Building a ’70s rock persona took equal parts sound and spectacle—and for an artist who rebranded himself as often as David Bowie, that pageantry required an army.

The behind-the-scenes details take center stage in David Bowie Is, a retrospective opening this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art that examines the glam rocker’s creative process through visual artifacts. “Bowie had a close collaboration with his designers,” says the MCA’s chief curator, Michael Darling, who scored a coup by landing the U.S. premiere of the show, which originated in London. “They would develop ideas together. It wasn’t just a one-way street.”

Take the Tokyo Pop vinyl bodysuit (pictured), designed by Kansai Yamamoto for Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane tour, which features tear-away fabric that accommodated Bowie’s quick onstage costume changes. “Bowie discovered Yamamoto early on,” says Darling, “and went on to work with him on different outfits. A lot of them had this androgynous look Bowie was after.”

As for the mechanics of the thing, there’s an internal stiffness to it, so the legs wouldn’t droop. “Bowie never shied away from risking comfort for a particular look.”

GO: David Bowie Is opens September 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.