Wollongong gay couple’s costume creation a thriller for Michael Jackson

Wollongong gay couple’s costume creation a thriller for Michael Jackson

A COUPLE from the Illawarra – who have only recently started designing clothes – have had the commission of a lifetime recreating a Michael Jackson jacket to coincide with the launch of a compilation of the late singer’s unreleased work.

Ricky Milne and Robert Manzini, who are both involved in Wollongong’s local theatre scene, were approached by Sony Music Australia to create the futuristic jacket featured on the cover of the new album Xscape.

Milne, who is studying fashion, said he was inspired to explore his creative side when a teenager at Sydney’s gay clubs.

“I made friends with all the drag queens and I would sit backstage and say ‘tell me how you do your make up’ because I’d never touched it in my life,” he said.

“Drag queens know about transformation and I learnt little tips and tricks and one thing led to another.”

Manzini was discovered when band Yolanda Be Cool snapped up one of his creations to feature in a video clip with Indigenous singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, straight from his graduate fashion show.

When Sony called the entertainment giant was initially reluctant to reveal the details of the project, but Milne wasn’t perturbed: “I’m like, this could be good, we have to make time – we just won’t sleep for two weeks.”

The only problem? The jacket had never existed – it was just a graphic designer’s pipe dream digitally inserted onto an image of the singer.

“The album designer probably didn’t consider it would ever be made,” Manzini said, “It was just fantasy and then Sony wanted it to be made into existence in two weeks.”

The duo scoured garment shops and costume warehouses across Sydney’s inner west to make the garment which was to be worn by Michael Jackson’s waxwork at Madame Tussauds on the day of the album’s launch.

The couple set up a workshop in Milne’s home: “It was a fun mess as we had to glitter to the jacket, our whole courtyard was sparkling.

“A friend came round and said ‘I love what you’ve done to the place.”

After several challenges, not the least of which was to prevent the space age and top heavy creation from falling in on itself, Manzini and Milne took the jacket to Madame Tussauds.

“The final fitting was at 8pm at night and the launch was at 7am and if it didn’t fit I didn’t know what I was going to do – just cry,” Milne said.

However, “it fit perfectly,” and come the morning Michael Jackson fans lined up for a picture with the waxwork replica adorned with the couple’s creation.

Milne and Manzini began dating two year ago when working on a Wollongong production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats.

Milne admits to “hanging around,” when rehearsals were in progress in order to catch Manzini’s eye.

“He came near the front of the stage and I kind of like meowed at him and straight away I was like ‘why did I do that, he’s never going to talk to me?’” he recalled.

“I was like that’s interesting,” Manzini said, “I’ve never been meowed at before.”

Despite the awkward introduction a solid romantic and professional partnership emerged.

“Between us we know graphics, costume, make up – we have a lot of skills for a whole creative enterprise,” Manzini said.

The pair are currently working on next month’s production of Phantom of the Opera at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre with Milne using all the skills the drag queens’ taught him to create the gruesome make up for the lead role.

Asked who would be their dream people to design for, Milne plumps for Samantha Jade, “because she’s gorgeous and I’d like to design something glitzy for her.”

For Manzini, it’s Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin whose work he fell in love after spending four days, trudging back and forth, playing a soldier on the set of Australia.

“There was a massive costume warehouse and I was going ‘wow, I want to be in there’.” he said.

“I have such great respect for Catherine and Baz [Luhrmann] and I can really relate to the way they create and what she brings out in a production.”

But there are more pressing concerns. The couple have just learnt pictures of their creation have been sent to the Jackson family in the US.

“What if Janet wants to come for a cuppa down the ‘Gong?” Milne said, concerned.

“We’ll have to clean.”


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