. One dress is a loose-fitting maternity outfit that Wilson wore while she was pregnant.

The exhibit, Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection, features more than 50 gowns, mostly from the 1960s. It is also part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Supremes' first big hit, "Where Did Our Love Go." The group was inducted into the rock hall in 1988.

"I've kept them in trunks, various storages, even my garage. I've never really had them all hung up at one time. This is a one-time wow for me as well," said Wilson, 60, whose home is in Las Vegas.

Glamorous image

The Supremes worked hard to build their image, and their gowns featured a multitude of colors highlighted with chiffon, sequins, beads, fringes, rhinestones and sometimes even feathers. Among the designers were Michael Travis, Bob Mackie and Michael Nicola.

The possibility of the exhibit emerged about two years ago when Wilson visited the rock hall, said Howard Kramer, curatorial director.

"I went out in January to her house in Las Vegas. We tried to figure out what is historically important and what is still in good shape," he said. "The gowns were in various kinds of storage, from wardrobe closets to footlockers."

Now they are on mannequins in a multilevel display.

The rock hall has occasionally had small displays of famous rock 'n' roll clothing, including the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper outfits.

Kramer said the gowns "have great historical value, and I'd be hesitant to put a dollar value on them. These were their work clothes, their uniforms. A lot of girl groups wore gowns. The Supremes wore them more elegantly than anyone else."

A few of the gowns have appeared in impressive settings previously, such as in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The 'butterfly gown'

One of Wilson's favorites is a "butterfly gown" worn on a television special.

"We called them butterfly because they had these huge, cape-like wings attached to our arms," she said. "We paid for everything. Trust me, it came out of our pocket.

"We would pay $2,000 or $3,000 per gown. In today's market, it's not that much, but back then it was quite costly. Of course, that was our image - glamour. You know what? We loved it. We loved glamour. We loved looking good. We set the trend, and we would not have wanted to look any other way."

Wilson, Ross and Ballard were still in high school when they joined their vocal talents in Detroit. In January 1970, Ross left the Supremes for a solo career. Ballard died in 1976.

Wilson still loves to perform, and she travels internationally as a U.S. goodwill ambassador.

"I do at least 100 gigs a year. I do concerts in Vegas. I do fairs and nightclubs," she said. She will open the gowns exhibit with a rock hall concert.

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