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Awards

Billy Porter and ‘Pose’ costumes bring the flash and the sass

Billy Porter wears a yellow taxi driver cap and a bright green jacket as Pray Tell in “Pose.”
Billy Porter as ballroom emcee Pray Tell in “Pose” knew his character was meant to be a fashion icon.
(JoJo Whilden / FX)

“Pose,” the groundbreaking FX drama that centers on the vibrant LGBTQ New York ball scene of the 1980s and early ’90s, showcases a diverse group of performers in over-the-top, often gender-fluid costumes as they take part in glam competitions.

Costume designers Lou Eyrich and Analucia McGorty bring to life every chartreuse gown, feather boa and top hat that audiences see on the Ryan Murphy-created series. And Emmy-nominated actor Billy Porter brings to life Pray Tell, the flashy, loud-and-proud master of ceremonies at the heart of the series.

“I remember when we first started Season 1, Lou told me that Ryan’s goal was to make Pray Tell a fashion icon,” Porter says. “He wanted people to gravitate to Pray Tell because of his clothing, because of his style, and I think we’ve achieved that.

“I think fans are really, really moved by Pray Tell’s journey and the fact that he can do it so stylishly! It really mirrors my life too. After all, my great Aunt Dorothy always said, ‘Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’”

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Eyrich and McGorty got on the phone to talk about their creations, as did Porter later from the New York set of the series, now in production on Season 2.

What is your favorite Season 1 Pose costume?

Eyrich: I’d say rather than one costume, it was the very first time we shot in the house of Abundance — with Elektra and her children inside the apartment and it’s the first time you meet all the ladies. The scene shows the characters all in one room and you get one hit and a feel of what each character and the house is all about. I remember it so positively, getting that first, big “Yes!”

There was a big DIY vibe during the actual 1980s New York ballroom scene. How does this factor into your costumes?

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Eyrich: We try to be true to the [original] balls. People did not have a lot of money nor big closets; they recycled a lot and found new and interesting ways to add and subtract. As designers we ourselves recycle a lot. It’s what they would have done, and we also recycle because of the amount of volume we have to create versus our budget; you get creative. We had over 2,000 pieces in one episode that had three balls …

McGorty: We get the clothes from vintage stores and secondhand places and revise them. Maybe we’d have things from the ’70s, which is authentic to what the dancers used, which is to find stuff at the Salvation Army and remake it as something on-trend and stylish.

Remember, too, some really fabulous people were at the balls for years and then there were people still learning and people who come to the ball for the first time, so there’s really a mixed group of levels and skill.

How involved are the actors in their costume fittings?

Eyrich: Everything is funneled through Ryan. Every hairdo, every nail polish, every costume. Hands-on. So as we developed the first season’s characters, we were very much guided by Ryan. And the actors were all pretty new at that point so they wanted our guidance. Also, the writers and Ryan often write costume descriptions into the script: for example, “In a chartreuse feather boa-ed full-length Diana Ross-like ball gown,” that’s pretty specific.

This season, [the actors] are a little more involved as they know their characters and Ryan wants them to express themselves; it’s more of a collaboration.

Would you say Pray Tell’s clothes are the most fun to make?

McGorty: It’s a dream since Billy loves fashion; he embraces the character and he loves his fittings. Talk about collaborations; he jumps right in. He’s sort of my dream Barbie [laughs]. And the great thing is at his fittings he really turns into Pray Tell; he figures out how to work and move the garment. The clothes don’t wear him, he wears the clothes.

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What are your favorite costumes?

Porter: Ah, you’ve got to show me pictures! There are so many good costumes and the filming is so rapid-fire that I sort of forget which costume is my favorite … I do know every single outfit was divine!

Eyrich: I’d say the yellow cap with the bright green coat. We found that hat in a back corner of a vintage L.A. showroom; it was all dusty and dirty. We dusted it off and took it to N.Y. with us. The green duster coat we also found in a showroom in L.A. We have a big rack of clothes and Billy pulled it off and started dancing around the room — it kind of fell together and we all just went, “Yeah, this is it.”

McGorty: And amazingly since then we found a photo of Grace Jones in 1986 wearing that exact same hat. Who could be better?

What can you tell us about his Mother’s Day Ball lavender uniform, the one with the big top hat and red pompom?

Eyrich: We found that hat at a local millinery store we loved and a friend of Ana’s made the pompom. We found a silk suit we really liked but we liked the lining better than the actual coat, so we turned it inside out and cut the sleeves off into a short-sleeved jacket, to give it that simple, DIY vibe.

McGorty: There’s another costume, a kind of British morning suit but in an African print. That was made in Queens from a wonderful Nigerian tailor who had beautiful fabrics and did that in about two days.

Were these outfits written into the script or were they more your creations?

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Eyrich: We played with these but Ryan approved everything: We’d send him mood boards; he approved every single one and might say, “Add an orange flower” or the like. He really wanted Billy to stand out — loud and proud: He’s the emcee and he’s gotta be holding the court up there. And he wanted Billy to embrace that creativity all around.

McGorty: And Billy will wear anything. He’s, “Sure, let’s try it!” I think the episode where he’s in the hospital with the dream sequence, we see him in the silver coat — there was sort of a floating train of clouds. It was the band, the top hats, the whole Broadway-N.Y. feel of it; that scene itself, I’ve never seen so many crew members cry.


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