Well, it’s official ladies and gentlemen: Russell Westbrook has arrived. First came the college basketball fans, then NBA bloggers and writers, and now the fashion industry. Westbrook has done what so few athletes do in the high fashion arena – cross over as a personality that is not just relevant for sporting prowess, but for style. He was the first athlete to cover Flaunt Magazine, and now, Westbrook is a cover boy yet again. This time for the April/May issue of social media monster and men’s magazine, Complex. He’s also appeared in videos with Nylon Magazine, starred in a video portrait for L’Uomo Vogue (men’s Italian Vogue), discussed style with GQ, sat front row at Fashion Week, and finally, signed a deal with Jordan Brand.
There are many reasons why Russell Westbrook is the new fashion darling of the sporting world, but it comes down to a few key factors: overall great timing, wearing pieces rather than outfits and his attitude off and on the court. Westbrook is becoming more experimental and diverse in fashion as he grows as a player, but he didn’t really have a platform to present his sartorial obsession to the general public on a regular basis. He was finally able to show it on a massive scale during last year’s NBA playoff race. He made the most of his post-game interviews and podium appearances when it was his turn in the spotlight, offering a different take on athlete style in comparison to superstars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. While the Heat duo are often slick and dressed by their stylists, Westbrook offered a more risky way of styling himself, by pairing loud statement pieces like bright colored eyeglasses with no lenses and printed shirts that showed off his physique. He’s become more easily identifiable, not just by NBA fans and fashion fiends, but by the general public. He’s transcended even his own teammate Kevin Durant, as KD is still known as the guy in the backpack. Westbrook first became known for his frames and shirts, now he’s the ballplayer who takes the biggest fashion risks. He was smart enough to know that it was time to take risks, to steal attention from other players and break away from the pack.
However, despite my own personal championing of Westbrook as a fashion maverick, I didn’t quite realize his cross-over appeal until I spent some time with a few fashion colleagues. At a December Nylon Magazine pop-up shop party in NYC’s Meatpacking District, once word got out that I worked as an athlete stylist and personal shopper, every intern asked if I could invite Westbrook to the party, or wanted to coo over his affinity for Japanese brands, his good looks, and enviable frames collection. Amongst the fashion faithful, there was not a peep about known NBA fashion plates like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, or even fellow New Yorker Amar’e Stoudemire – it was all Russell Westbrook everything. Recently, at the Las Vegas market tradeshows, brands would tell me of their extensive packages that were sent to him in Oklahoma City. Doc Martens was especially excited, as Westbrook has worn plenty of their boots during post-game appearances. After all, they’ve sent him more models of Docs than he has Jordan XX8 colorways.
From a purely sartorial perspective, Westbrook is not the perfect example of flawless personal style. Often, he pairs lots of loud, statement pieces together which results in a slightly disjointed look that can be a bit too much for one person. Take for example the outfit he wore during the 2013 NBA All-Star Celebrity game that he “coached” opposite former teammate James Harden: Westbrook wore a rust colored jacket from Zara, a white shirt with a knit tie and tie bar, a yellow knit belt, a pair of skinny Naked and Famous reversible camo pants, gold frames and a pair of yellow suede Jordan Vs to accent the look. While one of the pieces are terrible on its own, together the full outfit was a giant distraction courtside. The busy print of the pants, mixed with the bulkiness of the tongue of the Jordan V and the clean lines of the jacket and tie were almost an assault to the eyes. Rust brown and banana yellow should never be in the same outfit and the top and bottom halves of his outfit could work separately, but together, it was a lot.
Westbrook gets away with these kinds of interesting outfits and, often, blatant fashion faux pas because he’s known for his brash, sometimes polarizing attitude. He’s a risk-taker who is hyper competitive and expressive, and sometimes tries too hard to do everything at once on the court and in his wardrobe. He wants to wear all the dope items in one outfit. Despite the miscues, it actually helps him grow his reputation as a fashion plate because he’s trying something new; he's isn't at all shy and he lives up to the new Jordan Brand hashtag du jour #whynot?
Russell Westbrook is the new style icon because of his attitude that he can wear anything and look good in everything. His inherent cockiness allows him to strut no matter if he's in suspenders or his number zero jersey. He obviously relishes in the attention, from the Instagram comments and blogs to the girls who sit front row at fashion week who know want to be courtside, too. Athletes are, stereotypically, seen in two ways by the public, fashionably: in uniforms or suits. And Westbrook is challenging these perspectives in a way that is not necessarily new, but it’s the most noticeable.
Some of the items he chooses are high concept or, perhaps, a little too complicated for anyone just to wear, but with his swagger he’s making an equal amount of believers and haters. While he has a long way to go before he’s the most stylish athlete in the sports world, he does take the cake for the most dedicated to fashion as a tool of branding and self-expression. He’s still figuring out his personal style, but at least it’s a bright, fun adventure instead of dull and predictable like most his NBA colleagues. The haters can continue to hate what they don’t understand because, without question, Russell Westbrook is flourishing in the fashion world.