Hugo Boss launches basketball-inspired collection with Russell Athletic and Singapore Slingers
As I enter the exclusive fittings suite at the Hugo Boss boutique in Takashimaya, I feel slightly out of place in my glass-like heels and tight ponytail. Unusual, considering dressing like a pseudo-Kardashian would usually be a fairly safe place to play when visiting a luxury store. However, as I enter the room and I'm greeted by four earnest, if not slightly nervous faces looking down at me, I'm reminded why I needed the heels. And I say looking down, because even as they remain seated, all four of the men in front of me tower above my miniature frame at a minimum of six foot each. I'm barely five foot five all inclusive. Welcome to the realm of pro-basketball players.
It's a warm and cordial environment as I sit down on the plush sofas to speak to the hand-picked local faces of new Hugo Boss x Russell Athletic collaboration. The first-of-its-kind launch for the luxury brand, the collection is an homage to all things nostalgic athleisure and uniquely inspired by the streetwear styling of the basketball culture. It's Boss, but even sexier, even trendier and even more desirable.
As we exchange coffee requests and conclude introductions, the boys too start to settle in and tell me more about their national basketball team, 'The Singapore Slingers' and why this entire experience has felt like they've ventured into unchartered territory and very much outside the courts of their comfort. Meet Delvin Goh Kok Chiang, 26, Ng Han Bin, 32, Lavin Raj, 20 and Xavier Allen Alexander, 32.
Athletes, friends, basketballer aficionados and now, unsuspecting style icons?
"We couldn't have ever imagined being the faces of a brand like Hugo Boss. This is huge for us. It's a very special collaboration and really allows people to see a different side of sport and athletes in Singapore. We're not often the faces of fashion campaigns here." Han Bin shares.
If you were anywhere else in the world, you'd be shocked by Ng's statement, but in Singapore, his insight is very much a reality. Where the billboards of Vegas, LA and New York are often lit up with mammoth images of star sportsmen and women including Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams for brands from Nike to Pepsi, the reality of athletes being celebrated as icons, much less fashion stars is a starkly contrasting one to Singapore. In fact, choosing a life in sport seems uniquely challenging in a country like ours, though not surprisingly so given our emphasis on growth across all things finance, technology and science as the beacons of our bright futures ahead. Academics first, everything second, the mantra of many an Asian nation.
I ask if many of them struggled with their decision to pursue a career in sport given this pressure. Three of them nod in unison.
"I could only pursue basketball part-time for the last few years between school, university education and National Service. There's a lot to balance." Lavin opens up.
At 20, he's the youngest face of the Boss x Russell Athletic collaboration and already touted as the local answer to his global idol, Shaquille O'Neal — a comparison he's more than happy to embrace.
"I agree. We have a big sense of duty in Singapore. Not just to our academics but to a life that we think we need to lead. But that life isn't perfect for everyone. I worked for a Big 4 Consulting & Accounting firm before I left that role to pursue basketball full-time. But I realized I wasn't happy doing that job, no matter how much money I could make. I just wanted to enjoy what I did for a living. So, I chose my passion, which for many in Singapore is a hard decision to make." Han Bin adds as Delvin and Lavin agree.
The exception to this narrative however is Xavier Alexander. Born in the US and playing pro-basketball in his hometown of Oklahoma prior to moving to the Asian basketball scene, he comes from the polar opposite culture around sport and success. He cites legends including Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as regular role models in his childhood and basketball journey and acknowledges the overwhelmingly positive sentiment towards an athletic career in the US. However, Alexander also shares that Singapore for him signals a huge potential growth market for the sport and as its associated talents.
"Over the last few years, we've gone from friends and family in the stands to selling out a stadium. We've travelled all across Asia and played against some of the top talent emerging in this market. There's so much potential for basketball not just locally, but regionally. That's what's really exciting for me and why I moved here for the next chapter of my career."
And he's not wrong. Over recent years, names like Joseph Schooling (Champion swimmer – men's and also a local face of the Boss brand), Quah Ting Wen (Champion swimmer – women's), Micky Lin (Captain of Singapore's national Netball team) amongst countless others have been silently reshaping the underlying narrative around what success in sport looks like locally. Having graced the covers of magazines and cinching lucrative brand deals and prize money, there's an undeniable wave of newly emerging athletes who are refusing to be left behind on the world stage from Singapore. Their pathways are also playing a profoundly influential role in opening doors for others like them.
"I think Joseph has been instrumental in elevating Singapore to the global stage in so many ways. He pioneered a lot of the change we now see around how athletes are perceived locally. He shifted many people's perspectives on what success can look like for us and gave us a voice on a much bigger platform. He actually showed us it's possible to want that dream of being seen as other global stars are and take our passion to the next level." Han Bin explains.
His insight unlocks an interesting perspective and I chime in to ask the guys what their first thoughts were when they got told they would be the faces of the Boss x Russell Athletic collection. Disbelief, they report back unanimously.
"I was so excited. A little in shock, but very excited!" Delvin laughs.
"We're usually in our sweaty basketball uniforms, so this was quite a different experience. It was cool seeing myself in something different actually." Lavin adds.
I ask if any of them were surprised at how great they photographed. After all, they're all six foot and above and not the slightest bit unattractive.
"I'm not going to lie, this was one of the few times I saw myself in the photos and actually was like to myself, you know what? You clean up quite well. I don't have photos of me in a suit in general and whatever I do is at my Mom's house (back in the US), so it was really nice to see myself looking sharply dressed but also really cool and stylish?" Xavier shares.
In true Boss style, the collection which launched in late April 2021 isn't your average streetwear collaboration. From hoodies to swim shorts to classic tees, the curated pieces still embody the familiar clean lines and slickness of all things Hugo Boss, bringing together the best of tailoring with nostalgia. From pastel blues to baby pinks, it's also purposefully unisex and sizes up to 3XL. It's everything you love about streetwear with a 90s flair.
"Sneakers have always been such a huge part of the basketball culture and influence on fashion when it comes to streetwear. But not everyone vibes with buying expensive sneakers. This is a much more inclusive way to experiment with athleisure and lets people add their own touch to that 'casual-but-dressed-up-look'." Xavier shares when I ask how he sees the collection differently to traditional American-led basketball style influence.
"We generally tend to wear looser clothes on the court too for comfort and movement and that's also a lot of what you normally see in streetwear inspired by basketball. With these clothes, we get to keep that overall basketball look but in a much more fitted and grown-up way." Delvin agrees.
"I didn't know I could look good in pink, honestly. That's what I learned." Lavin laughs shyly.
For Delvin and Lavin, the venture into basketball was an unusual one. Having been too tall to play many other sports in school, they were both forced into basketball as a default. But with time and skill development, they both found a source of comfort and talent neither knew they had within them. That's what shooting for a fashion brand now feels like, they share.
"At first, we were a bit nervous and hesitant, but after a while, you realize it's a bit like when you're playing a game on court. You just focus your mind and it feels easier. It was actually a really fun experience." Delvin shares.
"Lots of young men and boys really do struggle also with body image and being taller or muscular or larger and so I also hope this helps them see they can be both athletic or whatever their body frame is but also still try new things with style and fashion." Lavin adds.
So between becoming the next generation of #BOSS faces, balancing the physical requirements of maintain pro-basketball status and the endless hours each of the team present and beyond spend contributing to community projects, I ask the boys what they're most looking forward to about their future as athletes in Singapore. Do they have any advice they can impart on those who might be looking up to them for guidance?
"While we still have a long way to go in equalizing with the rest of the world (particularly the West) in terms of money and incentive to pursue sport full-time here, we are slowly but surely catching up and I'm really looking forward to seeing the next generation of players coming through. Now that I play more of a coaching and mentorship role, I'm really inspired to enable others to overcome the obstacles I faced. Particularly in realizing that this is 80% a mental game and 20% physical. Once your mind is set, you can do the rest." Han Bin reflects.
Xavier and Delvin concur. Both share they're excited to see the sport grow and get the representation it deserves not just on the local stage but global one too. They believe in the local talent and see the desire for greater acceptance of sport as not just a hobby to pursue, but a viable and respected career choice in Singapore. They're the markers of this success and possibility, something Lavin closes poignantly with.
"Just know you can do it. There isn't anything stopping you from being the next face of Boss & Russell Athletic. There is nothing stopping you from doing what any of us do. We hope we can inspire others to feel this can be their dream too, just like we wanted someone to show us that. It's all possible, just start today."
The Boss x Russell Athletic collection & showcase is now available exclusively at Mandarin Gallery and online. Log on to www.hugoboss.com to purchase.