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Stylist discusses Kobe Bryant's L.A. Times Magazine's photo shoot

May 3, 2010 |  1:35 pm


With the Lakers' Game 1 victory over Utah boring everyone to tears, I couldn't help but notice that many of the media, including myself, spent most of the second quarter  on something more engaging. We all stared in amazement, astonishment and downright confusion when sorting through the L.A. Times Magazine's recent profile and photo shoot of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.

Besides discovering that you should think twice before allowing your dog to do its business on Bryant's lawn, there's the discovery of Bryant in some interesting fashion choices. I'm no fashion expert, but I couldn't really wrap my head around these looks. Others shared similar sentiments. Ball Don't Lie's Trey Kerby wrote, "If you were to put Kobe Bryant in an all-white pilgrim outfit, that might look weird. Or, I don't know, maybe a super deep white v-neck with a head scarf that might be made out of a pillowcase. Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking those might be bizarre looks." ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin simply stated, "Maybe it would have worked better if he had gone with the game-face jaw jutting, under bite look. Certainly couldn't have made it look worse."

My reaction? I'm confused. I don't know if I like it. I don't know if I don't like it. But I certainly don't get it. Rather than rail on about it, I figured it'd be better to let the photo-shoot stylist, James Valeri, speak about it instead.

Photo 1: white button-down shirt, white bowtie, hat and headband

This was a prep look, but still unconventional. He's wearing a shirt buttoned up with a bowtie, but we put a hat on and created a character. Kobe was amazing to work with because he was cool with everything. He trusted us. We took a picture and he liked it so we kept going. We wanted to do a picture with a hat because the photographer wanted to do everything in white. I didn't want to use accessories that would look too retro. Let's do it in a cool, young way because that's what Kobe is. He's a cool, young and successful athlete. I wanted to give a modern approach. I was thinking of [rapper] Tupac [Shakur] where I put a band underneath in the hat to make it look hip-hop, but ... it translates in a surreal look where it creates a strong image. It was something that hasn't been done before. It's mixing the inspiration of Tupac and a gentleman with a white hat ... a mix of a hip-hop and a conservative look.


On the project's concept

The concept was about shooting everything in white. That was Ruven's idea [photographer Ruven Afanador]. But I wanted to do something more modern and less conventional and less cliched. ... It's a more modern silhouette. It's not like, 'Let's just put Kobe in a pair of pants and a shirt or in a suit.' The clothing is all layered.

Photo 2: long-sleeve T-shirt over short-sleeve T-shirt 

It's two T-shirts layered. ...  It's tight because it's like a jersey. The material is pulled up because it's tight and oversized. I wanted it to be stylish but not too perfect and still casual. Those are casual clothes but with a modern approach. It's not like a suit or anything that is stiff. I like Kobe's personality. It's very cool and relaxed. I didn't want to dress him in cliches. Every time you dress an athlete in sports magazines, you always tend to put them in suits, and I think it's really boring.

Photo 3: single-button jacket and shorts


This is layered but loose-fit. I thought it was cool because it was casual. When I was prepping, I wasn't looking into suiting, such as a pair of pants and a sweater. That would've been so easy and predictable. This stuff is fashionable, but the fit and cut are modern and comfortable. It has an eye for athletic wear and it's a new way of dressing. The fit and the cut are geared more toward athletic sportswear, but it's highly fashionable because it's super-sleek, expensive materials.

Photo 4: hoodie

It was about doing unexpected clothing, stuff that usually you wouldn't see on athletes. But you still find them in the department stores. It's more abstract fashion and more conceptual than what is usually expected. With celebrities, you tend to just make them look good. But in this particular shoot, I didn't want to do that. We wanted to do something more modern. In this particular picture, we liked the fit. It was a hoodie but done by an amazing designer. It's cutting edge. There was no particular concept about that look, but we liked the clothing and it fit in with the rest. A basketball player usually wears a hoodie, but instead of it being a plain hoodie, this is more conceptual. The cut of the hoodie is very baggy and layered.


Photo 5: V-neck T-shirt and scarf 

The fabric is very ... luxurious, but the look is very casual. For me, it was casual but looked like futuristic fashion inspired by what everyday guys wear but with an eye for the future. It's inspired by athletic wear on the cut, but the fabric and design are more futuristic. Don't get me wrong: This is the fashion of today, and it's on the catwalks and in the stores. But if people like Kobe will wear them in magazines, it'll translate in everyday life. I thought it'd interesting to have an athlete like the most famous basketball player in the world wear that because it'd be unexpected. But I totally see Kobe wearing that stuff. It looks good on him. It's a different way of dressing instead of just putting on a suit. He's not wearing a sweat shirt and sweatpants. He's wearing cool and relaxed clothes, but it's from a high-end designer. At the end of the day, he's a multibillionaire guy and probably doesn't want to wear sweat shirts or suits every day. So this is sort of in between.

On the negative reactions

The scarf picture and the hat picture were more to create an iconic image. When you do a portrait, you do think of the styling in how they're going to be different and how they're going to stand out. In 10 years time, or five years time, there has to be something particular or strange or different that will stand out. That image will stay in your mind. That's how it's going to become iconic. ... A lot of people aren't used to that, so when iconic pictures come out, they're disturbing, insulting, fascinating, it has a strong feeling attached to it, good or bad.


I was struck that he was a gentlemen. He was very polite and very friendly, but at the same time he was a normal guy. I thought he was a noble man and cool at the same time, extremely professional. I'm half-Italian and half-English, and I knew he lived in Italy when he was a kid. So we chatted in Italian on set. It was a way to get to know him. I remember there was hip-hop music in the background, and he was singing it and knew all the lyrics of the songs. It was fun. It wasn't a normal shoot. We were working and very professional, but it was very fun. ... He was very relaxed and didn't give us an attitude at all.

-- Mark Medina

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Photos by Ruven Afanador

1: Adam Kimmel white button-down and bow-tie, Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers linen pleat-front trousers, Worth & Worth Treviso hat,  American Apparel unisex terry headband and wristband.

2: Rick Owens long-sleeve and short-sleeve T-shirts, Dark Shadow by Rick Owens drawstring shorts.

3: Kris Van Assche greige sleeveless one-button jacket, Kris Van Assche greige shorts in jersey fabric, Harry Winston diamond ear studs set in platinum. 

4: Ann Demeulemeester hoodie, Givenchy trousers. 

5: Rick Owens jersey V-neck T-shirt, Damir Doma hooded scarf with braid detail.