The Sport of Fashion

Victor Cruz and Rachel Johnson on athletes and fashion.

A high performance life is, at its core, a balance of physical and mental well-being. But it also entails an appreciation for style, cuisine and culture.To bring this philosophy to life, we collaborated with the game-changers who truly embody that ethos. The result is a unique series of animated GIFs that represent the intersection of lifestyle and science.

Victor Cruz is just as good at turning heads on the red carpet as he is on the football field. In fact, the wide receiver for the New York Giants was recently named the best dressed athlete by Sports Illustrated. And he couldn’t have gotten there without the help of stylist Rachel Johnson. She was one of the first fashion stylists to venture into the sports industry—after noticing it was an untapped market—and has worked with top athletes like LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh. But Cruz is her client who’s made the biggest splash in the world of fashion. “He’s my shining star,” Johnson says. “All I had to do was go into Victor’s closet and pin and slim down one pair of jeans, and he just got it.” Since then, Cruz has been a fixture on best dressed lists and was even featured in ads for Givenchy. We recently spoke to Johnson about the evolution of athletes as fashion icons:

How did you get started in styling?
Around the year 2000. I started on the music side of things, working with people like Puffy and Pharrell, but had the opportunity to work with the basketball player Jalen Rose. And when I met him, I immediately saw the need for some redesigning of his fashion, and his interpretation of style.

What was one of the major turning points that made athletes start dressing better?
It happened around 2006 when the commissioner instituted an NBA dress code. Of course, many of the players at the time scoffed at the idea. Up until that time, they were able to wear basketball shorts, T-shirts—basically anything they wanted. They were millionaire men who were representing a billion dollar league, and the commissioner felt they should look the part.

Was it easy for them to get on board with this?
Not at all. There was a feeling of 'we don’t want you to tell us what to do,' but there was also a conversation about race. They felt like the league didn’t want them to have the hip hop culture that’s also a part of basketball. But eventually they embraced it.

What role does the stylist play in this movement?
So, for me, especially when I started, the biggest problem was having to provide clothing. Take LeBron, who was the second client I worked with, he’s 6’8” and very muscular. Designers don’t make those sizes. There was a huge disconnect between what was available for athletes to actually wear and what was trendy. So when I started working with LeBron, we had a vision for him to become a global icon. And a global icon can’t be on the red carpet or on the cover of GQ wearing a huge random suit. For me as a stylist, who’s immersed in the fashion community, I wanted my clients to be able to run parallel with and wear the same designers as any Hollywood star.

And now athletes are important to designers.
They are extremely important to designers. Working to bridge that gap took a lot of work and a lot of convincing because a lot of designers couldn’t see how their aesthetic or brand could translate on a gentleman who’s that size. And there were a lot of misconceptions, on both sides really, about how the brand would be represented if the athletes were wearing the clothing. And things have completely shifted because designers started to embrace the athletes. Ralph Lauren, for me, was the first one to do it. They understood that athletes helped masculinize their brands. Often times the model who’s wearing the clothes on the runway isn’t relatable to the guy who’s shopping on Mr. Porter or wherever. But if the most masculine man in the world is wearing fitted jeans and a leather shirt, it feels more okay for the regular guy to do it. The athletes helped the designer speak in more accessible terms.

Is it a coincidence that athleisure is so popular now? People are dressing more sporty while athletes are more dressy.
Yeah, that’s true. I think athleisure was created out of a necessity for humans who live high-performance lives where we find ourselves in so many different scenarios in one day.

Which athlete needs your help the most? Past or present?
Oh, now you’re putting me on the spot. I really want to help Michael Jordan. He’s a god in so many ways…but he wears mom jeans.