How Pittsburgh Icon Billy Porter Takes on Phipps

The summer flower show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will feature the fashion of one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic natives.
Billy Porter Illustrated Fin


Performer Billy Porter is known for pushing artistic boundaries — and that can extend even into a greenhouse.

The summer flower show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, “Flowers Meet Fashion: Inspired by Billy Porter,” will celebrate the award-winning actor, singer and director’s originality and upbringing in Pittsburgh with a series of dresses inspired by natural elements and partially made of an assortment of organic materials.

The partnership between Phipps and Porter began after he shot his directorial debut “Anything’s Possible” in Pittsburgh. He later joined the conservatory’s board of directors and contributed to the exhibit.

“Billy Porter is from Pittsburgh, so we wanted to celebrate those connections,” says Jordyn Melino, Phipps’ associate director of exhibits. “Fashion is something that we really haven’t brought to our audience yet in this way. So, we wanted to do something fun and fresh.”

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When entering the fashion show, guests will see a Pittsburgh-inspired gown in front of a pink neon sign in the Welcome Center. A gold costume will hover in the exhibit’s Victoria Room over blue water lilies in the pond below. “Kinky Boots” fans can strut over to the Broderie Room to view garments inspired by the Grammy-winning musical, which Porter starred in on Broadway.

One of the biggest showstoppers is an aquaponics dress with live fish swimming inside. The top portion of the dress will be a clear fish tank, and the bottom portion will be rooted with live plants.

“As far as we can tell, this will be the first [dress of this kind] that has ever been built in the world,” Melino says.

“I think the show is a great mix of tailored, over-the-top stagewear where the costumes, as well as these beautiful botanical displays, are created in-house.”

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Melino and other staff members started recruiting creatives to contribute to the exhibit last year, calling for fashion designers to craft a tailored look; the exhibit will also feature the works of local designers and costumers Madison Michalko, Thee Suburbia, Cathy Olivar, Daniele Tyler Mathews and Damian E. Dominguez.

Phipps also collaborated with Porter’s local alma maters, Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12.

Middle and high school students from CAPA are putting together overhead hanging elements that create patterns on the exhibit’s floor as well as flowerbed elements that will reflect patterns in nature. They will also produce an audio element to play in part of the show.

Three costumes from students at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama will be on display in the Serpentine Room. Students were tasked with reading Porter’s memoir, “Unprotected,” and created corresponding garments in blue and green hues.

“After reading that memoir, they were inspired by his experience and general character,” Melino says. “They are responding to that and fabricating costumes that were inspired by his experience in his book.”

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Students from The Fairchild Challenge, Phipps Conservatory’s environmental education outreach program, will also have their work displayed in the show. The students were challenged with creating upcycled fashion hats, and the conservatory will select eight entries to feature in the Welcome Center.

“I love any way that we can showcase the talent of our local students and really be a platform for that,” Melino says.



May 6-June 25
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, From the Magazine, Things To Do