Why Kobe Bryant and LeBron James Got Their Custom Suits in Koreatown
The bespoke designer Waraire Boswell has found a niche suiting up basketball's biggest stars while quietly operating out of Koreatown and now resides in his own downtown showroom.
There's prestige to being a well-kept secret. But it doesn't buy diapers for your baby. That is why Waraire Boswell is ready to emerge from what he calls a "well-tailored cocoon." The 37-year-old bespoke designer to LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kobe Bryant is finally making the leap to sportswear and made-to-measure suits that start just under $1,000.
It took 12 years for the cautious Angeleno to parlay his reputation as the suitmaker to the rich and famous into a larger customer base. "I enjoy the one-on-one with my clients," says Boswell, who, in addition to a customer list that reads like an NBA All-Star Game roster, also counts as regulars Revenge producer Marty Bowen and talent agents Brett Hansen (UTA) and Charles King (WME).
Bucking a trend to put celebrity clientele at the front and center of a business, Boswell toiled quietly in the shadows. That steadfastness allowed his eponymous label to emerge debt-free from the economic downturn. He had never given much thought to marketing, since he already enjoyed the kind of publicity money can't buy: locker-room recommendations from one millionaire to another. Why fix what wasn't broken?
Then, last year, his wife had a baby. "I started thinking about the future," he says, "and I realized my business isn't scalable." To ensure that his new son will have access to the formal schooling he didn't, Boswell made a leap earlier this year.
The leap he made was three miles to the east, decamping from a stuck-in-the-'80s Koreatown menswear store to downtown, where Boswell now eyes Los Angeles from the floor-to-ceiling windows of his own 10th-floor showroom. He's still in partnership with the elderly tailor who calls him "son" -- and with whom he apprenticed for a decade -- but he has added a new partner as well: Chris Bosh, the center-forward of the Miami Heat who has received "best dressed" accolades from GQ, Vogue and fellow NBA players polled by Sports Illustrated. Other clients, such as the New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler, are loyal supporters of his expanding efforts.
"When I first came to Bos, about six years ago, I was tired of boxy suits and wanted to grow in my fashion sense," says Chandler. "He was very good at giving me European and Italian cuts, and we ran from there." Chandler added that he recommends Boswell to friends in and out of the league "because I know he is an honest guy, very professional, and he'll do an excellent job."
Boswell's humility not only endears him to his clients, but plays a part in his slowness to brand himself. Happy to be the quiet (if gigantic, at 6-foot-7) man in the background, he is more inclined to speak about his environment than about himself.
"Downtown has so much energy," says Boswell, who grew up in Pasadena and was enrolled in an agent-training program at William Morris before switching careers. "Artistically dressed people walking around; the ACE Hotel is moving in; and there's an ad agency next door to me — creative people. It helps to see that stuff every day. It's rehydrating my business."
Wearing a denim shirt he made with a two-button standing collar based on early-1900s workwear, he explains the online rollout of Waraire Boswell ready-to-wear, built around gray merino wool trousers and a matching shawl-collar jacket; and ME by Waraire Boswell, his made-to-measure line adapted from precut muslins. These suits will be cut from the same bespoke Italian and English fabrics as his fully custom line, but will be sewn abroad.
Occupying a gargantuan desk at his new showroom, and freshly married to his longtime girlfriend, Boswell looks out over a bustling downtown Los Angeles. "I'm ready," he says.