The red carpet at the 69th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday will be unlike any the Broadway awards event has seen before. For the very first time, every nominee and presenter, a group of about 130 people, has been styled with the help of public relations agency KCD and editors at magazines including Vogue, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair. The red carpet space has been designed by Raul Avila, the same event company which designs the interiors and red carpet of the Costume Institute Gala each year.
Page Six first reported in March that American Theatre Wing chair and costume designer William Ivey Long had asked Anna Wintour to help make the red carpet "more chic," after she commented at a Central Saint Martins panel in June that the fashion at the 2014 awards was a "disaster." The show, which airs on CBS, is one of the least watched awards shows though it commonly features Hollywood stars. In 2014, 7 million viewers watched the Tony Awards, compared to the 15.6 million who tuned into the Emmys.
But the efforts being made to revamp the Tonys red carpet involve much more than Wintour's involvement. Long said that the process began several years ago with the help of a longtime friend and client. "My particular fairy godmother in the project was Joan Rivers," said Long, who designed the late comedian's performance looks for the last decade. "I felt very comfortable in saying, 'What do you think if we upped the red carpet at the Tony Awards?'"
Rivers became immediately involved. "She gave me this ten commandments list," said Long. "They were questions all about discovering what you expect from your red carpet. How is your red carpet different from others? Do you have a strategic plan with the building in mind? You can imagine she was on the money and very organized — a business woman to the nth degree."
Armed with Rivers' advice, Long and a committee from the Tony Award Productions — a joint venture of The Broadway League, a national trade association, and the American Theatre Wing, a not-for-profit service organization — met to discuss how the red carpet could be restructured for more media attention and buzz. What resulted was a five-year plan that began in 2014 with mostly red carpet infrastructure changes, which Long calls "dipp[ing] our toe into the water." For Sunday's show, the Tony Awards has "committed more energy and support to a larger, more specific red carpet," said Long. "We’ve amortized our commitment over five years."
A successful red carpet requires memorable fashion that inspires best dressed lists. In past years, many show attendees did not borrow looks from fashion designers, as is common practice at Hollywood awards shows. Long would design gowns for a couple of actresses he worked with each year and often helped actors buy tuxedos. As for the rest of the nominees, they were left to their own devices. "It's catch as catch can, my dear," said Long.
So Long decided to reach out to Wintour for help, and Vogue began contacting several nominees and presenters to arrange fittings. Long went to the magazine offices himself "to see what that level of support was," accompanying co-host Kristin Chenoweth at her meeting with designer Zac Posen. "He fit her in just gorgeous things and she has her own proportions, she’s unique, and Zac knew just what to do," said Long. "I was very impressed." Vogue declined to comment for this article.
It's not just Vogue that's involved. Teen Vogue confirmed that Style Features Director Andrew Bevan has styled two young actresses from "Fun Home," Emily Skeggs and Sydney Lucas. Long says Vanity Fair started contacting actors the day the nominations were announced in April, without prompting from Long, and is working with at least one nominated actress, Judy Kuhn — also from "Fun Home" — as well as her husband and daughter. Vanity Fair did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As for those presenters and nominees who didn't get a call from Condé Nast, Tony Awards partner KCD is coordinating their looks. "KCD are professional matchmakers, like Dolly Levi," said Long (referencing the musical "Hello Dolly," for all you theater neophytes). Long accompanied nominated actress Victoria Clarke of "Gigi" to her fitting at KCD. "I was very tickled to see all the choices that Victoria had to choose from. It was just beautiful support." Long says KCD is making sure no one falls through the cracks.
"Every nominee I’ve been talking to — we’ve been having several events — they’re just all feeling very well taken care of," he said. "Everyone who is being supported just feels pampered, they feel like royalty. And I tell them, 'Well, you are!'"
Getting the nominees to look good on Sunday is one thing, but making sure the photographs are attractive to the press is another. "Last year we were still following the ancien régime of step-and-repeat," said Long. "The step-and-repeat is the old way that makes you dizzy when you look at all those logos jumping at you in a psychedelic vibrating pattern, it always gave me a headache." Instead of a printed background, attendees will pose in front of boxwood hedges. "There will be a few logos but they will be presented in an exquisite way, if I do say so myself."
Throughout the red carpet revamp process, Long has been eager to let Broadway find its own red carpet identity, whatever that might be. "How is Broadway glamour unique and different from Hollywood glamour?" he said. "That is one of the missions. I hope we will discover it." Long says Wintour understands that the event needs to set its own tone. "She knows the difference between the Met Gala and Hollywood and Broadway, so we're very excited that our own unique sense of self will come out." Rivers emphasized the same point to Long during their conversations about the Tonys. "She said, 'Find out what is right for Broadway; remember you’re unique,'" he said.
Long wants the Tony Awards to be perceived universally as a momentous event because it represents the combination of five major brands: Broadway, Fashion Avenue, Radio City Music Hall, CBS and New York City. "When that all comes together, that’s like Benjamin Franklin with that key flying on the kite," said Long. "There's going be some electricity. So we are very excited this year to see how this combustion happens."
The 69th annual Tony Awards will hosted by CBS on Sunday, June 7, live from Radio City Music Hall at 8 p.m. ET.