Less Bling, More DIY at Tony Awards

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

Just before midnight last Sunday, Mark Rylance, a Tony winner for “Twelfth Night,” was standing in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, clutching his award and discussing his black top hat.

“It’s called the Sinatra,” he said. “It’s meant to be worn to the side like this, but I think that’s a bit flashy.”

And where did he get his suit? “The Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco,” he said. “It’s a 100-year-old waistcoat.”

Really? Why not something lent to him for the evening by, say, Tom Ford or Giorgio Armani, as is often the custom for stars at red carpet events?

“No one offered,” he said, shrugging.

Ah, well. Such is life on the theater awards circuit, where a DIY aesthetic still prevails and where almost no one seems to ask, “Who are you wearing?” as stars strut the red carpet. If they did, the answers would be slightly underwhelming.

Those top-tier design houses like Alexander McQueen, Lanvin and Givenchy that regularly outfit actresses for the awards season? Virtually nonexistent among the nominees this year.

Audra McDonald, who won her record sixth Tony for playing Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” accepted the award wearing a billowing floral gown from Escada, a brand that has had little buzz since the 1990s.

Jessie Mueller won best actress in a musical for her role in “Beautiful,” and accepted in a dress by a bridal and eveningwear designer named Randi Rahm.

And Tyne Daly, a former Tony and Emmy winner, who lost to McDonald in this year’s best actress race, wore a mauve silk chiffon cocktail dress by Dennis Basso that was the result of a chance encounter between Daly and Basso’s husband, Michael Cominotto, at a California spa earlier this year. According to WWD, after that meeting, Cominotto and Basso went to see “Mothers and Sons,” starring Daly, and Basso decided then to offer to dress her for the Tonys.

Where are all the powerful publicists who are supposed to be brokering these mutually beneficial pairings between stars and designers?

“Broadway has its own pizazz and style,” said the fashion designer Ruben Toledo, who with his wife, Isabel, designed the costumes for this season’s “After Midnight” and was making the party rounds on Sunday. “Hollywood actresses get sent over trunkloads of clothes to pick from. Broadway’s stars aren’t as well accommodated.”

In part, this is because the Tonys are one of the lower-rated awards shows on the major networks. According to preliminary estimates, the telecast Sunday night drew just 7 million viewers, down 5 percent from last year and more than 10 million viewers fewer than what the Emmys get.

“Fashion has become so completely global, and New York theater is still regional,” the designer Zac Posen said. “It doesn’t have the same reach.”

But there are some indications that next year’s red carpet may be a bit more blinged out.

There in the third row Sunday night was Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, wearing a sleeveless Chanel dress and her trademark Chanel sunglasses. Nearby was Ed Filipowski, a producer of “Mothers and Sons” who happens to be the president of KCD, the public relations agency with a collection of top-tier fashion clients.

By Monday morning, word spread among theater and fashion types that the two — along with William Ivey Long, the award-winning costume designer and chairman of the American Theater Wing — are talking about ways to better foster relationships between Broadway stars and the major fashion houses.

So far, it’s too early to say just what is being planned. Wintour declined to comment for this article, and Long was not forthcoming with details. “All good ideas are worth discussing,” he said, somewhat elliptically. “We need to get the ratings up.”

Wintour has made her interest in theater well known, appearing regularly at openings for shows like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” and running regular coverage of Broadway in her magazine.

In a phone interview, Filipowski seemed to admit that he is thinking about ways he could help glam up the telecast and lend his fashion industry to Broadway stars. “It’s a great opportunity for designers,” he said. “It would be great if there was a more official connection made between Broadway stars and the fashion world.”

There were a few bright spots during the telecast this year.

One was Sophie Okonedo, who won the award for best featured actress in a play for “A Raisin in the Sun” and made the rounds in a dress by Sophie Theallet, a designer closely followed by fashion insiders. (Okonedo was nominated for an Oscar several years ago for her role in “Hotel Rwanda” and thus came to the Tonys with a bit of red carpet experience behind her.)

Another was Kelli O’Hara, nominated for “The Bridges of Madison County,” who wore a nude, sleeveless Narciso Rodriguez gown.

“She looked beautiful,” said Filipowski, who lives with Mark Lee (the chief executive of Barneys), who brokered the introduction between O’Hara and Rodriguez’s company.

Then there was Lena Hall, who won the featured actress in a musical Tony for her performance as a transgender man in “Hedwig,” and wore a royal blue dress by Posen that was on loan to her until Monday morning.

The house of Filipowski couldn’t take credit for that one.

So who could?

“Anna sent her over,” Posen said.