Walt Frazier — Always in StyleTodd Heisler/The New York Times Walt Frazier's closet, actually a small bedroom in his Upper East Side apartment, is jammed with shoes, boots, ties, belts, handkerchiefs and suits tailored in colors and patterns that he selects.More Photos »
Published: April 15, 2011
In Walt Frazier’s closet hangs a polyester cow-print suit with brown-and-black splotches. However absurd, it fits in a menagerie of 100 or so suits that hang on five racks and with patterns of tiger stripes and leopard spots; designs of bold plaids and checks; and colors of yellow, red, salmon and orange.
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Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Walt Frazier spends hours selecting the ensembles he wears for his Knicks broadcasts.More Photos » The closet is actually a small, disorganized bedroom in Frazier’s Upper East Side apartment where he mixes and matches his dozens of ties, shirts and handkerchiefs to his suits. He spends hours inside thinking about what to wear to announce a Knicks game for the MSG Network; he will work and rework his suits and accessories (“Sometimes, I’ll let the tie dictate the colors I’ll mix with it”) to gratify himself and stun others, something he has done since soon after he became a Knick in the 1960s. “I like unusual combinations,” he said Thursday afternoon, dressed in a white pullover and sweatpants as he eagerly prepared to broadcast the first Knicks playoff series in seven years. “I have to entertain myself. I like combinations that people wouldn’t think would go normally together.” Frazier exhibits a delicate touch as he moves among two hangers jammed with a riot of colorful ties to an armoire packed with pocket handkerchiefs, the suit racks and a floor littered with boots made of alligator, ostrich, eel and stingray skins. This is where he seeks an alchemy befitting the Clyde persona that was summoned to brash life more than 40 years ago, when he starred for the Knicks and often battled the Celtics. Here, a wild plaid suit is tempered by a pink shirt and a pink tie. Here, the leopard-spotted suit is tamed with a black silk shirt and black-patterned tie.
“If your suit is popping,” he said, “your tie can’t.”
As he considered his choices, he sometimes said, “Now, where is that hankie?”
He had returned from Boston that morning from the Knicks’ last game of the regular season. On Sunday, he will be back in Boston for Game 1 of the Knicks-Celtics playoff series. He eyed a bright green suit — not Celtic green — that he was tempted to pack for the trip to TD Garden.
“For years, he wouldn’t wear green in Boston,” said Mike Breen, his partner at the MSG Network. “Now he’s going for the reverse jinx.”
The green suit shares space with the cow print that Frazier first assessed as sofa fabric for rental property in St. Croix. He was in Zarin Fabrics, on the Lower East Side, when he spotted the cow print, along with the leopard and tiger designs, on rolls. These could be suits, he said, offering the sort of idiosyncratic style judgment usually reserved for Las Vegas extravaganzas.
“I asked the guy and he said, ‘Yeah, it could be a suit,’ ” Frazier said. “But he might have told me just to sell it.”
He toted the fabrics to Mohan’s Custom Tailors, near Grand Central Terminal, which makes nearly all his suits and has a celebrity clientele.
Frazier occasionally spends hours studying swatches for future suits and shirts on a scholarly hunt for what he calls jazzy, and what others might call gaudy.
“He thinks and thinks and tries to match things,” said Mohan Ramchandani, the proprietor of Mohan’s.
Ramchandani trusts Frazier’s vision, yet still had a question about the cow print. “Are you really going to wear this?” he asked. “Because it might be too heavy?” Frazier assured him he was, and Ramchandani turned the cow and wildcat prints into suits for $700 to $800 each.
In the months before Frazier picked them up, they were ogled by other customers.
“Sometimes, we show people the Clyde suits,” he said. No one else asked for a cow suit.
A funny thing happened in January when Frazier broke out the cow ensemble for a game at Madison Square Garden. He left the pants hanging at home. “I wasn’t brave enough to wear the cow pants,” he said. He wore black trousers instead. “Man,” he added, “I thought it was going to be too much.”
Breen remembered the night in January when Frazier wore the leopard suit in Los Angeles.
“When the camera came on,” Breen said, “he said, ‘This might be one and done.’ ” That night, Breen added, Frazier hinted at the cow suit that was to come. “He said, ‘Mike, you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ ”
The leopard print might go into seclusion, but it will be replaced by something provocative. Frazier challenges the tailors at Mohan’s: “Show me something that nobody else would wear.”
Frazier has so many suits in his closet that he said he did not have to spring for any dry cleaning in the 2009-10 season. “I said, ‘Man, I’m saving money by having all these suits.’ ”
There is a touch of frugality to him; he enjoys ironing, and said he was appalled recently when it cost him $34 to dry-clean four silk shirts.
Frazier plans his next season’s outfits during the current one. On a table in his kitchen are swatches (one that looks like cheetah) for 10 or 12 suits that Mohan’s will make for him. He has a bagful of buttons that will be sewn onto his jacket sleeves. And inside a folder are pages clipped from women’s magazines and catalogs to help him visualize his future designs. He stopped reading GQ long ago.
“I look through these for different patterns for shirts,” he said, flipping the pages of a Bloomingdale’s catalog. “I like these open collars for summer. You can see what you’re getting more than in men’s magazines. Here’s a suit. See how that lapel looks? And here’s a sort of Nehru suit.”
The closet will soon close its run after about 30 years and move to Harlem next week, where Frazier acquired three penthouse apartments last year. There is more closet space there, and he vows to be better organized and to ruthlessly color-coordinate his wardrobe. He is also planning to open a sports bar and restaurant on 10th Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets in December. The ceiling has a design that is based, in part, on Frazier’s shoes. A Frazier-themed mural will span a blocklong stretch.
“It will be,” he said, “a shrine to Clyde.”
A version of this article appeared in print on April 16, 2011, on page D1 of the New York edition.
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