How Dolly Parton Looks Like Dolly: the Icon’s Inventive Director Unearths Her Costume Secrets

Whenever you’re employed for Dolly Parton, you stop busy.

The nation song star and American icon, 76, has loads occurring. On this November day, it be a film premiering, a spherical of interviews, more Domestic dog Parton merchandise and an upcoming rock album — plus a Unique Year’s Eve special with goddaughter Miley Cyrus.

So her creative director, Steve Summers, does no longer maintain time for a formal interview. “We’ll produce it on the accelerate,” I became once urged earlier than arriving in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I’m on the phone,” Summers, 58, whispers after he pulls as much as the curb and I receive into his automobile on the airport. “I’ve bought a reporter for PEOPLE in the automobile now. Don’t tell the rest loopy — he’s writing a story about me,” he then jokes to his 22-twelve months-ragged son Jaxx, who does no longer miss a beat: “That’s a upright myth,” he says.

It’s. Summers is to blame of the rest spicy Parton’s clothing and elegant — how she appears to be like on tour, on magazine covers, in the break month’s Rock and Roll Hall of Popularity induction ceremony, on the Home Shopping Network selling physique spray — falls under his purview. (Even her pajamas attain from Summers’ studio. “Or no longer it is my job to continuously withhold Dolly’s integrity,” he says. “She true needs to peep appropriate.”)

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Catherine Powell

Whereas Summers has spent two decades dressing one in every of the largest stars on this planet, his hold myth just isn’t any longer the truth is identified. “Or no longer it is never about me,” he says as we cross a billboard for Dollywood. “I cherish it that implies.”

Raised in Harriman, Tenn., he didn’t develop up a Parton fan. “I’m legally deaf — I wasn’t keen on any person’s song,” he deadpans.

Summers lost 75 percent of his hearing at age 2 due to the the mumps. But no topic this disaster, he continuously had a reward for carrying a tune.

At age 26, Summers, who by then became once married with a kid (daughter Jaden, now 33) and dealing in retail, went relief to school to gape English and song. (He’s moreover dad to daughter Farran, 28.)

Catherine Powell

On the time, Summers heard about opportunities to audition for performing gigs. “My mother talked about, ‘You’ve gotten a reasonably tell, accelerate check out at Opryland and Dollywood,’ ” he recollects. Summers became once equipped jobs at both. “I took Dollywood,” he explains, “because they equipped me $5 more a day.”

We pull as much as the mall, as he needs to receive Parton some makeup. Continuing his myth, Summers says he started at Dollywood as a singer and dancer, at final acting as Parton’s onstage dance partner.

Four months in, she stepped onto a mighty teetering drum prop to enlighten. “I held her hand and never let accelerate,” Summers says. “I believed, ‘What if she falls?’ I have been conserving her ever since.”

Summers started making suggestions about his hold costumes. “Why are these buttons accurate?” he says he’d quiz. “I only had three seconds to receive out of the outfit. They talked about, ‘Whenever you happen to suspect you might produce better, we want a fresh costume for this.’ And I talked about, ‘Sufficient.’ ” Quickly, he became once helping to feature up Parton’s tour productions.

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Catherine Powell

We enter Sephora, and Summers’s phone rings. Or no longer it is Parton. “I the truth is maintain to use this,” he says, stepping away for the call. Moments later he returns to peep for prolonged-lasting eyeliner. “Does this maintain some sparkle in it?” he asks the salesperson, who nods. “Then we’ll use 12.”

In 2006 Parton requested Summers to model up for her fat-time in Nashville. “She talked about, ‘You might even be gonna be the creative director, and we’ll resolve it out as we accelerate,’ ” he remembers. “‘You produce no longer maintain to originate every little thing — true be obvious it be gorgeous.’ ”

Now looking ahead to a pair of pants for himself at a boutique, Summers shares the Dolly originate ethos: “The entirety matters. What colors produce I the truth is maintain to withhold a long way from? Can it wrinkle? Does it no longer wrinkle? How important time produce we maintain now got to receive into it? How important time produce we maintain now got to receive out of it?” He takes a deep breath. “She’s trained me,” he says. (There might be no longer a accurate signature, Summers adds, “but it absolutely’s continuously going to be nipped in on the waist. She’s a little ingredient!”)

Parton moreover paid for Summers to again the Vogue Institute of Abilities. “Or no longer it is no longer cherish I true fell off a truck, and I’m out right here winging it,” he says.

Catherine Powell

“Or no longer it is true I the truth is maintain a upright sense of oldsters,” Parton recollects of meeting Summers 30 years ago. “I watched him closely, and I noticed him doing every little thing for every person at Dollywood. He became once dancing, he became once singing, and he became once choreographing. I noticed that there became once important more that he might also produce. I the truth is feel blessed to maintain Steve Summers in my lifestyles. He’s one in every of my dearest and most valid chums.”

We pressure to Brentwood, a wooded, suburban attach exterior Nashville the attach many stars, including Parton, stay. Summers works in a guesthouse on her mountainous property with a personnel of 4.

We stroll true into a room filled with stitching machines, lifestyles-dimension pictures of Parton, glittering swatches and beaded butterflies. One closet contains only pajamas. There are three dry-erase boards with Summers’s sketches and 4 mannequins made to Parton’s accurate proportions, every carrying a special bathrobe.

“They are never naked, out of admire,” he says. Admire looks to be Summers’s guideline. “The fantasy just isn’t any longer a fantasy,” he says. “She the truth is is that valid — that caring and loving and amusing. I might also produce the rest for her, because she’d produce the rest for me.”

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As we leave by the entrance gates of Parton’s estate, Summers resumes telling his myth.

He came out as jubilant when he became once 44 and bought divorced from his wife of 23 years. Mute, she held his hand when he urged his people he became once jubilant.

“They were no longer chuffed, to advise the least,” he says. His father died final month, and he’s restful learning techniques on how to be his legitimate self around his mother. “I attain from a extremely non secular family,” he adds. “They are working toward acceptance. And I’m too.”

Catherine Powell

In 2008 he met his now-husband, Brand Williams, who runs an architecture and internal originate firm, after a Parton stay efficiency, naturally. “I became once cherish, ‘Whoa, I need to be dreaming,’ ” he says.

In actuality, they maintain a Parton lyric — “I know I’m only dreaming” — tattooed on their fingers. “My chums tease me all of the time that designing dresses for Dolly Parton is the gayest job on earth,” he says with a grin. “I true quote her relief to them: ‘Whatever you is also, be that.’ ”

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