Billy Porter owes his wings to India

Updated: Jun 09, 2019, 08:15 IST | Shweta Shiware

Broadway star Billy Porter's breathtakingly flamboyant Met Gala catsuit with 10-feet-long gold wings have been traced to a self effacing designer from Cotton Green

Billy Porter owes his wings to India
US actor Billy Porter arrives for the 2019 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6 New York. The Gala that raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute, chose the Camp: Notes on Fashion theme this year inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on Camp. Pic/Getty Images

When American actor-singer, and Pose star Billy Porter brought his folded hands over his face to gradually part them and reveal 10-feet-long golden wings at the recent Met Gala pink carpet, Sushi Pagare must have held her breath as she watched the live telecast. The Mumbai-based artist-designer was behind the Egyptian gilded and winged catsuit costume that saw Porter's entry at the 2019 Costume Institute Benefit labelled as one of the two most dramatic this year.

Staying true to this year's theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion, the Tony and Grammy-award winner said his look was inspired by Diana Ross' Mahogany montage. Carried on a litter by six shirtless male attendants, he preened while showcasing a 24-carat headpiece, a catsuit embellished by hand in gold bugle beads and chain fringe, and wings made from countless 3D plexiglass tubes and beads. While New York label The Blonds was behind the ensemble, the suit and wings were entirely handmade at Pagare's 1,000 square feet workshop in the Central suburb of Cotton Green.

Pagare flanked by Phillipe Blond and David Blond
Pagare flanked by Phillipe Blond and David Blond

Pagare, 40, is more artist than designer despite a diploma from JD Institute of Fashion Technology, and so, prefers focusing on the craft and keeping well clear of the limelight. Her role as collaborator with Phillipe and David Blond goes back to 2011. "If you see a beaded outfit by The Blonds, you should know it's executed by my team of karigars," she says. "The work begins with creating swatches after they send me concept notes of their forthcoming collections. For instance, we had discussed the Egyptian theme in 2015, which unfolded into a full-on collection last September. I had sent them 3D blue scallop artwork back then, which was partly incorporated into the final design of Porter's wings."

Pagare travels to New York three times a year to present her swatches, and says she shares a "very nice relationship" with the designer duo that have christened her Sabrina since they find it difficult to pronounce Sushi. Working with The Blonds is as easy as going with her instinct since the three share a love for OTT bling. "We clicked instantly," she says about her leaning towards raucously patterned and electric bright, tech-colours. It's often then that she makes fruitful trips to Pydhonie, where in fact she sourced the plexiglass and beads for the costume. The jewellery market there was an inspiration since the time she went there as a little girl. But it was veteran designer Tarun Tahiliani, who she thinks, made her take up design as a full-time job. "He was my first, real fashion influence."

Sushi Pagare
Sushi Pagare

Pagare's maternal Lion Gate home sits in the same building as Ensemble, Tahiliani's family-owned multi-brand store, and his workshop on a floor above. "I was so fascinated by the outfits that left his workshop. I watched them, sometimes touched them." But on her wish-list is to team up with Technicolour genius and now Paris-based Indian designer
Manish Arora. "He empowers clothes with a riotous collage of sequins and embroidery, and a mad clash of colours…I wouldn't mind turning karigar for him."

The catsuit

Concept: It was focused on Dorado metallic materials, and the idea of the gilded, almost foil-like appearance was taken forward with the use of bugles, boat shapes, dangling chains, rivoli beads and a hint of crystal. A few hundred bugles were stacked together to create tiny bouquets all over the catsuit, and finally Dorado chains were cut into six to 13-inch fringes and attached to the base of dark jersey.

The catsuit

Man hours: Research and outsourcing materials took two weeks respectively, followed by one week of artwork and flow approval. After five days of workmanship, it was shared with The Blonds, and once okayed, it took four and half weeks to complete the catsuit.

Man power: 10 karigars
Weight: 12 kg
Transport: The piece was enveloped in tissue paper, covered with bubble wrap, and transported from Mumbai to New York.

The wings

Concept: The brief shared was this — a clash of ancient Egypt and disco. Pagare worked on gold colour board, and with 3D shaped materials of scallop, scales and plexiglass. The artwork was partly based on her swatch featuring 3D blue scallops. David Blond liked it and turned it into a gold version with feathers at the end. This was then amplified into the wings by the karigars on a base of gold Lurex jersey.

The wings

Man hours: Material research took two weeks. The right colour and size of material was important. Art work took another seven days. The 10-feet scale of the wings meant that Pagare ran out of materials every other day. It took her two weeks to get the entire stock, and seven weeks for technical design, workmanship, including necessary alterations post shrinkage.

The wings

Man power: 25 zardozi specialists
Weight: 25 kg
Transport: Shipping the wings was a nightmare. They could not be folded, so it had to be rolled in bubble wrap. But we couldn't roll them from top to bottom, else the beadwork would be damaged. We worked it side to side.

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