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The Man Who Dressed Elvis

Robert Odell, Jr. enjoys sharing the rich history and culture of Memphis, Tennessee, where he has lived and worked for several years.

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.

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 .

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."

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.

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.

Bernard Lansky in the 1950's.

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.

Bernard Lanksy and a young man named Elvis.

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

 

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

Comments

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 Brazil 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.

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