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LOS ANGELES — For his debut as a fashion model in the fall campaign for Gap Inc.’s Factory outlet stores, Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp came prepared.
The 29-year-old Major League Baseball player brought not only his mitt, bats and baseballs to a Hollywood photo studio, but also 17 pairs of shoes, just as many hats, 11 belts, five pairs of glasses, three watches and a bundle of socks and bracelets from his own closet. Revealing a love for luxury nurtured by a $160 million contract with the Dodgers, his haul included a Rolex gold watch, Lanvin linen sneakers and Saint Laurent wool and leather boots. He also gravitated toward under-the-radar items like Masunaga glasses, Anonymous Ism socks and Buscemi sneakers with gold padlock closures that would make any streetwear blogger envious. In contrast, the only personal items that four-time Gap model Chanel Iman had on set were the delicate gold rings on her fingers.
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“This is pretty big,” Kemp said. “Everybody used to say that baseball players can’t dress and athletes can’t dress. You know, a lot of athletes now are trying to prove everybody wrong, though there are some athletes that try too hard and try to do over-the-top things. But me, I try to be simple and just make whatever I’m wearing look good.”
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At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 215 pounds with a closely shaved haircut and beard, Kemp fit right in with the campaign’s other models — Carolyn Murphy, Noah Mills and George Kotsiopoulos — although photographer Robert Ascroft had to ask him to spit out his gum. He’s the first male celebrity in Gap’s biggest marketing push for its outlet stores, which first opened 20 years ago and are now rapidly expanding worldwide.
Calculating print ads in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and People; online promotions on gq.com and details.com, and social media tie-ins through Facebook in the U.K. and Weibo in China, Amondo Redmond, director of brand strategy and content at Gap Factory, estimated that the budget for the fall campaign is “probably triple” what was spent in the past. The ads will premiere in August, at the same time as the global e-commerce launch.
Kemp has come a long way from his youth in Oklahoma, where his style was, in his words, “big” and “baggier.”
“Living in Oklahoma, everybody used to wear the tall T-shirts, [size] 3X [and] 4X T-shirts. It was pretty bad but you live and you learn,” he said. “Now, moving to L.A., it’s more fitted on your body, and you want it to look nice.”
Kemp has taken to the Los Angeles lifestyle. A past paramour of pop star Rihanna, he smiled with V. Stiviano in a random photo that instigated racist remarks from Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whom he has since denounced. Even in the tabloids’ glare, he resembled a schoolboy in a chambray button-down, khakis and leather backpack next to a blinged-out, Birkin bag-toting Stiviano.
His wardrobe for the Gap ads, selected by Kotsiopoulos under the “Exclusively Styled” tag line, was kept simple via jeans paired with Henley shirts, plaid button-downs and shawl-collar sweaters in neutral tones or all-American red, white and blue. For one color-blocked sweater, Kotsiopoulos recalled, “We had a fit model who is his height but not his build. It looked like a baggy sweater but on Matt it looked fabulous.”
The test is whether Kemp will resonate with Gap’s outlet shoppers across the globe. Of the 350 outlet stores worldwide, 70 percent are in the U.S. and Canada. The rest are located in the U.K., Ireland, Italy, China and Japan. Women, ranging from Millennials to fortysomethings, make up 60 percent of the customers.
“She’s definitely aware of sports,” Andi Owen, global executive vice president for Gap Factory, said of the outlet’s customer base. “Even if they don’t know exactly who Matt is in China, the idea of an American celebrity…is still very compelling.”
Kemp comes to Gap with his own fans: some 383,000 on Twitter, more than 320,600 on Instagram and more than 227,000 on Facebook. On Instagram, next to a photo of himself in a long-sleeve camo T-shirt, brown puffer vest and dark blue jeans from the ad shoot, a fan known as Kempsgurl27 wrote, “Looking so handsome.” Yet, for a selfie with Mills, which generated 16,700 likes on Instagram, another fan chastised the outfielder who’s bouncing back from two injury-plagued seasons: “Enough with the photo shoots. Try hitting more than 5 [home runs] and 12 [runs batted in].”
“In his sport, they’re critical,” said his personal stylist, Nchimunya Wulf, who’s also worked with basketball players Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James. Having seen Kemp turn down various clothing endorsements other than the sport-related ones with Nike, Oakley and New Era, Wulf hopes to immerse him more in fashion. She’s introduced him to up-and-coming brands like Han Kjøbenhavn, Visvim and Soulland.
“He’s a positive role model for not only black youth but all people,” she said. “It shows in his style. I feel fashion is a great outlet [for him] to be seen and heard.”
While acknowledging that it’d be “tough to get into” designing his own apparel line, Kemp realizes he has a good life.
“You get to work with beautiful people and have fun doing it and wear good clothes,” he said before he and Mills pretended to swing a bat in front of the camera. “And it wouldn’t be bad if I walk into the mall and I get to see my face. That would be cool, especially in the Gap store.”
Still, Kemp doesn’t want to divulge all his style secrets. “To my teammates, definitely not,” he said. “They just look to see what I wear and then they copy it.”