As a teenager, Elvis Presley would soak up the music of Beale Street and admire the fashions in the Lansky Brothers shop. Of course, buying fine clothes was out of reach for the poor boy.
One day, shop owner Bernard Lansky saw the teen outside his window and invited Elvis in to look around. Admiring the wealth of clothes, Elvis said he didn’t have any money. But when he got rich, the boy vowed, he was going to buy Lansky out.
At the time, Lansky didn’t even know the young man’s name. His answer — “Don’t buy me out. Just buy from me.”
That was the beginning of a long relationship. True to his word, Elvis did buy much of his trend-setting clothing from the man who became known as the “Clothier to the King.”
Now 85 years old, Lansky leaves the business work to his son Hal. The famous store is now located in the Peabody Hotel.
As Memphis gears up for the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis during Elvis Week Aug. 11-19, visitors from around the world will be stopping at shop. Some want to buy clothes reminiscent of Elvis and some just to look at the Elvis memorabilia (shop walls are lined with guitars signed by famous musicians).
“We’re expecting a huge number of people to be in Memphis for the 35th anniversary,” said Jonathan Lyons of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People will be here from all over the world.”
When Elvis cashed his paycheck as an usher at Loew’s Theater, he made his first purchase at Lansky’s — a $3.95 shirt. Later, for the junior-senior prom at Humes High School, Elvis had the tailor create an outfit of black pants, pink coat and pink-and-black cummerbund.
Then came the exciting day that Elvis burst into the shop and said he would be appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. After Lansky had outfitted him, Elvis sheepishly admitted that he didn’t have the money to pay for his fancy threads. That’s how Lansky’s became the first store to give Elvis a charge account. Smart move. Elvis believed strongly in loyalty and he never forgot the kindness of Lansky.
Among the standout outfits that Lansky supplied Elvis with was his famous gold lame jacket. When Elvis died, Lansky was in Dallas and hurried home as soon as he heard the shocking news.
Lansky made the final white suit in which Elvis was laid to rest. “I put him in his first suit,” Lansky often said. “And I put him in his last suit.”
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch