You can’t help but feel a little bad for New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The 30-year-old is that rare breed of basketball player who unabashedly loves fashion, but because of his 7-foot-1-inch frame he has a hell of a time finding clothes that fit him. He can rattle off a whole look book of dashed hopes and disappointment: the Louis Vuitton sneakers impossible to get in a size 15, the Rick Owens rain jacket with sleeves that came to his forearms. And Prada? Forget it.
On the surface, Montreal-born, New York City–based menswear designer Antonio Azzuolo appears to be Chandler’s opposite in every respect, but he shares a similar frustration. When he moved to New York from Paris, it seemed to his eyes that American clothes came in one size: too big. So, the designer (who’s “5 feet 9 inches tall on a good day”) started making his own clothes. Now, 13 years later, he has a booming custom-clothing business tailored to men who, he says, “want to express themselves and who take pleasure in dressing.”
Chandler is one of those guys, which is why, despite the unlikeliness of their pairing, the duo seem to get along swimmingly at a fitting for a bespoke suit in the fifth-floor offices and tailoring studio of Jeffrey, a high-end store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. As Azzuolo takes Chandler’s measurements, his eyes start to pop: “A 39-inch sleeve!” he exclaims as Chandler and his fashion and style consultant, Browne Andrews, smile, almost proudly. But the designer is not intimidated. “Tyson is… impressive.” he says about the athlete’s size. “Thankfully he’s lean. If he was a football player, it would be different.”
Tyson Chandler tries on suits
Seven years ago, before Chandler was getting fitted for custom suits or referencing top designers, his fashion journey started with a promise he made to himself: “I said, ‘OK I’m going to find things that fit me so I can express myself the way I want to,’” he recalls. His first step was a short-lived skater phase. (“That didn’t work out,” Chandler says, laughing.) Next came a vintage period, but there aren’t a lot of vintage jackets out there for a man with a seven-foot wingspan, so he had to get creative. “As my style evolved, I started to manipulate things and let in my artistic side,” he says. “I have this vintage U.S. Navy jacket I love that I got at a military surplus store. I put new sleeves on it and now I wear it with everything.”
Tyson Chandler with his wife, Kimberly
Among his basketball peers—some of whom he accuses of focusing more on color and conspicuousness than on cut—Chandler’s burgeoning interest in fashion made him an anomaly. But soon all his teammates’ wives and girlfriends were begging him to stage interventions with their significant others. Over the years, Chandler has seen fashion become increasingly significant in NBA culture—one of his teammates, Knicks forward-center Amar’e Stoudemire, joined up with Rachel Roy for a capsule collection for Macy’s in 2011.
Today, ask Chandler about his style and you’ll hear the same two words: rugged and slick. Luckily, where the two intersect is right in Azzuolo’s wheelhouse. “I like the juxtaposition of dressing up and dressing down,” the designer says, “like $28 jeans with a custom-made $2,800 jacket.”
Such extravagances work for Chandler, who favors basic, albeit upscale, items like beanies and boots—but in all black and from fashion-forward designers. “That’s why I love Rick Owens,” he says. “Because so much of his stuff is black. You have to be a great designer to pull off an all-black collection.” Black jeans, black T-shirts, black YSL sneakers—it may all seem repetitive, but Chandler is careful not to go overboard. “Some people look the same every single day, but I don’t want to be one of those guys,” he explains.That’s when he goes “slick.” This means a slim-cut suit from American designer Waraire Boswell (whose Knicks-blue tuxedo Chandler wore last year to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala) or custom wear by Savile Row’s Ozwald Boateng, who has also made bespoke suits for Chandler’s style icon David Beckham. (“Whatever look he’s going for, he’s always nailing it,” Chandler says about the soccer star.)
Slick also means wearing a slightly shorter pant leg so he can show off his custom-made George Esquivel boot-oxford hybrid shoes, and it definitely means the right accessory, which in Chandler’s case, surprisingly enough, is a brooch.
That’s right—to complete a look, Chandler doesn’t reach for a tie clip or a lapel pin, but for one of the many vintage brooches he’s collected. “My favorite is this old brass one with arty pieces hanging down that I got from a flea market,” he says.
Chandler often finds inspiration off the beaten path, especially when it comes to his budding interest in
photography (“When I’m on the street taking pictures and there’s this cool old dude that has a dope look, he makes the picture”), films (he was impressed with the suits worn in last summer’s Prohibition drama Lawless) and even women’s fashion shows. Yes, Tyson Chandler has a bit of a thing for ladies’ clothing. “I love Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney,” he says. “I go to women’s shows to enjoy the beauty, the fabrics and the ideas…. I like clothes that complement both genders, and I think fashion is moving more in that direction.”
The basketball star’s biggest source of inspiration, however, is the same as Azzuolo’s. They arrived in New York a decade apart, but the city has completely changed the way each thinks about his own style. For Azzuolo, New York broke him of his exclusively Parisian sensibility and introduced a downtown vibe to his clothes. Chandler sees a similar change in himself. “New York—the streets, the grit—has really inspired me,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to mix it up.”