“That one. That one is dope.”
It’s late May in Beverly Hills, and Lonzo Ball is browsing a display of brightly colored sneakers. He pauses briefly to study each shoe, cautiously trailing a long index finger over the laces and treads. The early-summer sun pours from Rodeo Drive through the open doors of the Dolce & Gabbana store, casting a hazy afternoon glow onto the black mirrored walls and polished-concrete floors. Ball turns to examine a nylon bomber that’s been hung near the entrance. A mischievous smile tugs at the corners of his green eyes. “For a king,” he says, nodding toward the jackets printed with jewel-encrusted crowns.
All spring long, rumors have been swirling that the 21-year-old NBA rookie might be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New Orleans Pelicans. But if Ball—whom friends and fans affectionately call “Zo”—is worried, he doesn’t let it show. Though he comes across as soft-spoken, there’s a deliberateness to his stride. He comes from a family of ball players: His mother played in college; his brothers are in leagues now. And his father, LaVar Ball, himself a former college player, has gained some notoriety in the sports world for his outspoken approach to promoting his sons’ talents. Ball grew up in the game: He understands the business, the possible outcomes, the potential score.
But we’re not here to talk sports. Nor are we here to shop. We’ve come to Dolce & Gabbana to be measured for a custom-made suit. Regardless of what’s happening on the court or with the general managers and scouts behind closed doors, enter- ing the NBA’s various arenas has become a veritable catwalk for its stars. The players’ outfits are dissected with fervor on the Internet; their choices of shoes and hats and shirts are decoded for potential hid- den meanings and copied by fans. Good style (and proven selling power) can turn a rookie into an ultra-endorsable force to reckon with. With all the trade speculation looming, people are starting to notice what Ball wears. It’s time to go bespoke.
“I wouldn’t say there’s competition, but players definitely have more of a platform now to show what they like,” Ball says when asked if he’s feeling any sartorial pressure. Still, he admits, this fashion thing is “a whole new world” for him. Aside from a brief flirtation with neon and space gray as a kid, he’s always been more of a shorts and T-shirt kind of dude. But he has recently hired a stylist, Vick Michel, whom he met through fellow players like the Warriors’ Draymond Green. Today, Michel has come along to give advice.
A throng of Dolce & Gabbana staff, friendly in all-black, beckon for us to head upstairs. A few guys with video rigs, enlisted by Ball to film a behind-the-scenes video for his 6.7 million Instagram fans, trail us past mannequins in brocade suits with rhinestone-encrusted lapels to a semi-private sitting area with curtained dressing rooms in the back. A large, flat-screen TV loops the brand’s last couture show. A neat stack of fabric swatches sits on a coffee table next to an unwieldy pile of stark-white cards affixed with gleaming buttons and trims. Ball and Michel sit on velvet chairs. The film crew grows quiet. A tray lined with tiny glass bottles of sparkling Acqua Panna is delivered. The mood shifts: The fitting is about to begin.
Dolce & Gabbana launched Sartoria, their Made to Measure service, in 2014, but it didn’t arrive in Beverly Hills until a little more than a year ago. (The service is only available in three locations in North America: New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.) Since then, the program, which promises an entire bespoke menswear look in just two fittings—has become a status symbol for a certain type of man—some of whom don’t even visit the store but instead just summon the brand’s tailoring specialists to do fittings at home. The brand doesn’t share the names of its Made to Measure clients, but it’s safe to assume that L.A., with its glittering roster of actors, athletes, artists, executives, and entrepreneurs, is fertile ground for the ultimate in sartorial services. It’s a city full of potential clients whose egos and wardrobes (and physiques) dictate the need for something even more singular than the already distinct pieces that line the store’s racks. Or, as Domenico Dolce puts it, “Made to Measure is a project conceived and geared toward people living with high-level personal and professional goals, and a passion for exclusivity.”
Exclusivity is certainly part of the appeal, as is the extensive range of options to choose from. The program includes more than 500 suit fabrics; it adds new ones each season. (All are inspired by the main collection, but many are exclusive to this program.) There are also more than 120 types of silk for linings—shimmering polka dots, jacquards woven with hearts, solid hues—and 45 styles of buttons. And that’s just when it comes to the suits. The program also offers custom-made tuxedos, overcoats, pajamas, and shirts—for which nine collars and six different cuff styles are available to mix and match. In short, the style possibilities are nearly endless.
But, luckily, Ball has ample assistance, both from the flock of attendants and from the intuitive Michel, who kicks into gear and calls out what they want: a super slim silhouette. A jacket that hits just at the hip with a lapel that’s narrow and only very subtly peaked. Pants should be on the shorter side (all the better to wear with the sneakers Ball prefers), and the button-down shirt must also be very, very trim. Ball is quiet as he slides his six-foot-six-inch frame into sample jackets; he stands in front of the mirror wide-eyed as the fit expert, who has flown in from Milan, furiously takes measurements. He calls out the numbers as an assistant jots them down on an intricate form. (“What language is that?” Ball whispers to Michel. “Italian?”) A flurry of trousers is tried, then a trio of button-down shirts. “Tighter! Needs to be tighter,” Michel directs as the specialist pins. “And we don’t want double buttons; two buttons make you look like a couch.” Ball laughs.
Finally, it’s time to pick fabrics. Ball flips through the book, past inky navy tones and sanguine reds. He stops at a leopard jacquard in deep emerald green. Michel nods approvingly: “That’s unique.” Ball agrees: “We’ll do this one.” They pick a silk lining—black with colorful crowns, similar in motif to the bomber jacket he liked on the rack downstairs—as well as buttons: onyx with gold-plated rims. For the shirt’s embroidery, Ball chooses a red sacred heart for each collar point. “I like hearts,” he says with a shrug.
The fitting takes less than an hour and a half. In eight weeks, after Dolce & Gabbana’s team of tailors in Italy (70 in total) have worked their magic, the suit will be shipped to Beverly Hills and the entire team—including the same fit expert, who is one of the most senior on the worldwide staff—will regroup for one last fitting.
I ask Michel if he thinks his client is enjoying this whole fashion thing. “He has a different look from everyone else, you know,” he says thoughtfully. “He can wear everything; he’s slim and not too tall. A lot of the other guys have to have a million alterations or custom, but not Ball; the designer stuff just fits him.” This, Michel thinks, bodes well for his client’s future: first the red carpet attention, next the real-deal stardom. “I think he has a broad horizon ahead of him—especially once he starts understanding his charisma and appeal.”
In late July we’re all back on Rodeo Drive. Summer is in full swing; the sun is more white-hot than golden, and the air- conditioning in the store is on full blast. When I arrive, Ball is already in the fitting room. He seems different, lighter; he jokes around with Michel as a photographer snaps a few test shots for this story.
A few weeks ago it was announced that he was going to New Orleans. It’s a relief. No more rumors, no more wondering, no more having to dodge or deflect direct questions. He’s excited: He sees it as a “good transition, a chance to be a big- ger Zo.” And things are moving forward. In the past few weeks, he has made two major red-carpet appearances; he wore Dolce & Gabbana each time. Initially, he worried that the looks were too risky—especially the suit for the ESPYs, which had a giant gold crest and a shiny brocade robe-like jacket. “I wasn’t going to wear it at first,” he says, laughing. “I thought it was a little much, but Michel said it was going to be the look.” Michel was right. “It fit perfect, and everybody else liked it too. It was the first time people really started talking” about him in terms of style.
The fit expert arrives. The entire entourage heads to the dressing room. A few minutes later Zo reappears. It’s as if a spotlight has suddenly been lit. He looks slim and crisp and effortless. The jacquard shimmers as it catches the light. It’s mesmerizing. The suit is a work of art in the way that all truly well-made clothes are: not just because of the perfect fit or the gorgeous fabric, but because it has completely transformed its wearer. All of a sudden, Ball looks grown up. As the attendants check his hems, he stands with a cool sort of confidence—Italian by way of Los Angeles. He’s always had swagger, but now he looks like a force.
I think back to what Stefano Gabbana told me a few weeks earlier when I asked what he hoped Ball would get out of the process: “As any other millennial, he will be positively surprised to see how much he likes wearing tailor-made.” I get it now. And Ball seems to as well. “I’ve been upgraded,” he says, smiling. “Look good, play good. That’s real.”