When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City, like most members of the theatre industry, Greg Dassonville saw his life come to a standstill. The Broadway stylist had been hard at work making a name for himself since founding his business DassonVogue in 2018, styling theatre talent for red carpets, editorial shoots, and more, but suddenly his trajectory came to a halt just ahead of a wave of the Broadway’s spring openings. A season that is typically marked by energetic frenzy and excitement was instead defined by confusion and loss.
It’s a familiar story for many. With the pandemic raging and no guidance on when or how a theatre return would be possible, arts workers—onstage, backstage, and beyond—were left to navigate the unknown alone in isolation. Many found themselves figuring out how to pivot to something else while eagerly awaiting the news that their life to could return to normal, news that was out of their own control.
After a long year of waiting and feeling uncreative, Dassonville decided to take the reins himself and make a project of his own, channeling his heart-aches, pains, joys, and hope from the pandemic into a stunning photo collection moving from darkness to light. Not only did it allow him to reunite with actors Jason Gotay, Hannah Corneau, Robert Hartwell, Eden Espinosa, Jessica Vosk, and Nick Adams, it was also an opportunity to create alongside a host of Broadway artists including Moulin Rouge! actor/photographer Benjamin Rivera, AKA NYC designer Alex Enterline, Tina: the Tina Turner Musical hair artist Monique Gaffney, and Rock of Ages actor/makeup artist Katie LaMark.
Playbill sat down with Dassonville to talk about styling for Broadway, navigating the pandemic, his latest project, and more.
How One Broadway Stylist Found Light in the Darkness of the Pandemic
It has been a more than a year since Broadway shutdown due to COVID-19. For you, how has it been navigating the pandemic?
My business died the day that the shutdown happened… and I knew that there was nothing I could do. [In the summer of 2020], I had two projects. But then when those projects were over in August, come September, I had nothing. It was okay for a while, but then I got to a point where I was starting to see people were taking headshots and making projects. I thought, “Maybe there’s work coming back. And I want to be a part of that. How can I be a part of that?” But unfortunately with the pandemic, if people were spending the money on headshots, they weren’t having the money to spend on a stylist. So it was just this weird line where there was work available, but then there wasn’t work [for me] available.
I had this moment where I was like, “You know what? I’m going to do a project for myself and I’m going to just work with what I know. And what I know is this industry, and I know people in this industry. I’m going to push myself to do something that I’ve never done. I’m going to use this opportunity to also network and meet new designers. And whatever I do will be story driven.” With that, I came up with this idea to tell the story of the last year through a high-fashion lens. I sent some outreach to six people and all six said yes, which was such a miracle. And then all these designers that I had never worked with said yes. And then I started to just see it unfold.
For me, this is a story about all of us coming together to create. But also it’s a love letter to our industry. We all have had our own various downfalls because of the pandemic. But it’s all about asking how do you pick yourself up and how do you charge forward.
Then to ask those same questions back at you, how did you pick yourself back up and charge forward?
Well, the first thing that I did in the pandemic was I read Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is about how to channel creative energy and knowing when is the right opportunity to grab that energy or when to release it. That really stayed with me through the pandemic because at the beginning of the year, I was seeing everybody creating and there was a little bit of guilt if you weren’t. But I also thought, “I’m not just going to do this for the sake of it.”
The thing the pandemic has given me, though, was the time was to study and to go back to basics. There’s no rulebook on how to be a stylist. I launched my business not knowing how to do a [clothing] pull, how to create all these partnerships, or how to advocate for yourself as the CEO of your own business. So I spent the last year just researching and being really in tune with what was happening from a current fashion standpoint, and more importantly, researching what had happened already. I make it a point to make sure that I’m constantly in the know of what designers are doing and what is trending but if you don’t have the knowledge of what came prior, then that’s a problem. It’s important to know [your history].
Well, if we’re going to go back to the basics, then let’s go back to the basics: in your own words, what does it mean to be a stylist for Broadway?
My job as a stylist is to be an image architect. To listen to the client, to hear what they want, to know who they are, and to execute their vision.
The reason that somebody would hire me is because they are ready to step out of the everyday and elevate their image. Styling is so much more than just throwing nice clothes on somebody and being like “I styled it.” You have to say, “All right, I’m now stepping into someone else’s dreams, and telling a story.”
This industry is very optic and first impressions are huge. Your image is you but your image is also your brand. I am the person who helps bring that brand to life. For instance, when you think about people like Cynthia Erivo who makes a statement every time she steps on a red carpet, everything is so thought out, nothing is ever just done for the sake of it being done. Even when I’m styling actors for auditions, let’s say, your statement does not begin the moment when you slating your name. It’s actually the first five seconds of you walking in a room. People are scanning you from head to toe. They’re looking to see what you look like, what your vibe is. You can learn a lot from somebody from just their energy alone.
You’re talking about branding and image, but one of the big hurdles to having a brand and feeling like a star—whether you are a lead, ensemblist, designer, etc.—is economic accessibility. The spotlight on the theatre has grown but while Broadway artists are doing extraordinary things, it is still an industry populated by ordinary New Yorkers. It’s daunting because image influences your career but it seems like being at a certain place in your career allows you the economic freedom to shape that image. Without a Hollywood budget, how can the average arts worker still maintain a sense of style and elevate their own brand through fashion?
There is a big misconception that a stylist is going to cost you a million dollars. And that’s just not the case. What I often tell people is when you hire me, I get you everything from head to toe for less than what you would buy it on your own. It does not cost an arm and a leg, but also, it’s important to invest in yourself. Actors take voice lessons or acting lessons—clothing is also piece to that whole package. Your talent is the moneymaker. But the image has to elevate and support that.
But if you don’t have a budget for a stylist, then I think it’s important to start researching. Research what is current, what is happening. And then, I always say, if you’re going to buy [your own clothes for an event], there is never any reason to buy full-price ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Brands are always throwing a sale. It’s about knowing where to go, knowing how to strategically use your time to sift through options, and it’s important to know what you want. It’s all about intentional choices.
Especially with running your own business, forging partnerships, and managing expectations—not to mention social media—it seems like there are stressful stakes involved with styling. But through it all, what makes you enjoy it as a business? What about styling resonates with you?
Oh, that’s a good one. [Pauses] I was definitely more fem as a kid. I was more flamboyant. I was artistic and creative, and I was bullied a lot. I always wanted to revert inside to hide. But style and clothing was a way to step out and feel that light again. Styling is a way to bring beauty to people.
I went to school for musical theatre. I wanted to minor in fashion, but it wasn’t possible on a BFA curriculum. So for a long time, I found that sense of escapism when I was performing. And now I’m finding that same sense of being able to escape reality through style. I can create whatever character I want through whatever image that I’m looking to create with the client. And I don’t need permission. I was tired of waiting for permission to create, to do what I wanted to do. I thought, “I’m going to create how I want to create with no excuses or apologies. I not going to allow someone to tell me what to do or when I can’t.”
And especially with your most recent project, you created on your own without waiting for permission. And with it, you’re working with the theatre community again after we have all been so isolated. How was it just to collaborate again?
I am getting emotional just even thinking about it because it was truly magical. I didn’t realize how much my soul needed it. As artists, we create because we love it. Because it’s in us. So to step into a room with people who are so on board with my vision was a dream come true.
I had given the creative team the brief beforehand but the first day on set, I just watched all this happen. It was as if everything was coming out of my dreams and coming to life. I was so proud. It was a testament to me believing in myself and not feeling sorry for myself throughout the pandemic. I think for me, personally, this shoot that I’ve done for myself is the first of many to come.
You were talking about making this come to life and creating on your own terms. And many people are going to be in that same boat, trying to create again for the first time in a long time. Do you have any advice for those who are jumping back into their art?
You just never know when it can leave you, when it can be taken away. And I think this last year we all learned that we have to cherish every single moment. I think there is a new found appreciation for being able to create after it has been out of your own. So I would say, given that we don’t know what the next year looks like, it is just important that you create. Everybody’s journey is their own. With purpose, not just for the sake of it, because content will always be content, but really good content comes with a thought process and a full foundation. It won’t happen overnight, but when we do come back, our plan is to come back stronger than before.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Creative Direction by Greg Dassonville for DassonVogue and Alex Enterline for Enterline Designs |Photography by Benjamin Rivera | Fashion Styling by Greg Dassonville for DassonVogue | Image editing by Alex Enterline for Enterline Designs | Make Up by Katie LaMark | Hair Styling by Monique Gaffney | Photography Assistance by Emily Croft | Fashion Assistance by Emily Britt and Kyle Duncan.
Jason Gotay in Hiromi Asai, The Tailory Noah Waxman, Layana Aguilar, Tableaux Vivants, Stuart Weitzman, and Versani Jewelry | Hannah Corneau in Karen Sabag Bridal|Couture, OxygeneUs, Femmes Sans Peur, ChuChu NY, Glove.Me, Wolford, Georgina Jewelry, and Versani Jewelry | Robert Hartwell in Queera, ChuChu NY, and Versani Jewelry | Eden Espinosa in Layana Aguilar, Femmes Sans Peur, and Versani Jewelry | Jessica Vosk in Karen Sabag Bridal|Couture, Femmes Sans Peur, and Versani Jewelry | Nick Adams in Subin Hahn and PRSVR.