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Styling The NBA
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. For the end of our program today, we want to talk about two aspects of American style. In a few minutes, we're going to talk about tattoos. They used to be something you got when you went into the Army or to jail, but now they've gone mainstream. We'll talk with a leading tattoo artist about that in just a minute.
But first, we turn to another influential arena of American style where the rules are changing. We're talking about professional basketball and with the playoffs heating up, fans may be focused on the sharp moves on the court, but years after the NBA implemented a business casual dress code, players are looking for chances to show off their style off the court. That's where fashion stylist Khalilah Williams-Webb steps in. She was recently profiled by the New York Times for her work styling Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and she's with us now.
Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
KHALILAH WILLIAMS-WEBB: You're welcome.
MARTIN: What exactly does a stylist do?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: My life is to outfit people, outfit, you know, celebrities or, you know, personal shopping clients that need it. So you go shopping, you create an image for that person, so what you see on the red carpet, what you see in everyday life, that's what a stylist does. They build an image for someone, get them dressed. It's a little bit more detailed than that as far as reaching out to designers, making sure that your relationships are built, but that's the gist of it. You know, we dress people.
MARTIN: To help you present yourself in the way that you want to be presented and so your allegiance is not to any one designer. It's to the client. How does this person want to look? How does this person want to be seen? Is that right?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: Yes, definitely.
MARTIN: Now, Carmelo Anthony is considered to be one of the most stylish NBA players, but that wasn't always the case. From the Times piece, the goal was to make him look more like a gentleman to make him be more relatable. Now, sensitive question. Hope it's OK that I'm asking. Is that a desire that he had or is that a desire that the people working with him had?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: I think that it was just a desire overall, not necessarily coming from one person. The question gets asked a lot, you know. How did it happen? How did this come about for him? And I think that, at the time that I started working with him, he was just ready for a change. He was ready for a change in his appearance, ready for a change, you know, in his life.
MARTIN: Now, is there something different about working with an athlete than working with some other kind of celebrity or high profile individual?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: Definitely. Athletes - you know, you have to cater towards their body types, so it's quite different, you know, working with an athlete versus maybe a singer or an actor. You know, you can go to a showroom and just pull pieces and for - or you go to a store and buy pieces, but for an athlete, you know, for a suiting, we have to get things custom made. You know, they're tall. Their body's actually different. You know, their neck sizes are different. Their arms are longer, their feet are bigger, so in order for them to fit a suit like a person who is, you know, 5' 10", for example, you have to get it custom made. Everything - you have to make sure that everything fits them perfectly in the size that they're in and that they're still comfortable and look great.
MARTIN: People often talk about people being coachable. Right? What about in your realm? I mean, do you ever have to overcome resistance? Do you have to overcome resistance of guys saying, look, I like my baggy pants. I like my t-shirts. I like my starter jackets or whatever.
WILLIAMS-WEBB: I mean, of course. Even initially with Carmelo, there was still the - I want to keep this. You know, you go through the closet. It's an every six month thing of going through the closet and taking out pieces that, you know, no longer fit because of that person's body type changing or it's just not in style any more. You've moved on from that. So - yeah - you get resistance all the time. I still get resistance, so you know, that's just part of the job and learning how to overcome that resistance or just being patient with your client to make sure that they're still comfortable but, on your end, they still look good.
MARTIN: People seem to understand that there are a lot of male designers who work with women and male stylists who work with women. Does anybody find it strange that a woman works with men, styling men?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: The guy that works with me a lot - we have that conversation. We've come to the conclusion that a woman may trust a man's opinion more and then a man may trust a woman's opinion more in some cases only because I know what I want a man to look like and a man knows what he wants a woman to look like. It becomes just a different type of relationship, in a sense. More of a - you know, I know that you're not going to have me looking crazy. You might not dress me looking like how you want your man to look or how you want your woman to look in your life. So I think that's where it comes from.
MARTIN: Interesting. Hmm.
WILLIAMS-WEBB: You know, as women I feel like sometimes women try to dress women like them.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, for somebody who cannot get on Khalilah Williams-Web's list OK, but still wants to pull together a look that's distinctive, do you have some advice?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: First of all, just keep it simple. I think that people so much look for things to make them stand out. But I think that you stand out more when you keep it simple and you're comfortable in what you have on. There's people that always go above and beyond when it comes to dressing and I'm one of them so sometimes, you know, I like to stand out, but that's me and that's how I feel comfortable. But for people who don't know about styling or putting clothes together or don't necessarily have a fashion sense, just keep it simple, a pair of jeans, a shirt, a blazer and shoes. Building a uniform is a key piece in - I mean a key thing - in keeping your wardrobe together. You know, if you know that you have to go to work every day, if you have a uniform for that, you're good. And then once you get that down pat, you can kind of venture off into experimenting with other things but still keeping it based off of that uniform. So, yeah, that's my advice for...
MARTIN: That's very comforting and empowering. Khalilah Williams-Webb is a fashion stylist. She's the owner of the Brooklyn clothing boutique Shirley & Alice, and she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.
Khalilah Williams-Webb, thanks for joining us. But you know I have to ask, what are you wearing?
WILLIAMS-WEBB: It's a black and white day for me. So I have on a black overall jumper, a white cutoff T-shirt and black and white sandals. I'm simple today, keeping it easy breezy.
MARTIN: That sounds very fly. Thanks for joining us.
WILLIAMS-WEBB: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.