Byline: Kim-Van Dang
LAS VEGAS — Deciding what to wear in the morning is one thing. Deciding what 8,000 people will wear is quite another.
Jackie Murphy faced that task three years ago when he was tapped by executives of MGM Grand — the world’s largest hotel — to build its wardrobe department from scratch.It’s a job description few here hold and one that’s paramount to the Strip’s image. After all, what would Caesars Palace be without its Roman citizens? What’s Treasure Island without pirates? And Excalibur would not be complete without King Arthur and his court.
As MGM’s costume and uniform manager, Murphy is in charge of designing, manufacturing, fitting and maintaining outfits for everyone from bus boys and bell captains to cocktail waitresses and visiting divas like Barbra Streisand. Currently, he is also in the throes of helping designer Theoni Aldredge produce 500 costumes (with matching wigs) for the hotel’s much-anticipated musical EFX. The multi-million-dollar show, starring Michael Crawford, opens in early March.
“I had done a million themes around a bra and a G-string before this job came along,” Murphy said. “But this was something else. I like to refer to it as Seventh on the Strip.”
With a $3 million starting budget, he sought the help of New York designer Stan Herman, now CFDA president. Uniform houses from New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles also played key roles.
To keep track of all the inventory — each MGM “cast member” (employee) is given between three and five costume changes — Murphy did something innovative: He worked with Invo Tech Systems Inc., a Los Angeles software company, to develop a uniform tracking system. Now, every item is bar-coded, and at the touch of a button, he can determine a garment’s location, owner — even the last time it was washed.
Over at Treasure Island, assistant manager of uniform control Ralph Cox still relies on index cards to help him keep track of clothing for 5,000 employees. These include elaborate $2,600 doormen uniforms consisting of knickers, lace shirts, sashes, undervests, outercoats and hats.
“We’ve worked out a system, though, so that anyone picking up their uniform here won’t have to wait more than 22 seconds,” Cox said. “We’re very proud of that.”
Felix D. Rappaport, Treasure Island’s vice president of hotel operations, recalls a time when things were not running so smoothly. “We were about to open on a Sunday in October 1993,” he said. “Our cocktail waitress uniforms arrived on a Wednesday. They were made in such a way that all 180 of our cocktail waitresses would have to bend over in them or they would snap. We couldn’t have that, so we sent them back. Fortunately, they were fixed by Saturday. For a few days, though, a couple of us were wondering whether we still had jobs.”