Billy Porter has addressed the criticism he made about Harry Styles becoming the first-ever solo male cover star for US Vogue in 2019. In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2020, Porter expressed his issues with Vogue’s decision, stating that Styles only had to be “white and straight” to break barriers. Porter, known for championing gender-neutral fashion, apologized to Styles on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, clarifying that the conversation was about the systems of oppression and erasure of people of color. In a new interview with The Telegraph, Porter reflects on what he wished he had said to Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, months before the Styles cover was revealed. He now acknowledges that Styles being on the cover was not his fault and calls out the gatekeepers for their role in perpetuating the status quo.
In 2019, Harry Styles made headlines when he appeared on the cover of US Vogue wearing a Gucci dress. This move challenged traditional gender norms and sparked a discussion about the representation of masculinity in fashion. However, Billy Porter, known for pushing boundaries with his gender-fluid style, had reservations about the decision. In his interview with The Sunday Times, Porter criticized Vogue for choosing Styles as their first-ever solo male cover star, suggesting that Styles only needed to be “white and straight” to break barriers.
Porter’s comments ignited a debate about the intersectionality of gender and race in the fashion industry. While Styles received praise for his bold fashion choices, Porter argued that his experiences as a person of color and member of the LGBTQ+ community were essential in understanding the significance of breaking gender norms. He highlighted the struggle he had faced throughout his career to be able to wear a dress to the Oscars, emphasizing that Styles did not share the same obstacles.
After facing backlash for his initial comments, Porter apologized to Styles on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He clarified that his criticism was not directed at Styles personally but at the systems of oppression and erasure that people of color face in the fashion industry. Porter expressed a desire for a more nuanced conversation about these issues, free from the toxicity of cancel culture.
In his recent interview with The Telegraph, Porter reflected on a missed opportunity to address Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, during a Q&A session before Styles was featured on the cover. Porter regretted not seizing the moment to advocate for uplifting the voices leading the de-gendering of fashion movement. He acknowledged that Styles being on the cover was not solely his fault but rather a result of the gatekeepers in the industry who maintain the status quo.
Porter made it clear that he does not claim to be the first to challenge gender stereotypes in fashion, acknowledging the contributions of artists like David Bowie and Sylvester. However, he criticized the use of non-binary concepts to elevate certain individuals. He believed that Styles had not made any sacrifices to challenge societal norms and accused those around him of exploiting Porter’s community for their own gain.
Billy Porter’s criticism and subsequent reflections shed light on the complex dynamics of representation and activism in the fashion industry. It highlights the importance of intersectionality and the need for diverse voices to be uplifted and heard. While the controversy surrounding Styles’ Vogue cover has subsided, it remains a reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by marginalized communities in breaking down barriers in mainstream media.