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Olympian Shaun White’s new clothing line reflects a grown-up version of the athlete’s aesthetic

Shaun White launchs WHT Space
Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Shaun White wears a black WHT Space T-shirt, black slim-fit AllSaints jeans and black lace-up Vans at his downtown Los Angeles atelier.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Shaun White, the two-time Olympic gold-medal-winning snowboarder whose aerial feats are enough to make you leap out of your skin, is finally comfortable in his own.

“I’d never go back to my 20s,” White says during a recent interview in the downtown L.A. Arts District. “Well, maybe a few of the [years in the] later 20s, but I’m much happier now.” 

White certainly looks relaxed and, well, happy. In early August, less than a month before his 30th birthday, the pro snowboarder and skateboarder is kicked back on a couch in a shared atelier and office space surrounded by a few rolling racks of clothes, a makeshift conference table and a couple of desks. On one of those desks sits a framed black-and-white photograph of a longer-haired version of himself with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. On the white brick wall behind him hang a series of black motorcycle jackets decorated with white paint.

The next day he’s going wheels up to Rio de Janeiro, where he’ll do some on-air commentary for NBC — and officially put the world on notice that he’s training for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But today, the athlete-turned-businessman (or “Shauntrepreneur,” as one associate jokingly calls him) is eager to talk about his recently launched men’s clothing line, WHT Space — and explain how its toned-down, logo-less look and muted palette grounded in black-and-white authentically reflects his own sense of style.

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He’s dressed in all black: a tone-on-tone graphic print WHT Space T-shirt paired with slim-fit AllSaints jeans and black lace-up Vans sneakers. A black baseball-style cap embroidered with the name Air + Style (a music and snowboarding festival he bought in 2014) has been strategically deployed to tame his short but unruly locks. He’s kitted out in gold accessories: a gold Rolex adorns his right wrist, a gold chain link bracelet encircles the left; one finger on each hand is graced by a chunky gold ring emblazoned with the Olympic logo (one representing each of his gold medal years 2006 and 2010); and tucked inside his tee are not one but three gold chains in varying styles, including one studded with tiny diamonds.

White’s all-gold accessories include a Rolex, rings representing his two gold medal wins and a chain link bracelet.
White’s all-gold accessories include a Rolex, rings representing his two gold medal wins and a chain link bracelet.
(Jay L. Clendednin / Los Angeles Times )

“I got used to wearing jewelry because of the rings, which you get from the U.S. Olympic team,” White explains. “And since they were already gold, I couldn’t really wear silver.” The gold chains, he says, were an impulse purchase made after seeing the music video for Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything.” White cracks a wide smile and adds: “I bought three so people wouldn’t call me 2 Chainz.”

That may sound like a silly aside, but after spending a few hours with White it becomes clear that even his over-the-top wardrobe choices are thoughtfully made — like the American flag trousers he wore on the cover of Rolling Stone back in 2010. “I set silly goals for myself, and I’d decided that if I won the Olympics a second time and got invited to be on the cover again, I’d wear the American flag shorts that Axl Rose had been [seen] wearing,” he says. When the call came, he opted for a longer pair of star-spangled pants, which he had custom made by the L.A.-based Kill Spencer label.

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White is hardly new to the apparel arena. He and his older brother Jesse have been designing technical snowboarding gear for Burton’s White Collection since White was barely in his teens.

“A lot of people don’t know this,” White says, “but the first boot we designed for Burton had this puffed quilted pattern inspired by a quilted Chanel bag my brother had seen. That boot really blew up and was a segue to us doing more products.” (Burton is a White sponsor, as is eyewear / action sports brand Oakley, whose White-designed Holbrook sunglasses became a bestseller.)

White’s first foray into off-the-slopes clothes came in 2008 when Target, a sponsor since 2002, tapped him for a streetwear collection aimed squarely at his young-boy fan base. Over the course of eight years, Shaun White for Target expanded to offer footwear, accessories and even a handful of quirky home goods (not to mention a memorable back-to-school ad jingle touting, “Shaun White hoodies and denim.”) Eventually, White says, he outgrew the line — literally.

“We were shooting images for look books and in-store displays and that sort of thing,” he recounts, “and I don’t fit the clothes anymore. We had to make extra-large samples, so [this] was a natural segue. The Target line was full of these pops of color — greens, reds and blues, and [WHT Space] was designed by pretty much going through my closet, which is full of grays, whites and blacks.”

White, who grew up near San Diego and currently calls the L.A. area home (he has a place in Malibu and another in the Hollywood Hills), says the aesthetic shift reflected in his closet came partly as a result of time spent on the East Coast looking for an apartment. “They wear all-black a lot in New York,” he notes. “It’s a thing.”

The changing vibe also came with age. “Slowly, as I got older, my taste went in this direction,” White says, gesturing a sharp left turn. “I had some money at that point, and I was appearing on late-night television shows and going to red-carpet events where I wanted to wear suits.”

When he does don a suit, his short list of go-to labels includes Saint Laurent (“If I need a suit the night of [an event], the suits pretty much fit me right off the rack,” he says), Japanese label N. Hoolywood, Tom Ford and Burberry. “Burberry’s great,” White says. “They were the first ones to dress me for the ESPY Awards.”

And from a practical business perspective, the boys who had been snapping up all those Shaun White hoodies were growing up too, and White is eager to avoid becoming the branding equivalent of a specimen trapped in amber. “This isn’t necessarily bad — and I love Tony,” he says, referring to his mentor, the legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, whose namesake label skews toward a demographic that wasn’t even born when it launched in 1999. “But he never aged up. He stayed in that younger clothing place, and that’s where [his brand] lives.”

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So, in the pursuit of authenticity, White and his design director Daniel Golden (a holdover from the Target line) decided that the starting point for the debut capsule collection would be some of the athlete’s favorite pieces from his own wardrobe: a notch lapel faux leather motorcycle jacket ($98) takes inspiration from a vintage leather version found on a trip to South Korea; and an ivory short-sleeve button-down ($48) with an allover diamond print riffs on one of his favorite shirts. That shirt – and several others in the mix – are reverse-printed so the patterns are slightly subtler, an effect inspired by a vintage reverse-print Bob Dylan T-shirt that probably (he can’t quite remember) came from a store in Brooklyn.

Exclusive to Macy’s stores and Macys.com for the first year, the debut pre-fall 2016 collection of 20 pieces that hit store shelves in mid-June includes a range of T-shirts ($24), button-fronts ($48), hoodies (ranging from $38 to $48), a few bomber jackets ($98), a long-sleeve T-shirt ($30) and a pair of white slim-fit jeans ($68). A sophomore collection is currently slated to hit stores in early November, and the design team is already hard at work on the season in the (half)pipeline behind that.

White mentions — for a second time — how much he enjoys this side project. “I’m living in my own skin, which is nice. It’s exciting to see someone wearing one of [my] shirts. It’s, like, ‘Wow. This person stood in front of a whole rack of stuff and liked mine whether they knew it was mine or not.’ It’s such a fulfilling thing.”

Not so fulfilling, mind you, that he’s giving up the day job that brought him fame and fortune in the first place. Yes, he took some time off after a disappointing finish in the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and yes, 2016 started out under a cloud because of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed recently by the drummer in his now-defunct band Bad Things. (When details of the claims went viral last week while he was in Rio de Janeiro, White said through his attorney that the suit is baseless.)  

As for the future, he’ll soon be heading to New Zealand to start training for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

And then there’s the Aug. 3 International Olympic Committee announcement that his other professional sport — skateboarding — would be one of the new sports in the lineup at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“It depends on the format, which they haven’t announced yet,” he says about the prospect of a summer run for gold. “So I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. … But I’ve already been running tricks in my head. To be a winter Olympian and a summer Olympian would be so amazing.”

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For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me @ARTschorn.

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