By Bill Dries
July 21, 2014
You don’t have to get very far inside the door of the new Hard Rock Café at Second and Beale streets to find a reminder of the old Lansky’s clothing store. That is, if you don’t notice the large historical marker outside the building at 126 Beale St.
The centerpiece of the ground floor of the new Hard Rock is a portrait of Elvis Presley in the center of the stage wall.
To each side of the portrait are outfits Presley wore that the famed Lansky brothers made for him.
Lansky’s – Clothier to the King opens this month at 126 Beale St. in the building that also houses the new Hard Rock Cafe. The cafe features outfits Lansky made for Elvis Presley.
Exit stage left through what will be the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and you come to the new Lansky’s shop that returned to the building this month as Hard Rock’s neighbor.
“We’re glad to be back on Beale,” said Hal Lansky, the president of the company and the son of founder Bernard Lansky.
Lansky’s – Clothier to the King opens this month, three years after the unveiling of the historical marker that notes the role the Lansky brothers, Bernard and Guy, played in the history of Beale Street and the lives and careers of the city’s and region’s entertainers after World War II.
With a $125 loan from their father, the brothers moved into what had been a ladies secondhand store after the previous tenant was murdered. They switched to selling Army and Navy surplus items, and then began incorporating clothing styled to meet the onstage needs and lifestyles of first rhythm and blues entertainers and later those adopting the R&B style – including a teenager named Elvis Presley.
The colors were bold because the business of entertaining was bold. Presley wasn’t yet an entertainer but, like many of the performers who bought from Lansky, he had to buy on credit with the tentative promise that he would continue to buy there when his fortunes improved.
A cultural shift began in which the bold clothing made for the stage became the clothes those in the audience wanted to wear.
That upped the ante for those on stage, which is reflected in some of the onstage costumes in the Hard Rock Café. The Elvis pieces on the stage wall aren’t the only Lansky creations under glass in the Hard Rock.
Jeff Nolan, the music and memorabilia historian for Hard Rock Café, notes that many of the other costumes in Hard Rock’s collection of 80,000 artifacts are not as well made as the Lansky’s outfits.
“As often as not, they were just cheaply thrown together to look great onstage for one tour and they weren’t necessarily designed the way a Lansky Brothers would do actual clothing – with that sort of impressive tailoring and built to last,” he said. “There’s a lot of upkeep involved, especially for things that have natural fabrics.”
Hal Lansky began working in the 68-year-old family business as a child.
The Beale Street store is another in a set of concepts that includes several at the nearby Peabody hotel.
“We still love The Peabody,” Lansky was quick to say. “We’re going to be at The Peabody.”
The Clothier to the King brand at the Beale location is “vintage inspired” men’s clothing.
It invokes the memory of Elvis Presley but also other entertainers who shopped at Lansky’s in the 1940s through the 1960s. There’s a Bobby Blue Bland white long-sleeved sport shirt and an Al Jackson purple sport shirt, also long-sleeved, named for the drummer for Booker T. and the MGs. That’s in addition to a blue and white Speedway jacket and a denim blue “Jailhouse Rock” sweater.
There will be a bit of overlap of the merchandise between the Beale Street location and the shops in The Peabody.
The Beale store includes displays about the old Lansky’s store in the building and, while putting together the exhibit, Lansky even came across a few old 45s from the short-lived Peak record label that was a side venture for the family business.
“We’re going to tell the story of Lansky’s on the wall. It will be a little Lansky museum … show some of the entertainers who shopped with us,” he added. “We’re leaving it very vintage. We’re showcasing with vintage theatrical lights.”
In the 1,700-square-foot store, there is even a location by one of the windows that might be a small stage for some live entertainment. Or, Lansky added, it might have a mannequin holding a guitar and dressed for the stage.