Robert Odell Jr. has lived and worked in Memphis, Tennessee, for several years. He enjoys sharing the rich cultural heritage of his city.
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.
Lansky Bros. 126 Beale
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 the Lansky Brothers
The parade of stars that visited and shopped at Lansky Brothers included:
- Count Basie
- Lionel Hampton
- Duke Ellington
- B. B. King
How Bernard Lansky Became Clothier to the King
In the early 1950s, 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 17-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, the Lansky Brothers continued to dress him in many of his outfits.
Before he made his pioneering appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, Elvis made sure that Bernard Lansky dressed him well .
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"Elvis, don't buy me, buy from me!"
— Bernard Lansky
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 led to success.
- 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 1950s 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."
Speaking of The King of Rock and Roll Mr. Lansky said,
"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.
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.
Celebrities That Have Visited Mr. Lansky's Store
Ritche with Linestar
Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
Nick Cage & Lisa Marie
Sam "The Sham" Samudio
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, the Lansky Brothers 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 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 1950s to today.
A Lansky Brothers store is near the original, historic spot of the first store that was at 126 Beale St. in Memphis
Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on July 12, 2015:
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.
Mary Wickison from USA on July 12, 2015:
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.