Ann Roth doesn’t see the world like other people. The woman responsible for outfitting Jane Fonda in Klute, Meryl Streep in a gold caftan in The Post, and the wild ride of costumes on display in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon frequently punctuates her conversation—as dry as a really good martini—with entreaties to look over there, here, and yonder.
“Look,” she says from a corner table at Juniors on a particularly dreary April day. She’s gesturing at a man walking on the sidewalk in a large, pilgrim-style hat and an artfully tied red plaid scarf. Pause. “He spent a lot of time in the mirror this morning.”
Is it any wonder that she has spent the last several decades as an indispensable go-to costume designer? This season alone found Roth contributing clothes to Meteor Shower, Three Tall Women, Carousel, and The Iceman Cometh—earning Tony nominations for the latter three. Oh, and she broke the Internet last year when Streep wore that caftan in The Post—“I didn’t invent caftans,” Roth points out, still bemused by all the attention. And she’s designing costumes for next season’s The Prom.
“It’s funny,” Roth says, “it doesn’t sound very nice, but I basically work with friends, that’s it.” Her long-standing friendship with Scott Rudin is partly the reason she signed on for Three Tall Women, in addition to yeoman’s work clothing the sprawling ensembles of Carousel and Iceman Cometh.
With work running the gamut, which does she prefer? Contemporary shows or period productions? “Period,” she replies. “With something contemporary, the producer’s wife can say, ‘Oh, I saw a much cuter dress at Bergdorf’s!’” She pauses. “But nobody does that to me anymore, because I’m apparently old and grumpy-looking.”
But her passion comes out in an aria about the glories of her fitting room. She begins wryly—“If a documentarian were interested in minutiae…”—before describing the process of standing in front of a mirror with an actor, surrounded by a note taker, a hair dresser, an assistant, three pairs of shoes, seven bras, and various other discarded articles of clothing.
“And the actor is standing looking at the mirror, and I am generally bent over, trying to find the hem length” she says. “And you shove a telephone book under the heel of the person or whatever, you’re playing around, and suddenly, you look in the mirror and you don’t recognize the person you’re dealing with. It’s just one of those fluttering moments. And that person in the mirror starts telling you what to do. ‘Oh yes, hemming my skirt up too high was the right thing to do.’ And that’s when the actor does not recognize herself. She’s free. That’s the magic of the fitting room.”
That may also just be the magic of Ann Roth.