He was born on April 23, 1938 in Coalcomán de Vázquez Pallares in Mexico as the fifth of twelve children of Esperanza and José Guadalupe Cuevas. He attended the University of Guadalajara and majored in psychology.
He learned to sew in 1945 and moved to Los Angeles around 1955 and worked for several tailors. Cuevas then worked for the master embroiderer, Viola Grae where he met Nudie Cohn. He started work for Cohn around 1960, and later became head tailor and then head designer.
He then married Nudie Cohn's daughter, Barbara L. Cohn on September 4, 1965 in Los Angeles. They had a son, Manuel Cuevas, Jr. (born 1973) and they divorced around 1975. He then started his own business, Manuel Couture in North Hollywood with a dozen sewing machines he bought from Turk of Hollywood, which had closed.
The suits worn by The Beatles on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band have been attributed to Cuevas, but Paul McCartney has said they were actually conceived by The Beatles and manufactured by the British theatrical costumer M. Berman Ltd. in London. Cuevas has said that he designed some colorful clothes for the Beatles that became "a part" of the Sgt. Pepper uniforms. Cuevas created Johnny Cash's black suits, the roses and skeletons insignia of the Grateful Dead, crafted Elvis' signature suits, and an inflated lips pillow for Mick Jagger that designer John Pasche modified into the logo for The Rolling Stones.
"Record companies call me to help fabricate personalities for their artists ... I do for artists what they need, not what they think they need."
- Jan Duke. "Manuel: Nashville's Couture Cowboy. All that shines really is Rhinestones and Gold". About.com. Retrieved 2011-12-04. "Manuel was born, Manuel Arturo José Cuevas Martinez, on April 23rd, 1938 in Michoacán, Mexico, and was the fifth of eleven children of Esperanza and José Guadalupe Cuevas. ..."
- "Marriage of Manuel M. Cuevas to Barbara L. Cohn, aka Barbara L. Wilson, on September 4, 1965". California.
- "Manuel's Designs". Retrieved 2010-10-18. "He was responsible for making Johnny Cash the man in black. He crafted Elvis’ signature gold lamé suit. He fashioned the garments Bob Dylan wore when performing for the Pope. He has dressed all three Hank Williams. ..."
- "Transcripts: Glenn Beck". cnn.com. May 8, 2006. Retrieved 2010-10-18. "You may not know him, but you surely know his work. Designing for John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, and even the suits the Beatles wore on the Sergeant Pepper album."
- McCartney, Paul (2000). The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-304-35605-8.
- Anon (1 June 2009). "Manuel Cuevas's Favorite Place on Earth". National Geographic: Traveller (National Geographic Society.). Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Valli Herman (February 9, 2006). "A western that is set in New York". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-04. "Manuel Cuevas has been creating the spangled cowboy couture worn by Elvis (remember the white rhinestone jumpsuit?), the Beatles (in their Sgt. Pepper phase), Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones (the tongue and lips? Cuevas designed them). Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush ..."