For basketball superstar Russell Westbrook, it’s been a week of firsts: his first time rocking turquoise hair; his first time wearing a skirt, to the Thom Browne show on Saturday; and on Monday, his first Met Gala.
Of course, the nine-time NBA All-Star is used to setting records. And he’s also used to making news with his outfits: he’s one of the great auteurs of the tunnel fit. He seems to know the excitement around what he’ll wear to his first gala is as heightened as it is for any other fashion icon. Fittingly, for this year’s exhibition In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, he decided to go as a guest of Ralph Lauren, the O.G. American fashion designer. “I’ve always been a fan, [since] growing up as a little kid,” Westbrook said. “Just having the opportunity to be able to wear Ralph to my first Met Gala—it’s just an honor in itself.”
Westbrook shuffled into the famous Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue early Friday morning for his fitting in a T-shirt and sweats, but by the time he’d gotten his tux on and squared away his watch (a sapphire Patek Philippe) and chain (an 18K gold-and-135-carat sapphire necklace, to pick up his hair and the suit) with jeweler Greg Yüna, he was skipping out of the dressing room.
The suit is a dark dusty navy, and he decided to go sockless, with velvet loafers—at once “very Ralph,” in the brand’s parlance, and very Russell. (Blue, Westbrook added, is his favorite color.) Never one to go halfway, Westbrook dyed his hair to coordinate with the tux. “When I showed up to the [first] fitting, my hair was like a copper brown color, and then I saw the suit,” he said. “And I was like, Mm, I have an idea!”
Though he’s used to having millions of eyes trained on him—and myriad social media accounts tracking his every outfit off the court—he said the Met Gala red carpet requires a totally different set of considerations than the tunnel fit. “It’s about a hundred more cameras,” he laughed. There were other adjustments to make, too. The walk, for instance—totally different than the way you enter the arena. “It’s more of a nice stroll,” he said, “You gotta have your stance together—how you want to stand, how you want to look, how you want your clothes to lay. During the season, you walk in [and it’s] game on, not really paying much mind. But on the red carpet, you’re real conscious of how you’re standing, how you’re looking, how your clothes are looking on you.”
In fact, his pre-Met ritual might be more involved than his pre-game routine. “For a game,” he continued, “it’s very easy. I just walk to my locker and just go—you get pictures as you get them.” But dressing for the Met requires a new slate of concerns: the lighting of the event, whether it’s inside or outside, what colors will look best, and “what vibe you’re going for.” It’s “much more detail-oriented for me,” he said.
This year’s theme has editors, critics, designers, and fashion diehards pondering the idea of American style, which is much more wide-ranging and less specific than, say, Italian or French fashion. Westbrook’s definition is as democratic as it is self-determined: “American style is what you make it,” said the guy who has done more than just about anyone else to make NBA style a thing. “How an individual person makes their own style is the overarching theme of American fashion.”