The man is not a fashion designer; he is a costumer and an artist. His original designs have become the trademark of true American style. One name says it all; he is Manuel.
He was responsible for making Johnny Cash the man in black. He crafted Elvis’ signature gold lamé suit. He fashioned the garments Bob Dylan wore when performing for the Pope. He has dressed all three Hank Williams. And if this is not enough to bring him a legendary status in music history, you can thank him for both The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead’s notorious insignias. But it doesn’t stop here: presidents, athletes, dancers, artists and movie stars have also donned his glittering couture. He has wardrobed over 90 movies and 13 television shows.
Often referred to as the “Rhinestone Rembrandt,” Manuel hails from Coalcomán, Mexico, a small town in the central western state of Michoacán. Manuel’s fascination with his craft began at the age of seven, when his older brother, Adolfo, taught him how to sew. With a natural flair for color and cloth, Manuel moved to Los Angeles and worked for several tailors, including Hollywood’s Sy Devore—making suits for clients such as the Rat Pack. But he soon became bored with everyday clothing. He then moved on to the world of costumes at Nudie’s famed western store, designing for the likes of Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. After 14 years in western wear, Manuel branched out and opened his own shop in North Hollywood, eventually relocating to Nashville in 1989 to continue his association with the music industry.
“Record companies call me to help fabricate personalities for their artists,” he declares. “I do for artists what they need—not what they think they need.”
Manuel also has been recognized many times for his marvelous contribution to pop culture. He was given the Hispanic Designers MODA award in 1992 and the “Intercoiffure” American Design award in 1996. Manuel proudly received special recognition from the Country Music Association in 2006 and several awards from Cody High Style.
After a lifetime of achievements and countless ventures, Manuel chose to give back to the country that brought his dream to a reality. A 10-year-long project, he designed 50 jackets, full of embroidery and rhinestones—one for each of the United States. These red, white and blue sparkling representations of our history are now traveling around the country, showcased in a breath-taking exhibit that debuted in December of 2005 in Nashville’s Frist Museum.
A current project of Manuel’s is a collaboration with Cambridge Jones, award-winning British photographer (European photographer of the year awards) with a photography book featuring Manuel and his clients wearing their custom designs. The working title is The Rhinestone Rembrandt. You will find many of these photographs sprinkled throughout the website.
Additionally, Manuel started a non-for-profit organization, Friends of Manuel. The Friends of Manuel Foundation will provide the financial backing for a Manuel Fashion Institute for the enrichment of the arts in the fashion and textiles industry. Manuel states, “Since 1986, I have had interns from the different colleges of design. Most of them are totally unfamiliar to industrial machinery and hand sewing. My vision is to teach them all I know to prepare these interns and build confidence in them for their future careers.” College seniors will be able to apply for these intensive internships where they will learn techniques that are not taught anywhere else in the world.
The shop, Manuel American Designs, also known as Manuel Exclusive Clothier or simply as Manuel’s, is a staple not only of Nashville but of Americana history. Every garment is made in-house and by-hand. Manuel works in his studio every day alongside his seamster, Carlos Bonola. Manuel’s two daughters, Morelia and Jesse-Justin run the shop; Morelia schedules and plans store events and off-site bookings, while Jesse-Justin oversees business operations from Chicago where she is pursuing a law degree. Manuel’s right-hand lady, Corissa Benchley, manages the business—sales, accounts, client relations, in-store appointments and press inquiries. Manuel’s son, Manny, has a ready-to-wear line of his own inspired by Manuel and often collaborates with the master on couture pieces. Often, the two lines come together for fashion shows and locational trunk shows around the nation.
Manuel currently lives right outside of Nashville and still happily works in his studio every day.