There was no shortage of extravagance on the Met Gala red carpet last night, but to hear cochair Lady Gaga tell it, Jordan Roth stole the show in his stately yet sumptuous Iris van Herpen look. A printed floor-length cape with a radius as tall as he is, it was a veritable coup de théatre. That’s fitting: A Broadway tycoon with a serious fashion obsession, Roth’s musical Hadestown is the most-Tony-nominated production of the year, and his next project is Moulin Rouge. Camp, the theme of this year’s Costume Institute exhibition, as defined by Susan Sontag’s landmark 1964 essay, is a concept for which he’s well equipped.
“For me, I gravitate to the performative ideas of camp, both the artifice and exaggeration, but also the metaphor of life as theater. That’s where I live,” Roth told Vogue. Van Herpen, who is Dutch and based in Amsterdam, was the right talent for this project, he continued, because “I’ve always been completely mesmerized by her pieces. Each one feels like this extraordinarily thoughtful and exquisitely executed work of art, with so many literal and figurative layers. That’s not unlike Sontag’s essay. And that’s the kind of piece I wanted to create. Also, the kind of experience I wanted to have making it.”
Roth’s one-of-a-kind look had two jumping-off points: “I wanted this piece to be both about performance and a performance in itself,” he explained. “And also, I knew that I wanted to play with the idea of the proscenium,” or the arch framing the opening between a stage and an auditorium. With Roth’s arms at his sides, the curtain was “closed,” but when he spread them, it opened. The optical illusion is where Van Herpen came in. The top layer of the double-layer cape is a hybrid material of cotton and Mylar digitally printed with an image of red curtains, then heat-bonded, and finally laser-cut into a very fine wavy web. Van Herpen calls it “the glitch”; she developed the concept for her Spring 2019 haute couture collection with architect Philip Beesley. Each little cut is just 0.8 millimeters and interlinked to all the other thousands of lines by small waves.
“The line design of the waves create a three-dimensional bubble effect when moving that’s designed to move faster than the eye can follow. It literally tricks the eye (and the mind),” Van Herpen explained. “When Jordan opens his arms, the glitch bubbles stretch and reveal a new layer in between them, a silk fabric printed with a full theater in 360 degrees.” The image combines photos of Paris’s Palais Garnier, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the Royal Opera in Stockholm, all taken by photographer David Leventi.
If that sounds complicated, it absolutely was. Van Herpen rarely works with prints (her recent Fire and Ice frock for Game of Thrones’s Gwendoline Christie notwithstanding), and she’s never designed for a man. Considering the concept of camp was another first for her. “Jordan said, ‘Put a proscenium around anything, raise a curtain in front of anything, and it becomes performance. Performance is life, framed,’” said Van Herpen. “I thought that was so beautiful. It inspired me to deep dive into the realms of performance and illusion.”
Roth was thrilled with the results, as these pictures and videos testify. This morning he reported: “Inside, after climbing the grand staircase of pink feather fabulousness (no easy feat in this one!), Anna [Wintour] introduced me to Lady Gaga, who said, ‘I heard you worked really hard on this, which I really appreciate, because I always do. And you look amazing!’ Which kind of felt like being blessed by the high priestess of camp. Then I opened the curtains and she said, ‘Wow! You win performance of the night.’ Later at cocktails, I turned around just as I heard a man saying he loved my look. I looked up to see it was Bob Mackie. Legendary Bob Mackie, who created all of Cher’s campstravaganzas and is a huge reason she was the perfect surprise entertainer last night. A blessing from the Wizard of Camp!”
See All of the Celebrity Looks From the Met Gala 2019 Red Carpet: