Yesterday it was announced that Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is launching a capsule collaboration with American fashion mainstay Barneys New York, called appropriately, Westbrook Exclusively Ours (XO) Barneys New York. This collaboration may seem like an effect of the NBA’s rather literal embracing of the “clothes get weirder, money get longer” mantra as Westbrook is as known for his style choices as his on-court play—but truthfully, this deal would not have come to fruition if it weren’t for former NBA Commissioner David Stern, Allen Iverson and the NBA dress code.
Despite the inappropriate, often inflammatory “sus” comments on the internet, Westbrook has proven he really lives this life.
The NBA dress code was instituted during the 2005-2006 season and most pundits agree that Allen Iverson’s personal style, which reflected current fashion trends in most American markets, was to blame. Stern wanted players to look more like his fellow lawyers rather than extras in a Diplomats video. At first the decision to ban jerseys, durags and tall tees in favor of sports jackets and suits seemed equal parts racist and paternalistic but it either forced players to adapt to the guidelines in the most half-assed manner possible (see: Tim Duncan) or to develop their own way to embrace and bend the rules while maintaining their style.
I started writing about NBA player style and fashion five years ago and have been styling athletes for three years, and the buzz surrounding player fashion has grown from a few retweets and blog posts to a near manic level on all mediums. At first, it was just superstars like LeBron James, who hired a stylist under the guidance of Jay Z, who invested in their looks; NBA fashion wasn’t something that trended on social media (Twitter was still in it’s infancy in 2007). Now, partially thanks to social media, #NBAStyle is everywhere. By the time Westbrook entered the league as a rookie in the 2008-2009 season, more players were paying attention to what they wore for the notoriety and soon began to do it all for ‘Gram. However, Westbrook has managed to use his tastes and outfits to leverage his personal brand and bottom line in a way that’s separated him from the pack. It began with his collaboration with luxury boxer and brief brand King & Jax, then he was named the newest face of Jordan Brand and now this Barneys collection.
Russell Westbrook’s rise to athlete fashion icon partially owes to good timing. He’s the right personality with the right energy, and the right personal brand at the right time. Westbrook’s personal style and bombastic play both lend themselves to debate among NBA and fashion fans. Of all the players in the league, he’s the one I get asked about the most. When he wore this floral bomber, DIY ripped denim and red kicks during this season’s Western Conference Finals, my phone died from all the images, shit talk and general confusion over his outfit. But despite the inappropriate, often inflammatory “sus” comments on the internet, Westbrook has proven he really lives this life. His shopping obsession (pro tip: besides Barneys, you can often find him at Jeffrey and Kith in NYC), the Instagram bravado and the hashtags (#itsjustdifferent, #fashionbrodie, etc.) have won out. Any time I mention my work as an NBA stylist to women who work in the fashion industry, they all swoon for the brash OKC guard. He’s become ubiquitous because he forces people to have an opinion about fashion who might not have had either the access or the effort to become involved in the dialogue. Russell Westbrook has made being a bit of fashion whore cum hypebeast a thing that translates to hardcore basketball fans and entrenched fashion pundits.
He also pushes further than the other NBA fashionplates. Miami’s Chris Bosh works with Rachel Johnson’s Thomas Faison team (they also dress LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Victor Cruz) to perfect and maintain the preppy personal image he’s upheld since he left Toronto to join the big three. We know Bosh is preppy, Dwyane Wade is Miami meets Milan, and LeBron favours the rich athlete look (bespoke tailoring mixed with luxe and high end streetwear and sportswear). Westbrook, although also incredibly fashion savvy, is different because he constantly changes his style while maintaining Westbrook signatures.
Even hardened basketball fans know to expect that the high-risk, high-reward guard takes a similar approach to his off-court style. Whether or not it was Westbrook’s intention from the jump or not, he is learning to design his own image around being a risk-taker, putting his sense of overwhelming bravado in his wardrobe. Some items that have become Westbrook signatures—the glasses, the often cornea-melting patterned button up shirts, high end sneakers (both by brands like Balenciaga and Christian Louboutin and now Jordan Brand)—were supposedly brought en vogue by other athletes but owned by Russ.
Most players get nervous when it comes to wearing something that’s too “fashion” or conceptual for the fear of not looking manly or odd. For example, Westbrook was the first NBA player to wear the Junya Watanabe x Comme des Garcons patchwork men’s shirts. He took a lot of flack for it when he wore it to the podium during the 2011-2012 NBA Finals, but he caught on quickly that his growing legion of fans—who either truly love him or love to hate on him—always want something new. “Well, I never wear the same shirt twice […] But some of the things I wear are loud, so once I wear them, that’s it.”
It’s interesting to note that while Westbrook took a beating for that shirt, a similar one from the same collection pop up in Kyrie Irving’s locker, who was berated for it by veteran Jarrett Jack. Westbrook has challenged the dress code and caught some Ls—both in fines (like his cut-off hoody) and in execution by doing far too much at once or wearing ill-fitting garments—but it’s lead him to have the confidence as well as the resume to become the self-appointed “fashion brodie.”
Dwyane Wade’s got his fashion endeavours: Stance Socks, equity in sneaker maker Li-Ning and appointment as the creative director of his own line of ties and pocket squares. And LeBron James has covered GQ and Vogue, and reinvigorated Nike Basketball releases. What makes Westbrook’s Barneys collaboration different is that he’s overseeing multiple brands at once. His influence has already helped lead Jordan Brand to venture into the luxury sneaker category with the Future and the Shine releases, so it’ll be interesting to see where his style philosophy helps push a performance brand like Jordan as well as popular NBA brands like Del Toro and Naked and Famous.
Fashion bloggers are racking in six-, sometimes seven-figure salaries for their collaborations with brands so perhaps NBA players and other athletes are the next frontier for collections. Westbrook’s style reaches directly to a bigger and more diverse audience than any street style photog. The fact that the collection will span a few seasons, is available in all Barneys retail stores and online along with the exclusivity clause with Barneys New York shows not only their loyalty but the power of a bankable personal brand. Sneaker and sports apparel endorsement deals have always been a mainstay of both the NBA and other professional leagues, but now it’s time to see whether Westbrook and other athletes can translate their overall image and Instagram into big dollars at retail, outside of sportswear. Salute the brodie for taking the risks because much like the once Jordan Brand campaign, it seems that in the sports and fashion, weird wins.
Megan Ann Wilson is a stylist and image consultant who specializes in working with professional athletes and broadcasters. Follow her on Twitter @shegotgame