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Home Top stories Jeremy O. Harris' Met Gala outfit was an homage to Aaliyah

Jeremy O. Harris’ Met Gala outfit was an homage to Aaliyah

Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

American playwright Jeremy O. Harris is perhaps best known for his breakout Broadway show “Slave Play,” a challenging production about race, sex and power that earned a whopping 12 Tony Award nominations following its 2018 debut. But the 32-year-old has his fingers in numerous creative pies.
He co-produced the popular HBO show “Euphoria” and co-wrote the movie “Zola,” an epic stripper saga released this summer. Harris also recently guest edited Interview Magazine’s September issue and has two new plays in development. If that wasn’t enough, he’s currently two weeks into an eight-week writing workshop to adapt Brit Bennett’s bestselling novel, “The Vanishing Half,” for TV.
Taking a break from writing, he walked the Met Gala red carpet in custom Tommy Hilfiger on Monday evening. Speaking via Zoom on the eve of the Gala, Harris discussed his Aaliyah-inspired outfit and his relationship with fashion.

CNN Style: What clothes do you write in?

Jeremy O. Harris: If I were to walk around in sweats, shorts and a T-shirt, I wouldn’t feel like I was at work. I like to dress to work, so I’ll put on a really nice pair of slacks, some loafers and a chic shirt.

CNN: Do you take much interest in fashion or costume design when it comes to projects you’re working on?

Harris: Generally, I like to make sure I’m working with collaborators who are so rigorous in their field that my viewpoint is less necessary. (But) I do care about the clothes deeply, and it was a (skill that) I was able to hone while working with Janicza Bravo (the co-writer and director of “Zola”).

I’ve always had a lot of opinions about how I want something to look, but I wasn’t always as good at (explaining what I wanted). Witnessing (Bravo) take control of an entire production team and steer this ship in the direction of all our references became a great learning tool.

CNN: How are you feeling about attending the Met Gala now versus in 2019?

Harris: I’m stepping onto the red carpet very differently to how I stepped onto it two years ago. (In 2019, I was) a hot young curiosity of a playwright. Now, I’m stepping onto (the red carpet) as a show runner, as someone who co-wrote one of the most exciting movies of the summer, in my opinion, and also as someone who has written a play that garnered the most Tony nominations of all time.

CNN: Can you talk us through your Met Gala outfit this year?

Harris: When I was a child, Tommy Hilfiger created this moment of Black youth culture — of music culture — that completely shifted what I thought was cool. And it was centered around Aaliyah, who I loved so much.

There’s this one outfit I never got out of my head. It was this yellow, sailing bomber jacket thing that she wore to perform in at The Forum (in Los Angeles). I’ve always wanted to emulate that look, so when I started working with Tommy Hilfiger (on my Met Gala outfit), I asked if we could pay homage to that specific look and do a yellow bomber jacket but (more) grand and theatrical.

So we’ve turned that jacket into this huge opera jacket that is voluminous, sexy, cool and mysterious. Underneath, it reveals this all-black number. The shirt is open (because I’m really proud of my chest right now), and I’m wearing these 1920s Zoot suit-inspired pleated pants with the Tommy Hilfiger logo boxer-short band coming out of them, because that was part of Aaliyah’s look then. So it’s sort of a melding of things that inspired me as a child mixed with my dapper dandy vibes.

CNN: Listening to you, you seem very confident in your body. Have you always felt this way?

Harris: There are a lot of stories that can be written on my body, as a 6-foot-5 Black man, and one of the stories that was constantly written on it was that I played basketball (which wasn’t who I was). So I constantly tried to move myself away from sportswear … I moved towards the femme; I moved towards dandy style, because I felt that immediately articulated that I was different.

I wasn’t always comfortable with my body in my 20s, but now that I’m in my 30s and I’ve learned about myself sexually, and I’ve been around the world, I’ve become super confident in my body. Los Angeles, where I spent my 20s, is a very homogenous place. Traveling to places like Ghana and Europe, showed me this wild body diversity around the world. It definitely changed the way I saw myself, and that was really exciting.

CNN: This year’s Met Gala theme is “In America: A lexicon of fashion.” The accompanying exhibition proposes new, modern vocabulary for American fashion. What words do you think we need to use when talking about fashion in the US today?

Harris: American fashion is Black fashion. I think part of expanding the American fashion lexicon has to be to celebrate Blackness and how it intersects with our culture at large.

We can’t only think about the faces who have been able to run major fashion companies or been privileged to design for (fashion houses), but rather the people from whom they have taken so many of their inspirations.

CNN: What do you think about the red carpet as a platform for political or social statements?

Harris: I welcome disruption, and I’m excited by it. Because not only are disruptions theatrical, they also shift conversations, and I think that’s something I celebrate about being an American. So if a politic is a part of someone’s understanding of themselves, then I want to see that on the red carpet.

CNN: Where’s the Met Gala after-party at for you tomorrow?

Harris: It’s Rihanna’s only! Rihanna’s is the Met Gala after-party.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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