High Fashion on the Field: Dolce and Gabbana Extend Deal with Azzuri

When it comes to professional sports, you often see high fashion brands on the backs of athletes off the field but never during game play. However, it should come as no surprise that soccer (or football, out of North America) is the first sport to really embrace fashion on the field. Many soccer players in Europe have modeled for brands,have enviable closets that resemble high-end boutiques and are often credited for bringing the slim, slick suits to the sporting world. Only in recent years have North American athletes began adopting the “Euro” style of dress and swagger.

Today, Dolce and Gabbana announced that they would be extending their deal with the Italian national soccer team through 2014. The Italian fashion house will begin designing kits for the men’s senior team for the qualifications of the 2012 UEFA European Championships as well as the Under-21 squad. The collaboration originally started in 2006 after the men’s national team (also known as Azzuri) won their fourth World Cup. Dolce and Gabbana’s old deal had them dressing the Italian athletes in suits for pre and post game, but not on field. Azzuri’s previous jersey outfitter was German sports brand Puma. 2014 is a significant year as it marks the next FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Italy will be trying to capture their fifth World Cup after falling short of defending their title in 2010.

The Italian national team isn’t D&G’s first foray into soccer sponsorship. They sponsor local Serie A squad AC Milan and they’ve also been clothing the Milano Beach Soccer Club since 2008. D&G also produced a book dedicated to the players of AC Milan appropriately titled Milan Fashion Soccer Players Portraits this past May and have used athletes for underwear advertising editorials.

What team or sport will we next see embracing high fashion on the field? Stella McCartney designs tennis gear for adidas and the Williams sister ae known for pushing the boundaries of costume attire with their on-court attire with Nike. Fashion often takes cues from sport using football pads as armour for models and varsity jackets are now synonymous with streetwear. Rafael Nadal has stripped down to model for Emporio Armani while Dwyane Wade is collaborating on watch collections – sports and fashion are no longer odd bed fellows but frequent collaborators.

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Throwback Steez: vitaminTHICK Launch @ Vault NYC

Fashion, specifically menswear, is in the midst of a heritage moment. Brands are going back to their roots to embrace workwear, tradition and ties to the community. So much manufacturing is now being done overseas and mass quantities, the appeal of homegrown material and local sourcing is understandable to the mindful consumer. New brands are taking to local first mindset to capitalize on the trend and grow their business – small can be good.

One of these brands is vitaminTHICK, based in Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded by two brand architects Elliott Curtis and Andrew Shedd as a progressive streetwear brand. Their concept is based on the nostalgia of childhood and growing up in the ’80′s and ’90′s. All items are released as designer-limited runs and are numbered so they also become instant collectors items – like baseball cards. Graphics range from their adorable squirrel logo to their interpretations of classic logos (a streetwear trend started by Stussy) like the NBA Jam video game, beloved by NBA fans of all ages.

Basketball nostalgia is a strong influence throughout the line. “He Got Game” – one of my favorite films of all time and the genesis for my blog and Twitter name, is paid tribute to in a “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt. Jesus Shuttlesworth, the young basketball phoneme protagonist of the film, is played by Boston Celtic guard and future hall  of famer, Ray Allen. Allen has saved the Celtics on many occasion and Curtis wanted to pay tribute to his favorite player. He even bedazzled a “Jesus is my homeboy” shirt and presented it to Allen’s number one fan, his mom Flo, at the 2011 All-Star game. Another basketball link comes in a less obvious way. North Carolina rapper and producer Brey Quick is managed by vitaminTHICK. He produces his mixtapes with the brand and sports their gear at every opportunity. Quick played four years of college at High Point University as well as professionally for two years in Iceland.Curtis also played AAU basketball growing up so the two have a connection to the basketball community that could prove integral in marketing, appeal and reach of the brand. It also allows for all-inclusive entertainment at events and parties so the company is able to produce their own package deal.

vitaminTHICK recently held a release event at Vault in Harlem, New York City. The full line was on display and Brey Quick performed two sets while a DJ played music throughout the day. This was the first time I was able to see the items up close and the quality is impressive. The apparel items are manufactured in the United States and have modern silhouettes. The line is fitted without being snug and the cotton used is soft but not thin. Quality at a reasonable price for t-shirt and cut and sew brand is difficult for a relatively new brand and keeping the items in small runs seems to have halted any quality control issues in their tracks. The tees are fun, bright and the smaller sizes could be worn by women as the items are properly sized.

The event also marked my first time at Vault. The  store is clean, modern with the bank vault theme throughout the store in the display cases. They had a stage set up in the front for Quick’s performance and a DJ area as well. Vault is a sneaker store with a Nike account, plenty of streetwear, rows upon rows of snapbacks and fitted to match all of your kicks, sunglasses, and jewelry, including the ubiquitous black diamond bracelets. Their own line of apparel have some great retro inspired graphics, I’m a big of their fan of their brand new “Mr. MVP” shirts in their Paper Chaser line. It’s worth the trip to check out the shop and it’s a very quick jaunt from the main Harlem strip on 125th Street when you want to get away from the big box stores and support the local spot.

vitaminTHICK is available for purchase at Vault in New York City as well through their online store and in fourteen other stockists in the USA. The prices are reasonable ranging from $20-40 for tees and tanks and $50-90 for hoodies, crewnecks and zip-ups. You can download Quick’s latest mixtape “Skyed Up” here and his next project will be dropping sometime in the fall. Vault NYC is at 2498 Frederick Douglas Boulevard between 133rd and 134th Street in Harlem. Check out the photos below for more from the event and detail shots of the vitaminTHICK product. Get ‘em before they’re gone.

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2011 NBA Draft Style Analysis: The Suits Finally Fit and Kemba is King

The 2011 installment of the NBA Draft was not given the opportunity to be great. Madison Square Garden, the usual host for festivities, is under renovation so the hopeful rookies had to travel across the Hudson River to Newark and walk the stage at Prudential Center. Bloggers and basketball pundits dismissed the next class of NBA talent as bottom tier. Also, with a lockout looming – will these young men ever see playing time? In 2003, LeBron James’ oversized white ensemble was better suited for a pimp and not the first overall draft pick. His personal style has evolved thanks in part to the dress code, maturity and careful image management. The NBA instituted the dress code in 2005 and it came at the perfect time as menswear was moving towards to the skinny suit and tailored styles thanks to Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme. Fitted or “European” styles began dominating locker rooms along with luxury sneakers and Louis Vuitton everything. Braids began disappearing as Carmelo Anthony shaved his off and Kobe Bryant switched from jerseys pre-game to suits. Players no longer wanted to look like Allen Iverson but now Kanye West’s fashion forward style evolution was to be mimicked. This year’s draft class may not have hit the perfect style notes but it’s clear that with the help of stylists, the new kids are learning how important fit is in a suit. Gone are the days of the LeBron white suit or Jalen Rose’s infamous red atrocity. Without further ado, here’s the best, worst and downright average style grades for the 2011 NBA draft class. It should come as no surprise that a New York kid wins my award for best dressed. Kemba Walker won my respect and fashion gold star last night because he wore a suit that was not only perfectly cut for his body type but because he was able to still let his personal style shine through. Last year, Wesley Johnson’s plaid pants and double-breasted ensemble may have been sartorially inclined but it looked like the outfit wore him, not the other way around. Walker looked both comfortable and cool in the single breasted blue-grey suit. The peaked lapels were in proportion with his shoulders and the jacket was modern without being fussy. Walker was already on my radar for his understated, well-fitting suit at Connecticut’s visit with President Obama after winning the NCAA National Championship. His big heart and great speaking skills makes him a complete player off the court as well – he’s a marketing dream. In fact, he already has endorsement deals in place with Axe and Best Buy without the elusive title of being the number one draft pick. Walker’s accessory choices elevated his look from above average to exquisite. The pocket square in beige with a pink hue picked up the rose gold outsole of his two-tone shoes. The tie bar kept his look clean but added some visual interest on his thin, patterned tie. Even his belt was a leather with a pink undertone to tie it all together. Fellas, when I say the items of your outfit don’t have to match but they have to go, I’m talking about putting an ensemble together like Walker’s. The hues (underlying color) are all in the same family – blue in the primary items and pink in the accessories. Since the colors are all related, they work in harmony. I’m excited to see what Walker brings to Charlotte off the court. According to my favorite Bobcats’ source, Ben Swanson (a.k.a. CardboardGerald), the rookie came to the press conference dressed to impress in Louis Vuitton sneakers. Kemba Walker, you’re on my fashion radar. He’s my early pick for style rookie for the season….if we get a season.

Walker’s swag dominated the night but credit has to be given both to my Canadian countryman Tristan Thompson, as well as Marshon Brooks for sporting full ensembles not just a suit. Thompson (and his personal shopper) found a suit that managed to fit him perfectly without looking snug in the shoulders or short in the sleeves – an issue for a player with a seven feet, two-inch wingspan.The polka dot tie contrasts with the pink tone in the shirt and the paisley pocket square ties it all together.His rose gold watch face is the right shade for his skin tone and the leather watch strap and shoes are the perfect complimentary shade of warm saddle brown – this is how to wear black and brown together. It certainly looked like Thompson dressed to best match his new Cavaliers cap – think he knew something the media didn’t?

In every draft class, there seems to be one player that calls dibs on the bow tie and tries to make it work for him. This year, Marshon Brooks took the honor. The last time a bow tie was worn properly was when James Harden sported his cream ensemble and has since had the neck accessory a signature. Brooks seems to be following Harden’s sartorial example. Brooks was originally drafted by the Celtics before being moved to the Nets, sported another bow tie at his introductory press conference in Newark. For draft night, his two piece grey suit fit in the shoulders and the sleeve length was fine although it could be taken in more in the torso and in arm width to remove some of the bulk - the ill fit was made obvious when he stood up to meet Commissioner Stern. Besides the technical suiting issues, the patterned shirt mixed with the neutral grey suit really make the bow tie the star to the outfit. A good tactic to draw attention up to Brooks’ face and away from the terrible adidas draft caps.

The number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft was Kyrie Irving out of Duke University and the only thing that streamed first overall about his outfit was his timepiece.Besides the impressive watch, the rest of ensemble was average – decent fitting jacket and shirt, pants could be tailored and the tie was too skinny and poorly knotted. Hopefully fellow rookie Tristan Thompson and veteran NBA fashion plate Baron Davis can help their new teammate take some risks this season.

Speaking of sartorial risks, Kawhi Leonard went for preppy throwback look with white piping on black two button suit. When I originally saw this suit, I immediately thought he belonged on a yacht or perhaps parking cars at the yacht club. The buttons are a bit distracting and the pocket square seems like an afterthought but the piping has grown on me. Keeping the shirt and tie relatively neutral was a smart move so it didn’t distract from the jacket. The fit is decent, but as with many of these young men, the sleeve could be slimmed down. A pop of color or sheen in the pocket square could have upgraded the look and he might want to re-think the braids – no one should take manscaping cues from Udonis Haslem.

Pocket squares have become the new accessory of choice for NBA draftees in recent years and this year, some players either didn’t put enough thought into them (Leonard) or tried too damn hard. It’s important to remember that for these young men, most of their interviews will head and shoulder shots so the pocket square will be shown and having one that looks like a used tissue stuffed in your pocket looks sloppy. The Morris brothers were a great story of the draft, twins going one right after another to different cities for the first time in their young lives. But they had me crying foul all over Twitter as with the pocket square, bigger is not necessarily better as you have a limited space to display your accessory.

Markieff Morris, the slightly older twin and the first to be drafted, thirteenth overall to the Suns, wore a pinstripe suite that looked be right off the rack and ill-fitting on his massive frame. The jacket is too long, the shoulder are bunching and sleeves and pants must be taken in. Also, on a large man a three-piece suit adds bulk, he should have gone for a sleeker silhouette. As for the pocket square, it looks like he found some iridescent Kleenex and stuffed it in his pocket. The fact that you actually see a bulge from the access fabric in the jacket is a terrible look. Remember, it’s a square, not a scarf. While we’re on accessories, white watches, like white sunglasses, often just look cheap and it does not work with his outfit at all.

Marcus Morris, the younger brother by seven minutes, was drafted next to another Western Conference team, the Houston Rockets. Marcus, followed suit almost literally with a pinstripe three-piece suit in black that was looked to fit in the shoulders but not so well elsewhere. Not to be outdone by his brother, upped the pocket square ante as his almost reached his tie knot – far too large. I’m all for flair but the pocket square took over his entire outfit and you became distracted by his accessory and not listen to what the newly minted rookie had to say. Also, if you look the Morris’ brothers wore similar shirt and ties. The best moment from the twin’s draft came from their interview with their mother, who was also in a pinstripe suit, who said she wouldn’t wear either of the adidas draft caps – smart woman.

As for the rest of the draft class, it was nice to see the players put some effort into their attire, the recent explosion of athlete stylists are certainly helping keep the players current. Derrick Williams tried to work with a skinny suit silhouette but didn’t make it. The tailoring was fine but the tie knot didn’t work with the shirt or the tie width. The bright red tie was a nice burst of color, but some more texture would have really made Williams stand out.

Jimmer Fredette came into the draft with plenty of hype thanks to his ridiculous NCAA campaign. While Fredette’s stock dropped a touch on concerns over lack of defensive fundamentals and size, his fashion game could probably use a return to basics. His jacket hit in the wrong spot and Fredette looked like he was sporting a pot belly. The stance on his jacket was a touch high and the cut made him look boxier. Dressing in BYU blue (navy suit, blue tie, blue shirt, blue watch) was a nice nod to his alumna matter but it came off a little dull. Fredette is more modest than most NBA rookies but his giant timepiece and rapping brother give the impression that the young man from upstate New York wants to take a few more risks.

Finally, I have to give points to Jonas Valanciunas, my hometown Toronto Raptors fifth overall draft pick. Most Raptors picks were hoping that local hero Tristan Thompson would have his homecoming on the Air Canada Centre court, but as usual the Raptors went European. Valanciunas went for subtle but well-tailored. The olive-green tie and pattern mixing with a different pocket square elevated the look from basic to interesting. The sleeve length was also on point so kudos to the unknown centre. I’m sure he’ll be a frequent visitor to Yorkville this season, Toronto’s high-end shopping neighbourhood soon.

Overall, this year’s draft class was an improvement over last year’s. The new crop of NBA rookies need to continue to practice and perfect the art of fit and how to dress their frames. Hopefully they’ll start taking more risks and find their own personal style among the NBA trends and Louis Vuitton littered locker rooms. Good luck gentlemen and welcome to the big leagues.

Photos courtesy of ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and NBA.com.

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James Harden: Most Fashionable Man-Child

James Harden is only twenty-one, just old enough to buy alcohol legally in the United States. Harden is proving his worth for the Thunder these playoffs, averaging eleven points a game and shooting almost forty-one percent from the field. Harden is providing a spark for his teammates off the bench, but NBA fans are more enamoured with his unique manscaping and style. The member of the Thunders’ Broingtons always stands outs among the usual NBA off-court uniform of dark, ill-fitting suits or head to toe Gucci ensembles. For the post-season, the Los Angeles native kept his full beard and shaved his hair into a mini mohawk. The hairstyle speaks to Harden’s quirky California personal style and boyish charm.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder came to Toronto earlier in the season, I chatted with the sophomore shooting guard about his infamous beard and personal style. The beard discussion was posted on The Basketball Jones but Harden and I got to talking fashion and sneakers, too.

Credit: Slam Magazine

Harden defines his style as very LA, which to him means “flannels, little t-shirts, [Nike] Dunks, varsity jackets, stuff like that”. While being a LA native, the west coast kid doesn’t think he has a specific personal style code. If he sees some nice clothes, he buys them – one of the luxuries of having an NBA salary. “I wear a lot of [Nike] Dunk’s, cartoon shirts, varsity jackets”. Harden’s love of cartoon shirts is something that’s caught my eye since he was in college. It’s not a look that’s very popular on the east coast but for Harden, the cartoon shirts started because it’s all about the shoes, “I get shirts to match my dunks. They got a store [in LA] called Hot Topic and they have a lot of cartoon shirts there..it’s just about being from LA”.

Credit: Getty Images/SI.com

Harden’s other style signature is the bow tie. It started at the NBA Draft with Harden’s statement making outfit.. He wore a cream colored vest, pants, a striped shirt, a tan sport coat, a diamond encrusted watch and a burgundy patterned bow tie. While it was a lot of look, Harden just wanted to wear something different, “I don’t think I thought about it…With the bow tie, I have a lot of them now….it’s different, unique [my style] just comes natural, not something I try to do.” Since the night he joined the Thunder, Harden’s racked up over ten bow ties and plans on getting a lot more as he buys more suits.

Credit: Twitter

Harden will be buying more suits mostly due to the NBA dress code. While most players are able to bring their own flare to their outfits despite Commissioner Stern’s rules, Harden admits most of his wardrobe goes unworn on game days. “I [usually] wear a lot of hats, t-shirts, that I can’t wear…The rules are put in place for a reason, but I still try to work around it”. The shooting guard may think his style is the best in the league, but he’d still jump at the chance to raid a few wardrobes. “[I'd like to see what] top guys like Kobe and Lebron got in their closet, they probably got tons of stuff in their closet, I just to see what their wardrobe looks like.”

Credit: Dime Magazine

Harden’s personal style extends to his shoes, too. He can’t pick a favorite pair but his choice Nike model will always be the Dunk. He’s looking at adding the Gucci inspired pair to his collection and also loves the Canal Street Air Force One’s because they’re “cool and bright”. Harden’s style advice for those who want to follow his lead is to experiment with colors and not focus on one style, “anything you see that’s unique and different, try to pick it up.” Harden’s hair is evidence that he practices what he preaches and allows him to bring his style on the court too. I wouldn’t suggest the mohawk and beard combo unless you’re around Harden’s age or can grow a significant beard like him.

Credit: Orisue

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Walt “Clyde” Frazier: On Style, Sager and Exotic Skins

The NBA is not without its characters. Basketball is a team sport, but it also allows for style and individualism as displayed in a perfect finger roll, an ankle breaking crossover or the angle of a headband on a furrowed brow. In the last few years, NBA players are truly embracing their own sense of style off the court by hiring stylists, starting clothing lines and even modelling. It’s normal for a modern athlete to have multiple hustles when they’re not on the court to make sure that their brand and finances stay strong through retirement or injury.

This generation of All-Star players showing an interest in fashion have their older generations to thank for trailblazing in the style department. Walt “Clyde” Frazier is a retired two-time NBA champion and now serves as the colour commentator for Knicks’ broadcasts on MSG Network and he bring his own flavour and colourful wardrobe to every game. I didn’t get to watch Frazier playing, as he ruled the hardwood in the 1970′s, but I’m always fascinated by his personal panache and candor on MSG. Walt is a style icon, perhaps the greatest ever that graced the NBA.

Frazier came to New York as an Atlanta boy and took the social scene by storm with his “WCF” vanity plate on his Rolls Royce, fur coats, custom designer suits, late nights in Harlem and the Upper East Side and his signature swagger. He will always be the epitome of cool. He owns the honor of being one of the first NBA players to have a signature shoe, the Clyde - in suede, of course, and it still sells strongly even thirty years after the shoe’s initial release. His lexicon on the MSG broadcasts are often imitated – there’s even a fake Walt Frazier Twitter account, and his wardrobe choices are always screen grab worthy. He’s an author and literally wrote the book on cool, Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool, wherein he admitted he spent half of his rookie salary, $10,000, on clothes. He’s often named to best dressed lists and was recently featured in GQ’s special issue on the twenty-five coolest athletes of all time. Even USA Today’s Money section took note of his long time work with Manhattan’s Mohan’s Custom Tailor. Frazier’s a long time client of Mohan’s and in return for his endorsement, gets a steep discount on suits. And yes, Mohan’s was responsible for the cowhide and leopard-skin concoctions but Frazier found the fabric on his own.

When the Knicks were visiting the Raptors this season, I made it my mission to track down Mr. Frazier (as I wasn’t sure whether it was proper or not to call him Walt or Clyde). After asking Amar’e all I could about his impending (and now published) work in Vogue, I trolled the halls of the Air Canada Centre in my four-inch gold eel skin platforms, looking for Frazier. I wore the exotic skinned shoes hoping that they would bring me luck, and although not practical, I managed to catch Clyde. He wore a ball cap, instead of his trademark fedora and a fully custom-made ensemble. He wore green plaid corduroy single breasted suit, with a yellow patterned collared shirt, a black, pink and green striped tie and tan ostrich leather shoes. He was even kinder than he appears on television. He smiled through the interview, is patient, soft-spoken and has a true passion for bespoke suits and basketball.

I’ve waited to post this interview and today, March 29th, being that is his sixty-sixth birthday, seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to a true style icon and genuine character in sports. Oh, and for those wondering – his outfit matched the birthday cake that MSG presented him with yesterday. Now that’s special. Frazier has done what most athletes dream of doing – he’s become a lasting and employed figure after his playing days. He may even be better known now for his ridiculous suits and rhyming catch phrases than his steals and championships. Perhaps, one day I can go fabric hunting in the garment district of Manhattan with Frazier (my birthday wish), but for now, I hope you enjoy this snippet of Clyde.

Megan Wilson: How did you develop your own sense of style? What made you “Clyde”?

Walt Frazier: Coming to New York was just a Mecca of clothes, I used to follow my teammates when I was a rookie I used to go where they got their suits made, their shirts made…. What set me apart was my hat – the Clyde hat – then I bought the Rolls Royce and the mink coat so that developed into a style.

MW: Fashion always changes every season. We see it in the NBA now with players like Amar’e Stoudemire going for a more tailored look. How has your style changed from when you were playing?

WF: Well when I was playing in the ’70′s – the lapel used to come all over your jacket so they’d come down on your jacket. The ties were wide then they made them narrow. Men’s fashion is not like women where you’re going to have dramatic changes all the time so if you hold on to the stuff it will come back in style. What I like are colours, different colour combinations. Today, I have something that I think is different. Like the shoes, people usually black shoes or grey shoes with this suit but I like the antelope colour. With antelope I can add some pizzazz to it.

MW: What’s your favorite exotic skin to wear?

WF: I have stingrays… Stingrays makes up a nice boot. I have alligator, but sometimes using the belly gives you a different look, a softer look. I used to be really into fashion, like when I was playing, I used to spend months and months [of salary] on clothes and outerwear. But I still like being fashionably dressed, I spend a lot of time picking out my ties and my shirts. I think when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you look good so that’s what I try to do.

MW: When you go to the tailor to have your suits custom-made, do you design them as well?

WF: Ya, I tell them about the lapel, which type of lapel and the buttons. I essentially design them. Like this fabric I picked myself. I was in a fabric store and I saw the fabric, then I take it to my tailor and tell them I want it double-breasted, single breasted, whatever type [of] cut.

MW: Who do you think has the best style in the NBA now? Who’s on par with the players of your day, does anyone compete?

WF: Like you said, Amar’e is good. He wears a more tailored, European style fit. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, I’ve seen these guys too. They kinda go with the college kinda look, with the sweaters, they kinda mix it up.

MW: Do you think it’s good to take a risk with fashion and not playing it safe?

WF: Well, I like challenges … I like to step out and do that. I guess in New York, you can do that, no one will stare at you no matter what you wear.

MW: You’ve had some memorable outfits, do you have a favorite? Is it hard to choose?

WF: Not really. This one is good today, I like tomorrow['s suit]. I’ve got to come up with something new so I never reach the pinnacle, just another plateau when I see another suit (laughs) and try to top that one. That’s what I try to do every game. … The fans now know that I’m going to have a different suit so they’re looking to see what I’m wearing so I have to give them something new.

MW: Now, NBA bloggers out there are always interested in what you are but don’t have a baller’s budget. What kind of tips would you give to them to get a cool, Clyde style?

WF: Don’t push the colours all the time, it’s about the fit. If you can get a nice tailored fit, like we’re saying with Amar’e, you can probably get that off the rack, people will probably think you’ve had that custom-made. Of course for shirts, you can get them tailored. But the tie and handkerchief a lot of the time make the outfit. If you can get a nice tie and a nice pocket square to finish it off.

MW: So where did your outfit come from today?

WF: My tailor, Mohan’s Custom Tailors did the suit. My shoes are made of ostrich leather and I had them made up custom by a guy in downtown New York. My tie is a custom-made by a guy named John Coages, I usually go to him to get my ties. What happens when you’re a tall guy is that your ties have to be longer than a regular tie, I can’t always buy ties from the store because if I want to do a different knot. And it’s not that expensive, maybe a hundred and twenty dollars.

MW: Who do you think has the better style – you or Craig Sager?

WF: (laughs) I think he’s a little more flamboyant than I am… I think my style is a little better. It’s because I’m taller – taller guys can wear a little better style.

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Leave the Classics Alone: Tommy Hilfiger’s Uniform Re-Designs for ESPN the Mag

Every year when the ESPN Style Issue drops, I feel like a kid at Christmas. How will the worldwide leader in sports cover the niche of aesthetics and athletics in print and online? I approach this issue with a critical eye: partly because I hope to edit it myself in the near future and because I hold the subject very close to my heart and my wardrobe. Naturally, this year’s style issue features a column on uniforms, the organized sports version of the runway show. The uniform in gameplay are much like the garments in a runway show. They are classic and minimally styled but punched up with talent – like the Yankees big sluggers or a Calvin Klein show with super models walking. Or, they are outlandish or seemingly impractical like a Hussein Chalayan’s robot dresses or the Oregon Ducks infamous technologic gear. Is it wearable, practical and most importantly, will it sell? After all, both sports and fashion are businesses.

For this Style issue, ESPN had Tommy Hilfiger, the iconic Americana designer, re-interpret four classic uniforms – the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was an interesting yet obvious choice to have a heritage designer put his own spin on four uniforms that haven’t changed much from their original but beloved classic gear. I would have preferred to have Hilfiger take a crack on the teams that really need help in finding their own identity in their brand and style. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Coyotes are among many teams that could all use a professional’s touch in the design department.

It would need a total brand overall and a lot of space, styling and graphic design in the magazine. However, using North American’s most popular teams as an example are a way to drive page views, debates and sheer terror in the hearts of fans and jersey aficionados alike.

Out of all the designs by Hilfiger, I feel that the New York Yankees’ uniforms were the most disappointing. I’m a Mets fan, but even though my green-eyed MLB monster may look to the Yankees’ roster with envy, I’ll always admired their pinstripes. There was uproar when names were to be added to the player’s shirts – you don’t mess with the classics and a certified money-maker. Hilfiger was smart enough to stick to pinstripes at least, the root of the Yankees style. However, using constrasting colours on the back and front of the uniforms was a mistake. Two different pinstripes at the same time would be dizzying to the cameras as would the use of both white and blue as it would be tough for the cameras to focus on the bright white as it would glow in the outdoor sunlight and under the stadium lights and balance it with the deep navy. Not only would it look poor on broadcast but it would be difficult to wear for thicker players to wear. Can you imagine a big man like C.C. Sabbathia half in navy and half in white – colour blocking with stripes would not have a slimming effect on the hefty pitcher.

The “NY” in the Tommy Hilfiger crest looks more like the New York Jets logo than the slim Yankees logo. It’s been imitated, tattooed and emblazoned on millions of ball caps – but it’s never bested. You can’t mess with that classic logo. The font of the numbers is fine and reminiscent of the original font the Yankees use now, however the placement on the chest looks too low and with the Hilfiger crest on the opposite chest, it puts so much emphasis on the top half. The use of button and polo collar are not practical for baseball. A big part of speedy Yankees like Curtis Granderson, is the ability to steal bases and sliding on all those buttons isn’t safe – they could chafe or open while in play. I like the pants as they’re simple and the socks with vertical stripes are very classic. However, all the pinstripes and colour blocking just muddies up a usual clean jersey.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ current gold and purple home jerseys haven’t changed much since their move to the city of Angeles from Minneapolis. The shorts are longer, the font is crisper and the material is more advanced but the classic, retro style remains. Hilfiger says his inspiration comes from sailing motifs in his own collections however I’m not sure why players would want to look like a sail. The purple and white stripes are somewhat awkward across the chest, widening that area and not lengthening players, which would be more aesthetically pleasing. The beautiful Lakers front was replaced with a boring, basic font that would look better on a typewriter and not a jersey. It’s very small and white, which would be difficult to read on the bright yellow on camera and in the arena.

I’m glad that Hilfiger used his better judgement against the short-shorts and keeping a long, loose silhouette that the players prefer. Especially after the recent “Fab Five” documentary, where the long shorts were championed with style and swagger. The stripes on one leg of the shorts is visually interesting and echos the horizontal stripes on the jerseys but once again, makes them seem larger. Perhaps if they were on both shorts or on a diagonal layout it would be more flattering. I don’t mind the number on the shorts, however it shouldn’t be bigger than the number on the front of the jersey, it should be smaller or equal in size. The crest on the front of the jersey looks tacked on and that’s where the NBA embroidery is meant to go. It would look better scaled down and on the back of the right leg of the shorts.

The Cowboys, partly due to owner Jerry Jones’ constant chatter, are “America’s team”. They’re the second most valuable sports franchise according to Forbes, only Manchester United bests the blue and silver. I find the Cowboys uniform to be the most aesthetically pleasing of the four re-designs as it is somewhat loyal to the original version. However, the uniforms are overly embellished. The concept of having the infamous Dallas stars all over the sleeves to represent all the different states that the players come from is a sweet idea and a tribute to the team, however it fails in execution. The sleeves look cluttered and like they belong to perhaps a pewee team – at least the Ohio State Buckeyes keep their small stickers on their helmet, not on their apparel. It would be better to keep the Stars minimal for more impact, like the giant Star on the centre of the Dallas Cowboys New Stadium. The small star and simple lines on the pants are a nice, clean look. I like the idea of the American red, white and blue stripes around the middle but it would look better as piping on the bottom of the jersey. However, red, white and blue are not and were never the Cowboys’ colours, so why bother including them?

The Tommy crest beneath the player’s number on the back of the jersey looks tacked on and would look better at the very bottom of the jersey or above the number and scaled down. On the famous silver Cowboys’ helmet, Hilfiger enlarged the Star and added the player’s number inside the star. The problem with this is the number will change depending on whether the player wears one number or two and certain numbers are blockier and take up more room than others. The changes in sizes and scale wouldn’t look clean and I think the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to the original Cowboys’ helmet.

The Montreal Canadiens (or the Habs) are a member of the original six franchises of the NHL. The Canadiens’ centennial celebration lasted two full seasons as the team re-released their original hockey sweaters worn during the early years. Most designs were well received and one of the most polarizing among fans was fittingly the red and blue barber pole style. Hilfiger used the horizontal stripes, a favorite of his, in his design of the Habs’ uniforms. The stripes are popular in Hilfiger’s main inspiration source, rugby shirts, as well. To quote the rapper Cam’ron, “I love Rugby to death, made that my baby’s name” and while Cam’ron may have referred to Hilfiger’s competition, the Ralph Lauren Rugby brand – I, too, have no qualms with most rugby designs. The diagonal white sash though looks more fitting for a beauty queen than a hockey player. The white is distracting and the font is very basic. It looks so cluttered and the infamous Hab logo is nowhere on the jersey - that’s practically sacrilegious in Montreal.

When it comes down to the details, I like the Habs’ new crest the best out of all the Hilfiger designs. The use of the fleur de lys is a nice touch, even though it was the logo of the former arch rival Quebec Nordiques. The font is nothing special, but like lettering that is used on most NHL jerseys. The numbers on the sleeves could be scaled a bit larger as they will look very small once they are over muscles and equipment. The pants are clean with simple stripes and would work with either red or white jerseys. The ties on the jersey neckline are now common on retro designs usually worn as third jerseys and fits in with the heritage of the Habs. The white patch that the numbers are sewn on is unnecessary and another layer of fabric would weigh down the uniform. Most jerseys in the NHL are incredibly lightweight to help wick sweat and so many pieces of fabric and embroidery would make it heavy and impractical.

I’m not impressed with Hilfiger’s design direction of these uniforms. Designs will change with the trends but the original four jersey designs are classics. They will be tweaked over the years depending on fabric and cut of the league standard uniforms (such as the adidas contract with the NBA) but scale and . If Mr. Hilfiger wanted to make a significant design statement he should have gone all the way and done something completely out of the ordinary and not merely remixing the originals. I would love to see ESPN push the envelope in their Magazine style issue in the future.

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Maëlle Ricker: Not Your Average Olympian

How do you differentiate between an athlete and someone who only participates in a sport? Do you need to be a professional to earn the athlete title? My sport of choice is snowboarding. I competed briefly and taught at a local ski hill. When I wasn’t chasing my students, I was spending my spare time hunting for powder on the icy East Coast and destroying my body in the snow park. It was a badge of honour to show up hung over or bounce right back from a concussion and crank big turns. Snowboarders, back when I started in the late 90′s, were almost like the hip hop alternate to skiers – we weren’t jocks, we were the stylish outcasts. We wore our pants low and our heads were covered in oversized goggles, headphones and tall toques. It was about style and speed, not athletics.

Recently, Gatorade contacted me about speaking with one their marquee athletes to launch the G Series line here in Canada. I was surprised that the athlete in question was Olympics gold medalist and World Cup snowboard cross athlete, Maëlle Ricker. Maëlle captured the country’s heart when she was the first woman to win gold on home soil. A Vancouver local, she grew up in the mountains, with parents who “eat, breath and speak skiing”. She started snowboarding after her following her old brother’s lead and was instantly hooked. For Maëlle, snowboard cross made sense because she was able to combine all of her snow skills. “I have my background in ski racing when I started snowboarding I was all about freestyle, I wanted to jump and do the half-pipe and all that. When I tried snowboard cross, all my different sporting backgrounds, […] kind of combined into an event that I excelled at. I had the freestyle skills from riding and sort of the race skills from ski racing”.

Snowboarding has gone from a fringe sport that many mountains outlawed to a marketable, professional and perhaps most importantly, an Olympic sport. Maëlle agrees that snowboarders don’t necessarily like the athlete title that comes along with the professional designation, “there is this misconception that snowboarders aren’t working out, they’re not trying”. Maëlle said at the High Road Communications office in downtown Toronto. She was wearing jeans, a Gatorade zip up and a pair of practical platform, waterproof knee-high boots. “…That’s just the image we like to give off. We actually are working our butts off. We’re out on the hill everyday, all day. We are in the gym in the afternoons and in the offseason”. I remember powder days where we would go out for hours on end without food, water and sometimes, not even an iPod. But times have changed and Maëlle is endorsing Gatorade, one of the most recognized brands in sports and an icon in athlete branding. She’s one of over four hundred athletes, including Dwyane Wade, Usain Bolt and Georges St. Pierre, that Gatorade collaborated with in developing the new G-Series. Their goal with the G-Series, which launches March 21st in Canada, is to move the brand from purely a sports drink company to a sport nutrition innovator.

But how do these three steps of Gatorade: prime, perform and recover, help Maëlle? She competes in a sport where not only do milliseconds matter when crossing the finish line, but she needs explosive strong muscles when banking turns and going over big air jumps. She likes the series because she’s able to use it on and off the hill in riding and work outs, “When I’m on the hill, like for example when I’m at a race, I make sure 15 minutes before I drop in for my heats, I’m taking the Prime, I’m getting the right carbs, vitamins and electrolytes into my system so that I’m at my maximum energy for when I’m riding. Or when I’m riding or when I’m at the gym, it’s so important to keep hydrated. Even if you’re just slightly dehydrated, like two percent, you’re going to be off your game, you’re not going to be able to re-act as well, your muscles are not going to respond as quickly as you need them […] When I’m done my race or I’m done my workout, then right away you’re beating your muscles down all work out, basically breaking them down and now you have a really short window to recover and to get the right nutrients in so that you’re building your muscles back up to be stronger and ready for the next day. So that’s when you’re going to be your protein and your carbs and that’s the recover part of the line of the G Series”.

Maëlle is more than just a snowboarder but also an avid student of the sport. She admits that she’s not always paid attention to the training aspect of professional snowboarding. It wasn’t until an injury forced her to hit the gym diligently. Tearing an ACL is a common but devastating injury to a snowboarding as all day on the hill, they’re flexing and extending their knees for turns, jumps – they’re like human shock absorbers.”That’s the first time I was really serious about making sure I was fit and ready on my board […] the last few years working a lot with board technology and […] today working with sports nutrition. We’ve had nutritionists in the past with the team and they’ve been awesome but just being a part of this Gatorade family and testing this new G Series line and having that integrated into my personal program, it’s really cool”.

I had to ask Maelle more about the style aspect of snowboarding, being someone who’s into the fashion as much as the frontside spins. Snowboard cross may not ooze swagger like other events, but Maelle recognizes rider’s signatures just as easily on the course as the half-pipe “…Everyone has their own style on the course. I mean, you know your competitor, you can see them from a mile away, you know who it is just from the way they ride […] I don’t know how people describe my style […] I hope nothing negative!”. When it comes to her on snow apparel, she always choses comfort over fashion, favouring baggy pants, long jackets and more basic colours like blues, greens and reds. Besides her own Olympic gear, which she called “super tech […] and ready for the miserable weather”, she liked the faux jean outfits that the American team was wearing. She’s had a chance to work on the more performance area of apparel as well as board technology but hasn’t designed any of her own gear.

Maëlle snowboards for the love it, her eyes light up when she talks about free riding and mountaineering to further her exploration of the beloved backcountry. The training, along with World Cup events last all year round, which suits her just fine as she’s never been one to sit still. When it came to preparation for the Olympics, Maëlle had a very no non-sense approach, “the thing with the Olympics, even in my hometown, I still treated it like another World Cup. I didn’t drive my car [...] I went on the bus with the team. I made sure before I competed that nothing was drastically different from when I competed with the team in the rest of the season. Obviously, after the event, things got kind of crazy […] I was really happy to be back with my team in Europe and racing again, I felt like I was back in my skin and at my comfort level”.

Winning the Olympic gold medal has afforded opportunities but also a few challenges, “It’s forced me to learn a different side of snowboarding – the business side. I’ve probably matured a lot in the last year. But, I’ve had some amazing opportunities with ACT Now BC and Kid Sport Canada and then I get the chance to align myself with companies I believe in”. Where does she go from here? Olympic Gold medalist, Winter X-Games gold medalist, Gatorade endorser – what more can she do? “I’m still progressing and still moving on an upward slope in boarder cross and I’m looking forward to keep pushing myself in the next few years. And I’m also really passionate about free riding and being out in the backcountry – I have the mountain right at my doorstep”.

Maëlle’s honesty and laid back love of the sport is inspiring. She may not ooze style through what she wears but her riding and patronage of the sport is contagious. She’s not your typical athlete but she proves that you don’t have to be a typical jock or fit the image of the stereotypical snowboarder to succeed – she walks the fine line, all for the love the powder turn and the going for the gold.

For more on Maëlle, you can click below to read the transcript of our interview below. Special thanks to Laura from High Road Communications and Gatorade Canada Team.

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