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On the Ball
Stephanie Davis Smith | Photo: Troy Stains | May 10, 2013
Former Atlanta Hawk Kevin Willis launches a new line at Saks Fifth Avenue—and scores.
In 1980, while most of his fellow college athletes were in classes of a different sort, Kevin Willis was busy sewing, cutting patterns and designing clothes as a fashion and textile major at Michigan State University.
So, after turning pro in 1984 and dominating the NBA for a few years, the Atlanta Hawks’ power forward felt compelled to focus on his first love again—fashion design. “I started designing leather jackets,” says Willis. “What can I say? It was the ’80s. It was all about the hot leather jacket then.” The 7-foot pro would source skins and cut, fit and fashion pieces in his free time off the court. “Teammates like Antoine Walker were my first big clients,” he recalls.
Willis’ offerings steadily increased to other fabrics, custom suits and denim, as, inevitably, more teammates, athletes and coaches started coming to him for his fashion-forward looks in big-guy sizes. Names such as Dominique Wilkins, Dikembe Mutombo, Clyde Drexler, Charles Oakley and Tim Duncan flocked to him for pieces from his line Willis & Walker.
After retiring from the NBA, at the close of the 2006-2007 season, Willis went into custom fashion full time. He knew there was a bigger gap in the market he could fill. At Willis’ size, he couldn’t walk into a store and walk out with what he needed.
His new ready-to-wear Willis & Walker line solves that problem. Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta and Houston picked up the collection this month. Featuring six different denim styles in six different fits, and 23 washes and finishes—in waist sizes from 34 to 54 inches with inseams of 32 to 38 inches—the line also contains clean-cut suits and jackets, and, in addition, Willis just started production on a line of carryall bags that will be in his flagship store this month.
These days, the younger guys he’s dressing are names like Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. Now they can come to his boutique at 2300 Peachtree Road or Saks when they’re in town or have free time. “Everything comes full circle,” he says. “I mean, now, leather coats are back again.”