The Loss of Costume Designer Ray Aghayan
By Gina Silverstein, October 14, 2011
Costume Designer Ray Aghayan – who was honored in 2008 by the Costume Designers Guild with a Career Achievement in Television Award – died on October 10, 2011 at the age of 83 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He is survived by his lifetime partner, Costume Designer Bob Mackie.
Born July 28, 1928 in Tehran, Iran, Aghayan, who was of Armenian descent, moved to Los Angeles to finish high school and pursue his dream of working in the movie business. After working as a successful actor, producer and director, he devoted himself to Costume Design and was one of the earliest members of The Costume Designers Guild. Aghayan was instrumental in persuading The Television Academy to officially recognize the contributions of Costume Designers, winning the first ever Emmy Award for Costume Design in 1967 for “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which he shared with Mackie. He went on to receive six additional noms, winning two, including for his work on The 64th Annual Academy Awards (1992). He also received three Oscar nominations, one for “Gaily, Gaily” (1969), and two that he shared with Mackie for “Funny Lady” (1975), starring Barbra Streisand, and “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972), starring Diana Ross, who would become a long-time collaborator. Still working at the time of his death, Aghayan had recently completed several costumes for Ross’ concert appearances.
With Aghayan’s passion for the entertainment business, it was fitting that he not only received the industry’s top honors but had the opportunity to work with some of its most beloved players. In the nearly 50 years he worked as a Costume Designer, he was prolific. Aside from the Oscar-nominated films, Aghayan also designed iconic costumes for “Dr. Dolittle” (1967), starring Rex Harrison, “Caprice” (1967), “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966) and “Do Not Disturb” (1965), all starring Doris Day, “The Art of Love” (1965), starring James Garner, and “Our Man Flint” (1966), starring James Coburn. He also designed over a dozen Academy Award shows from 1968 to 2001. In designing costumes for television specials and shows, he worked with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Julie Andrews, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Carol Channing, Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Eden, Mitzi Gaynor, Jim Nabors, Peggy Lee, Shirley MacLaine and hundreds of other stars.
And, Aghayan’s reach extended beyond film and television. With Mackie, he designed 940 costumes for the opening of “Hallelujah Hollywood” at the Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, as well as the costumes for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games. He also teamed with Mackie and another Costume Designer, Ret Turner, in the ownership of the costume house Elizabeth Courtney Costumes, which continues to serve the costume industry.
In a 1997 Television Academy Foundation interview, when asked what advice he’d give to aspiring Costume Designers, Aghayan said, “I would think that you have to be sure that you’re very good… and have an enormous amount of tenacity.” Looking back on the life and legacy of this incredibly gifted designer, Aghayan certainly had that and more. He has truly left an indelible mark on the art of Costume Design.
Donations may be made to Motion Picture Television Fund in memory of Ray Aghayan at www.mptvfund.org, 818-876-1977, or mail to PO Box 51150 Los Angeles, CA 90051-9706