With a hairstyle that can change radically from week to week, a well-documented affinity for eye-popping Versace silk-print shirts and a footwear collection so extensive he has a shoe butler, 29-year-old Nick Young brings a level of sartorial swagger to professional basketball that's been in short supply since the days of Dennis Rodman.
A Los Angeles Laker since last year, the man who dubbed himself Swaggy P is a fashion star of his own making, with a pop-star girlfriend — Iggy Azalea — to boot. In the off-season, during which he inked a $21.5-million deal to wear the purple and gold for four more years, he had several defining style moments.
In July, he turned up on the ESPY Awards red carpet in a slim-fitting tuxedo, black-and-white graphic shirt and a dazzling pair of woven metallic boots — a confident dash of just the right flash. In August, he attended the MTV Video Music Awards in a midnight-blue shawl-collar Saint Laurent tux with a white band-collar shirt and a pair of silver Saint Laurent creepers that perfectly matched Azalea's silvery Versace dress. In September, men's style glossy GQ magazine declared him to be the best-dressed male celebrity at the New York Fashion Week shows. And in October, it was announced that Young would appear alongside Azalea as the faces of Forever 21's holiday advertising campaign.
Young has long stocked his own closet, which becomes even more evident as he navigates a recent shopping trip on Rodeo Drive with all the familiarity and confidence of a small forward driving to the basket.
He shops wearing slim-fitting black jeans, a pair of spotless white sneakers and a salmon-colored long-sleeve button-front shirt layered over a white T-shirt. "This is one of my casual, chill outfits," he explains, "head-to-toe Saint Laurent." A single gold chain hangs around his neck, and each earlobe sports a dime-sized, daisy-shaped silver-and-diamond earring. He's accompanied by a fireplug of a man he refers to with a grin as "the Shoe Keeper." It's his assistant Adrian Pascascio, whose duties include keeping track of Young's 300-plus-pair footwear collection.
The first thing Young does is head for the Versace boutique at Two Rodeo. He doesn't make it more than a half-dozen steps before fans start stopping him for photos. Indulging them all, he enters the store three fans and a block and a half later. "The shoes are in the back and the men's is upstairs," he says, pointing up the curving staircase. "I just bought a robe here."
Heading upstairs, Young says his personal style has its roots in a SoCal upbringing. "It's a mix of L.A. and Valley," he explains. "In the Valley they were wearing the slimmer jeans, and when I wore them around my L.A. neighborhood people were like: 'Why have you got those skinny jeans on?' So, yeah, I kind of got into it. I thought [those subtle differences] were really cool."
He pulls a bold silk long-sleeve shirt from a rack and holds it against his chest. "What is it about Versace? They've got a lot of bold [pieces] — I mean, they're Versace, right? At the point I started wearing it — I guess that's when I was with the Clippers and we were in the playoffs in 2012 — I wanted to stand out, and nobody I knew was wearing Versace." Using a basketball analogy, Young says Versace gave him an opportunity to plant and pivot, a place to make his mark.
That's also part of the appeal of his current go-to suit label, Saint Laurent. "It fits me perfectly [off the rack], and a lot of athletes can't really wear it like that," says the 6-foot 7-inch, 210-pound forward/guard. "It's like I see the opening on the floor there."
Until recently, he didn't work with a stylist. "I've been doing my own thing for a long time," he says, smiling. "But now that people are paying attention and I'm getting more known, it's harder to just go into stores, so I end up sending pictures of what I want and have things pulled for me." Young started working with stylist Kofi Richmond a few months ago — and sheepishly admits Azalea helped pick out that ESPY ensemble. "[S]o now she kind of thinks she's my stylist."
The ESPY threads epitomize Young's current dressed-to-impress look; a slim-fitting, solid-color suit with a buttoned-up dress shirt (frequently with a standing band or mandarin collar), sans neckwear. "I hate wearing ties," he says. "A tie is too professional for me. I like to have a little swag when I do things but still look presentable for any occasion."
Often that little swag manifests itself just below the ankle bone.
"The shoes are the main thing," Young says. "I think shoes set the whole outfit off. So if I'm wearing a suit and I don't want to be too plain, I make sure the shoes are going to stand out."
Downstairs at the Versace boutique, Young and Pascascio debate whether a particular chunky metallic satchel is a woman's handbag or a man's tote. "Man, I don't know," Young says with a shrug. That brings up the question of whether there is anything the adventurous Young wouldn't wear, at least once.
"A kilt? Maybe. One of those fanny bags? Maybe," he answers. "But I don't want to say something that I might end up wearing someday, though, you know?"
As Young heads from Versace to Barneys New York, he crosses Wilshire to a cacophony of honking horns and furious waves of recognition. He acknowledges each honk and wave along the way and, at the same time, shares his impressions of New York Fashion Week. "That Hood By Air show really gave me a feel for the whole fashion week thing," he says. "There was that Great Dane on the runway, some dude came out on crutches and there was a choir. The whole thing was crazy."
Inside Barneys, Young barely breaks stride, heading for the elevators and zipping straight up to the men's floor, where, he says, "they kind of have everything."
Young tries on a slim-fitting, three-button, notch-lapel, leopard-print Saint Laurent blazer, then a Greg Lauren deconstructed coat made of wool blankets and military canvas. As he riffles through a hanging rack of Hood By Air clothes, Young stops and plucks out a long-sleeve white T-shirt with a swirl of pink dye across the front reminiscent of the one he wore to the label's fashion show a few weeks earlier. "I don't wear bold shirts too often anymore. It kind of depends on the circumstances. When I wore that pink shirt at Hood By Air, everybody on social media was like: 'Why are you wearing a pink shirt?' And the next thing you know I'm [mentioned] in GQ for it."
But to Swaggy P, the surest clue that his style star is ascending didn't come from the pages of GQ. It came from the Lakers locker room.
"I heard Kobe [Bryant] say: 'You're becoming a style icon,'" he says, breaking into a wide smile. "So I'm like: 'Look, even Kobe's paying attention!'"