Riccardo Tisci is never without family around him. There’s his flesh and blood family—the mother and eight sisters who were his emotional bedrock growing up in Como, Italy, and who provided his earliest exposure to fashion. (Because there was very little money, Tisci had to wear his sisters’ modified hand-me-downs; now they wear his clothes.) And then there is the extended family Tisci pulled into his orbit over his years as the creative director of Givenchy: Madonna, Kanye West, the artist Marina Abramovic, and the model Mariacarla Boscono among them. When Tisci parted ways with the French house at the beginning of the year, suddenly he appeared to be flying solo, but it became quickly apparent that there was another family ready to embrace him—and his talents—with open arms: Nike. “You can feel when people want only your name,” Tisci says, speaking from experience. “With Nike, you feel they really believe in you.”
Tisci already had a working relationship with the sports megabrand. He had put his spin on several Nike classics, including the Air Force 1 and the Air Max, and last summer he designed a collection of flamboyantly edgy performance gear for the Rio Olympics dubbed NikeLab x RT: Training Redefined. Oh, and that racy, crystal-studded Nike LBD that Maria Sharapova wore at this year’s US Open? That was a Tisci collab, too.
But in many ways, his latest Nike collection, a full wardrobe designed for an imaginary basketball team, the Victorious Minotaurs, takes that relationship to a new level. “When I decided to change my life, before I made it public, I told a few people, and I told Nike,” Tisci recalls. “They said, ‘You are family for us. It doesn’t matter. We feel that you are going to stay with us for a long time.’ They waited for the gossip and craziness to pass, and then they called me to say, ‘We want to meet you to talk about something.’ When they asked me to do a collection that would be presented with the NBA season, I was almost in tears. It was the first time they had seen the emotional part of me. They always perceived me as being strong.”
Basketball has long been an obsession for Tisci. In his collections for Givenchy, he often inserted a number, or a bit of mesh—a reference to a team or a gang. “I always had sportswear in my blood, because I come from the street,” he explains. “I come from a very simple family, a council flat, basically. At school I got scouted for the basketball team. I was a big promise because I was very tall and very fast. Basketball for me was my freedom—and my revenge. In the yard, there was no difference between sexuality, between class—that is the beauty of sport, any sport.”
The Minotaur uniform, which celebrates Nike’s global partnership with the NBA, features a varsity jacket, track pants, a pair of sleeves, a skirt that takes its cues from the mesh shorts the pros wear (technically, it’s a women’s item, but gentlemen, don’t let that stop you). “Over the years, sports have become very fashion-driven, so I decided to go back to the roots,” Tisci says. “I wanted to make it more exciting, to make it a little bit more luxury.” As for the baby blue oxford shirt? “I always dreamed to have a Nike oxford shirt. It’s very strange, but it’s something very cool, I think. I can’t wait to wear it.”
So who else is gearing up for the Minotaurs? There’s Blessin Giraldo, the fiery and determined Baltimore teen at the center of the Sundance Special Jury Award–winning documentary Step (just released on DVD); Steph Turner and Khalid Vaughn, who are using basketball as a platform to give back to their Harlem community through the burgeoning youth hoops movement known as Jelly Fam; the Detroit rapper DeJ Loaf, whose first mix tape was titled “Just Do It,” and who has a Nike swoosh tattooed on her hip (her first album, Liberated, drops later this year); the artist Hugo McCloud, whose athletic build is due in great part to the physical labor that goes into making his paintings (tarring, sanding, hammering, torching); models Youssouf Bamba and Duckie Thot, as well as Halima Aden, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and has walked the runway for brands like Max Mara, always in a hijab or head scarf. The Minotaurs even has not one but two point guards: NBA star D’Angelo Russell, newly transplanted from L.A. to Brooklyn, where he promises to bring the Nets some much-needed heat (his middle name is Dante); and WNBA No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum, who plays for the San Antonio Stars. It is a dream team, after all.
“I believe very much in the binding of energy,” Tisci says. “You need different heads, different energy. Some people think they are successful alone. I know I’m not. My success in my life has always been my team.”
Watch: Riccardo Tisci Partied in Ibiza on His 40th Birthday