“It started on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea,” said Jeremy O. Harris on Sunday afternoon, the day before the Met Gala. The dynamic writer and producer — of “Slave Play” and “Zola” fame — was with a friend who works closely with Tommy Hilfiger, and was tipped off that the designer was interested in dressing him for the Met Gala.
Five days later, Harris was in conversation with Hilfiger and reflecting on the brand’s archive. “I didn’t want to do a run-of-the-mill everyday look. I wanted to do something that told a story about how I met Tommy as a child, and also told a story about one of my favorite fashion icons,” said Harris.
His Met Gala look pays homage to an iconic Aaliyah outfit, a two-piece Tommy Hilfiger yellow tracksuit worn by the singer for one of her performances in 1997. Harris has been obsessed with the look since childhood.
“I was a big Aaliyah fan growing up, as I think many people in our generation were,” he said. “I had a magazine image of her in that full yellow sailing-bomber jacket that I looked at all the time, especially in the months after her death. I had this homage to her in my locker. It always stuck out to me as the coolest Aaliyah look.”
Revisiting, and highlighting, Hilfiger’s influence on Black American culture in the late ’90s was also deeply appealing to Harris. “You saw Snoop Dogg wearing Tommy; you saw every major celebrity wearing big oversize Tommy Hilfiger,” said Harris. “And I knew that when we had the chance to look back on what Tommy might mean for the American lexicon of fashion and what it might mean for me, I wanted to look at it through the lens of how Tommy Hilfiger understood Black culture, and how Black culture and Tommy Hilfiger had a symbiotic relationship.”
Harris is excited for his entrance onto the Met Gala stage to articulate the ways in which Hilfiger built his brand around celebrating and in collaboration with Black creatives. “Some of the first people to wear Tommy on live television were rappers. And I think that made Tommy Hilfiger a very specific brand inside of the Black community — so much so that the Black community’s reverence for Tommy, someone tried to sever it.”
(In the late ’90s, an email circulated claiming that Tommy Hilfiger had gone on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and said that he doesn’t design for Black people. That wasn’t true; the designer had never been on the show, although he did appear as a guest in 2007 to set the record straight.)
“None of the designers we’re looking at on that carpet [the Met Gala] would have ever been able to make their way in this country without some Black person freaking it,” Harris added. “Tommy Hilfiger does not become Tommy Hilfiger if you don’t have [stylist] Kadida Jones getting a group of people like Tupac, Aaliyah, Mark Ronson, and all the hottest, coolest kids making pop music dancing in your clothes.”
Harris was in the process of tracking down a childhood photograph of him and his sister decked out in Tommy Hilfiger to include in one of his “Coronavirus Mixtape” Instagram photo posts marking his Met Gala look. “For a Black boy growing up in the ’90s, to be able to wear a fully Tommy look was to know that you were stepping out with a steez that no one else could match,” he said. “Hopefully [the photo] is not lost in some Virginia trash dump.”
Monday delivered a new Tommy getup to add to his photo archive; his reaction to seeing his final Met Gala look for the first time was an audible gasp.
“We’re turning that jacket that I used to look at as a child into this theatrical opera coat. It’s this entrance piece that’s fitting of a playwright who wrote a play that has now garnered all these Tony nominations, that is now writing TV shows,” said Harris. “I get to enter the Met Gala in a very different way than I entered it two years ago, as this timid kid who was very scared walking out after Hailey Bieber. I’m very excited to go there now fully in my power, fully in my being.”
And while Harris’ outfit is sure to garner plenty of attention, he — like many others — is eagerly anticipating what Rihanna is going to wear. “I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about. I love her so much,” he said.
September is a busy month — and for Harris, it’s also monumental: in addition to attending the Met Gala, he’s also attending the Tony Awards ceremony, where his play “Slave Play” has already made history as the most-nominated play ever.
“If you want to be underwhelmed, this is what a Tony award nomination looks like,” said Harris, pulling the nomination announcement, inside a leather portfolio, from the desk in his home office. “It’s amazing, but in my mind as a little kid, I thought it was gonna be so grand and so big,” he said. “It’s just a little thing that I could have gotten from high school or something.”
Harris is bringing his mom as his date to the awards ceremony, and he promises another fashion statement on the horizon. “We’re going to be wearing looks that are going to really shake people. So I think I’m excited about the looks as much as I’m excited about the ceremony.”
There are even more big moments ahead for the 32-year-old creative. This fall, Harris is working on several projects; he’s writing “The New World,” a movie for Warner Brothers, and another film for a “really amazing actor that everyone loves.” He’s also working on two plays for Broadway and is co-running the series adaptation of bestselling book “The Vanishing Half” alongside poet Aziza Barnes.
“After this year and a half of waiting and this pause that we’ve been on, it’s feeling really great just to come together with people in each of the small ways we have,” said Harris. “Because that’s what all of those events were about. There is the glamour, there is the fun, but as someone who works in theater, I care about communities. I care about community building and shaping communities, and these little micro-communities of people who are like-minded, who’ve had similar experiences. [Opportunities] for those people to come together and feel alleviated from the mania of everything are so rare.”
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