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Stylist Courtney Mays helps NBA players send a message through their style

Style joueurs NBA

Fashion designer Courtney Mays has had a close connection to sports for a very long time. Her father played in the NFL and she played basketball all through high school. But, Courtney Mays never planned on dressing the best NBA players in the league. In fact, she never planned on a career in fashion.

While she may not have always envisioned working in the industry, Mays grew up surrounded by fashion. “My parents were always extremely stylish, but I realized that a little late,” she told TZR. “I would be remiss if I said I think my size always made me shy away from fashion because there were never too many options for me, and I never saw anyone stylish who looked like me on TV. Being a strong girl over 180cm has been an adventure, to say the least.”

Courtney Mays' debut in fashion design

Once she left home and enrolled at the University of Michigan, Mays says she reinvented herself and became known as the style-obsessed girl on campus. “I even became president of the fashion club, styling photo shoots and putting on shows,” she says. “I was very serious back then, but it’s funny to look back now. This reinvention has changed a lot for me. I developed a love for fashion as an art form and began to understand the power of clothes simply by dressing every day.”

After graduating with a degree in art history, Mays moved to New York City. Soon after arriving, she began working under fashion designer Tracy Reese. “I had the opportunity to work in the store, the showroom and the PR office back when everything was really in-house,” the designer explains. “From there, I met someone who was interning with a stylist and was always complaining about it. For some reason, I was like, ‘I want to try this!” Mays became an assistant to Rachel Johnson and Crystal Streets, who had high-profile clients like Ciara, Puff Daddy and Lebron James.

Chris paul style

Because Mays is a Cleveland native and knows the city, she was put in charge of all the styling work for Lebron James because he played for the Cavaliers. “It was kind of a win-win for everyone,” she says. After six years as an assistant, she moved to Los Angeles to start her own business, where Phoenix Suns player Chris Paul was her first client. “In the meantime, I worked for a lot of different people like Kelly Rowland and Keyshia Cole, but I really moved into men’s fashion and fell in love with working in the styling world.”

Styling as a way to get messages across

Although she dresses non-athletes like actor Anthony Anderson for red carpets, Mays’ primary focus is on NBA players. Traditionally, stylists may be associated with red carpets or model street looks, but Mays has also played an important role in generating interest in player attire. “Right now, we’re in an interesting time because guys, especially my clients, are really using fashion as a platform to talk about bigger issues,” she explains. In fact, these athletes have been speaking out and raising awareness about important topics like mental health and social justice issues. She adds, “I think especially with the world we live in, I can only see this gaining momentum.”

One of Paul’s most talked about ensembles happened purely by accident. During the 2018-19 season, Paul arrived on opening night in a Texas Southern sweatshirt. At the time, Paul was playing for the Houston Rockets and Mays’ father was attending Texas Southern University. “My girlfriend and I wanted to go on campus and buy sweatshirts for my dad, so it turned into a thing where we got a sweatshirt for Chris and he wore it to a game, and then it turned into a topic of thought: how can we amplify the stories of schools that are not so widely represented?” While Paul didn’t attend an HBCU, his entire family did, so Mays says representing the school is something that is not only important to him through his clothing, but also his philanthropy.

In fact, before each season, Mays talks with players about their goals in terms of style. “A few years ago, Chris [Paul] and I talked about how the plan would develop in relation to his evolving style of play,” she says. For athletes, stadium arrival outfits are equivalent to a celebrity arriving on a red carpet. After Paul’s first Texas Southern hoodie look, the two discussed how they could continue to promote the schools. “We wanted to take this time to talk about historically black colleges and universities.” According to GQ, the stylist obtained and customized tons of HBCU pieces for Paul at the sport. And the athlete even partnered with the clothing line Support Black Colleges to create Instagram posts to provide educational information about the specific college he supports. “I love that we’ve kind of spearheaded this movement where you can use style to talk about a larger issue,” Mays adds.

The growing interest of athletes in fashion

But despite recent support, Mays says progress has been slow in convincing the fashion industry to recognize athletes as influencers. “I remember a time when it was hard to wear outfits for an athlete even like Lebron, because the fashion industry didn’t understand that yes he’s over 6 feet tall but he can still wear well and represent the brand,” she says. “I think you’ll start to see that the fashion community will respect the athlete as much as the musician.”

Deandre Jordan Style

When dressing these professional athletes, she sticks to the same rule: stay true to their own fashion sensibilities. “I have three NBA players right now, and all three have really different and unique tastes, so I try to make sure I amplify that accordingly,” Mays explains. “I don’t want Chris Paul to look like Kevin Love, or Kevin Love to look like DeAndre Jordan.” Similarly, top Hollywood stylists with multiple celebrity clients follow this same styling principle. Take stylist Erin Walsh, who works with celebrities with completely different fashion tastes, like Kerry Washington and Sarah Jessica Parker.

When Mays chooses brands for her clients, small and minority-owned businesses are top of mind. “I’ve always supported black designers,” she says. Her longtime favorites include Pyer Moss, Martine Rose and Fear Of God. In addition, she has begun working more closely with emerging brands like Romeo Hunt and Wales Bonner. The designer also frequently buys pieces from mid-range brands like COS, Tod Snyder and J.Crew. “I don’t feel like because you play in the NBA or are a celebrity, you have to spend billions of dollars on clothes,” Mays says.

Kevin Love style

Styling shapes the image of athletes off the field

For the stylist, her work goes far beyond just making looks from trendy brands for her clients. “My biggest goal is to really help build their image, not just put them in the latest trends, but really help build the image off the court that reflects whatever their goals are their business side,” she explains. For example, Chris Paul is the president of the NBA Players Association, so she makes sure his image reflects that in some way. “It’s not just about shopping, it’s about helping build an image that will last after their basketball career.”

While a red carpet is usually a one-time style job where they get what is specifically needed for the event, wear it and send it back, the athletes’ style is much more continuous. Each month, Mays travels to the city in which they play. “We’re constantly building looks because in a normal season they play 82 games, so it’s something that is a recurring project,” she explains. “My partner is constantly refreshing his closets and we have a whole system of organization in place, like a whole pull and purge system. It’s a lot more work than people assume.”

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