Priscilla Presley is perhaps most notable for being the wife of Elvis Presley. But what many people don’t know is that as chairperson and president of Elvis Presley Enterprises, it was Priscilla’s idea to open Elvis’s home, Graceland, to the public as a tourist destination. That was back in 1982, and still today, it is the second most visited U.S. home behind the White House.
While Priscilla now resides in Beverly Hills, CA, the South is still a very special place that draws her back several times a year. Next month, she’s returning to Memphis to host the first-ever Elegant Southern Style Weekend as an homage to all-things-Southern. The weekend will be filled with activities and panels featuring some of the South’s most notable tastemakers and will provide ample opportunity to interact with Priscilla herself. We stole a moment of her time to find out more about this special event, her relationship with Elvis and much more. Welcome this week’s very special FACE of the South, Priscilla Presley!
Where did the idea for the Elegant Southern Style Weekend originate?
It came from the curiosity of fans from all over the world who were asking about Elvis and why he loved the South so much and what it was that drew him back to Memphis after a movie or a recording session — he always went back to Memphis and his roots. I want people to have an idea of what he felt of the South and what drew him back.
What tastemakers will be at the weekend?
We have Sid and Ann Mashburn. We have Chef Kelly English, who is very popular in Memphis and will show Elvis’s love of food — and good food. We have Leigh Anne Tuohy — she was the inspiration behind The Blind Side. These are inspirational people. Elvis was so fond of Memphis and its people, and when you see that story, sometimes I watch it and think Elvis would have loved that story — it is so him, it’s something I could see him doing. So we tried to bring in people from the region who somehow I feel identify with who Elvis Presley was as a whole.
How involved were you with selecting the panelists? Did you select them, or were you the final say when they were presented to you?
A little of both. Pat Kerr, who is one of our guests, has a collection of antique laces and royal gowns and has been to London many times with her clothes. She taught me when I first went to Memphis at 17 years old how to do my makeup. It was at Patricia Stevens Finishing School. We became great friends, and I wanted her to be on this list. These people are truly hand-picked. I have Art Chadwick , who is the owner of Chadwick & Son Orchids, who designs orchids for me. I wanted Art to be involved because people are so intimidated by orchids — how to grow them, how to keep them, how to nurture them, what to do with them when they go dormant. Art will explain all of that, and it’s not so difficult to understand. Orchids were the first gift that Elvis presented to me when I was 16, so it’s all quite personal in many ways — sharing with the guests things that were so important in our life.
These are people who I think fans and local people would want to know as well. Hal Lansky, who is Bernard Lansky’s son of Lansky Bros. … his father was basically the guy who dressed Elvis during the day. Elvis used to go by the shop on Beale Street and say, “One day I’m going to wear these clothes.”
What are some of the highlights you’re most excited about?
I like interacting with the fans. They’ll be able to ask panelists questions. I would love to get their take on what we’re doing and explain a lot more in-depth of why. They love Elvis Presley, but even more so if they knew more about him as far as the South is concerned — and his love of it goes so much deeper than just having Graceland.
The event will not just be about hospitality and outdoor living, which we love so much. [Guests] are going to learn more about our past — about the home cooking, and of course the head-to-toe fashion. It will be very collaborative and warm, like being in a living room with a bunch of friends you can share things with.
Will people be able to interact with you directly at the weekend? If so, in what capacity?
I will be on a panel, and guests will be able to interact with me. It’s going to be very casual and open and inviting.
Have you always been interested in style?
Yes! I had my own boutique at one time — Bis and Beau in Beverly Hills. I had the shop for five years, and I even bought many things for Elvis — his French cuff shirts, his jewelry, his belt. The belt he wore on stage, I bought the prototype of the belt, and he gave it to Bill Belew, the designer of his jumpsuits, and he used it for all his jumpsuits.
Who are some of your style icons or favorite designers?
Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana depending on what the season brings in. I like Anne Fontaine blouses. And I love designers who aren’t even designers — they’re up and coming, or they have great style. I’m not stuck on the designer, I just buy what I like.
What is your best piece of style advice?
Elegant but approachable. I dress where I’m approachable, meaning that it’s not all about the style. People dress like ‘Look what I’m wearing,’ and it’s competitive. I’m not that way. I dress for myself, not for others.
What is your definition of “Southern Style”?
It’s that old saying ‘Southern comfort’ … it’s more approachable. It’s more the feeling. It’s more inviting. I’m talking about all together — the feeling of Southern style, even in furnishings. You go into a home, and it’s beautiful but inviting. Relaxed. You feel that you’re accepted, and that’s all of Elvis — that’s just exactly what he was. He loved his home very much and wanted to show off his home. It’s very welcoming. I find that in most of the homes and the people as well. It’s a very comforting feeling being in the South.
How often do you return to the South?
I get there four or five times a year. I love going back, and it’s always a big deal — that’s the South. When someone comes [to town], you dine out together, or you just stay home and enjoy food. It’s more family-oriented, more relative-oriented. That is why Elvis always went back — he felt more welcome, he felt more at home, and he felt more relaxed. He didn’t have to be a certain way — he was just Elvis. He found that L.A. was a lot colder than the South.
What’s your favorite space at Graceland, and what makes it your favorite?
My favorite is the piano room, and the reason why is because that’s where Elvis and I spent a lot of our time during the night when people were either asleep or when there weren’t many people around. We would go to the movies, and we would get home at 2 or 3 in the morning. Elvis would go down and play the piano, and I would sit and listen to him sing. And the stables — we’d go there and talk. He loved the horses. He’d clean the horses. It was just the most relaxing time for him. He’d sing mostly gospel songs, and it was just a beautiful time to be together and talk. It was pretty magical because I had him all to myself.
What’s the No. 1 achievement in your life of which you are most proud?
My children, but also Graceland — it’s a very, very special place. I feel very proud that people have received it so well. People go once or twice or 15 times because they can’t get enough. I think keeping it intact the way he lived — that’s what I always wanted for the fans … to get that feeling that he had when he walked into his home, where he felt comfortable, where he felt loved as an entertainer and Memphian.
When I walk in that door, I feel like I never left — it still has the same smells, the same feeling. I can smell the home cooking. I can smell his essence. I can hear him playing the piano. It’s magical!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Listen. And think before reacting.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My photo albums, my pets, and to keep exploring in life and meeting new people. I learn from them.
Thank you, Priscilla. Elegant Southern Style Weekend takes place September 27-29, 2019. To learn more and to purchase tickets, click HERE.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES archives. Click HERE and prepare to be inspired!