Mr Nick Young
As new label John Elliott arrives on MR PORTER, the designer’s friend and LA Lakers star shows us a few of his favourite looks
On the morning of 10 December 2015, Mr Nick Young, one of the more stylish stars of the Los Angeles Lakers, got a call from his manager, Mr Doug Sanders. “He told me Nike hadn’t matched [adidas’s offer]. So I thought, ‘Let me make a statement here.’” Mr Young wanted to let the world know he was signing a major endorsement deal with adidas in a way befitting a player whose nickname is “Swaggy P”.
While the real Mr Young is a modest fellow, Swaggy P is on the cocky side. Swaggy does things such as dress up for Halloween in a giant gift-wrapped box (labelled “To: women. From: God”), and owns more than 500 pairs of sneakers, which he keeps in a shoe hut behind his house in the San Fernando Valley (“It’s like a little treehouse for my sneakers”).
When the time came for Swaggy to pledge his allegiance to adidas, he stepped on court for that night’s game against the Houston Rockets wearing Yeezy Boost 750s, the cult sneakers created by adidas in collaboration with Mr Kanye West, a sneaker known more for its fashion cred than its on-court performance. When the images hit Instagram, the sneakerhead world went crazy.
Mr Elliott joins Mr Young on set for this shoot and it’s clear to see there’s an easy rapport between the two. The former is a big sports fan, who has previously designed a custom version of Nike ID’s LeBron 12 – much coveted by sneaker fans such as Mr Young – while Mr Young has modelled for one of Mr Elliott’s lookbooks. When brought together, they banter about sneakers and the Lakers’ slow start to the season.
In the two years since Mr Elliott’s first runway show (Mr West not only deigned to turn up to this, but sat in the second row), he’s proved adept at transforming the staples of the casual male wardrobe into sleek, modern works of art. He was the breakout star at New York Fashion Week: Men’s last July. NBA stars, including Mr Dwyane Wade and Mr Young, towered over the usual cast of fashion editors and buyers in the front row. “John’s show looked like the All-Star game in terms of players,” says Mr Young.
Mr Elliott is the perfect bridge between athletes and fashion. A jock who grew up in a suburb 20 miles north of San Francisco, his varsity sport was basketball, and he was an avid skateboarder and BMX bike rider. He was also entrepreneurial. “At first I was selling baseball cards, then in third grade I saw there was a market for fireworks,” he says. “By fourth grade, my parents let me go by myself into Chinatown and barter for fireworks.”
At the age of eight, he wrote to Nike and made some suggestions about their sneaker programme. In particular, he felt Nike was pushing the Air Jordan at the expense of a sneaker bearing the name of a local Bay Area phenomenon, the football and baseball player Mr Bo Jackson. “I felt Nike’s Bo Jackson sneakers weren’t at the same level as Jordan’s, and I needed to step in and design for Nike,” he says. Amazingly, the company wrote back to him. His mother kept the letter.
School was tough for Mr Elliott, because he is severely dyslexic. His parents were told to send their son to vocational school to learn a trade. They ignored the advice and pushed him towards sports and the arts. Mr Elliott and his business partner Mr Aaron Lavee met in fifth grade. “I was John’s maths tutor,” says Mr Lavee, “and he was my tutor in other aspects of life.” The friendship continued and the two would often talk about starting their own company.
It finally happened years later, when Mr Lavee was living in LA, working on some real estate projects and trying to get a film produced. Mr Elliott had been working as a salesman at Villains, a now defunct clothing store in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, and for a denim company. When he had $20,000 saved, he called his old friend. “I was in New York, and I had just got off the train from Boston,” says Mr Elliott. “It was dumping rain – one of those September, tropical-ish storms. The cab line at Penn Station was an hour-and-a-half long. As I sat there getting drenched, I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.” He quit his job and moved to LA, where Mr Lavee offered him his couch for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks turned into 18 months. Mr Elliott worked for several denim companies, including Simon Miller, where he learnt his way around pattern cutting, dyes, washes and production.
With Mr Lavee, he opened his company in 2012, delivering their first collection in spring 2013. Typical of Mr Elliott’s creative process is the hooded Villain sweatshirt. Its hidden kangaroo pocket was inspired by a YouTube video of 1990s San Francisco 49ers quarterback Mr Joe Montana nonchalantly stuffing his hands into his hand warmer after being knocked down by the New York Giants defence and getting up again; the name Villain is a hat tip to the aforementioned boutique. (The zippered pocket had a practical application, too, as Mr Elliott was always looking for a place to stash his phone, wallet and keys when biking around town.)
His love of sports also influenced the Escobar dress sweatpants, inspired by watching an ESPN documentary on the two Escobars: Pablo, the drug kingpin who pumped money into Colombia’s soccer scene, and Andrés, a star player who was murdered, reportedly as a punishment for scoring an own goal in the 1994 Fifa World Cup. (“Those Colombian players in the 1990s had a style that was completely their own.”)
Mr Elliott’s current collection (the one that turned heads last summer in New York) was inspired by a trip he made to Vietnam. Jogging around Ho Chi Minh City, “I was intrigued by the idea that you could paint a building there, and because of pollution it would be washed down in a matter of months,” he says. His product offering reflects this pale, neutral palette and is meant to echo the patina on the buildings he saw there.
The merchandise connects. At the end of the MR PORTER shoot, Mr Young heads out for the evening in one of Mr Elliott’s flight jackets. And if the Lakers are able to turn it around this season and reach the play-offs, who knows? Perhaps this summer, we’ll see a jacket named the Swaggy P heading down the catwalk at Mr Elliott’s show.