How a Comic Book Idea Led to Kiss’ ‘Dressed to Kill’ Cover Photo
The cover of Kiss' third record,1975's Dressed to Kill, features the band wearing suits instead of their customary costumes. It all started with an idea for Creem magazine where the members were superheroes.
As Creem's Jaan Uhleszki noted in Nothin' to Lose: The Making of Kiss (1972-1975), she approached Gene Simmons after a Kiss concert at the Michigan Palace with the concept, and he was in favor of it. Photographer Bob Gruen, who was also at Creem, filled in the details, saying it was to be like a comic book but told in photos rather than drawn.
"In the story, Kiss starts off as mild-mannered reporters in their secret identity wearing suits and ties," Gruen explained. "They're in the subway station reading the newspaper getting ready to go to work, and they read that there's going to be a concert by John Cleveland [a thinly disguised take on John Denver]. ... Kiss was outraged that mediocrity was so widespread, and they decide that they had to save the world with rock 'n' roll. They went into a phone booth, pulled off their clothes and emerged as Kiss."
Their plan of attack was to promote a fake show by "John Cleveland," only to have Kiss come out and perform. It concluded with Kiss receiving medals, followed by an orgy.
"We liked the idea," Simmons said in Kiss and Makeup. "But there was only one problem - none of us had normal business clothes. So we borrowed suits from people, and they weren't exactly perfect fits. If you look at the cover photo closely, you can see that my pant legs and jacket are a little too short and a little too tight."
Gruen added that he contributed one of the suits and some of the ties, including the yellow one worn by Simmons; his wife lent Simmons her clogs. The photographer then took the band down to the southwest corner of 8th Avenue and 23rd Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and Electric Lady Studios, where they were recording the album.
The members of Kiss liked the shot of them on the street so much that they decided to use it for the cover and call the album Dressed to Kill. Gruen was also a fan of the photograph. "I think it's a great image," he said. "It strikes people as very unusual and funny. It's very rare to see Kiss wearing anything but their costumes, so this humanized them in a way."
In January 2021, Simmons discussed the shoot with Keith Roth on SiriusXM. He said his suit came from manager Bill Aucoin and the clogs maybe belonged to Ace Frehley. But he's sure Paul Stanley had a suit at the time and believes Peter Criss did, too, because "he was a sharp dresser. He had suits and ties and all those fluffy things and scarves. So Bob may have been innocently remiss in his memory."
In early 2014, Kiss partnered with fashion designer John Varvatos, wearing his suits in a photo shoot that mirrored the Dressed to Kill concept and performing at a pair of private shows to promote the designer's upcoming collection. Later that year, they sported suits during two shows performed while aboard their annual Kiss Kruise.