keep it moving

Dressing WNBA’s Power Couple

Photo: Courtesy of the Connecticut Suns

Jazmine Motley-Maddox always has publicity on the brain. Though she’s currently a stylist, she began her career as a publicist. It is, she says, both a blessing and a curse. “In the back of my mind [I’m] thinking about: Who else will see this? Where is it going to be seen? Where could it possibly be placed? What cameras are being used; what lighting is it? I’m thinking about everything,” she says. Motley-Maddox works regularly with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun forwards DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, who are also a couple. “I’m not competitive, but I want my girls out there, so I’m constantly thinking about ways we can dress them and then it’s pushed to more and more people.”

While she’s worked on films like Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, and television shows like BMF and Rhythm & Flow, Motley-Maddox’s introduction to styling athletes comes through her time in publicity at Fox Sports and her long-standing relationship with Bonner. The two played basketball together in Birmingham, Alabama — “I played from middle school to my junior year in high school and I was not good at all,” Motley-Maddox says with a laugh — then also attended Auburn University together. “There were three things I knew: I knew that DeWanna was going to the league, I wasn’t, but we’d both be successful.” Once Bonner was in the league, she called on Motley-Maddox to style her and her partner, Thomas. The “tunnel,” as it’s called, is a stretch of real estate between the entrance to an arena and the locker room, where athletes’ looks are getting a ton of attention. Motley-Maddox has created for Bonner’s and Thomas’s tunnel looks a series of eye-catching ensembles, always complementing but never matching: “We left matching in the ’90s,” Motley-Maddox says jokingly. “It’s all about coordinating.”

Photo: Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

What is your styling philosophy?
I love to play with shapes on the body, with volume, color, and texture. Everything must fit, whether it’s oversize or tailored. It should look like it belongs on your body, not like it came off the rack. I keep two tailors in the fittings with me. My eyes are so used to designing for cameras that I understand how clothes move, so when my clients are on the red carpet, I know how clothes will look when they turn left or light catches the clothing a certain way.

How is styling an athlete, especially a female athlete, different from styling another kind of celebrity?
It is different. First of all, I have just always loved their physiques. It’s like you’re dressing somebody to walk the runway, and even better sometimes because they’re much taller. DeWanna and Alyssa specifically are super laid back — they’re at practice, they’re taking care of the girls, they’re planning their wedding, so they trust me fully to come up with concepts and pieces and bring back something good. The tunnel is fun to work with for athletes, too. It’s a backdrop I don’t think anybody saw blowing up the way it did. It’s free rein — you can get as crazy, glam, or casual as you want, as long as it speaks to the swag of the client and it speaks to, “Hey, I’m going in powerful, I’m about to play this game, we’re about to win.”

Photo: Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

How has style become part of athletes’ lives in the last decade in ways it wasn’t before?
I don’t think before, especially in the WNBA, girls were hiring stylists to dress them to go to the game. Designer brands now jump at the chance because they know this will be publicized, styled, and shown to millions. Styling athletes has kicked it up a notch in advertising and marketing. Stylists are putting the looks together, telling this story that the female athlete has been elevated. We’ve taken them and said, “Hey, they’re celebrities, too: They deserve book deals, endorsements, and sponsorships just like the guys.” And it’s great for fans to know background stories and see them told through clothing.

For example, DeWanna is from Birmingham. She grew up with literally nothing, but she made everything count. Now look where she is, a 14-year veteran player of the WNBA. Clothes have the opportunity to speak to that. For her jersey retirement at Auburn, we’ve worked with designer Osose Ebadan, a classmate. He just dropped a line with Future. He custom-made a varsity jacket for DeWanna that has patches of memories from her days at Auburn, her number, the logo, and other mementos on it. For these pieces, people tend to ask not just who are you wearing, but why are you wearing that? What does it mean to you? Having all that symbolism on her back tells a story about where she’s from, where she’s been, and how successful she is. I love having pieces like that for their closet.

How far in advance did you begin styling DeWanna and Alyssa for the orange carpet and how did you arrive at their looks?
We had a month, if that. When they called me, I immediately hit the ground running. It was all hands on deck. I called every rep I had in my contacts and said, “Hey, I’m dressing these girls and we’ve got to do it fast.” I was here shopping in New York. They were all over the country. We were FaceTiming, talking, and texting a lot. I was sending them pictures, but ultimately, I went to Las Vegas with about four suitcases, and two boxes were shipped to the hotel because we had no idea, so I pulled as much as possible. With them in season, we couldn’t fit until the day before. I got my Las Vegas tailor together. We made it happen. Let me tell you when I saw that tulle dress on the rack at Margiela, I had been shopping all day and walked into the store just to see what they had. DeWanna’s final look was perfect, from the socks to the handbag she was carrying. I love that DeWanna and Alyssa are a unit, but they’re also different, so it’s the play on being cohesive.

Photo: Courtesy of the Connecticut Suns

How often do DeWanna and Alyssa coordinate their tunnel looks, like this?
This season was interesting because we shopped a lot from their closet. I’m very big on if you’ve got pieces in your closet, we can work with those — let’s not do too much shopping because there are going to be things that come up you’re going to need the budget for. Their individual style is already there. But what I did was find pieces that complemented each other. This look was one of my favorite tunnel pairings. DeWanna was in such vivid colors but played so well to who Alyssa is, so laid back. And now it’s just like, boom, here they are.

Dressing the WNBA’s Power Couple