Jordan Roth Went From Thom Browne’s Runway to the Met Gala

Jordan Roth understands what the red carpet at the Costume Institute Gala is all about. Though the design of every Met outfit is scrutinized online, those who climb the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the first Monday in May know that showmanship is what truly brings a look to life. As the Tony-winning producer behind Broadway hits like Hadestown, Kinky Boots, and The Book of Mormon, Roth appreciates the value of performance, especially when it unites his fashion. “The Met is fashion theater, a space where I live every day,” Roth shared days before the big event. “The joy is in performing a piece written especially for you.”

After dazzling on 2021’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” carpet in a custom coat from textile artist and queer activist Michael Sylvan Robinson, and swanning into the event wearing winged Iris van Herpen back during 2019’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition, Roth is used to giving the audience at home an innovative experience. The intricacy of the looks he and his stylist Vogue men’s editor Michael Philouze have chosen make him an exciting presence year after year, but he wanted to take things to the next level for 2022’s gilded glamour celebrations. As always, he began his outfit selection process by taking time to think. “I have to consider what the concept says to me and what I’d like to explore,” explains Roth. “Sometimes that results in a very articulated mission statement. Last year, it came from a literal piece of text that ended up being embroidered onto the piece, while the Iris look began from a set of directives [because] I wanted it to be a performance in itself. This time I knew early on that I wanted to work with Thom Browne.

The emotionality of Browne’s creations struck a chord with Roth. “He’s an artist of boundless imagination and meaning,” says Roth. “Someone whose work buries itself in my heart then works its way out.” The designer’s exploration of tailoring, a constant within his oeuvre, proved especially poignant. “So much of what Thom does starts from the idea of the suit, which is a charged form for me,” says Roth. “The suit is the uniform of masculinity: terrain that I have, at times, bounded away from. Thom takes that form and deconstructs it, explodes it. He evolves it in a way that articulates my relationship with it.”

For the Met, the pair unpacked the suit’s most formal incarnation, the tuxedo. “It’s a quintessentially American invention,” says Roth, nodding to the 1886 Autumn Ball held at New York’s Tuxedo Park country club, where a shortened, tail-less version of the evening coat debuted stateside at a party attended by Gilded Age power players like William Waldorf Astor and JP Morgan. Revolutionary for its time, the design remains the standard at black-tie events. “Thom and I wanted to explore the tension between uniform and individuality, which is deeply resonant for me and something that we grapple with within this country,” says Roth. “What we wear is how we feel our way through the world, and those ideas [can be] explored through the tuxedo.”

Of course, when Browne is involved, a standard black tux is not an option. Instead, Roth was shrouded in an ornate overcoat made from mohair, satin, moiré, and velvet. Inspired by the swirls of gogottes—naturally occurring crystal formations created millions of years ago when quartz fragments fused with calcium carbonate—the coat was wearable art. “At first, the idea was that I would take off the coat and it would be a sculptural piece next to me, but then we had fittings,” says Roth. “Once I dropped it from my shoulders and held it behind me, we both looked at it and saw that the coat had become a bustle.”

The padded undergarments used to create the exaggerated womenswear silhouettes popular during the Gilded Age seemed like the perfect point of reference for the gala. “It creates this dialogue,” says Roth. “We have the male formal and the female all in one look. Beneath the coat, you have this sinuous column, plus a corset and bustle, which are [tools] of beauty but restrictive. So there is this notion of separating the body from the bustle, being able to move fluidly between states.”  

Browne’s complex design also worked in plenty of “blink, and you’ll miss ’em” details. “I’m a Scorpio, so Thom created these mind blowing beaded scorpions hidden in the tulle,” says Roth. “One thing about Thom’s work is that the linings are exquisite, the labeling is exquisite, every finishing and detail is considered. Even when you look at the soles of the shoes, they’re beautiful. He’s creating an entire world for us to live in, whether or not it’s immediately visible.”


Before the Met kicked off, Roth stepped even deeper into Browne’s whimsical universe by taking a place on the designer’s “misfit toy” inspired fall 2022 runway last week. Wearing a tweed version of the gogotte overcoat in dramatic black and white, with his face painted in polka dots by Isamaya Ffrench, Roth made his modeling debut. “It’s the precursor to the Met reveal,” says Roth. “There’s a link between the entire collection and this piece, so he invited me to walk the show. My runway look has a similar silhouette, but it’s a different fabric, and you don’t get to see what’s underneath. [Still] it became this beautiful narrative.”

Spending several days immersed in Browne’s universe would be a treat no matter the occasion, but Roth is glad it all coincided with the majesty of the Met. “Thom’s shows are everything I love about fashion and theater. I’ve had the great privilege of experiencing them as a viewer, but stepping inside something meaningful and layered is incredible,” says Roth. “[Similarly] what’s so exciting to me about the Met is that you’re given this beautiful space to explore big ideas. It’s a freeing canvas for you to fill, a place to be however you dream yourself.” 

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