Legendary Costume Designer Ray Aghayan, Longtime Partner of Bob Mackie, Dies at 83

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Ray Aghayan

The Iran native -- who dressed Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross and did the costumes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics -- won the first Emmy Award in his field in 1967.

Ray Aghayan, a two-time Oscar nominee who won the first Emmy Award for costume design, dressed the glamorous Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross and did the costumes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 83.

Aghayan, the longtime partner of Bob Mackie, who started as his assistant, died of “unknown causes,” the Archive of American Television said Wednesday.

Aghayan was instrumental in persuading the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to officially recognize the contribution of costume designers. With Mackie, he won the first ever Emmy for costume design in 1967 for NBC’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. He went on to earn two more Emmys (amid nine total nominations) and received a career achievement award from the Costume Designers Guild in 2008.

A native of Tehran, Iran, Aghayan was nominated for Oscars for Norman Jewison’s Gaily, Gaily (1969); with Mackie and Norma Koch for Lady Sings the Blues (1972) starring Ross as Billie Holliday; and, again with Mackie, for Funny Lady (1975) starring Streisand.

For Funny Lady, Aghayan and Mackie created 40 complete 1930s-style outfits -- not only dresses and suits, but also the hats, gloves, scarves and shoes -- for Streisand's Fanny Brice.

The son of a society couturier in Tehran, Aghayan at age 14 designed the mourning clothes for the wife of the Shah of Iran, Queen Fawzia. Three years later, he convinced his mother to allow him to move on his own to Los Angeles.

After several years producing, directing and designing costumes for his own productions, Aghayan got a job on the mid-1950s anthology series Matinee Theater (the live show required a talent for quick costume changes). That led to a stint as costume designer on the short-lived 1963-64 variety series The Judy Garland Show.

Aghayan’s film resume also includes The Art of Love (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), Dr. Doolittle (1967),  Hannie Caulder (1971) with Raquel Welch and three Doris Day films: Do Not Disturb (1965), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) and Caprice (1967).

Aghayan designed costumes for such stars as Julie AndrewsFred AstairePearl BaileyLucille BallDiahann Carroll, Carol ChanningCyd CharisseBing CrosbySammy DavisDick Van DykeBarbara EdenLola FalanaMitzi GaynorBetty HuttonThe Jackson FiveDanny KayePeggy LeeShirley MacLaineDinah Shore and Leslie Uggams.

He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1970 for Applause, and he also designed on Broadway for Vintage 60 (which opened in 1960), The Egg (1962), On the Town (1971) and Channing’s Lorelei (1974).

In a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television, Aghayan was asked what makes an excellent costume design.

One that “gives the actor the character, helps the actor grow into that human being,” he said. “And to be able to help the audience to look at that and know what the hell it is they’re looking at.”In addition to his work on the Los Angeles Olympics, Aghayan produced Consenting Adult, a landmark 1985 telefilm about a gay son coming out to his family that was adapted from the novel by Laura Z. Hobson. He also did more than a dozen Academy Award telecasts from 1968 to 2001.

For the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas in 1974, Aghayan and Mackie designed the opening for Hallelujah Hollywood, a $3 million tribute to classic MGM musicals that encompassed an astounding 940 costumes.

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