Jordan Roth’s Moulin Rouge Ensemble Is a Testament to Self-Love

by Charles Manning

When it comes to the red carpet, Broadway producer Jordan Roth is on a level all his own. His incredible Iris van Herpen cape was one of the most talked about looks at this year’s Met Gala — no small feat at the Oscars of fashion — as was the red Givenchy couture creation he wore to this year’s Tony Awards. So, in a way, it came as no surprise when he emerged onto the red carpet at last night’s opening of Moulin Rouge on Broadway in yet another stunning, custom ensemble. Inspired by the Moulin Rouge’s iconic windmill, Roth’s breathtaking navy blue cape, pants, and blouse — created in collaboration with New York designer Zac Posen — was, much like the show itself, a beautifully designed, expertly crafted, joy to behold. 

The Daily spoke with Roth on the phone just before the big night.

First of all, I have to tell you how much I loved the show. [I saw it last week, during previews.]
I’m so happy you had fun.

I arrived a little early, so I got to see the pre-show with all the performers milling about on stage. It really sets the tone and gives people a chance to take the photos that incredible set begs you to take. 
Oh, yes! It’s the most Instagrammable set in the intergalactic universe.

At what stage did you become involved with the production?
We were in conversation about the show for a long time and I’ve been excited about it for several years of its development. I so love the film. It had all the elements of a truly unique cinematic experience that defied all boundaries and all conventions and appealed to everything that I loved about the theatrical. And I knew that this creative team could [turn it into] a unique, live experience.

It’s been 18 years since the film premiered. Why was now the right time to bring it to Broadway? 
We’re all so hungry for experiences that bring us together as people and that lift us all to extraordinary heights of emotion and energy and excitement. Those are things we feel in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our minds and we want to feel them collectively and unabashedly.

You really do feel that collective, joyful energy sitting in the audience. There are times during the show, especially when they start singing some of the newer songs that came out after the original film — songs by Sia, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, etc. — that people would just start laughing. But it wasn’t like they were laughing at the song or the performance, it really just felt like this tremendous outpouring of happiness.
Totally! It’s that kind of sheer delight, that kind of joyful abandon, that Moulin Rouge invites.

Speaking of sheer delight, tell me about tonight’s ensemble.
Zac [Posen] is a dear friend and we share a love of all things theatrical, so I knew that I wanted to collaborate with him on this piece.

Zac Posen, Jordan Roth

I came to him with two main ideas: the windmill, because it is an icon of the original Moulin Rouge in Paris and it is such an extraordinary presence in the musical,  and the bohemian ideals of truth, beauty, freedom, and love that the show talks so much about and celebrates. Those ideals speak so much to why this show exists and way I think this show exists now.

Then, we went through many conversations and iterations and sketches and samples and all the joy of creating this extraordinary, custom cape.

Jordan Roth

You do love a cape.
I love a cape! This is basically a fashion interpretation of that extraordinary windmill. It is built on navy sheer mesh and the red outline of the windmill is in bugle beads and the light bulbs are represented by these extraordinary amber jewels. And, of course, the genius of Zach designing that kind of embroidery on mesh is that you see through it to my body, as if these spinning lights were suspended in air. And the mesh is such a modern, technological material; layered with much more traditional beaded embroidery, those two elements mirror the super-modern and glorious nostalgia that is the mash-up of this show.

Underneath, is literally the most extraordinary pants and blouse, inspired by Belle Époque silhouettes with a very high-waisted, boned corset built into the pants and an exquisite sleeve and bib in the blouse that continues the diamond shapes of the windmill. You know we love our details.

View this post on Instagram

Moulin Rouge is a celebration of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love. 7 years ago, in this very spot on this very stage, my husband @richiejacksongaydad and I were married. It was the clearest moment of truth and of profound beauty, made possible by hard fought freedom, and born of great love. For this, our opening night, I asked my dear friend @zacposen to incorporate those ideals in this piece inspired by the legendary windmill of the Moulin Rouge, both an icon of the original landmark in Paris and of @DerekMcLane’s breathtaking set here at the Hirschfeld Theatre. A windmill harnesses energy and turns it into electricity, takes air and turns it into life. That is the astounding achievement of @alextimbers @logan1637 @justinlevine @sonyatayeh and the entire family of @moulinrougebway – harnessing the energy of this story, this music, this audience, this world and turning it into electrifying life. ❤️ . Windmill Spectacular: @zacposen Stylist: @michael_philouze House of Z: @simondebeaupre @cmariton Hair: @rudymartins Make-Up: @maudlaceppe Style Team: @celinesabbagh Video: @rwb87/@marathondgtl

A post shared by Jordan Roth (@jordan_roth) on

How long did it take to create this look?
Two and a half to three months. You know, art takes time. Part of the joy for me is the evolution of these pieces — the space between me and the designer to go back and forth and continue to define and elevate the ideas. Giving that the time to really blossom is the joy. [And these are] hand-crafted pieces; the atelier needs time to do their work at its best and, of course, Zach has the most talented team.

Jordan Roth

What do you do with these incredible outfits of yours after you’ve worn them? Do they all go into some archive somewhere waiting for the day when you will donate them to a museum, like Sandy Schreier?
I do archive them, but I usually keep them in my home for a bit after [I’ve worn them], because I like to stay connected to them. But then, yes, they are archived and kept secure and packed and temperature-controlled, because they really are pieces of art and they need to be preserved in that way. One day, they will make an extraordinary [museum] collection!

Absolutely. And a very interesting one. I feel like, with all the press you’ve been getting recently for your outfits, you’ve become a very public face for the sort of queering of gender on the red carpet. Not that these sort of gender-fluid looks are new for you, per-se, but I feel like you and Billy Porter are sort of helping to push this idea, this fluidity, out into the world.
For me, fashion is a very meaningful way to express who I am and how I feel and I’m expressing that to you and I am expressing that to me. It’s an outward expression of what’s inside but it’s also an inward expression.

It means a lot to me, too, to see someone being so unabashedly queer. As a gay man, growing up, I saw gender as being very binary and I was terrified of being seen as anything other than a ‘boy.’ That came with very real consequences for me — emotional, physical — and I remember feeling like I had to make a choice to be as much of a ‘boy’ as I could just to protect myself. I still feel that way at times, which is why I think it is very brave to be so openly queer, even today. Even in New York.
I so appreciate that. I really do, because your experience was my experience and so many people’s experience and still is. I am constantly in tears reading peoples’ responses on my Instagram, because what people seem to be getting from watching what I’m doing is some level of permission and encouragement to be themselves, unabashedly. Which is different than, ‘Where’d you get those boots?’ It’s not, ‘I want to dress like you,’ although, sure, take inspiration from wherever you want, but it’s more, ‘I want to feel that. I want to feel that about myself. I want to feel that joyful claim on myself.’ Whatever that is, whatever way you choose to express that, lay claim to that and celebrate it. If that’s what we can give to each other, I give that to you and you give it back to me. Because this is a daily choice. And some days are easier than others, for all of us.

You know, the first time I saw you — I think it was on the red carpet at the Met Gala a couple of years ago — I remember thinking, ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ I was angry at you. I can’t remember what you were wearing, but you were with [your husband] Richie and you were so happy and I remember thinking, ‘Who is this fag, standing up there like that?’ I realize now that I was angry because I was unhappy. I resented your happiness and the fact that you could experience that happiness while embracing something about yourself that I had spent so many years suppressing and hating about myself. And I thought I was past my self-loathing phase, but I wasn’t. And I had to really look at myself and why I felt the way I did. And then I met you at the Tonys last month and you and Richie were so open and joyful and earnest, and it really caught me off guard when I was interviewing you on the red carpet and I started crying, which I have never done before in an interview, because I was just so struck by how genuine you were. And I don’t even really know what I’m trying to say right now, except that I think you effected me in exactly the way you were talking about before. I don’t know. I just think it’s wonderful.
I’m literally in tears from this. First of all, I just need to say how extraordinarily grateful I am to you for saying all of that —admitting to feeling like, ‘Who the fuck is that? Who does he think he is?’ — because when I first started really, really doing this — this has always been in me and you should see what I wore in college — I carried that. It’s funny, because it was exactly those words. [I thought], ‘They are going to say, “Who the fuck does he think he is?”’ For you to say that — first to recognize that you felt that and say it to me, and also to unpack for yourself what that is about — is just an extraordinary gift of humanity. So, thank you.

Now I’m crying, too. Again. I’ve now cried twice while interviewing you.
Me too! This will be our thing. We will just make each other cry and then make great stories out of it.

Click here to learn more about Moulin Rouge and buy tickets to see the show yourself. 

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