Billy Porter, the actor best known for his role as Pray Tell in Ryan Murphy’s series Pose, will host this year’s Fashion Awards, to take place in London on 29 November.
Porter – who is also a singer, director, writer, composer and playwright – has made a name for himself in fashion, too. The black bustled gown he wore to the Oscars in 2019, the gold wings at the Met Gala and the hat with remote controlled sparkly fringing for the Grammies in 2020 (this quickly became a meme), saw to his status as a style inspiration. Speaking on Zoom, he described his new gig as evidence that he has finally been embraced by the industry. “I have been a fashion person for my entire life,” he said. “To be inside of the fashion conversation for real is a manifestation of what I always dreamed could be possible.”
The actor takes over from the comedian Jack Whitehall, who had hosted the awards for five years. Giving the platform to Porter – who typically dresses in a gender non-conforming way – suggests fashion is shifting to be more inclusive. “It’s based on … this revolution degendering fashion,” says Porter. “You know, I’m one of the leaders inside of that conversation. And that is why I get to occupy space.”
Porter says this is still a new position for him – one that can be dated to that Oscars moment two years ago. “I see my life is in two parts,” he says. “I was doing my work. I was having a particular kind of success. And then the Oscars happened. And it’s been stratospheric, household name stuff.”
Fashion is not entirely onboard. “I still have resistance,” he says. “I don’t get a lot of shine from the large houses, because, quite frankly, I don’t think they know what to do with me. You know, because there is such a binary still … I’m at the intersection of something that people in positions of power are still trying to figure out how to talk about in the mainstream.”
While his outfits for the awards are still to be worked out with him and his stylist Ty Hunter, he promises “they are going be cute”. Porter says he feels an affinity with younger designers. “They’re the ones that get what I’m trying to do, which is the masculine and the feminine together,” he says. “It’s not just about a man in a dress. That’s sometimes the way to express it in a moment. But it’s not just a man in a dress full stop.”
Although Porter enjoys the work of a new generation, he is also influenced by contemporaries. “I’m first generation post Civil Rights movement,” he says. “I’m 52. We were in suits, wherever we went. If we were going shopping, we had to [get] dressed up with the hopes that the police wouldn’t follow us, and in the department store. I went to public [or comprehensive] school and wore a collared shirt and a tie and a blazer because my aunt Dorothy said ‘dress for the job you want not the one you have’. So I dressed up. I’m a dresser upper.”
Porter recently hit the headlines due to a Sunday Times interview when he criticised US Vogue for putting Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of its December 2020 issue, saying that all the singer had to do was “be white and straight” while Porter had been fighting “my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned down”. Appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week, Porter apologised to Styles saying “the conversation is not about you … the conversation is actually deeper than that, it is about the systems of oppression and erasure of people of colour who contribute to the culture.”
This year, the Fashion Awards will be a live event once again, taking place at the Royal Albert Hall. The ceremony will be sponsored by TikTok, who also sponsored a venue at London fashion week in September. Nominees include Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, Daniel Lee, Priya Ahluwalia and Nensi Dojaka. Members of the public are invited to purchase tickets. For the 2019 event, Julia Roberts and Rihanna were in attendance, while in 2018, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex presented an award.