Stephen Galloway

Interview by
Tim Groen
Photography by
Viviane Sassen


American-born Stephen Galloway moved to Frankfurt as a teen in the mid-eighties to dance with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. These days, he still dances and still lives in Germany, but his curriculum has expanded to include singing, costume designing, and giving his opinion on various matters such as how the models should pose in a Calvin Klein ad campaign. Stephen and I have been friends for years, but we never seem to be on the same continent for more than a few days. In his room in the posh Hotel George V in Paris, where he is staying as part of the entourage of the Rolling Stones, we catch up. We start by discussing the night before, when a bunch of us had dinner and then retired, while Stephen and I decided to meet again later at cruising dungeon Le Depot.

Tim: Where were you last night?
Stephen: We must have missed each other by a hair. First of all, I wasn’t so sure of the address, so I had to call down to the front desk to ask, before heading out the door.
You asked here at the Hotel George V?
Yes, the desk lady calls me back at my room and asks: “Monsieur, is it a gay and lesbian sex club?” and I was like “Oui, it is.” So I took a cab and got there and that place, she’s lit like the president’s arriving or something…
Yeah, it’s not very discrete.
Those lights! Then I walk into the place — first of all I was a little sauced from dinner cause I had how many drinks? Vodka-tonic…Johnny-and-Coke…anyway I walk in and it smells like ass.
That was the overflowing toilet. That’s why I ran out of the place.
It smelled like sweaty crack. And it wasn’t necessarily the sweaty kinda crack that you’d be into. I actually hadn’t been to the Depot in a long time — two years maybe — and you know what it reminds me of? It’s nothing but Bijou 82 on Second Avenue in New York.
Bijou’s a little darker and mysterious, with ambient music.
It’s got the big movie screen with the seats.
And you can walk around behind the movie screen, which is sort of surreal.
And then the stalls all around it…my friends used to call me Peek-a-boo Polly, ’cause they’d always see me spying on them over the partitions — I’m too visual, that’s why I’m not a darkroom person either. One fantasy of mine is the whole group-sex thing. You know, a group of ten having uninhibited wild sex. But it could never happen! ’Cause I’d be doing art direction for everybody: (uses hands as megaphone) “You there, come here, and you put your foot up in the air. Now wait, and you, start sucking.” I think there’s just a side of me that would not be able to completely let go. I think that’s why I’ve only had sex in a darkroom twice, and that was not in the last fifteen years!
Tell me what you’re doing on tour with the Stones now. Are you Mick Jagger’s stylist?
No. Mick has a stylist that he works with. I’m not even on the tour the whole time. I’m just, you know, “the clean-up crew,” as we jokingly call it. My title doesn’t actually exist. I give notes about everything: Lights, clothing, choreography. I’m a liaison; Mick just wants me to come in and take a look at things when he’s been on his own for a few weeks. Or when there’s a television or DVD taping, or something. And it’s nice that way; I can keep looking at the tour with fresh eyes…besides to be on the tour full-time is not really my thing ’cause I’m also with the Ballett.
I’m still confused about what you do.
I can understand the confusion, but I’m learning now that it’s OK, because what I do is not easily definable. I’m walking on this somehow “un-dictated” territory where I’m doing a wide variety of things, whether it’s working with Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin on the Calvin Klein ads, or consulting the Stones or Issey Miyake or a toothpaste brand, or being a ballerina. But some people just need to know, and sometimes it’s been really difficult because not everyone is flexible enough to see my résumé and say, “oh we like that and we can work with her too.” But until now I’ve never thought about it much, because it’s just what I do. I flip back and forth between all these mediums, and that is a natural thing for me. It feels un-natural to try and describe it…
Well, let’s try anyway. Do people pay you for your taste generally, perhaps?
That’s part of it. Which in return has always made me nervous, because when I think about it like that, I get the tendency to overanalyse everything I see and hear, thinking that I never know when I might have to be able to pull a certain reference…
Sounds like a dream job to me.
It is and it isn’t. Around the time when I first did the Stones, I was doing costumes and choreography for a musical in Munich, for a director I’d never worked with before. I was also consulting on a presentation for Mercedes Benz at the automobile show in Paris, which basically took eight months out of my life — these people need to know everything, like how many hairs are going to be laying on the dancer’s left temple. And I was on tour dancing and creating costumes for another Forsythe piece, which was to be performed at La Scala. I literally had like five major projects going on at the same time, and I was really kinda happy, but when I closed my eyes at night I thought I was going crazy. I realised I had to figure out how to make it work that it was all splintered off in different directions, you know? At one point it was driving me crazy, I would be looking at a swatch of wallpaper, thinking it would look really nice as a pair of jeans, which made me think I could use those jeans as costumes for the ballet. But if I make ’em into costumes for the ballet in stretch fabric, then I might as well make an umbrella out of it, and then turn it into a backdrop, and wouldn’t it be cool to shoot a movie in it, you know? Endless…so, all of a sudden I was getting jobs to design costumes for other companies, and Saab was flying me to Copenhagen to smell leather for their car seats. I was like “I cannot believe I’m here for three days, and I’m being paid to be smelling leather!”
How do you land all these gigs, since you’re not technically a “consulting” or “branding” firm or something hideous like that?
A friend of mine said, “The problem with you, Stephen, is that you’re a word-of-mouth-artist. Many people know about you, but they don’t know how to get in touch with you.” That’s how I missed a big fragrance job last year. Now that I’m getting older, I’m thinking about adding some structure. I’ve been thinking of starting a company that incorporates everything that I do: The Galloway Center for Research and Development.
I love it! The Galloway Center for Research and Development, based in Frankfurt am Main, that sounds like an industrial automobile research plant. Do you like it in Frankfurt?
I do, it’s a great place. I’m always more than happy to support the city, spend my money there. I can buy Comme des Garc,ons in Japan or Paris, but if someone carries what I like, I always make a point of buying at stores in Frankfurt. The problem is that the store buyers cater to what they think people want, so they leave out all the parts of the collections that I like.
I remember that you wanted to open a store called “George Bush.”
“George Bush.” Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that a lot again lately. That must have been around 1996. I think Bush Sr. was still in power then…
No, he left in 1993.
Oh. Anyway, I wanted that shop, at that time, to be the complete opposite of what Bush was politically. If I would open up “George Bush, the men’s fashion shop,” I would want you to walk into a wall of energy. You’d have to prepare yourself for walking in…something new.
You go back and forth between the worlds of High Fashion, dance theater, and now Rock ’n’ Roll. What’s the Rock ’n’ Roll life like, dude?
Well, I’m the only fag here on tour, but I never encounter any problems. I mean, it is Rock ’n’ Roll, but hey, you wanna hang out with Miss Galloway. You know, she’s funny, she’s smart — let’s have her around. It’s like, “Oh, let’s ask Stephen” when it comes to what blouse to wear or where you can get the best manicure in Abu Dhabi…stuff like that. But you know what it is? If you’re not doing a good job, you wouldn’t be here, and everybody knows that about one another. Which also means that whatever suggestions or ideas you have are taken seriously, even when I’m talking to Mick.
That must be a thrill…
It kind of is. It’s a confirmation of the investment I’ve made in myself. After reading every magazine on earth for years, because my magazine consumption was getting kind of scary. My accountant was like, “Stephen, I can’t write any more Vogues off, we’re doing Singapore Vogue now?” About four, three years ago I was on overload; I got to the point where I could not look at magazines. I did not buy magazines for a whole month and it was the most difficult thing to do!
It does help though, reading all that crap. When you least expect it, it suddenly puts you at an advantage to know that Brideshead Revisited is the next big thing.
Totally! It’s great being able to remember that type of information and realise where you’re going to position it. To call it up and define it — editing is not the right word — it’s about distribution. To be aware of how things take their time.
Is your work with Mick inspiring?
Oh my God. You cannot believe how much so. First of all to see how the whole thing functions. And then I’ve learned so much from Mick. Like how important it is to remain curious, open and nice. I’ve known him now since 1997, and I’ve never seen him come out of his face and get ugly or wrong. She just takes in every aspect of a situation, and then maybe she’ll have an opinion on it. He doesn’t make any differentiation between me or the busboy, he doesn’t have to be nice to anyone, but he just always is. And then there’s also the phenomenal professionalism. I’ll never forget, I was in Toronto where we were rehearsing this tour, and I’m walking around when I hear Mick going “la la la la la la la la la” (sings scales) I almost started crying — which was my own emotional state of course — it was fantastic. ’Cause this is a man who works about fifteen hours a day before a tour starts…he’s got to get the whole body going, works an hour with a personal trainer, works two hours with me, has lunch. Does telephone calls — ’cause she’s got like five other lives also. Goes to band rehearsal from like four in the afternoon to easily two in the morning…it’s insane, it’s absolutely mad. And yet, here she was: “La la la la la la la la la.” It’s really really about the work. So yeah, I’m inspired by the idea of working…
What’s lined up between the Stones job for you?
The next three weeks I will solely focus on the production of the next Stephen Galloway album.
Right, you’re an R&B performer as well these days. I missed your first release. What was that album about?
When I signed my record deal, I had just broken up with a major boyfriend, and it was a super intense time for me because I had no idea what was going on. I just needed to have space…all…around…me (vogues arms in all directions), which had nothing to do with him; I just had to be kind of alone. I didn’t give him any reason not to be together anymore. And it’s funny that when I started writing the album it was all love songs; “Baby I need you, I want you.” Writing songs is funny anyway; I had no idea what I was doing! My songs would be like nine days long! I didn’t know nothing about verse, or chorus, or bridges. My producers would be like, “Uh, Stephen, we have to bring this down a little bit.” But this time around I want everything to be lo-ong…the longer the better.
How so?
I want the new one to be a triple CD. The first CD of the three is about fucking, sex, dancing. The second one is going to be instrumental. I want that one to be thirty minutes, just music and guests and me talking and going on. Just something continuous without separate tracks.
Oh, a soundscape.
Right. And the third one I want to do a gospeldelic-unplugged-Kronos Quartet-art-Meredith Monk-meets-funk type of thing.
That sounds a bit hard to digest.
Totally! It’s the only way to do it, especially now that people are so used to seeing how pop performers are being manufactured.
Since fags are hot in entertainment now, do you think you’ll let yourself be marketed as a fag entertainer?
After the first album I learned that I know more about the music industry than I thought I did, because of all those other jobs I’ve done consulting car brands and detergents and rock bands. I’ll never make the mistake again of leaving my career in the hands of people who actually have no idea of what they are dealing with as far as Stephen Galloway goes. My record company at the time of the first album really didn’t care that I was a gay man with a debut album coming out. It was so not a subject, it was never really brought up. At one point I was being interviewed by a gay magazine, and they asked me if I’d done poppers ever. The A&R woman who was with me on this promo thing freaked: “We can’t talk about things like that!” I was like, “Miss Thing, of course we can talk about things like that.”
So do you use poppers?
Only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Yeah, you know what, I started taking poppers because I don’t do any drugs…I’ve never done any blow, I’ve never even smoked any hash. I’ve never done anything! And so, one time, I had an Australian staying with me who used poppers all the time. And when he was out — and I was being a total horndog — I go to the refrigerator, dig down in the freezer, get this obscure stuff — poppers — from down under. And Tim, I take a whiff, and girl, you should have seen me sitting on my television set. I was trying to get all of my Sony Trinitron up my ass; I was like, this is fantastic!
I haven’t had poppers for ages. I was devirginised on poppers, though.
Oh gosh, girl. That’s the best way to go. You can get anything in there. You know what I call it now? I call it the “change-of-mind.” ’Cause sometimes when you’re in a situation, and you might not necessarily be feelin’ it, you take a hit of poppers, and it will change your mind. Once you start huggin’ that bottle, baby…
We didn’t talk about your foot fetish.
Right, my foot fetish, which I have because we dancers have ugly feet, so I like to see clean gorgeous feet underneath a butt. And we didn’t get to my slight obsession with wanting to be a skinny seventeen-year-old white boy with real baggy pants that make me look even skinnier.
Hate to burst your bubble, but you’ll never be a skinny white boy.
I don’t really want to be a seventeen-year-old white kid, but they’re just so cool. Let me just state that I actually have a great appreciation for our bear-like brothers out there too.

This is one of the Calvin Klein ads from 2002, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, that Stephen Galloway did the choreography of the poses for. Travis Frimmel is modelling. The ad is promoting Calvin Klein’s socks licence.

Originally published in BUTT 9