Gabe Stone Shayer on the Exciting Intersection Between Ballet & Fashion

This one to watch is all about breaking down barriers.

gabe stone shayer
Welcome to our How to Shop Like series, where we spotlight personalities within the fashion industry and take a deeper look at their personal relationships with fashion and how they shop—think all the best insider tips and tricks. This week we’re chatting with ballet dancer Gabe Stone Shayer. 

On the opening night of a ballet, you nestle into a plush red velvet chair—or these days, plop in front of your computer—and watch as dancers pirouette and chaîné across the stage, painting a picture with their movement. Their expert depiction of a story is completed with costumes. Feathers and tulle bedeck the white swan, while epaulets and crowns adorn the nutcracker prince. That’s one thing fashion and ballet have in common: the creation of a character. However, in fashion, unlike its parallel art form, that character is yourself—the expression of which ABT soloist Gabe Stone Shayer is extremely passionate about.

Shayer’s story is unlike many of his fellow dancers. Adopted at birth in Philadelphia, he was raised by his mother and grandmother. He possessed love for the art from a young age. “As a toddler, I remember dancing around my grandmother’s legs as she spoke Ga (a Ghanaian language) on the phone to relatives,” he recounts. His formal training began at age seven, and after a move to Moscow in his teens, he became the first African American male to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He now dances with the American Ballet Theatre, where he was recently promoted to soloist.

Already established as a pioneer in his field, Shayer continues to push for change in the ballet industry by emphasizing the way it bumps against 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 quick to point out the historical overlap as well—Christian Lacroix, Coco Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent all designed for ballet companies at some point in their careers. So, of course, we couldn’t wait to pick his brain about all the interesting ways in which the two industries harmonize.

Micro-pleated Jumpsuit

Homme Plissé Issey Miyake
When and how did you first fall in love with fashion?

“My relationship with fashion started very early. My mother was very stylish. Going to work as a psychologist, she would wear a cream-colored Armani suit, a raw-cut stone hanging on a necklace, and a spritz or two of Trish McEvoy no.9. It never seemed like she was putting anything on that she didn’t like. So fashion was a way of life that I was introduced to at an early age.”

What does personal style mean to you, and how would you describe your own?

“Personal style is a curated external display of your inner self. For better or worse, I’m a bit strange to some people; sometimes I see myself as a creature disguised as a human. I tend to wear coats that flow in the wind, and delicate jewelry. They make me feel princely and poised—a trait that I try to perpetuate both on and offstage, as it feels closest to who I am internally.”

Favorite thing you’ve ever worn?

“I would say it’s definitely between my Dapper Dan ‘King Coat’ and an outfit CHANEL sent to me to wear during my web series. Both outfits made me feel royal, but the CHANEL outfit was something I could definitely wear every day without looking too dramatic.”

gabe stone shayerGabe Stone Shayer wears ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA XXX
Photo: Xavier Duah
Favorite things to splurge on?

“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 costume?

“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 came straight off the mannequin, and it doesn’t always capture who they are as a person. A great costume has to tell a story on its own. When a dancer/artist brings their best to a role, the combination of their artistry and the costume is what makes a performance otherworldly.”

Relegated to activewear for most of this year, do you miss the glamour of costume? Or simply of getting dressed up?

“Yes, but I still manage to express myself through my clothing. During the middle of the pandemic, every time I was active I would wear my white Lululemon jumpsuit. It was my stylish hazmat suit, like Naomi Campbell.”

gabe stone shayerGabe Stone Shayer wears Christian Dior
Photo: Xavier Duah
As you explore new industries during this odd year, have you discovered any similarities between fashion and ballet? Do you hope the two will converge more in the future?

“There are many similarities. They both follow trends of the times (in a way). Admittedly, ballet can be a bit behind, but I hope to remedy that. Ballet and fashion have always been intertwined—Christian Lacroix, Gabrielle Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent all designed for ballet companies at some point in their careers. In 2017 the Paris Opera Ballet did it right. Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, designed costumes for a piece choreographed by Sebastian Bertaud. They found the perfect balance of costume, glamour, elegance, and wearability. Honesty, I would wear those costumes on a red carpet.”

Costumes help you get into character. Do you find the same is true of the clothing you wear outside a performance?

“Yes, it’s true that if you have to dress up as a cookie in a restricting costume, it can be difficult to feel good about yourself. The same goes for your outside clothing. if you don’t feel good or if you’re wearing something that doesn’t embody who you are, then even simply walking to work can feel unnatural. It’s also true (for me, at least) that you can change your mood if you love what you’re wearing.”

If you could go back to one era solely for the fashion, which would it be?

“It would have to be between France and the Ghanaian empire during the 17th century. In France, King Louis XIV weaved fashion into court life, making style a major pillar of self-representation. In the Ghanaian empire, the clothes and robes were made from the cassava plant. The colors represented different things, from your wealth to spiritual purity. Also, the robes looked comfy.”

gabe stone shayerGabe Stone Shayer wears Ralph Lauren
Photo: Xavier Duah
Fashion has the power to…(fill in the blank):

“Fashion has the power to command attention and facilitate personal expression.”

If you could pick any designer to create costumes for a show, who would it be?

“There are too many designers that I want to work with, but definitely Dapper Dan!”

What does your current work- (or dance-) from-home wardrobe look like?

“Usually, I’ll be in boxer briefs, a black pullover sweater, and a gold chain. Depending on the temperature, I might add plaid pajama pants and a Kente cloth throw wrapped around my legs!”

gabe stone shayerGabe Stone Shayer wears Gucci
Photo: Xavier Duah
Who are your favorite fashion brands/designers of the moment?

“How much time do you have? Just like my mood, what I want or like changes. Generally, I love different brands for different reasons. I loved working with Dapper Dan for his influence on hip-hop/pop culture 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 classical dancer. CHANEL has an amazing history and seems to always stay true to Gabrielle Chanel’s vision. The craftsmanship that goes into the clothing is apparent—I felt like I was wearing functional art. Balmain, Dior, Hermès…the list goes on!”

What are the top five most-worn items in your wardrobe?

“I almost always have a pair of studded spiked Christian Louboutin shoes, which have become one of my trademarks. I also love my thrift-store houndstooth overcoat, my Issey Miyake jumpsuit (in warmer weather), my black thrift-store FAUX fur coat, or my vegan suede beige pants.”

What are you currently shopping for?

“I’m not really shopping for anything. Just like dating, I like to find my clothes in natural situations, not online. If I walk past a window that attracts me, I might go in and buy something; otherwise I’ll just keep fawning over my favorite designers’ IG posts!”

Photos: Xavier Duah

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