Michael Strahan, among America’s most popular celebrities, is just a “shy, everyday” kind of guy with a touch of insecurity.
That’s how the strappy “Good Morning America” cohost, analyst for “Fox NFL Sunday,” pro football Hall of Famer and host of the “$100,000 Pyramid” portrayed himself during his presentation at the WWD Men’s Wear Summit. Strahan also said he considered himself as lucky having made a football career in New York, which being the world’s media capital led him to a second career on TV.
“When you are playing football and you are in New York, that helps,” Strahan said. “All the microphones in your face everyday, you get used to it or you don’t.
“I have a friend who says, ‘Michael — you are the only man who can make a living on TV and can’t say the letter S without spitting on people.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you are absolutely right.’ I am really shy in a way, by nature.”
His first time hosting the red carpet at the Oscars was excruciating. “I will never forget it,” Strahan recalled. “Nervous. I was sweating under that tuxedo like a farmhand. You have no idea. And Robin Roberts, one of the first people I see on the red carpet, long before I worked with her on GMA says, ‘Michael, you are going to be fine. I came from sports, too. You will feel so comfortable.’ She has been a champion for me.
“I love TV,” Strahan said. “I love the mechanics and the way it works. It kind of reminds me of football, in sense of studying and technique, and always having all that drive to be better at it. New York really helped to lead me to Fox, which in turn led to ‘Live With Kelly,’ which in turn led me to GMA and other things. If I were anywhere else, I may have been a football player and had a great career, but it wouldn’t have been the same.”
Those other things now include his evolving men’s wear collaboration with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. encompassing the active lifestyle collection called MSX by Michael Strahan and the Collection by Michael Strahan line for men’s tailored clothing and accessories.
Strahan, who on the WWD panel appeared with J.C. Penney’s James Starke, senior vice president, senior general merchandise manager, men’s and children’s apparel, knows where his collections stand on the fashion spectrum. “I am not trying to compete against these high-end brands. I am an everyday man. I get up every day and work hard and I do my best at everything I do — and that’s the customer who is out shopping my line….I don’t want to make things people can’t afford to wear. There’s enough of that out there. It’s very important to me.”
He described his J.C. Penney’s merchandise as “something fashionable, fashion forward and most of all affordable….I remember as a kid getting the JCP catalogue. It was like you hit the lotto.”
He also remembered that as a young kid, “they called me BOB. It meant ‘booty on back.’ I laugh now, but I cried when I was 13. My proportions are not normal. I have long legs and a short torso, but I have long arms, which is great for football, though in the clothing department it wasn’t the best thing. I have trouble. It’s tough to find the right fit. When you find it, you keep it and you stay loyal to something that fits you.”
Strahan said he’s very involved at J.C. Penney’s in the design process. “It’s something I can really be involved with, I can leave my mark with. I am not someone, as James would tell you, who says ‘you want to do it , let’s do it. Or if that’s the design you want to make, let’s make it.’ I want to be involved, from the fabrics, to the lapels, to the zippers, the buttons, the feel, the texture and the fit. It’s all important because my name is on it.
“I learned from doing a project years ago that had nothing to do with the fashion business. I trusted other people’s instincts more than my own. I wasn’t as involved as I should I have been. When it failed, I got all the blame for the failure.”
For his fashion business, Strahan does the homework. “I read all the magazines. I check out what guys are wearing. I do appreciate everybody’s style. I appreciate guys who can pull off things I can never think of. There are times I want to be over the top. One of the times I take the biggest risk is whenever we do the Oscars. I’ll always wear a tuxedo that is different and stands out, but it fits and always gets recognized for being well done and not over-the-top. I don’t like to walk into the room and [get] all the attention. I don’t want to look like I am starving for attention.”
He wears the suits bearing his name on the label religiously. “I wear it everywhere, everyday. I am in a suit at least five days a week, sometimes six or seven. There are days I am in three or four suits. I love suits, something about a suit that makes you feel confident.”
Typically, when a retailer launches a new collection, it takes time to gain traction. According to Starke, that wasn’t the case with Strahan’s merchandise. “From the second we launched, it just built momentum and built momentum,” Starke said. “We went into chase mode immediately. That’s a testimony to Michael’s mass appeal and how hard he worked not only talking about the brand and but also working with us on the brand.”
Discussing the evolution of J.C. Penney’s Strahan merchandise, Starke said children’s dress wear will appear for Easter; the MSX ath-leisure line will be expanded to kids, and for back-to-school, performance underwear and a “modal” luxury underwear will be introduced. Starke said additional categories are being examined.
“There used to be something exciting about going to the mall and spending Saturday afternoon with your family shopping,” Starke said. “We have lost some of that connection with our customer. Traffic is our main issue. We have to figure out how to make ourselves a destination again. I think what we are doing with Michael and the Collection brand is a differentiator. It’s actually one of the higher-priced garments we have but priced in a way everybody can afford it. Also, it filled white space. We do very well with the older customer and younger customer on the tailored floor, but there was a huge gap for updated traditional. From both a product perspective and a fit perspective, we were completely missing the mark on. This fills it very nicely.”
Strahan wears different hats, so to speak, with his various TV assignments. “How you have to tap into yourself to do those jobs is completely different,” Strahan said. “It’s one thing to be on Fox sitting with four guys talking football, the macho thing, dancing bears navigating the talking. You have to give that instant feedback to the fans in a way that they didn’t think of themselves. Most probably they know the game in a lot of ways better than the commentators. You have to give them something in a way of insight, which is tough to do.”
Doing “Live” was more personality-driven, Strahan said. “That was 20 minutes of uninterrupted TV talk. There are very few shows if any that give you that amount of leeway. You had no script. We had none. No earpieces. Nothing.
“Then to go to GMA, it’s news, politics, weather, human interest stories. There is room for play as well. The challenge for me was trying to figure out the balance of the serious with the play time — how to merge the two so you can be seen as someone who is supposed to be there.
“GMA has been the biggest challenge of anything I have ever done. I work with great people from all different backgrounds. It is all so different and all so fun. I wake up a bit earlier, but I am done at 9 a.m. so I have time to work on other things and I have a life outside of work…it’s not so much a schedule. You make time for the things that are important to you and really want to be part of.”
Among his biggest thrills — sacking quarterbacks when he played defensive end for the New York Giants. “There’s nothing like it. If I could have played forever, I would have. You haven’t lived until you’ve hit Tom Brady. Not just Brady, any quarterback. You hit a guy. You hear the life and breath leave his body. There’s something very empowering about that.
“[But] being a parent is the number-one thing in the world. Outside of that, I have enjoyed every step along the way, I enjoy all of it. I got great jobs. I am a very lucky guy.”