Dressing Broadway’s Leading Ladies

Special Features   Dressing Broadway’s Leading Ladies
 
Meet the couture designer responsible for the looks of Kristin Chenoweth, Megan Hilty, and Kelli O’Hara.
Matthew Christopher designs
Kristin Chenowith Kevin Thomas Garcia

When Kelli O’Hara made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall this past October, she needed to look nothing short of fabulous. Enter designer Matthew Christopher. “Kelli said she wanted to look like a pillar in that space,” says Christopher. “She wanted to look really beautiful and clean.” When he brought out a strapless red A-line gown, they both knew it was the one.

Known for his glamorous, old Hollywood-style silhouettes—think Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas—Matthew Christopher couture has become a natural choice for Broadway stars. He designed the sculptured black gown Megan Hilty wore to last year’s Tony Awards, which landed her at the top of People’s best dressed list. The Tony nominee has worn his designs for concert gigs, including her residency at the Cafe Carlyle last May. “The girls love the fit inside the gown,” says Christopher of his popularity with the leading ladies of Broadway. “They’re like, ‘Matthew I can sing and I’m supported.’ [My dresses have] full on boning and construction. There’s a whole corset in the dress. It makes them feel like their diaphragm is fully supported.”

Kristin Chenoweth was the first to spread word throughout the Broadway community about the Matthew Christopher magic. She met the designer when he worked on a dress for her 2009 film, You Again. They hit it off right away. “She makes me laugh my head off,” says Christopher. After filming wrapped, Christopher designed a scarlet hourglass satin number that Chenoweth wore to perform with Il Divo, and she was hooked. “She said, ‘You make my body look good!’” remembers Christopher. “A Matthew Christopher dress accentuates your curves if you have them,” he says, “but if you don’t, it gives you some.” He went on to create a dramatic black gown with cascading layers for the Tony winner’s return to Carnegie Hall in 2014, and a shimmering gold, lace trumpet dress for her Royal Albert Hall debut. “It’s so great because Kristin, Kelli and I all came from the Midwest,” says Christopher. “We came from roots, where we had dreams and aspirations.”

Christopher really had to dream big growing up on his family’s pig farm in Iowa. Instead of becoming an All-State sports star like his brother and sister, he performed in the All-State choir in high school and apprenticed with a local dressmaker. He fell in with the theatre crowd while studying fashion design at Iowa State and would perform in and make costumes for the school’s productions. It wasn’t long before he set off for New York where he interned and worked for several top bridal salons, including Galina Bridal.

He founded the Matthew Christopher label in 2002, specializing in glamorous yet elegant bridal gowns—no boho brides here!—and he recently scored a deal with Nordstrom to be one of the few designers represented in their high-fashion bridal section. His creations stole a few scenes on the Broadway stage, too. Costume designer, Brian Hemesath, was attracted to the 1950s flair seen in several of Christopher’s designs, like Debra Messing’s I Love Lucy-inspired 2013 Tony Awards dress, and commissioned Christopher to make the tea-length wedding dress Brynn O’Malley wore the 2015 production of Honeymoon in Vegas.

Christopher has obviously worked hard to get to the top of the bridal market as well as on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall, and he looks for the same quality in his “Matthew Christopher girls.”

“All of the [Broadway] women that I’ve dressed have come from a place of working so hard to become who they are,” he says. “They made their dreams happen, and that’s kind of like my story too.”

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