All Manuel Cueras used to need to draw in the legends of Nashville was an aged brick building with a sign that simply stated “Manuel” above the door next to Midtown Printing in Music City.
But times change, and as an 81-year-old man, Cueras knows that all too well.
Now the man who created Elvis Presley’s signature gold lamé suit sits comfortably in his wrinkles among walls of fabrics in his tourist-friendly shop in Downtown Nashville.
Surrounded by layers of patterns and the humming of sewing machines in the corner of his studio located in the back of his newly-owned showroom on the corner of 8th and Broadway in downtown Nashville, Cueras stops gliding the smooth black fabric to introduce himself.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Cueras said in his thick, rich accent hinting at the suaveness of a much younger man.
With a glimmer in his deep-set eyes, it’s easy to still see the 21-year old kid who crossed the Southern border into the United States to follow his dreams to become a renowned fashion designer.
His shop, Manuel Couture Designs, may be new to Broadway, but the company is no stranger to Nashville. For 23 years, Cueras’ designs were housed in Midtown in a stoic brick building that visitors would pass by without a second glance.
That shop may not have been welcoming to meanderers strapped with fanny packs and taking photos at every street corner, but stars knew they were always at home there.
In fact, tourists could not stroll in to view Cueras’ piece of music history until 2009 when he opened his doors to visitors.
“Tourists didn’t know the history of the place,” said Corissa Benchley, director of product and business development. “We wanted to be able to share his history with all of Nashville.”
So in the September of 2013, Cueras packed up his studio where he comfortably set his reputation to move to the more central location in downtown where he can show off the history he was responsible for creating.
The new shop beams with colors and rhinestones that intertwine with history. Dresses with intricate designs fill the middle of the gallery, while the walls are lined by jackets hand embroidered with colorful thread and vivid rhinestones.
“If you see a Manuel jacket, you’ll know it,” said Benchley.
Cueras’ face beams in photographs with celebrities in every corner. While memorabilia from his career clutter every available surface.
Johnny Cash’s original “Man in black” outfit that was designed by Cueras himself hangs casually off a mannequin as if it doesn’t realize it’s own place in history.
“Johnny and Manuel were good friends,” said Benchley. “So when Manuel said Johnny should dress in all black, he listened.”
Beyond the showroom is where all the magic happens: the studio.
For eight hours a day, six days a week Cueras works beside his seamsters Carlos Bonola and Eric Bornhop while they tailor and embellish garments by hand, not by machine, to ensure the originality of each piece.
Every article of clothing is hand cut and fit specifically to its own design.
“I never design two of the same,” Cueras said.
Past the studio leads to the only part of the building not covered in glitz and not open to the public, the basement. Dark lights and creaky stairs are the surroundings to Cueras’ original patterns, as well as to his interns.
“Even the ugly places have history,” said Benchley.
Moving to an area with such heavy-traffic came with some concerns. In the new shop, celebrity clientele would have a hard time walking in for appointments without being spotted.
That concern didn’t come with much warrant, though. Cueras is currently at work putting together a one-of-a-kind ensemble for an undisclosed A-lister.
Manuel’s Couture Designs is open to the public Monday-Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Everyday during the store’s business hours, guests are welcomed to tour the property, try on a custom piece and soak in the history that fills the atmosphere.
Jimmie DIckens, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams may not be around to swap stories with Manuel Cueras, but thanks to Manuel Couture Designs, the legends of Music City are remembered through their wardrobe, as well as the man who designed them.