There’s huge crossover within the demographics of those who love fashion and those who love sports, which makes it surprising that no major sports leagues have dived into luxury goods before—until now. The NBA and The Elder Statesman have partnered on ongoing collections of cashmere sweaters and beanies, scarves, T-shirts, and more. The partnership, which launches exclusively at Barneys New York today, is a big deal—just ask Elder Statesman Founder and Creative Director Greg Chait, who conceptualized the whole thing. “This is a big moment in American luxury. We’re connecting with one of the most important social and pop culture pillars that we have, and the NBA happens to be on fire right now,” Chait explains emphatically. “The coolest part is that it’s an ongoing partnership, not a cute little collaboration!” His pride about the The Elder Statesman X NBA is palpable.
It all started when Chait was young boy growing up in the Michael Jordan era. “He was the ultimate cultural reference at the time that I was the most impressionable, so that has to mean something,” he says, adding, “Basketball and sports has always been part of my DNA.” Another reference that stands out to Chait was noticing the hip Canadian uniforms at the ‘88 Calgary Olympics, which were designed by Canadian clothing company Roots. Years later when living in Malibu, he met the family that runs the company and was impressed such a hip business had partnered to bring fashion to sports. It got him thinking.
Over the years, as The Elder Statesman gained momentum, Chait cultivated personal connections with a handful of private clients, some of whom happened to own huge American sports franchises. “A few years ago, Steve Tisch from the Giants came in to buy a bunch of gifts, and something struck me. For fun I made him a Victor Cruz sweater in the Giants colors just to see what he thought, and he loved it. I realized that these sophisticated leagues didn’t actually have partnerships with luxury lifestyle brands, and that started ruminating in my brain,” he says. Later still, he ran the idea past an NBA team owner and friend, who pushed Chait to develop it further. When The Elder Statesman approached the NBA league in a formal way, they were met with total enthusiasm.
“It’s funny, when we were putting together the deal I knew what to expect on our end, but I didn’t know what such an enormous league like the NBA would be like to work with,” Chait reflects. “I assumed it would be really bureaucratic, but that wasn’t the case at all. Not only were they hip enough to know about and understand our brand, but they really wanted to work with our tiny company and give us creative freedom.” The resulting freedom led to a colorful debut collection of apparel and accessories promoting both individual league teams and the league in general and have handdrawn labels marking which series it’s from (the debut collection is Series 1). Whether you’re a mega fan or just love the cool and feel of the thoughtfully designed pieces, the collection will strike a chord. “Whether you’re a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers or not, we’re going to make that sweater look so good that you would buy it on its own merit,” says Chait with a smile.
As for his favorite team, the L.A.-based designer is more democratic than to admit that it’s the Lakers. “ The more I learn about the NBA and the league itself, the more of a fan I’m becoming. I’m truly a fan of the league. The style of the game today is so smooth. This is one of the most elegant games with the most elegant athletes in the world. They are incredible, and their swagger is amazing.”