Billy Porter’s Red Carpet Style Breaks Barriers

When stylist Sam Ratelle creates looks with Billy Porter, they “always look to blur the lines between masculinity and femininity.”

Feb. 24, 2019

“We knew it was going to be something even being in that room, but I don’t think we understood the impact it would have on humanity,” says Ratelle of Porter’s 2019 Oscar look, a custom Christian Siriano tuxedo gown. “He never even tried on the dress until the day of, because we had no time.” Porter was hired to host the Oscar pre-show two weeks prior. “We were just hoping and praying this would happen and I think it was what was meant to be. We created this magical moment that was foundationally about authenticity: that is exactly who he is, he has always wanted to wear a ball gown at the Oscars, and that’s exactly what he did.”

June 9, 2019

When they heard from Scenery Bags, a nonprofit that makes bags from retired theater materials, that the “Kinky Boots” curtains were available, they wanted to create a dress for Porter — who won a Tony for the musical in 2013. “What is the coincidence that [Celestino], the one designer we could get to do this in such a quick turnaround time, only re-creates their stuff from recycled materials?” Ratelle says of the Tony Awards ensemble. “It felt very theatrical and dramatic. And we wanted to champion women’s rights, so the back of the dress was embroidered into fallopian tubes, as Billy’s always trying to figure out: how can he say something that uplifts the world a little more?”

Jan. 5

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For Porter’s Globes look, Ratelle worked with designer Alex Vinash to revisit the idea of the classic men’s tuxedo, he says. “We decided to go all white because it was the first appearance of the new decade and white symbolizes peace, hope and new beginnings,” he says. Ratelle loved that the feathered train zipped off the “convertible” look, and that Porter’s top shirt buttons were open. “The juxtaposition of the relaxed neck with the grandeur of the overall garment had such a rock ’n’ roll vibe. I see Billy as a current-day rock star.” In lieu of a tie, he “figured a multi-million dollar, 40-carat Tiffany & Co. diamond necklace would do just fine.”

Jan. 12

“I fell in love with a derivative of the Critics’ Choice jumpsuit at Hogan McLaughlin’s spring/summer 2020 show,” says Ratelle. They combined two looks to create “a pant suit with massive gown-legs.” “The thought of people being surprised that it was a pant suit excited me,” says Ratelle, whose inspiration was “glam-rock icon” David Bowie and pushing the boundaries of “an androgynous punk aesthetic.” “The butterfly tattoos further Billy’s theme for 2020, which is freedom. Butterflies are also incredibly symbolic for the trans community, which was a wonderful way to honor Billy’s ‘Pose’ castmates who were also nominated that night.”

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