When Jonathan Larson’s smash-hit musical RENT made its Broadway debut twenty years ago, it wasn’t just the show’s spectacular score, poignant themes and sharp social commentary that took the world by storm.
“Jonathan said to me, ‘I want the costumes to be groundbreaking in fashion, too,'” recalls Angela Wendt, the production’s designer. “And when I did the original costumes, a lot of what I did on stage was sort of happening in fashion at the same time. [The characters] couldn’t afford new clothing, so I looked at vintage, at ’70s fashion…the patchwork, the chunky heel. It just happened to be that my inspirations were right up there with high fashion!”
In short, if not responsible for the 70s resurgence that came to shape 90s fashion, RENT was certainly right on trend. Within weeks, Bloomingdale’s had opened a RENT-themed boutique full of show-inspired duds (one of the first Broadway-mainstream clothing collaborations), and fashion greats like Anna Wintour flocked to the theater to see the looks firsthand.
Now, 20 years later, it’s ’90s fashion that’s coming back around…and RENT fits right in. Mark’s trademark flannel, Roger’s muscle tees, Mimi’s crop top and even Maureen’s light-wash patchwork “mom jeans” wouldn’t be out of place on a fashion blogger’s feed…or, in some cases, store shelves, which Wendt says makes her job a lot easier—both technically and more globally.
“It’s great when something like RENT doesn’t feel dated,” she says. “As soon as it feels dated, [the audience] puts distance between themselves and the show. So if they look more contemporary, they can relate more to them and listen to the issues differently.”
And it’s not just about the audience—or the fashion, for that matter.
“What’s exciting to me about the 20th anniversary tour is that this is the first production of RENT where a large portion of the cast wasn’t even born or were just born when the show first came out,” she says. “It’s amazing to see how they relate to the material, how it’s still relevant to another generation. Though some of the issues have changed, the fundamental issues of friendship and finding your way in the world will always be relevant.”
See the show March 31-April 2 at the Hippodrome. In another homage to the original show, the Hippodrome will be offering $25 front-row orchestra seats, available through cash-only, in-person purchase two hours before each show—a tradition started in 1996 after the show moved to Broadway. Not willing to take the risk? Get your tickets here.