I first saw Billy Porter speak on a stage about his experience as an out, gay, black man working in the entertainment industry. His voice was raspy; his point of view bold. Then I saw his empowering performance as the dynamic diva Lola in Kinky Boots and understood that with so much talent, he had good reason to have so many strong opinions. While he danced and belted his way into my heart, for much of his career Porter has been a presence seen more on the stages of New York’s theater district than the sound stages of Hollywood; limiting his star prowess to an art house audience and less so to mainstream pop culture where he was and is so desperately needed.
Luckily for the rest of the world, Ryan Murphy and Steven Canals’ FX series Pose has brought him into living rooms across the country, and onto some big time red carpets as well. This is where Porter has shined even brighter, defying gender standards with bold looks that challenge the binary while maintaining style and sophistication.
From his tuxedo gown at the Academy Awards to his Met Gala golden wings that shined bright in the sunlight, Porter is leaving an indelible mark on the fashion world, pushing boundaries and giving zero fucks about the destruction of gender norms he is leaving in his wake.
Porter just did it again, this time on the red carpet Wednesday night for the premiere of the second season of Pose, that begins next week on Tuesday, June 11th.
In a black-and-white matador-inspired ensemble by Filipino fashion designer and architect Francis Libiran, the look reportedly took over two-and-a-half months to make. By the looks of it, every second was well worth it.
“It’s very synergistic to be a bullfighter; you know, we’re fighting bullies all the time!” Sam Ratelle, Porter’s stylist, told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s still masculine and feminine, but I wanted to depict his strength and how far he’s come. At the same time, I wanted to make sure it was art. Because he’s always telling me, ‘I want to look like wearable art.’ The designer said, ‘It’s Billy Porter. I think we need something big.’ And I was like, ‘Well, we go big or go home!’ So he included a skirt attached to the cummerbund. It’s probably the heaviest thing he’s ever worn. It weighs at least 25 pounds and he’ll literally take up at least 10 feet of the carpet. It’s grand.”
But dressing some as iconoclastic as Porter brings on its challenges to Ratelle, who admits that many designers have declined to dress him.
“Others have told me in the best corporate way ‘He’s a queen; we don’t want to work with him’ or ‘He doesn’t have enough followers’ or ‘We don’t like his Instagram aesthetic’ or ‘He’s just not big enough,’ Which is generally what happens with Broadway talent,” Ratelle explains. “Nobody wants to ever give them clothing. And these are often the most talented people in the world. They’re so deserving of looking fantastic. It’s a billion dollar industry! We have to be able to open these doors. For me it’s like, ‘Fine, you don’t want to give me the clothes. That’s okay. But you can’t keep me from buying them… I’m constantly in search of designers who are willing to embroider and embellish things because he’s a little bit flashy. And we want the cameras to really flash on him!”
Flash away paparazzi… all eyes are on Ms. Porter.