In Las Vegas, showgirls still strut their stuff (in museum displays)
The Las Vegas extravaganzas featuring showgirls and showboys in elaborate costumes are bouncing back to life, even though the shows closed long ago.
The display pairs design sketches with actual costumes from “Jubilee!,” the production that ran for 35 years at Bally’s before closing in 2016. The resort provided the glittery outfits, designed by fashion gurus Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee, to the museum so Vegas visitors could enjoy them again.
The museum’s collection also includes outfits from other Vegas productions in which showgirls reigned, including Folies Bergère, long an institution at the Tropicana; Hallelujah Hollywood at the old MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and Lido de Paris, which ran for 32 years at the since-imploded Stardust.
The exhibit opened June 1 at the museum, at Springs Preserve about six miles from the Strip. It is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission for non-Nevada residents is $18.95 for adults and $10.95 for children 5-17.
Although people get a brief overview of showgirls by visiting the museum, they can become immersed in the glamorous era at the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum.
Founder Grant Philipo, a former showboy and producer of “90 Degrees and Rising” at the Dunes during the 1990s, owns a massive collection of costumes and memorabilia that not only fill his 7,000-square-foot home but also four warehouses.
Seven rooms in Philipo’s home showcase more than 250 costume-wearing mannequins. Illuminated by floodlights mounted in the ceiling, countless number of beads, Swarovski crystals, beads, features and furs shine in front of elaborate backdrops.
“The whole reason we took this house in the first place was that it had a lot of room,” Philipo said. “Because there was such an interest in our stuff, it was a way of showing what we had to people that wanted to hire me as a producer. That was the purpose of it originally, before it became a museum.”
Philipo said many of the showgirl costumes on display are startlingly heavy because they contain metal, intended to improve their durability.
“Most do not realize that these women were wearing garments that were welded. The headdresses, the backpacks, their bras, their g-strings, their jewelry — it’s all welded and soldered,” he said. “When they start learning how things were constructed and they realize the strength of these women and men … that blows them away.”
Only a small part of Philipo’s colorful cache — a total of 40,000 objects valued at an estimated $15 million — are on view in the museum. They include outfits from various Vegas spectacles, plus costumes from movies and Broadway shows. Among them are dresses worn by celebrities who include Lynda Carter, Shirley MacLaine, Dionne Warwick and Raquel Welch.
Because the museum is inside Philipo’s house, county regulations prohibit it operating like a typical museum with fixed hours and ticket prices. To visit, guests therefore must become museum donors. The $26 minimum donation includes a classy T-shirt.
People interested in visiting should contact Philipo via his webpage.
Philipo is searching for a home for his collection along the Strip so he can operate the museum in the conventional way.
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