On a ballet’s opening night, you curl up in a plush red velvet chair â or these days, lounge in front of your computer â and watch the dancers pirouette and chain across the stage, paint a picture with their movement. Their expert portrayal of a story is complemented by costumes. Feathers and tulle adorn the white swan, while shoulder pads and crowns adorn the Nutcracker Prince. This is one thing that fashion and ballet have in common: the creation of a character. However, in fashion, unlike its parallel art form, this character is yourself – the expression that ABT soloist Gabe Stone Shayer is extremely passionate about.
Shayer’s story is different from that of many of his fellow dancers. Adopted at birth in Philadelphia, he was raised by his mother and grandmother. He possessed the love for art from an early age. âWhen I was a toddler, I remember dancing around my grandmother’s legs while she spoke Ga (a Ghanaian language) on the phone with relatives,â he says. His formal training began at age seven, and after moving to Moscow as a teenager, he became the first African-American man to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He now dances with the American Ballet Theater, where he was recently promoted to soloist.
Already recognized as a pioneer in his field, Shayer continues to push for change in the ballet industry with a focus on how it clashes with parallel industries such as fashion and pop culture. The physicality of the sport is nuanced with more artistic elements like music and fashion. Shayer is also quick to point out the historical overlap – Christian Lacroix, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent were all made for ballet companies at some point in their careers. So, of course, we were eager to discover in his brain all the interesting ways the two industries fit together.
âMy relationship with fashion started very early. My mother was very elegant. Going to work as a psychologist, she wore a cream-colored Armani suit, a rough cut stone hanging from a necklace and a spritz or two of Trish McEvoy #9. It never looked like she put on anything she didn’t like. Fashion was therefore a way of life that I was introduced to from an early age.
What does personal style mean to you and how would you describe yours?
âPersonal style is an organized external exposure of your inner self. For better or for worse, I’m a little strange to some people; sometimes I see myself as a creature disguised as a human. I tend to wear fluttering coats and delicate jewelry. They make me feel princely and poised â a trait I try to perpetuate both on and off stage, as it feels closest to who I am inside.
Your favorite thing you’ve ever worn?
“I would say it’s definitely between my Dapper Dan ‘King Coat’ and an outfit CHANEL sent me to wear during my web series. Both outfits made me feel regal, but the CHANEL outfit was something I could definitely wear every day without looking too dramatic.
“Coats and blazers. Most of my coats/blazers have lasted forever. They’re all comfortable, stylish, and I don’t feel like I’m wasting money on something that won’t last.
The mark of a great outfit versus the mark of a great suit?
“I think a great outfit is something that looks both amazing and like you belong in it. So many people wear outfits that look like they’re straight off the model, and it doesn’t always reflect who they are. as a person. A great costume should tell a story on its own. When a dancer/performer gives their best in a role, the combination of their artistry and the costume is what makes a performance from another world.
Relegated to activewear for most of this year, do you miss the glamor of suiting? Or just to dress up?
âYes, but I still manage to express myself through my clothes. Amid the pandemic, whenever I was active, I wore my white Lululemon jumpsuit. It was my stylish hazmat suit, like Naomi Campbell.
âThere are a lot of similarities. They both follow the trends of the time (sort of). Admittedly, the ballet may be a bit late, but I hope to fix that. Ballet and fashion have always been closely linked – Christian Lacroix, Gabrielle Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent have all designed for ballet companies at some point in their careers. In 2017 the Paris Opera Ballet did it well. Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmaindesigned the costumes for a play choreographed by Sebastien Bertaud. They have found the perfect balance between costume, glamour, elegance and wearability. Honestly, I would wear these suits on a red carpet.
Costumes help you get into character. Do you think the same goes for the clothes you wear outside of a show?
âYeah, it’s true that if you have to dress up as a cookie in a tight costume, it can be hard to feel good about yourself. The same goes for your outerwear. If you’re not feeling well or wearing something that doesn’t reflect who you are, then just walking to work may feel abnormal. It’s also true (to me, at least) that you can change your mood if you like what you’re wearing.
If you could go back to an era purely for fashion, what would it be?
“It must have been between France and the Ghanaian empire in the 17th century. In France, King Louis XIV weaved fashion into court life, making style a major pillar of self-representation. In the empire Ghanaian, clothes and dresses were made from the cassava plant.The colors represented different things from your wealth to spiritual purity.Also the dresses looked comfortable.
“Fashion has the power to attract attention and facilitate self-expression.”
If you could choose one designer to create costumes for a show, who would it be?
“There are too many designers I want to work with, but definitely Dapper Dan!”
What does your current work (or dance) from home wardrobe look like?
âUsually I wear boxers, a black sweater and a gold chain. Depending on the weather, I might add plaid pajama pants and a Kente fabric throw wrapped around my legs!
Photo: Xavier Duah
“How long do you have? Just like my mood, what I want or what I like changes. Generally, I like different brands for different reasons. I loved working with Dapper Dan for his influence on culture hip-hop/pop before people realized it was him. He made me a coat with all the swag of a hip-hop star and the elegance of a ballet dancer. CHANEL has a story amazing and always seems to stay true to Gabrielle Chanel’s vision. The craftsmanship that goes into the clothes is apparent â ââI felt like I was wearing functional art. Balmain, Dior, HermÃ¨sâ¦ the list goes on!
What are the five most worn items in your wardrobe?
“I almost always have a pair of studded shoes Christian Louboutin studded shoes, which have become one of my trademarks. I also like my thrift store houndstooth overcoat, my Issey Miyake Jumpsuit (in warmer weather), my black thrift store faux fur coat, or my beige vegan suede pants.
What are you currently buying?
âI don’t really shop for anything. Much like dating, I like to find my clothes in natural situations, not online. If I pass a window that attracts me, I might come in and buy something; if not, I will continue to love IG posts from my favorite designers! Â»
Photos: Xavier Duah
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