How do you pay tribute to a star in the film industry, playfully dubbed “The Meryl Streep of Costume Design?” That was the dilemma Nathan Lane faced in front of a crowd at the Hamptons International Film Festival that included Scott Rudin, Bruce Weber, and eh, Meryl Streep. “You have to say something nice,” said Lane by way of lauding Ann Roth’s genius. But Roth would have none of it. Horrified when director Mike Nichols announced that they’d worked together for 47 years, she seemed horrified that she was honored at all.
Even though Alina Cho played host, never ever confuse Roth's work with fashion. From the ensembles put together for Nathan Lane in La Cage aux Folles, to the flimsy housedresses worn by Sally Field in Places in the Heart, to the spandex, crotch and derriere defining bell-bottoms worn by Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth in Mamma Mia, these are costumes. “Oh, please!” she gasps if you suggest otherwise.
Thus Roth, smartly clad with cardigan draped over her shoulders, became straight-man to one of the most entertaining tributes ever, featuring anecdotes galore about Roth’s work, her attention to detail, her invented backstory for each character that defied the imagination of actors playing them. All this, so that the players could feel the parts, bringing award worthy performances.
As Nichols put it, she collaborates on many aspects aside from costuming. She was responsible for Jane Fonda’s Klute haircut, that then became all the rage. For Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Roth found a key to her look at a London cobbler’s shop when she was having a pair of shoes made. The craftsman said he had heard Woolf read on the radio as a boy and thought her sound had to do with her nose. Roth then suggested the infamous, transformative shnozz Kidman sported as the author of Mrs. Dalloway. Fonda and Kidman won the Best Actress Oscars for these roles.
Ah but, unbeknownst to Roth, Meryl Streep was lurking in the rear. She flew in from Tulsa where she is shooting August: Osage County to read a poem for Roth she’d written on the plane. Leaping onstage, she modeled a blouse she claimed to have stolen from her sister in law’s closet. (Shhh! She’ll never know.) Streep is famous for paying little attention to “dress.” Even when honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, she boasted her modest, ill-fitting black shirtwaist was a find from the mall in Short Hills.