It is after midnight. The door to room 627, Michael Jackson's suite in the Four Seasons Hotel, is slightly ajar. In the center of the room is a booster heater, gushing hot air over a portable parquet dance floor. Nearby is a movie screen on a stand and a projector.
In a few minutes Jackson emerges from the bedroom. He waves and says "Hi" -- and then disappears again. We have waited 5 1/2 hours for that "Hi," and fear there is to be no more.
But he reappears. This time he leans over the dining table, which is covered with huge drawings of clothes proposed for a Michael Jackson label. His official photographer tells him what to do for pictures with Reggie Morton, the licensing and fashion coordinator of the collection, designer Alvin Bell and marketing director Bob Michaelson.
Jackson is wearing dark glasses, of course, a black shirt with silver embroidery and black corduroy jeans. The wide silver belt encrusted with faceted stones and a medallion clasp -- his own design, made in Hollywood to his specifications for $5,000 -- appears to weigh more than the wearer.
"It's very heavy," Jackson says. For his show clothes, "I just tell them what I want and they make it. Sometimes I sketch them." Hanging on the back of a chair is an extraordinary navy beaded jacket he had made to wear on television. It is so heavy it has stretched out the metal hook of the hanger and made a ridge in the chair.
"I love to design," he says.
He gets ideas all the time. "Late last night I was up at 4 in the morning. I had an idea and sketched it and then sent it Federal Express to Los Angeles," he says. "It was a shirt with ruffles."
This is not the first time he has seen the sketches for the line of clothes to be marketed this spring. He's already made corrections and comments in black ink on the drawings, adding epaulets to some of the jackets, narrowing trouser legs, beefing up the size of the buttons.
He likes epaulets and crests "a lot," he says. "You feel very dressed up with it." Baggy pants "look too comical." But he doesn't like clothes for himself that are too snug, either. "No, you can't dance in them," he says, "especially for all that breakdancin' stuff."
On the table is a navy wool sweater with gold embroidery, a spinoff of the jacket he wore to the Grammy Awards, and a pair of black leather slip-on shoes with red bows, the first samples for the new line. He tries on another sample, a red wool cardigan sweater with a crest in gold stitching.
"Hi. I'm Mister Rogers," he teases. Jackson likes to wear cardigans when he is not performing. "There are lots of photographs of me wearing them," he says.
It pleases him to see his fans dressed like him, even looking like him. "They are having fun. It is a good feeling," he says.
Then, unexpectedly, with a wave, he backs into his bedroom and disappears.
The interview with Michael Jackson, said to be the first he had given in two years, started very casually. Reggie Morton, who has licensed the Michael Jackson name for a clothes label, had come to Washington for the Victory concerts and wanted to discuss the line. She suggested two possible times, one the day before his first performance, the other the Sunday after, but eventually neither was possible. "Would you come to Philadelphia?" she asked. No problem.
The appointment was set for the following Thursday evening at the Four Seasons Hotel. We would meet in the lobby, Morton said, to talk for a few minutes before going to Michael Jackson's room.
At 7:15 she arrived, a huge Louis Vuitton satchel over her arm. With her was Alvin Bell, once a designer but more recently a photographer for a small trade publication. He was carrying a huge portfolio of his sketches.
We moved into the hotel's cocktail lounge and spread out the drawings on a small table. Jackson had written his comments on them with a fine ballpoint pen. "There should be gold stitching in the crest to make the dresser feel very lavish and important," said one note next to group of shirts and jackets. "Great" was written alongside pastel linen shirts and black jeans, and "terrific" next to a baseball jacket. On several of the jackets Jackson had sketched in epaulets, big military buttons and crests. He had circled approvingly the crests on socks meant to show beneath cropped pants, and had scratched through a group of boldly patterned designs.
Although there's not a sequin in the line, the Jackson design influence is clear. All the pants are cropped above the ankle. A few drawings include a glove to match the socks and sweaters. "The one glove is magic," said Morton.
Bell is not worried that Michael Jackson will become a name designer. "When he starts worrying about my singing," he joked, "I'll worry about his designs."
Most of the ideas come from Jackson's own wardrobe. Morton pulled from her zippered bag a red, pilled wool Robert Bruce cardigan that Jackson had given them. "We've changed it and added the crest," she said. At the moment the crest is centered with the letter M. "It is not settled yet, but I hope they go with M and not J," Morton said. "M is for Michael, and that's what the collection is all about."
The appointment was put off to 10:30. We left the hotel for dinner, and returned to the room of Robert Michaelson, head of Michael Jackson International Licensing Corp. At exactly 10:30 Michaelson phoned the Jackson suite and was told to come to the sixth floor. "We'll call you shortly," he said as he walked out with his wife Nancy. Morton and Bell followed, carrying all of their paraphernalia.
Two hours later the phone in Michaelson's room rang: "You can come to room 627 now."
Frank DiLeo, Michael Jackson's manager, is clearly in charge. "Sorry, we can only use our official photographer," he says. "I must have absolute control of the pictures."
No matter. Post photographer Dudley Brooks remains in the room -- and is tossed a compliment by Michael Jackson. "I like the red and black combination in your shirt," he says. "What's your waist measurement?" Brooks tells him it is 27 or 28. "Same as mine," says Jackson.
DiLeo is with Jackson almost full time. "Sometimes he calls me to the room eight times a night with his ideas," he says. He gives a few clues about his charge.
On Jackson's trademark glove: "There's no reason except that he likes it. It is the same thing about Jackie Gleason drinking vodka on stage. No one knows why he drinks it out of a coffee cup."
DiLeo is wearing suede slippers embroidered with crests, one version of many he had made with gold crests or initials for both himself and Jackson. They cost $200 a pair, with sturdy soles added. DiLeo is not happy with the prototype of the shoes Jackson has approved. "I'll win," he says wryly.
On a possible fragrance or cosmetic line: "We are thinking about it."
On the portable dance floor, and Jackson's dance routines: "It's all in his head." Jackson, he says, never writes down his dance steps or his music.
The movie screen and projector help to fill time between performances: "We have to entertain ourselves. It is very boring staying in a room your whole life."
Michael Jackson's next project will be a movie. No title or theme has been settled on yet. No doubt Jackson will wear his own label designs in the movie. "Naturally," laughs DiLeo.
It is after 1:30 in the morning when we leave Michael Jackson's suite. In the hall are two men with samples of sunglasses for his approval. And still waiting in the lobby is a young man who was there when we arrived, almost seven hours earlier. He wants to show someone his idea for a Thriller board game. "Good luck," he shouts with a wave as we go to look for our car.
We'd already had it.