“Most of the time, my default is to blend in,” said Trevor Noah, trying on his tuxedo for Monday night’s Emmy Awards. “As a comedian, I don’t ever want to be seen; I want to be seeing. Because that’s where you absorb all of your information. But when you are dressing for an event, then it is nice to have a moment where you shine as bright as you can, because that’s what that moment is about.”
Noah is not one of those celebrities who changes the center of gravity when he walks into a room, even when the room is his. The host of “The Daily Show” since September 2015, Noah has developed a command of the desk that used to belong to Jon Stewart. Off-camera, his presence is less pronounced.
During a recent fitting for the outfit he will wear to the Emmys, Noah was one of the most understated people in his office. Three immaculately suited men were on hand to ensure the fit was correct and they took a moment to react to his entry.
It is a bright moment for Noah. His show is nominated in the Variety Talk Series category, making it the first time “The Daily Show” has been up for an Emmy in a nontechnical category under his guidance; under Stewart it was nominated 15 times in the category and won 10 awards. Last fall, Noah’s contract was extended through 2022, thanks in part to its popularity with younger viewers.
“It’s been a long road,” he said, “to go from being the show where people were counting down to when you’re going to be off the air. To go from that to being an Emmy-nominated show.”
Though the format of “The Daily Show” has long-since grown familiar, Noah’s willingness to stick to the show’s beats in the midst of a chaotic political moment seems to have been a comfort to his audience. He sees himself as a weatherman, he said, helping viewers to track Hurricane Trump.
The first suit he owned, he said, was his school uniform, an outfit that he treasured because it did not make him feel inferior to his peers.
“What I loved about a school uniform was that I didn’t have to think,” he said. “I like that it was laid out for me. It was what I was meant to wear; it was what I was supposed to wear.”
Because Noah grew up poor, and because his mother was black and his father white — making his appearance evidence of a crime in apartheid South Africa (his best-selling 2016 memoir was titled “Born a Crime”) — he always tried to draw as little attention to himself as possible.
But as his profile has grown, Noah, 34, has become more willing to flex stylistically. Shannon Turgeon, who manages his wardrobe on and off the show, said that the two of them had decided, at the beginning of this year, to start dressing the host more boldly, particularly at event appearances, such as the Met Gala.
“It was kind of like all right, we did the classic thing,” she said, referring to the buttoned-up style that has landed Noah on many best-dressed lists. “He’s a lot more established as an American talent and he’s having fun with it now.”
That is why she and Noah decided to enlist Musika Frère, a brand born on Instagram that has dressed stars including Michael B. Jordan and Stephen Curry. Its founders, Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit-Frère, were present at the fitting of the custom-fit silk mohair tuxedo, even helping Noah to tie his velvet Christian Louboutin dress shoes.
As with his captaining of the show, though, Noah was not overly eager to shake things up. He asked the designers for a classic look that would hint at his willingness to try something new without going over the top.
“He’s very refined,” said Musika, “so we knew that we wanted to give something with a little bit of flash in it but keep that refinement for him.”
The result, to the untrained eye, was largely traditional. It took Musika’s guidance to understand that the three-button lapel vest that the designers had prepared for Noah as a surprise was less than traditional, or that the velvet on his lapel or at his waist was unusual.
Noah likes to keep surprises to a minimum. He uses the things he has learned to make others feel comfortable. (When he meets people, he repeats their names several times, quietly, almost to himself.) Turgeon said he was “offended easily by clothing,” particularly by outfits that do not make sense, or seem to provoke for the sake of provocation.
This is not to say he finds fashion particularly shallow.
“Everything is shallow if you don’t dig deep,” he said, begging pardon for what he called a simple expression. “Anything that you put enough research into and work hard enough studying peels away layers and layers that you can then use.”
For Noah, clothing is functional. But he believes function goes beyond comfort, to what his clothes say about him and what he says with them. He seems most concerned with ensuring that they do not say the wrong thing. Part of not being the center of attention, he said, means not being someone “who detracts from what’s happening because I just have no sense of fashion whatsoever.”