HABERDASHERY - FANCY A BEATLES SUIT OR AN ELVIS SHIRT, SIR? YOU'RE IN LUCK - THE ORIGINAL TAILORS TO THE POP STARS ARE STILL WORKING TODAY. PAUL GORMAN GETS FITTED OUT
In the spring of 1952, Bernard and Guy Lansky noticed a greasy youth lurking outside the storefront of their menswear shop a 146 Beale Street, Memphis. The kid would stare longingly at the gaudy fabrics in the fancy window display, but never venture inside. Intrigued, Bernard strolled outside one evening. The boy's presence was remarkable not just for the dirty-blonde pomp atop his head, but also because he was white - a relative rarity in the neighbourhood. Lansky Bros. was a black man's store and Beale Street was a black, sparked by a segregationist statute which forbade African-Americans from visiting downtown at night. Situated at the heart of Beale, which buzzed 24/7 with juke joints, gambling dens, bars and restaurants, Bernard and his brother Guy had built a thriving post-war business by catering to the demands for snazzy 'high fashion' from their regular custom, a mix of musicians, gamblers and plantation workers up in the big city on a visit.
The curious youth turned out to be 17-year-old Elvis Presley, who worked nearby at the Loews movie house on North Main. He told Bernard that he didn't have a dime in his pocket, "but one day I'm gonna come back and buy you out".
Bernard chided the king-in-waiting, "Please don't buy me out- just come back and buy from me." And that's exactly what Elvis did. From his early days at Sun Studios he stuck by the brothers, who supplied him with everything from pink peg pants to the rockin' grey jacket he wore on the first Ed Sullivan appearance - right up to the early '70s when their 'superfly' range suited him just fine. On the wall of the current Lansky's, within the revitalised Peabody Hotel, hangs the evidence: one of Elvis's coats, a pink leather affair with massive fur collar valued at around $10.000.
Elvis in a Lansky shirt, 1956"Elvis was like a walking PR man for us," says Bernard, a hale and hearty 73-year-old, still opens his store at 6:30 a.m. every day. "He became a very good friend, much more than a customer.
At one stage the store was like his post office. When girls found out he shopped here, they'd send me mail and love letters to pass to him."
Now Bernard and son Hal are launching a new venture under the brand Clothier To The King.
You too can dress like Elvis, wearing a range of clothes cut from the original designs of such classics as 'The Memphian', a front-laced shirt with billowing sleeves ($125) or the Hi-Boy, with long and pointed collars ($140).