It’s not often in life when one of the top fashion and suit designers for athletes says, “Hey, I want to make you a suit.”
At first, the notion of a 40-something sports guy trying to pull off the fashion looks you see on draft night seemed a little laughable. But, hey, it’s a once in a lifetime thing, right?
During Summer League, and by random chance, I got introduced to Andrew Jang – the brains behind one of the more creative sports fashion and design teams in the business, Adriaen Black.
As we exchanged pleasantries about the businesses we are both in, he again declared that he wanted to make me a suit and asked, ‘When can we get together for measurements?’
Last weekend, I made my way over to Orlando to get measured. See, unlike your typical Men’s Warehouse, the Chicago-based Adriaen Black comes to you.
So how does one become a top suit and fashion guy for more than 60 sports stars?
“A referral,” Jang said when asked about his start in the business. “I was at a party. The next day, I got a phone call from some guy and he was like, ‘I was at a party, you met my wife…’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK?’ She had said I was the best dressed person she’d ever met and he asked if I could style him. I threw out some outrageous number. He took it. He literally said, ‘Can you come today?’ I showed up. He wrote a check. We cleaned out his whole closet and I really helped him with styling. He referred me some clients, and it just kind of went from there. Next thing you know, athletes are calling, agents are calling.
“I think it’s because I focus more on styling than clothing design. It’s not just giving you a suit, it’s what is a suit doing for you right now? Next month? In the next year? How do I combine it with things I’d like to continue to produce for you? It’s just always being very thoughtful and thought out.”
Walking into this process, I had no real frame of reference for what to expect. Like most people, I am an off-the-rack clothes guy. I value comfort and usability over fashion. Was this going to be a painful process? Would I open a bottle of wine and have my feet rubbed? Honestly, I had no idea what to expect.
I can tell you now, the process was thorough. I think they took fewer measurements when building my house. We talked quite a bit about my personal interests. It was a strange process, but one that helped Jang understand who I was as a person, so he could help find a style that suits me.
It seemed strange, but that level of detail is what makes custom-built clothing special and unique.
For Adriaen Black, those meticulous details are the foundation of how they developed their process for fitting and working with athletes.
“So one, I have a really good team,” Jang explained. “There is styling, fitting, design and construction; those are basically the things I believe goes into making the perfect outfit for somebody. Styling just comes so naturally for me. We kind of talked about how the individuality comes out: I see it. I see it in you and I want to bring it out. Then we I go to fitting and measuring. That takes a lot of time. It took a lot of times getting it wrong, and then working with some seasoned vets that we really worked with.
“When I measure and I am talking to the tailor, I use very big adjectives when I am describing what I want. ‘This guy is this, and here is what I want. I want this kind of in between Euro and Slim fit type of thing.’ We’ve built algorithms that allow us to make that construction almost seamless.
“You’ll feel it. Every person I have put a blazer on, it has literally fit perfect. And it that’s smile on their face that tells me that’s true.”
In total, the measuring process took more than 45 minutes – partially because of the conversations in between measures, but also because of the number of measuring points used to get that perfect fit Jang is so proud of.
Fortunately for me, Jang scheduled enough time between clients that new Knicks guard Courtney Lee only had to wait a few minutes.
Working with athletes can be a very lucrative business, but for Adriaen Black the ability to work with so many daring and creative personalities defines the business a lot more than the price tags.
“In a lot of ways, I think I can relate just to them as people,” Jang explained. “You know athletes; there is a misconception about who they are. I never have really followed sports, but everything everyone had told me or everything you’d hear. You put this guy on some pedestal, or hear they’re an awful person, or that they have all this money. And what I liked as I met them is they are all great people. Super Ffunny, super fun and chill.
“I guess I get excited because they are in a place in their career doing something very special that they are dedicated to that I think all of us as young boys or girls looked up to at some point. I remember that every one of the people that I loved and looked up to were athletes. So even though I am not following sports, the fact that I get to work with them and help them in some way, it does make me really happy.”
This year, Adriaen Black designed the suits and fashion for Sacramento Kings big man Skal Labissière, one of the more commented on suits of the draft class. Surprisingly, it was also the first time one of Adriaen Black’s suits was prominently featured on national television.
“Usually everybody is like, ‘Hey, I am going to a wedding,'” Jang said of why his work hadn’t be on TV before. “Literally every other client was, ‘I’m just going to some event,’ and I would make it for them for that or build out a year-long wardrobe and they just wear it for everyday wear. The draft was the first one like that and it was kind of big.”
Normally, a small handful of designers do the custom suits players wear for the draft, so this was no small endeavor for Adriaen Black.
“It was kind of daunting,” Jang admitted. “I really didn’t get into it for any of that.
“One, I was so happy for Skal. Everyone couldn’t stop talking about how great he looked. There is a big badge of honor. I think any designer, our biggest goal is to have someone, at least one person, wear our clothes. That was a real cool thing to have it on him, and on such a big stage. I really liked it when people were calling and saying he was so well dressed.”
Having a hit suit during the NBA Draft did open a lot of new doors.
“A lot more than I was used to, which was really cool,” Jang said.
While Jang and Adriaen Black have worked with countless players across many sports, the chance to do a draft-day suit never materialized until now. So the chance to work with Labissière was something of chance timing.
“I finally made the decision to work with some other people and my team; I was going to stop being just so secluded and only working with a handful of people,” Jang explained. “We wanted to do something more special. So we had actually reached out to one agent and he ended up referring us to a couple more. That is when Travis King called and said, ‘I have this guy, he’s kind of unknown but he is really cool, would you mind meeting him?’ I met him and just fell in love with the kid. So we had kind of been talking about it, and I remember saying, ‘If we do this, one of my goals is to be at a draft.’ And then literally it happened like three or four weeks later. I think it was a bit of luck and just really great timing that we had planned it out and suddenly it all happened.”
In addition to Labissière, Adriaen Black is also working with Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Cameron Payne, who wore an Adriaen Black original to the ESPYs a few weeks ago.
“Skal is awesome. Cameron Payne is another one,” Jang said. “Mookie Betts, who is over at the Red Sox. If you look at three of those, they look great in clothes, although some of them didn’t know it, especially the type of clothes I make. But their personalities are so uniquely different.”
It’s the personality part that Adriaen Black really focuses on.
“Skal is amazing,” Jang said with a smile. “Such a vibrant soul. When you are around him, you feel such a good presence. When I was near him, I’m like, ‘I know what types of clothes I want to make for you. I want to make you so fashionable.’ To me, there is fashion and there is style. Then there is mixing fashion and style. That’s how I work with everybody; it’s one of those three combinations.
“With Skal, it is just going to be fashion all day long with me. You have got that height, got that charisma and it’s going to show. [With Skal], people are going to look at you even if you have a bright fuchsia blazer on and you are just going to kill it. And he did.”
So how did Labissière respond to his suit game being such a hit at the draft?
“Even guys like Cam who have never really worn suits, when I put it on him, there is this desire now where it’s like ‘Oooh.. I want to look this good all the time,’” Jang said. “With Skal, we actually have an endorsement agreement with him, so we’re going to be creating a custom line of clothing for guys like Skal. When you come to the new Adrien Black site, it’s going to show off six to nine professional athlete personas. So new clients can come there and be like, ‘I want to dress like Skal, I have that same personality.’ Then, we’ll design we’ll design a custom line around a persona like Skal.”
Outfitting a draft pick is one thing, but competing with the likes of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is another thing entirely, which is why signing Cameron Payne was so interesting to Jang.
“Russell is considered one of the most fashionable, because he wears so much crazy and outlandish [stuff] – but it works for him,” Jang explained. “With Cam, I told him I want to do a couple of things: I want to graduate him a little bit as far maturity of understanding what fashion and style is, but then I do want to put him in that best dressed category. So when they talk about Westbrook, it’s also Westbrook – Payne.
“I think anytime Russell Westbrook shows up; I am going to have Cam show up, but in slightly something a little different. They’ll look at Westbrook and say, ‘Wow, did you see what he is wearing?’ But then, ‘Did you see what Cam is wearing?’ Equally, competing, but in this completely graduated way; we’re going to have a ton of fun.”
Jang and his team have already started working on designs and ideas for Payne, and are hoping to put him on the map with his own style and fashion.
“It’s going to be this whole line of slacks that you didn’t know you could put rips through them,” Jang said. “We’re going to do these custom sport blazers; we’ve already designed out a bunch for him. But have them under a beautifully designed button-up shirt with a beautiful pattern. It’s things that are going to really challenge who we are as a group, but then be able to put him right next to Russell Westbrook.”
While my suit won’t be ready until mid-August – photos will be supplied at a later date – Adriaen Black is ramping up some creative ideas around more than a dozen players, and they are not exclusively working with athletes.
“Primary, I do work with athletes. I do really well with their body figures. I do really well with their personalities,” Jang said. “But we do have clients that reach us that are just Regular Joes, or as I call them ‘Regular Mes.’ We base most of what we try to do on a membership model, so they can sign up for a monthly membership and then we’ll ask them, ‘Who do you want to dress like?’ and literally they can say, ‘I want to look similar to this,’ and we’ll make the wardrobe for them.”
Jang and his team have been incredible to work with, and their passion for the process and the looks they have generated are exciting.
The idea of a suit like Labissière pulled off on draft night sounded too good to pass up, and being able to share the process seemed like a great offseason project. We’ll see if I can pull it off as well as he did.
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