Sunday, September 19, 2010

Designer to the stars wants to open school

Nashville businessman and clothier Manuel Cuevas has spent a 50-year career outfitting everyone from presidents to pop stars, but is best known for his embroidered suits, shirts and dresses worn onstage by country singers, earning him the nicknames the "King of Cowboy Couture" and the "Rhinestone Rembrandt."
Over the years, Cuevas has created clothes that have come to define key eras in pop culture history: Elvis Presley's signature 1970s white fringed jumpsuit, the Beatles jackets on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, all-black outfits for Johnny Cash.

A longtime personal designer, in 2006 Cuevas tried his hand at designing and distributing a retail clothing line under his own name, Manuel Exclusive, an enterprise that he says fizzled two years later over differences with financial backers.

Today, the 75-year-old Cuevas has returned to his roots, filling orders for clients such as Tanya Tucker and Little Richard, but planning for new challenges. He hopes to sell the three-story historic building at 1922 Broadway that houses his studio for nearly $1.4 million to raise funds for an international design school.

RelatedDesign studio for sale draws wide interest

Cuevas spoke with Tennessean music business reporter Anita Wadhwani last week.

How is business going these days? Who are your clients?

It's going really, really well. I'm focused on the individual client. I always have been. My clientele right now is about 60 percent private individuals. About 40 percent are the famous people — you know, I've done the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Elvises. I've done presidents and I've done kings and queens all over the world, but many of my clients are private clients. They're doctors, lawyers and their daughters.

You ended a partnership with investors to sell a retail line called Manuel Exclusive two years after it started. What happened?

I don't like the idea of becoming part of the corporate world. My complaint is just about quality. I sensed there wasn't much interest in customer service. I'm more interested in person-to-person work. And we didn't have the same goals in common.

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