Billy Porter Cat-Walks His Way Through Hudson Yards

Billy Porter wanted to go clothes shopping. “I’ll meet you in front of the beehive thing…?” he texted on a bright Friday afternoon when New York had the jaunty air of summer hours.

The “beehive thing is” the 15-story structure by Thomas Heatherwick that stands amid the glinting cliffs of Hudson Yards. Mr. Porter had visited on opening night, and was keen to explore Forty Five Ten, a fashion boutique based in Dallas that has been described by Business of Fashion as the “millennial generation’s answer to Barneys.”

Standing beneath Mr. Heatherwick’s creation an hour later, Mr. Porter frowned at the zigzag of stairs. “It looks very Star Trek,” he said. He was wearing a white shirt with a deconstructed collar by Trina Turk and a pair of black Commes des Garçons pants decorated with red and white horizontal stripes that fell just below the knee.

“I don’t know what you call them — culottes or drop-crotch,” he said, as he walked into the shopping center to a chorus of cheers from passing fans.

There were, it seemed, a lot of them. By the escalator, a dapper gentleman with oversize sunglasses and a crescent moon mustache introduced himself as Percy. A pin on his jacket identified him as an employee of Related, the real estate firm behind Hudson Yards. “Mr. Billy Porter, you looked marvelous during that gala, let me tell you, and welcome to Hudson Yards,” he said.

The gala he was referring to was the Met Gala, for which Mr. Porter, 49, had arrived dressed in a 24-karat gold headpiece and born aloft by six shirtless men in gold pants. As with his Academy Awards appearance in February, for which he wore a modest Christian Siriano tuxedo dress, his Met Gala moment had gone viral.

“I’ve been set free in a way I never knew I needed to be,” Mr. Porter said, as he paid for an iced coffee from Blue Bottle. “Who knew that would happen through fashion?” He flung his arm in the direction of a giant Dior ad featuring Jennifer Lawrence. “I need to be sitting on a bench for Dior,” he said. “High end.” He accentuated the words “High end” like verbal jabs.

Sweeping on toward the escalator, he added, “If she can do it, so can I.”

As he made his way through the glassy mall toward Forty Five Ten, there were more interludes — for hugs, for photos and for expressions of gratitude from people who felt acknowledged by his performance as the M.C. Pray Tell in the FX series “Pose,” which is set in the 1980s ball scene in New York City.

Before “Pose,” Mr. Porter was best known for his performance as a drag queen, Lola, in “Kinky Boots,” a brash Broadway musical about a shoe factory in Britain’s industrial heartland, for which he won a Tony Award. Mr. Porter said that playing Lola had been a jolt of self-recognition. “‘Kinky’ made me feel more masculine and grounded than I ever felt in my life,” he said.

Offstage he began to realize that something of Lola had remained with him. A shopping expedition in 2017 to Rick Owens, a designer known for his gender-fluid aesthetic, felt like a homecoming. “It just cracked me open,” Mr. Porter said. “It was when I first started playing with the dress silhouette, like, ‘Well, maybe I can wear a dress.’”

Striding past Cartier and Louis Vuitton on the fifth floor, Mr. Porter turned to take in the view of the beehive, beyond which flowed the Hudson. The Carrara marble floors shone. Everything had the clean, unworn look of a new pair of shoes.

Inside Forty Five Ten, Mr. Porter admired a Birkenstock sandal with a silver strap. “Now this I could do,” he said. “This is my lesbian shoe that I made fun of for years, and then finally put ’em on and was, like, ‘Yup, I see why people wear them.’”

He asked the price. They were $475. Mr. Porter made a moue and moved on. After about 15 minutes investigating a khaki orange track jacket by Kolor and a pair of roomy Thom Browne pants decorated with lobsters, he decided it was time to cross the wide corridor to women’s wear.

He introduced himself to the store director, Cindy Schwartz. “My brand is interesting and subversive,” he told her. Ms. Schwartz studied him for a moment and asked, “Do you want to try on the Rodarte cape?” He absolutely did.

Mr. Porter disappeared into the men’s dressing rooms, a curvilinear study in Yves Klein blue. (The women’s, by contrast, were a powder pink.) He reappeared moments later and whipped around to display the cape in its full glory, before cat-walking through the store.

Asked if he would like a drink, Mr. Porter accepted graciously. A soda-size bottle of champagne materialized, along with another item to try on: a dusty pink, ankle-length dress by Erdem, embroidered in black roses and with giant puffy shoulders and polka dot sleeves.

He vanished again into the dressing room. “This kills,” he said from behind the curtain, and strutted out to the delight of three ladies on a shopping spree. A woman introduced herself as Gigi and gave him a hug. Mr. Porter hugged her back.

“Thank you, I like to see black people who like me,” he said. The women gathered on plum-colored armchairs and drank champagne while Mr. Porter gave a full circle twirl. One of them called out, “werk,” and the rest applauded.

Mr. Porter assessed himself in the mirror. “It’s ‘Dynasty’ meets ‘Gone With the Wind’ meets Prince,” he said. He looked around. “I don’t know where my champagne went, though.”

The women asked what to expect from the new season of “Pose,” which has its premiere next week. “Pray Tell becomes an activist,” he told them, to nods of approval. “I get to funnel Billy’s rage about the state of the world today into something creative.”

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