For Melody Ehsani, a Love for Basketball Feeds Her Creative Output
The pioneering streetwear designer — and diehard Lakers fan — is fueled by her passion for the game.
Designer Melody Ehsani, a lifelong Lakers fan and Los Angeles native, has always been inspired by basketball, which can be felt in her empowering, in-your-face jewelry designs, signature sweatsuits that make statements on or off the court and impressive sneaker collaborations with Air Jordan and Reebok. Known for incorporating powerful messages into her fashion and footwear concepts, Ehsani is a female force that’s shaken up the streetwear space since stepping onto the scene and opening her store on Fairfax in 2013. Years later and her work continues to impact the culture at large with milestones like her recent appointment as Creative Director of women’s business at Footlocker.
Apart from catching as many Lakers games as she can, Ehsani has also launched a podcast called The Butterfly Forecast with Julie Burns Walker. Exploring different creative themes with each episode, it’s evident that Ehsani brings the same tenacity to creating impactful designs that professional basketball players bring to the court. Inspired by the NBA’s “That’s Game” campaign and as part of an ongoing interview series to celebrate the NBA Finals 2021, HYPEBEAST sat down with Ehsani to learn more about the past, present and future of the inspirations that drive her approach to design and how her love for the game fuels her creative output.
HYPEBEAST: Let’s talk about players’ style and swag, both on the court and off. Do you have any favorite players or player-inspired styling?
Melody Ehsani: Well, it’s funny because up until these last couple of years, players were notorious for having the worst style. Allen Iverson changed the game when he would dress so like himself that it made him like an icon. He was just so authentic to who he was. And Michael Jordan was also pretty iconic because it was like a version of himself, too. You had never really seen a player wear a perfectly designed three-piece suit with, like, some AJ1s, you know? But, so many players now are stepping up their style game. I think I’m biased towards LeBron because I love LeBron and I feel like he’s not try-hard. It never feels like he’s going out of his way to be stylish — he just kind of is. I also really like P.J. Tucker. He has a good style.
What kind of prep work goes into an outfit like the airbrushed tribute sweatsuits with images of Kobe and Gianna Bryant?
After Kobe died, we were both so floored by it. Like, we didn’t know how we were going to even attend the next game or what it was going to be like. It was the first game after Kobe had passed. I felt like I needed something to accompany me to that game. So, Lauren Halsey had put me on to this airbrusher. His name is Sketch. I called him and I was like, ‘Hey, we really want something to honor Kobe.’ I sent him a few pictures of Kobe and Gianna that I really loved. It took him a week and he flipped it. I felt such an honor to wear them and tribute them in my own way.
Can you tell me about the matching Lakers-themed outfits that you and your husband, Flea, have been spotted wearing courtside?
It’s never that we’re planning on matching. It’s more like, he’ll have really cool Lakers stuff and I’ll steal it, or I’ll have really cool Lakers stuff and he’ll steal it. Then sometimes we’ll split the difference because we wear the same size, so it makes it easy.
Thinking about your podcast’s title, The Butterfly Forecast, do you have a favorite moment in basketball history where a player made a change that affected the game as a whole?
Allen Iverson made a huge impact in that way where he just couldn’t be anything but himself. I think that before that, players didn’t have tattoos, they wouldn’t cornrow their hair, they didn’t dress in street clothes. He’s probably the most obvious to me where it just sort of ricocheted through the entire league.
And this last year, unfortunately, was really huge in terms of impact. For me, LeBron spearheaded that along with the rest of the team, but he was the most vocal. I don't think that we understand the impact of it now, but we will moving forward. I think it empowered the players in a way that they’ve never really been empowered. We’ll have to see.
Is this also something that’ll be guiding your work at Footlocker?
Yeah. And I think that’s where a lot of corporations go wrong. I think about how the “shrink it and pink it” phenomenon started; it was a bunch of people at a sneaker company sitting in a boardroom thinking, ‘this is what women want.’ It’s like, we’ll just size them down and make them pink. And that’s not true. As a designer, as a company, you have to go inside and design something from a true place that you feel like you want to offer versus trying to decide for people what you think they want or trying to read people’s minds.
What are some of your rules for navigating the streetwear game?
I talk to a lot of people that are entering the world, and instead of identifying what they want to see and putting it out there because it’s missing, they try to identify what people want. I think that’s always a mistake. I really think it’s important to come from a place inside yourself, like to go in first and then express it outwardly.
In regards to basketball, is there anything you’d like to explore that you haven’t discussed before?
I mean, I think my dream is to make a basketball shoe. So that’s sort of what I have my eyes set on, especially if I could do it for a WNBA player. That would be really cool.
Do you have an idea of any major things you want to do in that role?
There’s so much. It’s sort of like an iceberg where you only see like the tip of it sticking out and then there’s this whole world under the water. I’m focused on being able to design really cool product, to give women more options as to what they may want in the sportswear world and in terms of lifestyle apparel that can be worn with sneakers and to bring a new voice to their team as somebody that’s on the outside. I think [Footlocker is] amazing because they’ve created an incredible staff where a lot of the people that are sitting in the boardroom started off working in the stores. And a lot of women work there, a lot of women of color work there. It’s nice being able to approach it from a fresh perspective and then collaborating on what they know about their business in terms of numbers and data, and what I can bring from another perspective.
You were an early player in the streetwear scene and in past interviews, other creatives in streetwear have referred to you as their O.G. Who are some of your O.G.s?
I don’t have any. I think [streetwear] is so young. I didn’t really have a lot of women, but I did have peers. Beth Gibbs is somebody that’s been in the game for a really long time and we’ve been friends and I’ve always admired her. Estelle Bailey-Babenzien, who does Noah in New York — she’s another good friend that I love. Shaniqwa Jarvis isn’t necessarily in streetwear, but always has been as a photographer. She is somebody that I really respect.
But design-wise, I think my biggest inspiration growing up was probably Ralph Lauren. And music. I always loved the way Lauryn Hill put things together and André 3000. I think that they pioneered being able to mix and match things in ways where it was like athletic, but high end. They were just referencing all these different worlds and putting them together. It’s the way that they combine things that birthed a whole new generation of designers who design things like that.
Tune into the NBA Finals on ABC. #ThatsGame
Another theme of your podcast is exploring the larger life lessons or human themes that everyone can relate to. What are some lessons that you’ve noticed or learned from the game of basketball?
One of the things that I’ve learned — and that Julie enhanced my awareness of — is the importance of trusting what you love. It’s so important to trust what you love because love is the only vehicle that leads you to where you personally need to get to in your life. In terms of basketball from one angle, it’s important for me because I go to every game or I try to go to every home game. And there’s times where I’m like, ‘Oh, am I wasting my time? I should be doing other things.’ But I love basketball so much. I’ve noticed that whenever I go to games, I always am so inspired in my work. All of a sudden, I’ll have ideas during the game or things will happen to me that are specifically for me that sometimes I can’t even explain to other people, but I think it’s me being in the process of trusting something that I really love, even though it seems frivolous. It’s important to me.
I also noticed that with players that come into the game by way of calling, they just love what they’re doing. And I find that they’re always the ones that stay behind and sign autographs, and have the biggest impact outside of the games. I think it’s by doing the act of trusting the thing that you love to get you to wherever it is that you’re trying to get to in your life.
As the battle continues in the NBA Finals for a long awaited championship between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, don't miss the NBA Finals on ABC. This is history in the making.
Tune into the NBA Finals on ABC. #ThatsGame