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Did Anna Wintour Make the Tony Awards Chic?

Photo: CBS

In the basement of the Plaza Hotel, Helen Mirren was playfully spinning her newly acquired Tony while sitting at a food-court table and, believe it or not, eating a taco. The hotel’s food hall was transformed into a free-food-for-all as part of last night’s post-ceremony festivities — a kind of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the kick-ball-change set. And while the usual Broadway suspects were in attendance, what really stood out at this year’s awards was the introduction of some unfamiliar names — like Kendall (that would be Jenner), and Prabal, and Ratajkowski, as well as fellow Tony first-timers Joan Smalls and Hilary Rhoda. They were there as part of an effort, begun by costume designer William Ivey Long, to make the Tonys more fashionable. He enlisted Anna Wintour, who, after all, had called last year’s red carpet a “disaster,” and the blue-chip PR firm KCD to help ensure that this year’s crop of nominees had a higher glamour quotient. So, did it work? Well, allover sequins, the jazz hands of the embellishment world, were still everywhere, as were other prom-y touches, but the appearance of names like Public School and Altuzarra on this year’s red carpet, along with the roll call of supermodels, suggests that a chic dent was indeed made. Still, the effort wasn’t entirely lauded by all parties. Were Wintour and company acting as Lady Bountiful to a grateful group of thespians, or as the Queen Soch making over the dowdy theater nerds? 

“It’s no secret that William Ivey Long conspired with Anna,” said Hamish Bowles, perched in a Mirren-adjacent spot in the food hall. “He felt that there was such an incredible historic relationship between fashion and the theater, and the Tonys seem to have been sending some muddled fashion messages. You look back and you think of Mainbocher, who dressed Mary Martin as the first Maria in The Sound of Music.” Bowles is, to put it mildly, a theater buff, and added that “every time I go to a Broadway performance, I see fashion designers: Michael Kors, Francisco Costa. Peter Copping is very engaged by the theater. Alessandro Michele, the new designer at Gucci,  is very into experimental Italian theater. I think there are so many symbiotic links, and a lot of the designers who these Broadway actresses revere and idolize, they find it sometimes complicated to approach [them]. So it seems very logical to make those connections.” Was Bowles involved directly in anyone’s styling? “I wish I could lay claim to it, because the Vogue fashion closet, for several weeks, has resembled the green room of a Broadway theater. I certainly popped my head round when Kelli O’Hara was being fitted, for instance. I think anything one can do to bring attention to this astonishing industry that does so much for New York, that is such a vital and thrilling part of why I adore the city, is great. Whatever it takes.”

Rita Wilson, in sparkling custom Tom Ford with cutout shoulders, cited Helen Mirren, Ruth Wilson, and Amanda Seyfried as some of her favorites of the night. She was more dubious about the idea that the theater world, which she’s been a part of for some time now, was in need of a fashion injection. “There’s somewhat of a dismissiveness to it, or an ugly stepchild aspect to it that bothers me. It’s sort of like, ‘You need our help,’” she reflected. “I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I hope that’s not what people are thinking. Everything’s so gentrified now — everybody’s got a stylist and it’s very corporate, so I like seeing what people do when they aren’t being told what to wear. So I didn’t really know that there was anything that needed to be fixed.”

Others were eager for the guidance. Annaleigh Ashford, who won Best Featured Actress in a Play for her turn in You Can’t Take It With You, said,Those of us in the theater don’t always have access to high fashion, and meanwhile, we’re all ready for it, so it was time for the marriage to begin.” Her green Zac Posen had the bonus of being comfortable: “I got lucky that my dress had pockets. It’s the best.”

Not every nominee availed themselves of the help. Leanne Cope, the pixie-haired star of An American in Paris, said it was her first time at the ceremony, and one of her first times mingling with the musical-theater crowd. (She comes from the ballet world.) Her strapless ‘50s-style gown was by Randi Rahm, a New York designer and an investor in the play. Still, she was happy to weigh in on her fashion pick for the evening, Fun Home phenom Sydney Lucas: “I wish I’d had as good fashion sense as her when I was 11 years old.”

Did Anna Wintour Make the Tonys Chic?