Russell Westbrook is the NBA’s unofficial delegate to Fashion Week in New York City. The velociraptor point guard has been attending shows and hobnobbing with designers all week. Westbrook attended the style extravaganza in the past, but now he stands among the fashion elite as a peer instead of a fan.
In the last year, the flamboyant point guard has released a collection with Barney’s that includes his extensive array of glasses frames as well as articles like a 1,750 dollar leather shirt, shoes, luggage. His collection samples the unconventional, intricate patterns of elephant skin, tight cuts, and black contrasting with bold colors, giving an undeniable hipness to his style.
Westbrook’s foray into fashion is a departure from the off-the-court creative ventures of NBA players in the past. Usually when ballers fancy themselves as artists, they choose Hip-Hop as their medium. But as Kobe, Steve Francis, and Chris Webber have reminded us, that rarely works out. Shaq is the only moderate success and he needed not only his rarely paralleled worldwide fame, but also help from RZA, Ice Cube, and Biggie to produce one platinum and one gold album.
Russell’s designing follows O’Neal’s most successful Hip-Hop attempts (Shaq had unpopular follow-ups) in that he has sought advice from big names in fashion. Here he is with Tim Coppens scrutinizing Coppen’s most recent additions to his collection. Here he is posing with Phillip Lim at a show. Here he is with Alejandro Ingelmo studying footwear. While these names are unknown to folks perusing the sales rack, these men are prolific modern designers. The fact they are spending time with Westbrook implies both sides take each other seriously.
Westbrook’s designing offers an interesting glimpse into what he may do for post-career prosperity. Most NBA players either lose their cash investing in their uncle Richie’s “can’t miss” business proposals, or cultivate mini-empires like Magic Johnson with his vast L.A. Real Estate holdings.
Westbrook’s designs could one day become a successful fashion line. His brand would parallel Michael Jordan’s self-entitled megabrand, but considering the fashion taste of the GOAT, Jordan appears to outsource designing and rely on his name-recognition to move product. Westbrook using his own creativity to generate looks not just for the court, but for all aspects of life, would be unprecedented. It is just the sort of bold and fascinating choice a young, rich, and famous man can make.
Westbrook would have likely never become a fashion name if not for a slightly racist dress code policy passed by former NBA commissioner David Stern that banned the Hip-Hop style of the NBA of the early 2000s. After the artist formerly known as Ron Artest orchestrated the Malice in the Palace, the league sought to change its developing “thug” image by requiring “business casual” pregame attire. The dress code is a decade old and Russell Westbrook has become the Allen Iverson of this shift from gilded gaudiness to top-flight designer fashion.
NBA players are in a unique position become fashion icons. They are paid millions to play an internationally popular sport that does not hide their faces and personalities underneath helmets and hats. Their unique combination of fame, wealth, and visibility often makes their style the topic of national conversation. With the considerable attention paid to their attire, NBA players influence fashion just by existing, Westbrook is merely taking an active role in shaping the culture.
Westbrook’s fashion confronts stereotypes about his identity as a black male. He has reappropriated classic articles of white nerdy fashion like high button-ups, bow ties, and glasses into his modern black fashion. Westbrook has made it unclear if he is dressing “white,” or if the adolescent fans emulating his style are dressing “black.” In an ironic twist, the dress code has not made black players “whiter,” but instead made white style “blacker.”
With his fondness for tight cuts, jumpsuits, and capris, Westbrook also takes on masculine norms of fashion. Obviously, straight men typically do not dress like Westbrook, but it’s near impossible to find a less feminine body than the intense, hyper-muscular all-star point guard. The dress code was misguided, but it has killed the “criminal” image of NBA players and made them cultural shifters.
Westbrook’s atypical style not only puts him at the cutting edge of fashion, but also bridges the gap between two of the most stark divisions in American society. His presence at Fashion Week is not just an NBA player rubbing elbows with high society, it is a beginning step to blur the lines between black and white, and gay and straight.