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Thom Browne Lends His Magic Touch to Queen of the Night


Thom Browne

What’s the biggest difference between designing stage costumes and runway looks? Functionality, according to Thom Browne, who’s made more than eighty outfits for the forthcoming interactive theatrical experience, Queen of the Night. The endeavor marks Browne’s first foray into stage garb—a somewhat surprising fact, considering his proclivity for dramatic fashion week displays (cue models tied down to beds, white-powdered catwalkers teetering about a padded room in sculptural frocks, and gentlemen in exaggerated military garb marching through Paris’ École Militaire). “In regards to creating a fantasy, this was very similar to what I do in my runway collections,” explained Browne. “But I don’t always think about functional clothing, so that was the greatest challenge. These are circus performers, so you have to make sure that they can move in the garments.”

Created by Sleep No More‘s Randy Weiner and his Variety Worldwide co-partners Simon Hammerstein and Murtaza Akbar, Queen of the Night will open on New Year’s Eve at the Diamond Horseshoe—a famed thirties vaudeville theater which, set at the bottom of a deadly spiral staircase, has been restored to its Art Deco glory under the watchful eye of the play’s creative director, Giovanna Battaglia. The show promises to be as grand as its venue, and features acrobats that hang from the ceiling; a bubbling, smoking cocktail “distillery” that looks more like a laboratory than a bar; a food performance by artist Jennifer Rubell (whole pigs will be presented to guests on spits, roasted chickens will be served in cages); and a labyrinth of secret back rooms where theatergoers can have one-on-one adventures with the Browne-clad actors.

Loosely based on The Magic Flute, the surreal tale of love, turmoil, and lessons learned stars Martha Graham principal dancer Katherine Crockett. Her regal character was inspired by such bon-vivant society women as Peggy Guggenheim and Marchesa Luisa Casati, an Italian heiress and muse who supposedly once proclaimed, “I want to be a living work of art.”

Thom Browne's Queen of the Night SketchAs you can see from Browne’s sketch (left), which debuts exclusively here, the designer will transform Crockett into just that. “The costume itself is overwhelming in size and scale. It has an ecclesiastic, otherworldly sensibility,” said Browne of the leading lady’s ensemble, which comprises a massive embellished cape, a “very sexy” frock, and an astounding amount of beading and embroidery. “There are also some fantastic anatomical references,” Browne noted, pointing to pairs of hands that seem to grasp at the hips, ankles, and shoulders of Crockett’s look.

A troop of twenty butler characters will wear Browne’s signature cropped suits (with a twist, he assures us), and every element of his designs—no mater how fantastical—will play a role in the story. “You know, I based the costumes on the Marchesa, and wanted to create a whole world for somebody that just lives the most unbelievable, spectacular life,” offered Browne. “I want it to be a real fantasy experience for everyone.”

For tickets and further information on Queen of the Night visit

Photos: (portrait); Thom Browne (sketch)

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