Lately, nothing’s been more of a hot topic than NBA players and style. That’s why during All-Star Weekend, EBONY.com sat down with NBA/NFL stylist Rachel Johnson— whose list of clients read like a Dream Team (LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Victor Cruz)—to discuss her favorite trends, one of her favorite places to shop, and how being a stylist is more than just “dressing someone up.”
EBONY: So when and how did you decide you would become a stylist? And not just a stylist for magazines, but a stylist with a clientele that would allow you a build brand and eventually create your own agency?
Rachel Johnson: Well, I knew I wanted to be a stylist about halfway through college. From there, I just happened to be exposed more to the personal side [styling clients] than the editorial side. The people I worked with were styling clients for album covers, video shoots, and magazines covers. And after gaining some experience within the industry, while adding a few clients to my roster, I decided it was only right for me to start my own agency, as I wanted something that would outlast me. I now have a business I feel I could pass along to my children or employees in the future.
EBONY: I must say, you’re fairly tall. Do you feel that gives you an advantage when you’re talking with clients, because you can relate to the obstacles they face when looking for dapper fits?
RJ: Of course. From an apparel and aesthetic point of view, I can easily identify with the gentlemen I work with—them not being able to find jeans that are long enough, or button-ups where the sleeves are long enough and fit. It helps me fully understand their plight. But I’m also a huge sports fan; I’m genuinely interested in the game they play. I can speak to them with an organic passion, which makes my job easier. I also feel being a fairly tall woman in a male dominated industry like this helps you command a certain amount of respect from agents and clients when you walk in the room.
EBONY: With this Footaction campaign, you’re styling NBA rookies. What would you say is the most difficult thing about styling a rookie?
RJ: Actually, working with the younger gents is easier than working with gentlemen who are more veteran in the league. Some of the vets already have a perception on how they should look and what they should wear. So breaking that down and having them try new things can be difficult.
But with the Amar’es and the Lebrons and the Chris Pauls of the league setting the tone on how you should dress and the brands you should wear, the fellas who are just entering the league feel like they should follow suit if they want the same amount of success on and off the court. Guys like Michael Carter-Williams and Andre Drummond, who I styled for this past All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, understand that fashion can be used as a vehicle to market themselves and build their brands, ultimately leading to those big-time endorsements.
EBONY: What are some trends you’re loving at the moment for taller men or athletes in general?
RJ: I’m really into monochromatic right now, really big on dressing in one color, and utilizing textures and tones to create dimension. I just love this look on fellas, especially taller fellas. It really frames their body and helps to highlight the best part of their figure.
EBONY: So for a rookie coming into the league, what’s the best advice you can give them? Do you feel they need a stylist as soon as they come into the league?
RJ: It really depends on who that person is, and how high their visibility is coming out of school. If it’s someone like a Kevin Durant let’s say, coming out he would immediately be invited to appear at a number of red carpet events or partake in photo shoots for magazine covers. So yes, I would suggest an individual of that stature get a stylist ASAP.
However, for those coming out making rookie salaries, or veterans making the league minimum, I would advise they go to store like Footaction, which is one of my favorite places to shop. They have a variety of brands that span a huge market. So if you’re a Jordan guy, yup, they have Jordan gear for you. If you’re a Nike guy, they got Nike gear for you. And if you’re Adidas guy, they have that too.
More importantly, they have a great selection of brands that make sense for the guy of today. With brands such as Levi and Trukfit, it just makes sense to shop in one place, where you can get everything you need.
EBONY: Let’s say a gentlemen has 15-20 minutes to pick up some nice fits before he links up with his boys or meets up with his girlfriend. What are some staples he can grab with limited time?
RJ: The first item would be an amazing pair of dress sweats. If you didn’t know, dress sweats are one of the biggest trends right now. And if paired with a tailored sweatshirt and overcoat, you can easily dress up a pair of sweatpants to not look like you tried to hard. Trust me, you can now wear sweats to the movies, a “casual” red carpet, or even a TV interview. Go ahead, try it.
My second item would have to be a black leather hoodie. It’s a great layering piece; you can wear it under or over another piece of clothing. And the last must-have item I would have to say is the Levi’s jean jacket. I think that every man should have a jean jacket in his closet. Don’t be afraid to experiment, they have a few washes: a dark wash, an all-black, a more washed-out look, etc. And then cop the newest Jordans. That’s invaluable, in my opinion.
EBONY: What would you tell the young woman or man who wants to break into the industry, who has their hopes on being the next big fashion stylist?
RJ: First, I would suggest that you intern. And then if you still enjoy it, move on to assist for someone for at least two years before you start dealing with clients on your own. They’re so many ins and outs to this business that you won’t understand, unless you get the experience while assisting for someone.
I often tell people who are eager to get into this business—because this is a business at the end of day—that about 15% percent of what I do is standing in front of my clients and getting them dressed. And the other 85% percent of what I do is relationship building, managing employees, managing budgets, negotiating rates, and of course any other administrative things that must be attended to. They’re so many layers to the styling business, which a lot of people don’t see. It’s goes beyond that athlete looking good and posting their outfit on Instagram.
EBONY: How do you deal with situations in which your clients receive a not so good review on their clothing choices? Does that affect your point of view on style?
RJ: Not at all. When it comes to guys like Amar’e, Lebron or Victor Cruz, these are guys who have already established themselves in the fashion community, who already have a stellar reputation for dressing well and to some can do no wrong. With these guys, I have no problem taking chances. Everyone knows Amar’e can look good in a suit. Therefore, if he decides to step out the box and where something “different” like a fur vest, why not? Now, would I have him where something like that to a Met Ball? Absolutely not. It’s about choosing the right opportunity to test and try different looks with your client. The most important thing is that your client feels confident in different looks, which he did, so I couldn’t be happier.
Want more stylist advice? Follow Rachel Johnson on Twitter @lovingrachel.