NBA Draft 2022: Fashion Players Battle It Out Over Athletes

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The NBA descends on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday to reveal the next selection of athletes to join the league — and fashion will take center stage, too.

The NBA Draft has become one of the year’s top showcases in menswear, evolving from the awkward moments of ill-fitting suits of yesteryear to the modern age where brands have stepped in to help players get styled.

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The newly elevated NBA Draft style is derivative of tunnel style, when the players walk into the arena in their game-day outfits. The NBA’s stylish makeover has spurred dedicated social media accounts and spilled into other sports, such the NFL Draft on the main stage, virtually and in a hybrid format and into the WNBA Draft, where Charli Collier, the number-one pick in the 2021 draft, was outfitted in a custom look by Sergio Hudson, and Destanni Henderson wore a custom suit from her clothing line in this year’s draft.

For some time, Indochino has had the NBA Draft on lock — in 2020, dressing as many as 15 players, including number-two pick James Wiseman and 2022 Slam Dunk Contest champion Obi Toppin — but now more national leading brands are fighting for NBA Draft real estate. Also, stylists who work primarily with the league’s top talents are meeting the rookies at the league’s front door to show them the lay of the land before they begin their pro careers.

Indochino is returning in this year’s draft, dressing seven players including Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Duke’s Mark Williams, Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley, and international players Ousmane Dieng, Jeremy Sochan, Jean Montero and Nikola Jovic (not to be confused with reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic).

Neiman Marcus, which stepped in to dress players for the 2021 NBA Draft, is dressing top prospects Chet Holmgren from Gonzaga, and Williams’ fellow Duke Blue Devils AJ Griffin and Paolo Banchero.

Aside from those 10 players, stylist Kesha McLeod, who works with Serena Williams, NBA champion P.J. Tucker and WNBA champion Candace Parker, is styling players Jalen Williams of Santa Clara, Baylor’s Kendall Brown, Ohio State’s EJ Liddell and Arizona’s Ben Mathurin this year in luxury fashion and accessories brands.

But every player battling for red carpet real estate has a different approach.

Indochino and Neiman Marcus are beginning relationships with the draftees while McLeod is teaching the young talents the ropes on how to create an image and branding.

Cade Cunningham getting dressed at Neiman Marcus for the 2021 NBA Draft - Credit: Gonzalo Feo
Cade Cunningham getting dressed at Neiman Marcus for the 2021 NBA Draft - Credit: Gonzalo Feo

Gonzalo Feo

Indochino has deep ties to sports leagues as the suit provider for the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Rams — “We kicked off their Super Bowl season,” said Indochino chief executive officer Drew Green about the Rams partnership, and the Phoenix Suns, which began during their NBA Finals run in 2021, as well as to players like All-Star Chris Paul and a multiyear partnership deal with New York Knicks athlete RJ Barrett.

Two years ago, Green stated that for the 2020 draft “having a suit…is such an important part of your first job,” and the NBA Draft is the most publicized entry into the professional world for a basketball player. This year, the CEO compared the jump from the amateur level to the pros to college graduates becoming bankers, lawyers or teachers and needing their first suit for the careers.

“We’re the first suit for many men across America,” he said. “The draft allows the brand to go right beside the pursuit of excellence. We strive to have excellence in every garment. It’s all about the work they put in. As much potential as they have, they have to put the work in. We want to be along that journey with them.”

He mentioned Barrett and Golden State Warriors breakout star Jordan Poole as examples of putting in the work on and off the court, and they are two of around 100 draftees that Indochino has dressed for draft day over the years.

But Indochino is focused on more than just outfitting the draftees for their call up. “We like to continue relationships,” Green said. “We continued with Jordan [Poole], who has been a fan of the brand even before the [NBA] finals run. We really liked Jordan coming out of Michigan. He wasn’t a top lottery pick and we thought he would have a fabulous career ahead.”

He continued, “This year’s draftees did an amazing job again. They outdo themselves every year. We’ve been involved every year and couldn’t be happier with the roster of players for their biggest night of their careers to date.”

Neiman Marcus is building relationships as well. Last year, Neiman’s dressed players Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings’ Davion Mitchell, Atlanta Hawks’ Sharife Cooper and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Tre Mann for the 2021 NBA Draft in brands such as Balenciaga, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Amiri and Christian Louboutin. Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s at the Neiman Marcus Group, said the retailer dressed the likes of Seth Curry and Keanu Neal prior to dressing the draftees.

This year, Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills style adviser Ramon Tioseco is dressing Holmgren Griffin and Banchero for the event.

McLeod is doing a bit of what both brands are doing. Like Indochino, she’s helping players Jalen Williams, Brown, Liddell and Mathurin get acquainted with how to work with brands.

“We have to educate them more and I think it’s beautiful to work with someone at the draft and teach them this is how it’s done so that when you are truly ready, you have a clue what’s going on,” McLeod said.

She was hired by their agents to work with these athletes for the draft but wanted to take things further by talking, engaging and working with the players. She asks them if they pictured themselves at the draft and what they would be wearing, similarly to working with newly drafted tackle Charles Cross on his NFL Draft suit in April. The Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle wanted to build his outfit around the “Travis Scott x Fragment” Air Jordan 1 sneakers.

“Those are the kinds of conversations, you try to understand them,” McLeod explained.

R.J. Barrett gets fit for a custom Indochino suit for the 2019 NBA Draft. - Credit: Sansho Scott/BFA.com
R.J. Barrett gets fit for a custom Indochino suit for the 2019 NBA Draft. - Credit: Sansho Scott/BFA.com

Sansho Scott/BFA.com

McLeod has a long career, beginning as an assistant stylist for Rachel Johnson before eventually working with her first athlete, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. She also worked with model Veronica Webb, music artists Rick Ross, Ne-Yo, Jeezy and Jadakiss on their music videos and with award-winning director F. Gary Gray. Through Johnson, she met Serena Williams and they’ve worked together ever since.

In the NBA, she’s styled Andre Iguodala en route to his first NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors; Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka and multiple All-Star and former MVP James Harden, among others.

Despite these superstar clients, McLeod has only participated in the NBA Draft once with San Antonio Spurs player Tre Jones. He was drafted in 2020 during the virtual draft, and so they put together a different plan that would showcase him beyond an outfit.

“We thought what would it look like in a COVID-19 world?” McLeod said. “We worked with a production company, filmed his pre-draft moments, did a content rollout through the week and an Instagram Live on how he felt during the draft.”

The content exposed Jones to fashion, production, media and branding. “Now it’s not so much of coincidences,” McLeod said. “A lot of it is strategy now. Every guy wants to get into fashion, but what does that mean? Do you want a fashion line? Do you want to sit at the shows? It’s a strategy and a build out of who we can align with and who can support the client.”

She continued, “One of the guys I was working with didn’t know how to tag a brand [on Instagram], but if you want to build a relationship, that’s how you properly thank them. There’s a lot of education and mentorship. You don’t have to be the athlete that has to dress well, but in a few years when you get a playoff moment, you don’t ask the question of how to get into fashion because you already started it. But I don’t want to put the work on the client because these are players. If they can’t focus on the game, then they can’t do this.”

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