Dwyane Wade has always done things a little differently than other athletes. Wade came into the league with a flashy sense of style and harnessed his interest in fashion by hiring a stylist to build ensembles. He’s managed to leverage his love of fashion by using it as a key part of his personal brand, and became one of the preeminent style icons in fashion today.
Wade’s style choices often come under fire, yet he’s frequently named amongst the best-dressed athletes by fashion editors. His two most polarizing looks this postseason are his Versace runway white floral jacket and matching shirt with Versace denim and Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers mash-up, as well as his black, polka dot suit with skinny, cuffed hem trousers and loafers. Style is subjective, and trends come and go. What he is demonstrating is his willingness to try something new as both florals and cropped pants are trending in menswear this spring. Not all trends work on Wade due to his size and body shape, and the cropped pants outfit was very awkward and disproportionate. (If his pants were two inches longer and were cut with more room in the calf, it would have balanced his wide jacket.) He may have said that he didn’t think his outfit would incite that much interest, but he knows he is pushing the NBA style envelope. Certain signatures of his personal style – like his tailored, slim pants and double breasted jackets – will likely stay with him for years to come. Wade’s current aesthetic choices don’t necessarily have longevity, but his eye for fashion will continue and likely change according to what is shown on the runway.
Wade’s enthusiasm for the fashion industry is seen not just in his attire, but when he sits front row at runway shows. This style also reflects Miami’s art deco aesthetic, incorporating specific colors, silhouettes and brands into his look. This genuine interest in fashion has led Wade to opportunities like Toro, and his move to Chinese brand Li-Ning.
Once Wade left Marquette for the NBA, he signed with Converse, later moving to Jordan Brand and most recently, he made the jump to Li-Ning. He went from being a player on the company roster to being the face of his own brand. He is the chief brand officer, which allows him to oversee the creative direction of all Wade products, including footwear and apparel. Wade named luxury shoe designer Alejandro Ingelmo his “creative consultant for special projects” to work on two shoes – one performance, one lifestyle. This allowed him to bring high fashion into the fold at Li-Ning, known best for their athletic apparel rather than cutting edge shoe design. Ingelmo’s work with Wade melds high fashion with sportswear, an ongoing worldwide fashion trend. It's yet to be seen if more players follow Wade's lead to an upstart in the basketball sneaker market, but it was a brave move that cements his image.
On the Heat, his sartorial influence is strongly felt. LeBron James was already working with stylist Rachel Johnson (whom he was introduced to by Jay-Z via Maverick Carter) when he came to the Heat. James has a similar fashion line to Wade, with his NSW collection and ownership in the UNKWN boutique in Miami. Bosh, another client of Johnson’s, completely re-thought his personal style. He went from awkward suits and sweats in Toronto to a style befitting a refined Southern gentleman. The big three have all embraced fashion as not just a way to express themselves, but as an extension of themselves and their image.
Additionally, Wade has influenced the rest of the NBA, as we’ve witnessed a huge increase in players hiring stylists. Most players may not aim to dress like Wade, but they admire his swagger. His stylist, Calyann Barnett, is now in demand working with other clients like Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith.
He wasn’t the first NBA player to develop a sense of personal style or to embrace the fashion industry, but he’s doing so in an era of social media saturation, where his sartorial choices can be seen almost instantly. Wade, along with other NBA players, is pushing dudes to try something new with their style, or perhaps look at different brands. Many seem to find his interest in runway looks “weird for the sake of weird” rather than wearable. However, often, items – like his bright blue blazer or loafers – are adopted by men at more affordable price points and worked into an existing wardrobe, rather than dressing like Wade head to toe. The fashion industry loves a risk-taker, so he’s playing into their hands nicely. He’s adopting menswear trends that only a small percentage of GQ readers may actually try, and actually buying luxury items that fashion magazines advertise. He’s a great example for men’s fashion because he is not a skinny white male model, proving that you don’t have to be model size to wear runway looks. He’s a leader among athletes who are bridging the gap between men’s fashion and sports here in North America, similar to soccer players that have been embracing fashion in Europe for some time. North American athletes are finally catching up to their colleagues across the pond.
Wade’s biggest competition for the title NBA fashion plate is Russell Westbrook, but there are still significant differences between them. Both are competitive off the court with “look at me” attitudes, but Wade has championships, experience, and maturity (Wade is 31, Westbrook is 24) on his side. Wade has built a fashion reputation, which allows him to push the envelope as he is secure in his sartorial choices. Wade wears outfits, while Westbrook tends to pick attention-seeking pieces rather than ensembles. If Westbrook can leverage his magazine covers and popularity, he could rival Wade, but that will take time and a more focused effort from Westbrook.
Other than his teammate James and Westbrook, there aren’t many players that balance fashion and athletics like Wade. Players like Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler take risks and attend fashion week events, but they’re not at Wade’s level yet. Tom Brady is one of the few North American players that rival D-Wade, thanks to his Under Armor and Uggs deal, multiple magazine spreads and his super model wife Gisele Bündchen. In the worldwide market, Wade goes up against soccer players like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, who benefit from the popularity of soccer and its strong ties to European fashion as well as their ability to leverage their looks into ad campaigns for megabrands like Armani and H&M.
His fashion choices and ensembles are often the topic of scorn and criticism by NBA pundits and sports fans. Perhaps said pundits are intimidated by these brazen choices, but more so, it’s about understanding and interest. Many retired players were not looked upon as style icons like players are today. Someone like Charles Barkley doesn’t take the time to understand fashion because he has no interest in it. The enthusiasm to try something new and dress differently is personal, so it cannot be expected that all athletes or broadcasters would find it fascinating.
Wade is positioning himself as the ultimate NBA brand and it’s hard to come up with another player that encourages such a visceral reaction from fans and fellow athletes alike. He’s constantly debated and dissected no matter what he has on. This will likely continue, regardless of whether or not the Heat win another championship. We didn’t know that there was a void in the style game until he filled it. Now we do, and his style choices are not only discussion fodder but speak to where we are as a society in 2013.