An Interview with Courtney Mays
It's undeniable that the NBA’s best dressed players have turned the tunnel into a runway, setting the tone for everything from streetwear to ready to wear on a global scale. Behind the scenes pioneering menswear stylist Courtney Mays is single handedly shaping the distinctive looks of some of the NBAs most stylish stars and in turn playing a major role in curating the closets of fashionable men around the world.
Stylist Whitney Olschwanger recently sat down with Courtney to discuss what it's like styling the likes of Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Deandre Jordan, how she is handling working through quarantine in the NBA bubble, and what she loves about Spinelli Kilcollin.
Watch the full video by Amir Ebrahimi
Whitney: Hi Courtney! Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Courtney: My name is Courtney Mays, I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. I live in Los Angeles by way of New York, by way of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I'm a menswear wardrobe stylist specifically in the sports world.
W: How did you find out about Spinelli Kilcollin? When did you first discover the brand?
C: I have a friend named Aja Bowma who works with Elyse Walker and she always has the coolest jewelry on--she stacks all these great rings and she's always mixing in vintage pieces. I was shopping for a client's wife and I'm always looking for stackable rings and like kind of dainty necklaces. So Aja showed me one of Spinelli’s newest collections at the time and I instantly fell in love. She then told me that Spinelli does custom and mentioned it would be a cool style to introduce to my male clients. At that point I began looking at some of the thicker more masculine pieces. And so one of my clients was so interested in a ring, but it ended up being too small for him so I was like, cool! I’ll take it! And so it became my first Spinelli ring. And then I feel like I just became fully immersed in the brand-- constantly looking at their site, shopping for pieces for some of my girls with Elyse Walker. Then I reached out to you, Whitney, and I feel like the universe was like, you are supposed to work with this brand because it was something that was organic, because it's something that I actually wear and I love that it's a unisex thing. I love that it's kind of timeless. I love the mixing of the metals. I think it's just so beautiful and so interesting. It's something I've never seen before.
W: What brands do you love? More specifically, what are some of the smaller, less known brands that you are mixing and matching with different clients' wardrobes.
C: I'm always really into great tailoring. I recently fell in love with the brand Hilton Turner. It's a black owned suit maker who does these really beautiful and very cool pieces. Last year, for example, one of my clients wore a pinstriped jacket that didn't have lapels. It was almost like a kimono, but fitted like a traditional suit.
I also really love the brands that are supporting historically black colleges and universities like the brand Support Black Colleges. They do these great color blocked collegiate sweatshirts, like old school 90s pins that you kind of put on the sweatshirts, like, really cool. I also love Second Layer. Whitney, thank you for introducing me to them because I'm super hyped for the guys to wear that!
Where can you buy the brand Support Black Colleges?
C: Online! And I feel like that's the world we're going into, like everything is super digital and I feel like that it's cool and that you can see how to wear and you see, like, you know, ways to style it. And I feel like recently we've been trying to be really intentional about supporting black designers, but also designers that are sustainable and designers that are eco friendly, designers that are, you know, supporting women and just like really making sure that it's not just like this corporate world that we're living and supporting and I think that's been really important to me. I feel like that's where I've kind of found my purpose instead of just like, oh, here's this new Dolce look, because that's what everyone's wearing. That's just no longer what I'm interested in.
W: Has COVID changed your business model?
C: So it's interesting, before COVID, I had been engaging with my clients primarily through photo stream so I have been able to put looks together seamlessly online. I would take the photos, they would go in a stream, and within the notes, I would say, “cuff the paint here, push the sleeve up here, or you can even wear this with a white t shirt” or, you know, I would kind of style them via photo stream.
W: So even before COVID you had already been working with your clients in a digital capacity?
C: Yeah. We still prioritize having fittings and all of that, but in the moment I'm not always there for a game look or, you know, a meeting or something that might be photographed, especially for someone like Chris Paul. He's the president of the Players Association. I'm not there at those meetings, but those are photographed and they're in the press a lot. So we have those conversations digitally. I feel like COVID kind of just kept the party going! We have a lot of conversations about how to wear things online or over text. I will say now that a number of my clients are in the NBA bubble we've become extremely organized when it comes to packing. Everything, and I mean everything, is COVID safe, wrapped in plastic, and labeled. The biggest struggle has been preparing them for a much longer stretch of time than we used to. Before COVID I would go to a client's house once a month, but I would only do their Game Looks. Now I'm doing lifestyle looks for over 30 days and I, of course, cannot be there. So we prepped Chris Paul for the bubble in six huge bags down to like underwear, socks, pajamas all in plastic bags. Everything is labeled, everything is numbered. I'm super proud of the packing job and I can never go back because now I've taken it to a whole other level, I feel like this is now the standard. I'm not OK with Covid. I don't want to be in quarantine anymore. I don't want this to go on. But I feel like I've had so many great learning lessons that I want to learn from and adapt in my career which has been cool.
W: Do you have any strategies or styling techniques with Spinelli Kilcollin pieces or menswear in general?
C: With Spinelli, I'm very interested in what the guys would naturally put on. I love that, like Ross just decided to keep the necklace on all day, like, I feel like that's when the jewelry comes to life, because this is just my standard, you know, stack that I put on my pinkie or my index every day. I’m especially interested in this because I feel like sometimes guys feel like jewelry is the thing they put on when they get dressed up, but I feel like it's so interesting to just include in your daily style-- you know, your classic pinkie ring on every day with your jeans or your sweat suit. I feel like that's something I wish I could integrate into the conversation with menswear. The other thing is I feel like accessories have always been important to me because I'm a plus size girl. There's not always a ton of options for me wardrobe wise, so I feel like the way I was able to express myself was through jewelry and accessories. Like my hat games are always strong, I usually have a red lip on.. but like I feel like that's why jewelry has always been so important to me, because that's the way I've been able to express myself and I and I feel like Spinelli was like Yes!-- like I've met my match.
Amir: I think just to help us out. Can you walk me through the day?
C: We shot this morning at the Hoxton in Downtown L.A., which I'm super excited about because I know the Hoxton from London. We met this morning and fit Ross and Jordan and kind of used the hotel as our backdrop and found really cool, interesting ways to incorporate the jewelry and the wardrobe. There is a really beautiful tile wall on the rooftop that I thought was really great with Ross’s suit and Jordan's lime Lenny Kravitz moment. Then we shot in an alley. The alley with such a vibe! Because I feel like we were saying, you don't know if you're in New York or L.A., you don't know where you are. It was the typical street style moment, but I love those moments because I feel like it makes me think of, like, all the cool kids that were taking photos and like we were the cool kids today. Oh, and fully obsessed with that hot pink Iceberg suit!
And I liked that we gave Ross a James Dean all-American nineteen fifties vibe. And then we gave Jordan like the Lenny Kravitz/ Luka Sabbot - and that was super intentional in order to show the expanse of styles that work well with the Spinelli jewelry pieces. Then we came to this really cool space with a great pool table where the guys thought it was cool to actually play a real game. I also think it was cool how we're able to play with color blocking today, like all the textures, like the brick with the Turkish rug, the yellow couch and the cognacs -- there were so many. It's interesting how you can take a living room and turn it into a completely different vibe with the right eye.
W: What are some of your favorite Spinelli pieces that you shot today?
C: The huge keychain! I know DeAndre Jordan is going to be like, yes, yes. That is just such a cool piece. Today we talked about maybe not putting keys on it because I would never want to scratch that piece. It's such a cool accessory for your belt loop-- just an interesting, little like, oh, what's that? I love that pop of surprise. And then I always love the like going up the ear, so I feel like having just like a little bling and then all the hoops kind of linked together was really nice. I love that. And Ross's Gold Bracelet stack, just incredible. And then that really big diamond like multi diamond like, ugh, that was unbelievable. Yeah, those are actually all the shit. Everything was cool.