Shaun White is a man of action. Jetting back from New Zealand where he was training to prepare for the start of the pro-snowboarding circuit and recovering from ankle surgery, the Olympic gold medalist wasn’t taking it easy for the usual celebrity appearance at Macy’s Inc. in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
“I didn’t want it to be just me standing there,” he said, propping his hand under his chin with a grin.
So he challenged the general manager of the department store and his fans who spent $100 on the second collection from his men’s fashion line, called Wht Space, to a riveting match of ping-pong. Tracing his fondness for the table sport to days of “just getting snowed in at the mountains somewhere,” he confessed to including the activity at his 30th birthday in September. “They let me win,” he said of his friends at the celebration.
Potential contestants were warming up in the courtyard of the downtown mall called The Bloc, striving to beat their host for the grand prize of a VIP package to his Air + Style music and snowboard fest. At the same time, White was waxing on his journey, from making day trips from his home north of San Diego to snowboarding on Bear and Mammoth mountains, to creating a long-running boys’ collection with Target Corp., to siphoning the cool factor of clothes he snagged on his travels as inspiration for Wht Space.
Take the $295 navy biker jacket cut from faux leather from his holiday collection, tossed over a gold Rolex watch and $68 black jeans, also from his brand. “Traditionally when you get motorcycle jackets, especially the nice ones that are vintage, they’re always made of horse hide. They’re super-rigid. They get the cool look but I wanted something more for Southern California, where it’s thinner but you still get the same look,” he said.
A sabbatical in New York, where he camped out downtown at the Greenwich and Bowery Hotels before finding his own place in the East Village, also gave him a different perspective to life in L.A, where he hangs with musicians, actors and artists. In New York, “you just see the style and the confidence of the people and what they’re wearing there,” he said. “When I was in New York, it really influenced me. So I started to wear suits to red-carpet events.”
White likes seeing other athletes ascend as street-style stars. “It’s cool to see people branching out and doing something different,” he said. He admires the style of his snowboard rivals, including Iouri Podladtchikov (“He’s from Switzerland so he’s got this very modern look”) and Kazu Kokubo (“He’s always had the coolest hairstyles and the coolest things. He’s been one of the few that transitioned his style to the mountain”).
He gives props to competitors on sports teams that find creative ways to be themselves. “To be an individual in the midst of all that, with how many other players are playing, it’s very difficult,” he said. “Yeah, you can stand out with your playing, but what else? You see people with the hair and the face guards and certain things. Not that they are gimmicks. It’s interesting to see people more and more expressing themselves with what they wear.”
White has learned to be part of a design team, but also to offering something unusual. “I just can’t make it specifically [be,] ‘Oh, this is what I wear.’ I don’t think it would translate to the mass appeal. So it’s a mixture of those things.”
To differentiate his debut with Macy’s this past fall, he painted 150 biker jackets, which were dispersed to a range of stores in a stylish scavenger hunt for his loyal fans. In recalling the process, he whipped off his jacket to reveal a white tank top and a tattoo of a roaring lion on his right shoulder. Spreading the garment flat on an ottoman, he said, “I wanted to make it unified. So it’s not like this one has got this on it and this has flowers on it. So we basically started with a square. This is the white space. We painted it white and I filled it with different things. The cool part was that every jacket was numbered.”
Despite how cool the project was, he isn’t planning to repeat it. “I’ve got to be honest: 150 jackets show up, it’s a lot of jackets. I didn’t even realize how many it was. I stayed up four or five days and nights painting full-on, going to town. I’m not particularly artistic.”
His new favorite item is a corduroy trucker jacket based on a style he unearthed in Japan. He changed the color from green to crimson, perhaps in a nod to his early years as “The Flying Tomato,” called that for his red hair, when he competed at the X Games in 2002 and clinched a gold medal in the superpipe competition. “I’ve been really hooked on that color,” he said.
Now sporting a haircut that is long in the front and short on the sides, he acknowledged that his personal style has changed dramatically. His namesake boys’ line at Target didn’t progress in the same direction, even though he said sales were strong.
“The boys’ clothing was very bright and poppy and colorful. I looked at my closet. Man, I’ve got dark blue, black, very earthy tones,” he said. “There was a bit of disconnect with who I was personally and what we were making.”
Shifting to higher price points at Macy’s, White concentrated on fitted looks with better quality. Women have been responsible for the quick sellout of the smallest sizes. “There is a kind of unisex vibe,” White said. “I think [for] a lot of girls, especially with the bomber jackets and leather jackets, it’s the boyfriend jacket look.”
As for his own “ever-evolving” style, he said, “I don’t really think I could label what the look is.” Which is why he gets a chuckle when a surfer friend gave him a compliment. “You’re not really a mountain’s man,” White recalled being told. “I was in a sport coat with my tea,” he said. “I’m mountain-y. I can hang.”