Three weeks ago, stylist Toreno Winn Jr. arrived in D.C. from California with a suitcase full of clothes worth roughly $15,000. Winn and Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma had been introduced by a mutual friend at an art gallery in 2019, and they began collaborating on outfits a year later. Ever since Kuzma was traded to the Wizards from the Los Angeles Lakers in July, Winn had traveled to Washington at least once a month to make sure his only NBA client’s wardrobe was fresh.
Of all the clothes in Winn’s latest cross-country haul, a pink sweater immediately caught Kuzma’s eye. Winn had sent him photos of the oversized-sleeve, cable-knit virgin wool garment from Belgian designer Raf Simons before, but the photos hadn’t done the sweater justice.
“He was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is it,’” Winn said in a telephone interview, one day after the sweater became the talk of the league. “He said: ‘I’m trying this one on. Let’s figure something out for this one first.’”
Kuzma arrived at Capital One Arena for Monday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets wearing the sweater, which has a price tag of more than $1,500, with a pair of black Rick Owens pants and white Amiri shoes. As cameras flashed and video rolled, the sleeves, which covered the 6-foot-10 Kuzma’s hands with plenty of fabric to spare, swayed back and forth above the floor as he made his way to the Wizards’ locker room. He rolled one sleeve up to open the door before disappearing out of sight but not out of mind. The look was ripe for some good-natured roasting.
When you're off to one of the best starts in franchise history, you get to wear whatever you want😂@kylekuzma | #DCAboveAll pic.twitter.com/2drVu8PpGg— NBC Sports Washington (@NBCSWashington) November 22, 2021
“Kyle Kuzma took a break from waving his arms outside at a local car dealership to play hoops tonight,” the Athletic’s Ben Standig tweeted.
“Kuzma got into Gheorghe Muresan’s closet, apparently,” NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes deadpanned.
On Instagram, where Kuzma posted a photo of his pregame fit, his NBA peers didn’t hold back.
“Ain’t no f------ way you wore that!!!” LeBron James, Kuzma’s former Lakers teammate, commented, followed by eight crying laughing emoji. “I ain’t pressing the like button cause this is outrageous Kuz!”
“You’re outta line sir!!!!” Anthony Davis, another former teammate, added.
“Man hellll nawwwwwww,” J.R. Smith said of the sweater, which drew comparisons to Pepto Bismol, “The Lorax” and “Dragon Ball Z” characters.
Winn, who monitored the reaction from back home in California, had a sense that the sweater would generate some opinions, but he had no idea they would be of this magnitude.
“I’ve never seen so many people have an opinion on something — good, bad or indifferent — of my own work,” said Winn, 28. “I was slightly stressed at first because he was getting flamed, but at the same time, we embraced it. My parents always taught me: No matter what you do, own it.”
Not everyone hated Kuzma’s latest look. “He went and done did it,” WNBA star Liz Cambage commented. GQ’s Eileen Cartter called it “a meta-commentary on the evolution of the NBA pregame look.” In a way, it was.
“We made a real-life meme without Photoshop,” Winn said. “It was satirical, but we opened up the minds of people. There doesn’t have to be this cookie-cutter way of dressing. The first rule of fashion is there are no rules. That’s what I preach to my clients. … If you had that thought: ‘Am I the one that’s not hip? Am I the one that doesn’t get it?’ As long as you had a second thought about it, then we did our jobs.”
One Twitter user, @nba_paint, promised to make Kuzma’s sweater bigger for every 25 likes he received. Before long, Kuzma and his ginormous sweater were superimposed among the D.C. skyline like a sartorial Godzilla taking on fire from fighter jets. Winn got a good laugh out of the meme, even posting some of the images on Instagram.
“Fashion can be fun,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be stale, walking down the runway like you’re mad at the world.”
November 22, 2021
Kuzma, who also tweeted his approval of @nba_paint’s work, called Winn after Monday’s game, a 109-103 Wizards loss in which he continued his torrid start to the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
“Good job,” he told Winn. “This is what we do.”
Winn, an Anaheim Hills, Calif., native, played basketball through college, finishing his career at Holy Names University in Oakland. He was interested in sneakers growing up and was inspired by musical artists who dared to be different, including Kid Cudi and André 3000. About a year after he graduated with a degree in marketing and business management, he began building his portfolio as a stylist, photographer and creative consultant for brands and artists.
In the 26-year-old Kuzma, Winn found a kindred spirit, someone who understood fashion and took it seriously. As a rookie, Kuzma was nominated for “Best Style” at the 2018 NBA Awards. He would lose to Russell Westbrook, the player Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were traded for this summer. Winn and Kuzma, who received some notice in April when Kuzma wore a mirrored blazer by Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck, have developed a trust and chemistry with each other over the past two years, and they understand that jokes and negative feedback come with the territory.
“We are definitely trying to push the limits and push the boundaries,” Winn said. “The only two people in the league that are screaming from the mountaintops are Russ and Kuz. Right now everyone else kind of falls into the same mold. It’s okay to want to dress differently. If something becomes a meme, then God bless it.”
Winn misses being able to show up at Kuzma’s house with six or seven garment bags as he did when Kuzma played for the Lakers, but he was happy to see his friend get traded to a team with which he would have an opportunity to grow.
“Yeah, he was going to be on the other side of the country, but I said: ‘We’ll make it work. This is time for you to shine and flourish,’ ” Winn said. “He’s proving all the doubters wrong. He’s living, and I just love it. I’m beyond proud of him.”
Winn wouldn’t offer specifics about what he and Kuzma, who is averaging 13.5 points and a career-high 9.4 rebounds for the 11-6 Wizards, have in store for the coming months, but he said a couple of NBA stylists reached out to say they had ordered the same Raf Simons sweater for their clients. Kuzma wore it first, which means something in the fashion world.
“The oversized sweater thing is nothing new, but in the NBA it is,” Winn said. “People haven’t been able to master that yet. I told him, ‘Let’s just do it first before it gets cold enough for anyone in the league to throw on a sweater and accidentally wear something fashionable.’”
What to read on the Washington Wizards
Beal gets the max: The 29-year-old guard agreed to a maximum contract that will cement him as the cornerstone of the franchise. Only in Washington do NBA stars get $251 million participation trophies, writes Candace Buckner.
Wes Unseld’s first season: Players praised the coach’s even keel. But the defense was still bad.
Offseason needs: Securing Bradley Beal’s future is at the top of the organization’s to-do list. Finding a permanent solution at point guard is No. 2 on the Wizards’ offseason checklist.
Candace Buckner: Forget the excuses about lineup disruption, chemistry issues brought on by the massive trade-deadline makeover and Bradley Beal’s season-ending injury. The Wizards took a step back this year.
Peace for Kristaps Porzingis: The big man called Washington the “perfect place” to help him reach his career goal because of the Wizards’ mix of young and veteran players.
Kyle Kuzma’s fashion game: What started as a desire to look sharp became part of his identity when he was drafted with the 27th pick in 2017 and he moved to Los Angeles.