Bernard Lansky, clothier to Elvis Presley, dies at 85

By: Elvis Australia
Source: The New York Times
November 18, 2012

Bernard Lansky died on Thursday at his home in Memphis. He was 85. The cause was Alzheimer's disease, his granddaughter, Julie Lansky, said. As all Elvis fans will know, Mr Lansky was famous for supplying Elvis with clothing, but of course he was much more. A real gentleman is how we at Elvis Australia would like to describe him after meeting him and corresponding over the years. The news of his death makes for a sad time ...

As the story goes, Elvis Presley was a teenager, working as an usher at a movie theater, when Mr. Lansky first encountered him. Elvis was looking in the window of the clothing store, at 126 Beale Street, in the heart of Memphis's music district, where the sign read 'Lansky Bros'. The store catered to many musicians, most of them black, B. B. King was a regular - and its inventory, in the argot of the day, was filled with way-out threads, man.

'He looked in the window and said, 'You have some nice stuff in there', Mr. Lansky recalled, referring to Elvis, in a 2005 interview. 'When I get rich, I'll buy you out'. I said, 'No, don't buy me out, just buy from me'.

Elvis bought his high school prom outfit from the store - black pants, a pink coat and a pink-and-black cummerbund. He bought the outfit he wore on one of his early 'Ed Sullivan Show' appearances at Lansky's - a plaid sport coat and pegged pants - and he bought his first gold-lamé jacket there.

Elvis was great advertising for the store. Through the 1950s and '60s, Carl Perkins, Isaac Hayes, the Jackson's, the Beach Boys, Sam the Sham and Bobby Blue Bland all became regular customers. Johnny Cash went in one day carrying a can of Prince Albert tobacco and pointed to the picture on the cover, a man in a long black jacket. 'I want this', he said, 'a black suit', Mr. Lansky recalled. 'I made a cutaway coat with black pants'.

Elvis Presley and Bernard Lansky.
Elvis Presley and Bernard Lansky.

Mr. Lansky was not responsible for the jumpsuits Elvis adopted in his Las Vegas years, but he did choose the white suit he wears in the grave. 'I put him in his first suit', Mr. Lansky said, 'and I put him in his last suit'.

Bernard Joseph Lansky was born in Memphis on March 10, 1927. His mother died when he was 8, leaving his father, Samuel, who ran a grocery and dry goods store, to rear nine children. Whether Bernard finished high school is uncertain. 'Whenever we asked about his education, his answer was, 'The school burned down', Julie Lansky said. What did he mean by that? 'We don't know', she said.

During World War II he served in the Army, stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, and in 1946 his father gave him and his brother Guy $125. They used the money to buy a women's consignment shop at South Second Street and Beale Street in Memphis. The price had come down, Ms. Lansky said, because the previous owner had been murdered in the store. The brothers immediately tossed out the inventory, started a dry goods store and, when that didn't work, an Army surplus store. That business, too, failed so they turned to men's fashion.

In the early 1980s Lansky Brothers moved to the newly restored Peabody Hotel, a Memphis landmark, and it now has four separate shops there in the lobby: Lansky at the Peabody for men's sportswear, where you can purchase blue suede shoes and other items inspired by the music of the 1950s; Lansky 126, for denim; Lansky Essentials, catering to the sundry needs of hotel guests; and a gift shop, Lansky Lucky Duck Gifts.

Ms. Lansky and her father, Mr. Lansky's son, Hal, now run the business.

Besides them, Mr. Lansky is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Joyce Spivak; two sisters, Mildred Krasner and Bernice Banes; two other brothers, Frank and Alvin; a daughter, Anise Belz; four other granddaughters; and two great-grandsons. Guy Lansky died in 2005.

Musicians passing through Memphis continued to visit the store, often just to hear Mr. Lansky tell stories about Elvis, Ms. Lansky said. 'They all want to shake the hand that shook the hand of the guy who shook the world'.

Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Bernard Lansky

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