Russell Westbrook is one of the best basketball players on the planet. But he's renowned for his distinct fashion sense, too. How renowned? When he got married this summer, ESPN's headline was: "Russell Westbrook gets married; you'll never believe what he wore." He wore a normal-looking tuxedo.
His style is rarely so conventional. A quick list of his wardrobe highlights, culled from Joshua Green's fantastic profile of Westbrook on Bloomberg.com, includes head-to-toe monochromatic red outfits, elephant-print jackets, and acid-washed coverall shorts.
Green notes that Westbrook's ambitions to be a fashion entrepreneur are every bit as sincere as his ambitions to excel at basketball. In high school, Westbrook was a fan of FUBU's Fat Albert line of clothing. If that brand is unfamiliar to you, it might not be once you learn that the founder of FUBU is none other than Daymond John of "Shark Tank" fame.
Today, Westbrook has changed the way Nike markets to men, ushering in an era in which the company sells sneakers that are not for athletic performance--but for social settings. In essence, Westbrook epitomizes Nike's effort to go upmarket with athletic fashion. For example, as Green points out, Nike has hired a Givenchy designer to create a line of sneakers. At the same time, Westbrook's signature shoe--called the Jordan Westbrook 0--is decidedly not a basketball sneaker. It's a lifestyle, off-the-court sneaker. "It was important for the shoe to embody my sense of style and have the potential to be be dressed up or dressed down," Westbrook tells NBCSports.com's Brett Pollakoff.
Green sees Westbrook as belonging to a larger sociocultural movement, in which workplaces are becoming more casual--and athletic clothing is intersecting with high style. Brands like Nike--formerly associated only with athletics--hiring designers from the world of fashion. Likewise, brands like Chanel and Givenchy are now designing sneakers, sweatshirts, hoodies, and T-shirts.
Westbrook has been a Nike pitchman since 2008, focusing on Nike's Jordan Brand since 2012. But sneakers are just the beginning of his imprint. The NBA has a licensing agreement with Westbrook's eyewear startup--Westbrook Frames--to sell team-branded frames for $145 each. Westbrook also serves as creative director of the jeans company True Religion.
With Barneys New York, a high-end retailer, he created a brand called Russell Westbrook XO. Under that umbrella, he's co-created product lines in clothing, slippers, fragrance, luggage, and jewelry. At Barneys, too, he's helped mingle the previously unconnected worlds of sports gear and high fashion. You can now find products from Nike's Jordan Brand at Barneys as well.
Barneys EVP Tom Kalenderian equates Westbrook's status--as an NBA star with massive media visibility--to the "it" factor that used to be reserved for famous entertainers. "We all look to someone for style references," he tells Green. "It's athletes like Russ who are delivering that in the same way musicians and actors once did. They're making and setting the trends, not just following them. The playing field is the new red carpet."
If Westbrook's brand stands for anything, it's the mixture of worlds: not just high fashion with athletic gear, but high culture with accessibility. "It's important for me to stay close to my roots," he tells Green. "I wasn't always able to afford shirts that cost $2,000. I want to be able to relate to the people I grew up around, the people in my neighborhood, inner-city kids, anyone who wants to dress nice and might not have money. Mixing high and low gives people a sense of how to do it without spending too much." Westbook's personal style embodies this sentiment; he frequently mixes high-end brands with H&M and homemade creations.
It used to be that brands chose athletes to endorse products based strictly on the athlete's reputation and visibility. Westbrook stands out as an endorser who brings so much more to the table: a distinct sense of fashion, creativity, and self-identity.