The Man Who Dressed Elvis

Updated on July 16, 2017
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Robert Odell, Jr. is the senior video editor of the film, Take Me Back to Beale, a chronicle of 100 years of Beale Street history.

It Began In 1946

In 1946 Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy started a retail business at 126 Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Their father, Samuel Lansky, loaned them $125 to open their store.

After World War II, the store started selling leftover army surplus goods. Later, the brothers decided it would be better to sell high-fashion men's clothing.

It wasn't long before Bernard Lansky established a reputation as a natural salesman, people person, storyteller, and king of one-liners.

The Business Began as an Army Surplus Store

Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy began selling army surplus products in 1946 on Beale Street.
Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy began selling army surplus products in 1946 on Beale Street. | Source

Lansky Bros. 126 Beale

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bernard and Guy Lansky started their retail business in 1946 with a $125.00 loan from their father Samuel Lansky. Lansky Brothers store opened at 126 Beale Street in 1946 as an army surplus store.Bernard Lansky engineered Elvis Presley's signature style.Lansky Brothers gained global recognition as Elvis Presley told the world about the shop.
Bernard and Guy Lansky started their retail business in 1946 with a $125.00 loan from their father Samuel Lansky.
Bernard and Guy Lansky started their retail business in 1946 with a $125.00 loan from their father Samuel Lansky. | Source
Lansky Brothers store opened at 126 Beale Street in 1946 as an army surplus store.
Lansky Brothers store opened at 126 Beale Street in 1946 as an army surplus store.
Bernard Lansky engineered Elvis Presley's signature style.
Bernard Lansky engineered Elvis Presley's signature style.
Lansky Brothers gained global recognition as Elvis Presley told the world about the shop.
Lansky Brothers gained global recognition as Elvis Presley told the world about the shop.

Musicians and Entertainers Loved the Clothes

As the 1950s rolled in, many musicians that frequented Beale Street became attracted to Bernard Lansky's shop.

It was imperative for any would be entertainer to pay Bernard Lansky a visit.

Mr. Lansky's flashy colors and nontraditional threads, that other merchants laughed at, soon became must-have items for a long list of stars.


Many Stars Visited Lansky Brothers

The parade of stars that visited and shopped at Lansky Brothers included:

  • Count Basie
  • Lionel Hampton
  • Duke Ellington and
  • B. B. King

"Elvis, don't buy me, buy from me!"

— Bernard Lansky

How Bernard Lansky Became Clothier To The King

In the early 1950's Bernard Lansky noticed a young man who would walk past and gaze in the window outside of his shop. Mr. Lansky eventually invited the teenager inside. It turned out to be seventeen-year-old Elvis Presley. He was working as an usher at the local Loew's Theatre.

Although he did not have anything at the time, the young man told Mr. Lansky that when he got enough money, he was going to buy him out. At that remark Bernard Lansky responded back with one of his clever one liners: "Elvis, don't buy me, buy from me!"

Once Elvis became known all over the world, Lansky Brothers continued to dress him in many of his outfits.

Before he made his pioneering appearance on The Ed Sulliven Show in 1956, Elvis made sure that Bernard Lansky dressed him well .

Outfit by Bernard Lansky of Lansky Brothers

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Bernard Lansky engineered the signature style of a young Elvis.Clothier Bernard Lansky provided Elvis Presley the  outfit he wore on his pioneering September 9, 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Bernard Lansky engineered the signature style of a young Elvis.
Bernard Lansky engineered the signature style of a young Elvis. | Source
Clothier Bernard Lansky provided Elvis Presley the  outfit he wore on his pioneering September 9, 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Clothier Bernard Lansky provided Elvis Presley the outfit he wore on his pioneering September 9, 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. | Source

The Store That Changed How America Dressed

Bernard Lansky engineered the early clothing style of Elvis which consisted of:

  • Pegged pants,
  • Two-toned shoes
  • The Hi-Boy collar shirt and
  • Pink and black color combinations

As a result, multitudes wanted to know where the entertainer got his clothes because they wanted to dress like him.

Bernard Lansky Had a Niche

Mr. Lansky would watch his patrons and knew what they wanted. He had a tailoring area in the back of his store and would often keep late hours preparing clothes for the entertainers that wanted something different.

He would often get requests for:

  • Pants with no back pockets (because they looked better on stage)
  • Shirts with zippers (some zippers going sideways)
  • Shirts with the nontraditional collars

Tools For Success

Once Mr. Lansky was said to have considered himself to be "lucky". He was just "in the right place at the right time". That could be the case; however, Bernard Lansky practiced major principals that lead to success.

Bernard Lansky:

  • Listened to his customers (he found out what customers wanted)
  • Provided excellent service (he always had a tape measure around his neck so he could measure anybody right away)
  • Knew that seemingly unimportant activities where important (he altered clothes to provide any seemingly unusual request)
  • He could relate to anybody no matter who they where
  • He had passion for his work (he went to his store everyday 7 days a week)

Mr. Lansky Dressed Him Til' The End

The King of Rock and Roll shopped at Lansky Brothers from the 1950's until the day he passed away.

In 1977 Presley died at Graceland, his Memphis residence.

Bernard Lansky picked out the white suit and blue tie that "the king" wore when he was buried.

Speaking of Presley Mr. Lansky said, "I put his first suit on him and his last suit on him."

"I put his first suit on him and his last suit on him."

— Bernard Lansky

More Than Cordial

Bernard Lansky was portrayed in the movie docudrama "Take Me Back To Beale" (Book II).

He allowed the camera crew to film in his shop, which in 1981 had been relocated to the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, a few blocks from his original location at 126 Beale.

Mr. Lansky was more than cordial and gave his understudy the one-liner: "The mirror's lookin' at you and the street wants you." That one-liner was used by the actor portraying him in the movie.

Bernard Lansky Portrayed

The actor on the right is portraying Bernard Lansky in a docudrama.
The actor on the right is portraying Bernard Lansky in a docudrama. | Source

Bernard Lansky in the 1950's.

Does the actor portraying Bernard Lansky resemble Mr. Lansky?

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Bernard Lansky And A Young Elvis Are Portrayed

The actors on the right are recreating the relationship that Mr. Lansky had with a young man named Elvis.
The actors on the right are recreating the relationship that Mr. Lansky had with a young man named Elvis. | Source

Bernard Lanksy and a young man named Elvis.

Does the actor portraying a young Elvis resemble him?

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Celebrities That Have Visited Mr. Lansky's Store

 
 
 
Katie Couric
Charlie Hodges
John Sebastian
Sheryl Crow
Richard Roundtree
Robert Plant
Peter Frampton
Jimmy Hart
Bill Murray
George Klein
Joe Esposito
Kate Earl
Uncle Kracker
Stacy Mitchart
James Toney
Ana Popovich
Rushlow
Dr. John
Priscilla Presley
Ritche with Linestar
Carrie Underwood
Stephen Stills
Steve Miller
Jason Mraz
Billy Bob Thornton
Anthony Hamilton
Eric Burton
Trenyce
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
Marion Berry
Boyd Tinsley
Bob Guiney
Chris Matthews
Nick Cage & Lisa Marie
Aaron Benward
Bo Diddley
Marty Stuart
Alex Chilton
Lynard Skynard
Robin Williams
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Pat Boone
Adam Gaynor
Johnny Rotten
Linda Thompson
Steven Tyler
Scott Hamilton
Linda Evans
Joe Perry
Sonny Burgess
Kelly Pickler
Eddie Floyd
Tito Jackson
DJ Fontana
James Burton
Rich Robinson
Billy Swan
Sam "The Sham" Samudio
Gavin Degraw
Larry King
T.G. Shephard
Trey Anastasio
Willie Mitchell
Billy Swan
Frank Gorshin
Jerry Schilling
Larry Geller
Richard Simmons
Priscilla's Parents
Chris Isaak
DJ Paul
Robert Plant
Ferras
Steve Harvey
 
The world wide appeal of Bernard Lansky's unique apparel has grown tremdously. Celebrities that have visited Mr. Lansky's store include, but are not limited to the individuals listed here.

His Legacy Continues

Bernard Lansky passed away on November 12, 2012; however, his legacy continues as the third generation of Lanskys mind the stores at the renowned Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

Clothier To The King

The "Clothier To The King," clothing line, which was established in 2001, provides reproductions of clothing that Elvis actually wore and provides new 1950s-inspired clothing.

On Sunday, August 14, 2011, Lansky Bros. unveiled a historical marker at 126 Beale St. to celebrate the history of Lansky Brothers at the original location.

In the spring of 2015 Lansky Brothers had a grand opening of a new store, located on Second and Beale St., only a few steps away from the original Lansky Brothers location on Beale. A visit to the store is like stepping back into history as you observe the photos and memorabilia that goes from Elvis and the 1950's to today.

A Lansky Brothers store is near the original, historic spot of the first store that was at 126 Beale St. in Memphis

A
126 Beale St. Memphis, Tennessee 38103:
126 Beale Street, Memphis, TN 38103, USA

get directions

The Lansky Brothers historical marker at 126 Beale St. in Memphis, TN is a few steps away from The Lansky Brothers store on Second and Beale St.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Muchsuccess profile imageAUTHOR

        Robert Odell Jr 

        3 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee

        I am glad you enjoyed this tidbit of Memphis, Tennessee history. Beale Street, where Mr. Lansky opened his first shop, is alive and full of colorful history. Thank you for viewing the hub.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        3 years ago from Brazil

        What a fascinating hub. The photos of Lansky and Elvis really are a treasure.

        Lansky sounds like he loved the work he did and it showed with the clients who walked through his door.

        Thanks for sharing this piece of Memphis history with us.

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