“It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world,” said Dolly Parton on Friday evening (Oct. 27) at Lipscomb University.
She was quoting a line from her 1984 chart-topping song “Tennessee Homesick Blues” as she pondered her love of sparkly, dress-up glamor. “I love to shine,” she added. “It makes me feel lighter and more exciting.”
The occasion was the gala VIP party celebrating the opening of “Dolly Parton and the Makers,” an exhibit of her glittering, iconic costumes. The evening was also the launch party of her new book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones.
“Whew! That’s a lot of livin,’” she commented about the various outfits on display. “I’m amazed at how much I’ve done, I really am….Each of my dresses has a story…..We all have these pictures where we look at what we were wearing and say, ‘What was I thinking?’”
The superstar has been wearing custom-sewn creations since her earliest days on Music Row. When she signed with RCA Records in 1967, label boss Chet Atkins suggested that she stop wearing wigs and flashy outfits. Parton recalled him saying, “Dolly, you need to tone it down — you look a little trashy. Nobody’s going to take you seriously as a songwriter or a singer.” She replied, “They will if I’m good enough.”
Instead of toning it down, she became even more flamboyant. After she made it big, Atkins cracked, “Aren’t you glad you took my advice?”
“I think it’s important that people wear what they’re comfortable in,” she told the gala crowd. “Be yourself. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
Pink butterflies and pink landscape spotlights greeted attendees as they ascended the steps to the university’s library building. Next to the building’s exterior doors was an oversized neon “Dolly and the Makers” sign for selfies. Inside, the entrance to the exhibit was flanked by Dolly-inspired dresses created by Lipscomb’s Fashion Design majors.
A blow-up of the book’s jacket contained holes on either side of Dolly’s portrait so that attendees can take snapshots of it with their heads surrounded by painted flower petals. This is located next to a 45-foot walkway featured a pink wall containing a timeline placing pictures of the various costumes in chronological order. The ceiling was festooned with golden butterfly decorations.
Inside the art gallery are 25 gowns in glass cases, a wardrobe-creation station with sample fabrics, a lighted makeup station (with a bottle of her Scent From Above perfume for spritzing), a video featuring the clothes’ various designers talking about their work and assorted displays of jewelry, wigs, hats and high-heeled shoes.
The exhibit is called “The Makers” because it spotlights “lots of creativity from a lot of people,” as Parton put it. Next to the displays are bios of more than a dozen designers who have created looks for her.
Places for photo ops are scattered throughout. One spot contains giant pink angel wings that attendees can pose with. Another is a mini stage with a life-sized cardboard likeness of Dolly to pose with. Still another is a wall of pink feathers topped by her logo in white neon, also designed for posing.
In attendance were Iisha Lemming, Riley Reed Hanratty, Christian Fletcher and the star’s archivist Rebecca Seaver, all members of the star’s creative team. Lemming is now serving as a visiting faculty member at Lipscomb, mentoring young designers.
“Dolly Parton and the Makers” particularly emphasizes the gowns designed by Steve Summers, her creative director. Like the star, he is an up-by-his-bootstraps success story whose visions for Parton and inventive flair rose him through the ranks of her organization. Summers said he estimates that his team creates 300 dresses a year for the superstar.
Her favorite outfit is the white gown she wore singing “He’s Alive” on the 1989 CMA Awards. The book contains a photo of her in it with arms outstretched, creating a “wing” effect because of its draped upper sleeves.
Seaver curated and preserved the hundreds of gowns pictured in color in the book, which Dolly wrote with award-winning author Holly George-Warren, also in attendance. Most of the exhibit copy came from the chapters in Behind the Seams.
The event began with greetings from Mayor Freddie O’Connell, who talked about how his daughters learned to love reading via Dolly’s Imagination Library program. To date, it has distributed more than 200 million free books to children.
Lipscomb president Candace McQueen described Parton as “the most beloved figure in the entertainment industry.” McQueen added, “Her courageous fashion sense has left an indelible mark on the world of style.”
Following Parton’s remarks, Matthew Inman of Crown Ten Speed Press surprised the star by announcing that the book will debut at No. 4 on next week’s New York Times Book Review chart. Inman’s imprint is a division of Penguin Random House, which is Parton’s partner in her Imagination Library.
The Lipscomb University Chorale offered a lovely a cappella arrangement of Parton’s 1977 song “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” Parton and McQueen took giant shears to cut the ribbon, officially opening “Dolly Parton and the Makers.” Joining McQueen at the gala were Lipscomb deans Beth Morrow and Mike Fernandez, among many other faculty members.
Dozens of Lipscomb Fashion students were also in attendance, all attired in elegant gowns and sporting new coiffures. Dolly Parton wore a steel-toned gown festooned with little metal spikes. The black-and-silver creation was accented by mesh sleeves. Nestled in her cascading wig was a small tiara also bristling with tiny spikes. It is one of her rock-themed outfits created for Rockstar, her next album.
“Dolly Parton and the Makers” will be on display at Lipscomb until Dec. 9. Tickets must be purchased in advance online and cost $25, which includes a guided, 45-minute tour. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones is available at bookstores everywhere and in the gallery’s gift shop. The coffee-table tome retails for $50.
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Luke Grimes Releases ‘Relaxed, Thoughtful’ New Cover - December 7, 2023
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Tim McGraw Delivers ‘Downright Inspirational’ New Track - November 30, 2023
- Hit Producer & MGM Exec Jim Vienneau Dies At Age 97 - November 20, 2023