This week, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will launch All The Women I Am, an exhibit paying homage to the career of Reba McEntire. This week, The 615 will shine the spotlight on her legendary career with a three-part series looking back at the impact she has had and continues to have on the music industry.
Fans who visit the exhibit will see a wide array of artifacts from McEntire’s life — from grade school report cards to a Barbie Doll and a lunch box baring her likenesses. One aspect of her career that will get a heavy emphasis will be the many different styles of fashion that she has donned on stage over the years – ranging from her cowgirl outfits of the mid 1980s to the glamorous stage attire from the 1990s on.
One person who is very familiar with the costumes that will be on display at the Hall is Sandi Spika Borchetta. After all, she designed the bulk of them. Borchetta told Billboard that her association with the singer goes back many years.
“I actually started designing for her in the fall of 1986,” she recalled. “I started doing custom dresses for her, one at a time. I lived in Albuquerque, NM. I graduated college there. I was a designer and buyer for a dress boutique.”
McEntire enjoyed working with Borchetta, and decided to extend her an invitation to join her full-time. “I was in Nashville in February 1989 for a fitting, and she asked if I would be interested in working and traveling with her. I said ‘Sure.’ I needed a bit of transition. I committed for six months. That turned into thirteen years. We worked hard and had a great time.”
The fashion evolution of Reba McEntire was something that Borchetta takes a great deal of pride in being a part of, but stressed that the singer herself should get a lot of the credit for having an open mind to change.
“She was very much into jeans, cowboy boots, and big belt buckles. She eased into dresses, and we just gradually changed things. She grew her hair out, and was known for her beautiful long curly hair for so many years. She was always willing to try something different.”
McEntire herself admitted that her on-stage attire helped to enhance the visual experience for the fans. “It’s very important to have that eye contact, because people will listen with their eyes a lot of times. They can listen to the music, but a visual helps so much to create a memory. So, when they are watching a show, and they see the razzle dazzle, and the sequins shining, that just concretes that into their memory. It helps them the next day when they are talking about it to their friends. I always loved to wear the shiny costumes. I’m a little like Dolly on that, the more rhinestones, the better.”
One piece that will be on prominent display in the exhibit will be the famous “red dress” the singer wore during her 1993 CMA Awards performance. Borchetta recalls that the outfit pushed the envelope from the start – but nobody had any idea the impact it would make.
“That dress started out from the very beginning – the way it was designed and constructed to be extremely low and revealing in the front. The bead work on it started out barely covering what it needed to cover, and we moved in from that. The night of the CMA Awards – the way the lighting was, it made it look more revealing than what we thought. She got more press off of that dress than if she had won an award. She would say that today. That night, when she came off the stage, we heard people mumbling about it. I worried about it all night long, and for a while that night, I thought I would get fired over the dress,” she said.
Instead, she got to share in the media spotlight with the singer. “But, the next day, I wasn’t fired, but instead I got to go to some of the interviews and hear people talk about it. She wowed them that night. I’ll be damned if people still don’t bring up that dress, so overall, it’s a success.”
McEntire told Billboard that Borchetta was an integral part of her look, and their years together were a highlight. “Sandi designed for me for many years, and did a wonderful job. There were several years that we had ten dancers on the road with me, and I was changing clothes during a concert fifteen times, She made all the outfits, and her mother helped her with that, and she had a great team. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”