Hello Mr.

Profiles   Jun 15, 2017

The Many Lives of Stephen Galloway

Text by Teddy Tinson, Photography: Jody Rogac
Styling: Scott Stephenson, Grooming: Blair Jaffe

“What’s in a name?” asked Juliet of Romeo. And what’s in a name, or for that matter, an official job title? For ‘creative movement director,’ Stephen Galloway, it seems as though a name might be an occupational hazard – or the perfect segue to a masterful third act.

Galloway, US-born expat in Germany, is perhaps best known for his work behind the scenes of some of fashion’s most alluring images. In Frankfurt, it was his 25-year tenure as the youngest principal dancer under the tutelage of his mentor, choreographer William “Bill” Forsythe, that set the stage for his wildest dreams. Now he’s a choreographer-singer-costumer-art directorshow producer in his own right and a frequent collaborator of Nick Knight, Juergen Teller, David Sims, and Dutch photography duo Inez and Vinoodh.

As the fashion industry’s go-to “model whisperer,” Galloway is partly responsible for posturing some of God’s most genetically blessed creations. He has a gift for storytelling and infusing movement with intention, so when a photographer – typically focused on the overall mise en scène – asks a model to run down the stairs, Galloway suggests how she should run down the stairs to best reflect the desired aesthetic.

 

Such was the case with Daria Werbowy (the perennial Vogue It Girl) on the set of an Yves Saint Laurent advertising shoot. Galloway pondered, Why is she running inside a mansion? Is she running to a divorce proceeding? Is she doing the walk of shame? Why is she wearing a fringed wig and matching cape? With these sorts of questions in mind, he began mirroring Werbowy’s gait and natural impulses, while introducing a series of new positions for a fashion pas de deux of sorts. In turn, a simple request to run down a flight of stairs became a palpable moment, and a new iconography was created.

Of his 15-plus-years consulting for The Rolling Stones, Galloway told The Wall Street Journal: “I set up a whole series of movements which I felt were, essentially, him doing him: a vocabulary of movement which he could then use at any point he wanted. I took what was already Mick and turned it up 500 percent!" And it makes perfect sense – like Jagger, Galloway’s movements are singularly sensuous and strange, lithe yet powerful. A quick YouTube search will yield clips of a young Stephen circa 2001 singing a mix of original funk/rock/R&B/soul tunes, voguing, then bursting into a full split.

For Galloway, a 49-year-old multi-hyphenate Svengali, his success lies in his unique ability to finesse and remix both retro and contemporary references. With Galloway’s lead, Naomi Campbell channeled 70s era Diana Ross on the cover of W magazine. Thanks to Galloway, Lady Gaga would never writhe and slither as coolly as she did in Tom Ford’s “Soul Train” neo-runway show, turned viral video. He is also responsible for successfully guiding a then-unknown but nonetheless regal Lupita Nyong’o through a series of Miu Miu campaign images prior to her winning an Academy Award. Gisele even turned to Galloway to help “amplify the sexy” on the set of a recent swimwear shoot.

At 6’ 4”, Galloway cuts an impossibly handsome figure. With that, he’s disco-danced with Karlie Kloss (wearing that white Versace jumpsuit) in Nile Rodgers and Chic’s “I’ll Be There” music video, preened with Liya Kebede and Edie Campbell in Vogue Paris, and posed alongside Anja Rubik for the Fame!-themed cover of 032c.

Galloway’s working title is merely a mode of introduction – a neatly packaged parcel for those with an insatiable desire to categorize. However, anyone (and we mean anyone!), who has had the great fortune of enjoying Galloway’s company understands that he’s much, much more than his nom de guerre.

Following, for Hello Mr. we have overdue phone call between friends covering fashion, sex, and activism in the age of social media.

TEDDY TINSON: Hi Stephen, how’s it’s going? What’s happening in LA?
 
STEPHEN GALLOWAY:
Great to hear from you, Teddy! I’m working on a top-secret project that I can’t disclose at the moment [laughs], but I can tell you I’ve just been asked to oversee the re-launch of Fashion Rocks in Shanghai.
 
TT: That’s incredible. Congrats!
 
SG: Thank you! I’m also working on mounting a retrospective at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion celebrating Bill’s [Forsythe] 30-year career in choreography and my costumes from Ballet Frankfurt. It’ll be a mini-Costume Institute moment at the end of October [laughs]. You’ll have to come!
 
TT: I can’t wait to see it! By the way sir, congratulations are in order for the recent Paris Opera Ballet debut of your collaboration with Bill and James Blake. How’d that come to fruition?
 
SG: Thank you, thank you. This project was very much a natural progression. Bill wanted to make a ballet with something the kids would enjoy dancing to. They’re accustomed to dancing to Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and other traditional composers, but James’ music provides a certain openness and attitude that was really fresh. Working with the Paris Opera is definitely a career highlight because of its history – it’s the oldest company in the world! So many of our early ballets in the 80s and 90s [at Ballet Frankfurt] were first choreographed to Prince songs, then slowly, Thom [Willems] would come in with some beats and things to complete the base of an original score.

TT: William “Bill” Forsythe has been such an instrumental part of your career, not only as a dancer, but also as a creative professional. How did your professional partnership begin and how has it evolved?

SG: At Ballet Frankfurt, we’d occasionally have guest prêt-à-porter designers come in to do the costumes. They were fabulous spectacles, but they weren’t very functional. Bill knew I had a certain taste level, and that I understood how bodies moved, and what was required to enhance the performance without being too distracting. Those types of experiences led to me overseeing costumes at the ballet, as well as becoming a creative advisor at Issey Miyake for five years.

TT: You’ve lived a million lives and had so many fabulous experiences. How’d you begin working with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones?

SG: Well, my experiences were “fabulous” after the fact – I simply had the experience. Of course it’s cool to be on set with a brilliant performer, but I just love working. In terms of my career, every experience has led to the next one. I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. People often think I’ve taken some calculated steps for all my career moves, but it’s really been a natural progression. A while ago, Bill said, “We always knew you would do something bigger – that was an opera house, but we saw you in arenas.” It blew my mind.

TT: When did you first discover there might be something else for you? Take me back to 1967 in [your hometown] Erie, Pennsylvania. How did you get to Germany? What was the impetus?

SG: [Laughs] I was with my mom recently, and I asked her, “What were you thinking? How dare you let a sixteen-year-old leave with two suitcases for Europe and one letter of introduction!” She said, “We couldn’t stop you! It would’ve been ridiculous to even try to stop you!”

TT: Were you afraid? I can’t imagine it was particularly easy to be young, gifted and black, and gay in the early 70s and 80s.

SG: You know, I’ve always had a strong dialogue with myself. At the age 4 or 5, I remember seeing things and questioning them. When you have that, you never feel lonely or out of place. When we were growing up, my mom used to say, “When people are looking at you in a strange way and for long periods of time, it’s because you’re so beautiful. They’ve never seen anyone like you, so you should stand up tall, look them in the eye, and smile.” I’ve heard that since I was 3 years old. So, I’ve always been able to pull up and smile and say, “Thank you for acknowledging me, I appreciate that you acknowledge my beauty and my strength.”

TT: Considering the current social, political, and economic climate, not to mention the ongoing dialogue regarding race in America, I’m constantly reminded of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and the black body. As a physical movement expert, what have you observed regarding the current political movement?

SG: I’m very in-tune with energy, but I had an absolute disconnect with the movement. I was able to observe and acknowledge it, but I couldn’t feel it because I’ve been in Germany as a principal dancer most of my life. The police know me there. They see the magazines, they come to the ballet, and it’s a much different dynamic. Now, no one knows me here in LA. I don’t like not being able to understand the fury because I like to know that I can empathize with and for people, especially people I have a direct relationship to. Maybe it’s the simple act of something happening to me. Maybe that will be the unfortunate instigator for my relationship with Black Lives Matter. It sounds horrible, but it’s honest.

TT: Is there a connection or disconnection between one’s sense of self and the physical body?

SG: If you turn the sound off on the television, watching the protests and marches, our pure physicality has so much weight. There’s so much aggression. We walk differently. We have to figure out a way for people to stop viewing us as a threat. Many times, a white man sees a black man and immediately thinks, “He can beat my ass!” Whether it’s a skinny queen or a butch athlete, that man is thinking, “That black man can beat my ass / They’re stronger than us, they’re faster than us,” and so on. It’s everything society wants in our athletes, but when we put that in the hood and show it on the news, suddenly it becomes a threat.

TT: One might say you epitomize “tall, dark, and handsome.” Have you ever felt fetishized?

SG: One of my earliest observations of this happened on a vacation with a boyfriend when I was 22. He gave me this book: “I think you’ll really like it. It’s called Swimming Pool Library.” I read it and I was so offended. It’s a total Mandingo situation. [mimics the text] “The long African neck, the curve of his buttocks.” The character might as well be looking at a monkey in a zoo! It was one of the biggest fights I’ve ever had with a boyfriend. How was he looking at me? And there’s always that conversation. Recently, there was a guy my friends and I came across while Googling something, and everyone goes, “You know he’s a chocolate vampire. Keep away!”

TT: What?! Do “vanilla vampires” exist?

SG: No, it doesn’t work like that.

TT: So unlike dance, I suppose not everything works in opposition. Alvin Ailey said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I want to show the world that we are all human beings. It’s not the color but the quality of the work that’s most important.” How important it is to keep growing and developing?

SG: I made a conscious decision to remain curious and constantly investigate what’s going on. I’m thinking about next steps, but I know I didn’t have to worry because it will figure itself out. That philosophy has always worked for me and it’s constantly happening. Now I’m thinking, do I want to make another album? Maybe I’ll get my Bill T. Jones on – the rebirth of a dancer.

TT: Ahh, Bill T. Jones. Isn’t he just the best?

SG: He’s a hero and an icon. Meeting Mr. Jones is like meeting Mr. [Henry] Belafonte. I’m so inspired by these gentlemen, and I’m so happy we live in a time when, even amidst the chaos, we can still create, inspire, and be inspired. I mean, it’s like us – I was a fan of your writing before we became friends. I would read your work, collection reviews, and things each season, and then we became friends.

TT: I’m almost certain you’re the subject of this feature! [laughs] Those familiar with your oeuvre know about your collaborations with Christy [Turlington], Naomi, and Gisele, but now you’re working with an entirely new breed of supermodels. How has the industry, and therefore your work, evolved with the advent of social media as magazine?

SG: It’s very complicated. Dangerous is too strong a word, but it’s challenging how the new models are dealing with their success. They’re like drag queens at night during the day. There’s a feeling that they’re going to get busted, and we’re all going to say, “Wait a minute, is that who you really are?” We’re projecting so much on them almost instantly, and we don’t allow them to become themselves! They also lack a certain intensity because they’re not allowed to grow on the runway. Back in the day, Naomi would have three outfit changes in a show. First look, okay here’s what the collection is about. Second look, here’s another interpretation of this collection’s inspiration. When she came out that third time, Baby, here’s my personality! It’s swish, and it’s sashay up and down, maybe even a twirl or two [laughs]. Also, when you worked with Herb Ritts, the girls were giving opinions. I mean, even today, Gisele is one of the best. She’s amazing – super professional – knows we got the shot before the photographer does. You’re clicking or suggesting a pose, and she’s already changing into the next look! [laughs] Today, they don’t have the history or experience to give that input. But someone like Kendall Jenner, who’s nothing but lovely, is smart enough to trust that she’s in the room with the best creative teams to make the right decisions for her.

TT: What’s your process for creating choreography? Where do you draw inspiration from for the movement?

SG: I’m inspired by everyday life. It sounds silly, but it’s true. It could be the fabric on a Baxter chair, or a SquarePeg dildo set in bronze, it’s all there. When I’m working with a model or with dancers, I ask myself, Do I need to be much more confrontational? Do I need to do more? But when I try to be impactful, it’s actually artificial. I simply do my best to align myself with the universe, and the art happens around, or in addition to, that. It will be whatever it becomes. •

3

TEDDY TINSON is a writer, editor, and creative consultant. He currently produces branded content at IMG Models, and as a contributing editor at Interview magazine.