Inside Billy Porter’s 2019 Met Gala Look

Interview   Inside Billy Porter’s 2019 Met Gala Look
 
The Tony Award winner tells Playbill about camp, fashion as theatre, and the Broadway boys playing subjects to his Sun God.
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Billy Porter’s entrance at the 2019 Met Gala has already made headlines as “the most fabulous entrance in Met Gala history.” The Tony Award winner (Kinky Boots) and Emmy Award nominee (Pose) appeared on the red carpet at precisely 5:53PM as the Sun God, carried on a litter by six shirtless Broadway dancers wearing a gold-winged catsuit and 24-karat gold headpiece by The Blonds. This year’s Met Gala honored the Costume Institute’s exhibit “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” and Porter came to slay.

Styled by Sam Ratelle of RRR Creative, his full look featured custom-made gold-leaf shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti with fine jewels by Andreoli and Oscar Heyman. The custom catsuit (and its 10-foot wingspan) was detailed by hand with Preciosa crystals, chain fringe, and gold bugle beads.

Entering with the flare of a drama queen, Josh Drake (Aladdin), Taurean Everett (The Cher Show), Donald Jones Jr. (Frozen), Anton Lapidus (So You Think You Can Dance), Julius Anthony Rubio (upcoming West Side Story film, Frozen), and Kellen Stancil (The Lion King)—all dressed in custom outfits by Nicolas Putvinski—carried in Queen Porter. As Ratelle said, “Fashion is theatre and [Billy] is always ready to make the red carpet his stage, and tonight we did just that.”

Playbill spoke to Porter as he prepped for the Gala. “I’m talking to you and she’s still painting my face,” he laughed, speaking of makeup artist La Sonya Gunter. And he was already feeling “fierce, getting ready for the ball, dahling.”

Here, Porter spoke about his inspiration for the campy look, the link between theatre and fashion, and how it all goes back to his grandmother.

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On his definition of “camp”
“I feel like it’s about taking something that’s real and honest and authentic for yourself and pushing it as far as it can go. The version that is at the highest height that it can be.”

On choosing the Sun God look
“We stumbled upon this Egyptian idea. Ryan Murphy, we were talking—I’m at Ryan’s table. Ryan was talking about, ‘You should go as Diana Ross’ Mahogany montage, five outfits.’ But who wants to work that hard throughout the evening? But I watched the montage and the thing that stuck out to me the most was the Egyptian look. It was this Diana Ross Egyptian moment that launched it and we expanded from there, to Elizabeth Taylor, to Egyptians were gods so this is the sun god. All different ideas came into play and we landed on what we got.”

On making his fashion moment theatrical
“That’s stylist extraordinaire Sam Ratelle. I was fine just walking in. I wasn’t thinking about theatrical entrances, I was just going to make my entrance up the steps and spread these wings and he decided that I needed something theatrical since I am a theatre baby, and I do understand camp. I am camp.”

On making the moment an homage to Broadway
“I was concerned that I was going to be too heavy, but we got six strong muscular boys. Shirtless. It was strategic on [RRR Creative’s] Sam and Ryan Ratelle’s part [to cast men from theatre]. We always want to make sure there is a nod back to where it all began for me, which is the theatre.”

Billy Porter in <i>Kinky Boots</i>
Billy Porter in Kinky Boots Matthew Murphy

On the link between theatre and fashion
“Fashion has always been a part of me. Dressing up as a character was an extension of that kind of world. Put on clothes and you can become a character, you can become a different being for five hours. There’s something about that that’s very intriguing for me—and fun.”

On unifying Broadway and fashion
“I’ve been working at this for years. It’s only recently the Broadway kids have gotten into fashion a bit. I’ve always been into fashion. I was one of the only ones doing it. I think that [the theatre community] would be [game] if the fashion community at large actually paid attention to us. I think one hand feeds the other. Nobody paid attention to me when I was in the theatre. Theatre—even though it’s a billion dollar industry that brings in more money than all three sports teams combined, it’s still treated as the also-ran. It’s still treated as something that’s corny. I think it takes a village to start this conversation. We need people who will come and dress us for real like they dress TV and film people. Dress everybody; everybody who’s nominated [for a Tony] gets dressed. Let’s start there. We don’t get paid enough to buy clothes like that, so it’s not really an option. Film and television you get people to loan it to you. I know a lot of people who would be interested in doing it.”

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On the root of his love for fashion
“My grandmother could sew and we always looked good because she sewed many of our clothes. She’d get the Vogue patterns and she would make the clothes. My sister actually brought out an old photo album from way back and as I was going through it I thought ‘This is where it came from.’ We looked fierce all the time. I got it from them, my grandmother and my great aunt and my mom.”

On his personal fashion evolution
“‘Geek chic’ was really specific to Kinky Boots. I wanted to do what the opposite of what being a drag queen every day was. Once that was over, I did a tour for my music a couple of years ago, and was like, ‘I want to go back to my roots of R&B and soul and pop music and I just need a look,’ and I started to think about this gender-bendy thing. I didn’t know that was anything I was really interested in and I came across this designer Rick Owens. I stumbled into his store one day, and I saw all of these clothes that were sort of gender-free. I just thought, ‘Wow this might be the direction I need to go.’ It evolved over the last couple of years. It’s not about dresses. It’s not about women’s clothes. It’s about wearing what you want to wear and if that just so happens to be a dress why not?

READ: Billy Porter Shares His Stage Door Look!

“I think it’s really interesting the conversation we continue to have or not have about what is acceptable or not. Who makes these rules? When were they made? I was watching something about the colors blue and pink for men and women and the history of where that came from and it was all about money, it was all about stores selling it. Originally the department stores gave boys pink and girls blue. They switched it. We create these rules and we create these boxes that we live inside of without any question and why? I’m done doing that.”

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