Waraire Boswell, or Boz, as everyone calls him, is running a bit late this morning. I’m secretly thankful because it gives me a chance to catch my breath; the elevator is temporarily out of order and the fashion designer’s sun-drenched studio is located on the 10th floor of the historic Anjac Fashion Building in downtown Los Angeles. It’s also 82 degrees outside and it’s only 10 a.m. I’m just lucky like that.
Josh, Boz’s design associate, immediately offers me a glass of water when he sees how flustered I am. We chat for a bit about how Josh connected with Boz while still in college and, by keeping in touch throughout the years, was finally able to work for Boz after he graduated. The respect and admiration he has for his boss and mentor is undeniable. Boz may have made a name for himself as the dapper, 6’7″ designer who had to create his own line out of necessity and now dresses the most famous players of the NBA, but his true genius lies in his ability to dress clients of every height and shape. He has an uncanny knack for adapting striking designs that adapt to anyone’s signature style, and he prides himself on creating pieces that make men feel comfortable in their own skin and powerful.
He’s teamed up on collaborations with everyone from Del Toro to Garrett Leight Optical to bring his tailored style to men of all heights. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll snap up one of his ready-to-wear pieces or save up for a custom Bowell suit. Because a bespoke Boswell suit is pure magic—Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler, and Blake Griffin (and the best-dressed agents and attorneys from LA to NYC) will tell you that.
Bevel Code: You started out at William Morris Endeavor and United Talent Agency. How did you get your start, and what was it like working in an industry that’s not particularly known for diversity?
Waraire Boswell: I was in the training program at both places, so I thought I wanted to be an agent at the time. The agent team wasn’t for me, but what was for me was the access. It was incredible and there was a gentleman who was an assistant for the partners. He said “Bos, the beautiful thing about working at the agency is that whether it’s virtue or vice, you can get it here.”
The vice that was in plain view was that with my being 6’7”, agents have an unspoken uniform. It’s either a blue suit, grey suit, or black suit. White shirt, a blue shirt, and the occasional checked shirt—that’s for the dangerous, the very dangerous agent. I didn’t stop growing until I was 29, so I was working at the agency three years removed from college but I was still in the process of growing. I was 6’5” or 6’6” and I couldn’t walk into a store and find something to wear.
So I was doing a hodgepodge of a shirt from here, a pant from here, a jacket from there. It was terrible.
One of the partners was like “Bos, either you’re gonna look like us or you need to look like us.” I knew I’d never be Jewish or have white skin, so I ended up leaving the agency for a production company which had a deal with Disney.
That deal subsided and we got production deals and severance packages. That partner who said, “You need to look like us or look like us” made me think, “I need to find something I like to do that I can get paid for.” And that was a call to the Universe for what that was. So I realized 1) you need to get yourself together and 2) that also applies to your wardrobe, because it was piss poor. Out of that, I realized there was a business to be had…and it started to develop.
BC: Where did you grow up?
Waraire Boswell: I grew up in Altadena, California [north of Downtown LA and directly north of Pasadena]. I ended up going to Cal State Northridge out of high school and I did my first year there. Then I went to Antelope Valley, which is a junior college. I still had dreams of basketball and going from a university to junior college, you meet a lot of different types of people. The people on my team at Antelope Valley were from Texas, Missisissipi, places that experienced serious racism. Not to say that it doesn’t exist in California, but it’s more overt in southern states, I feel.
So all of my teammates had these misconceptions and barriers they put up around themselves, but I didn’t understand it because I grew up in a place like Altadena, which was very well integrated. Every class had slackers, gangbangers, weedheads, jocks, and and the really smart kids. Altadena was a place to learn about different things and how to deal with different people.
BC: How did you try to break down these barriers with teammates?
Waraire Boswell: I’d always ask them, “Who are these people you’re afraid of, these imaginary folks saying, ‘I can’t do this?’” Whenever we’d go someplace and there was any type of discrepancy or anyone who needed a talking-to, I’d always do that for the group. It was very, very odd and very bizarre but I hope in the end, I helped them tear down some of those walls because it’s literally you that you’re scared of.
You know what’s interesting, we lived several places in Altadena. One of the streets we lived on was Mar Vista, which is middle to upper middle class. There was a golf course around our house. I had a friend named Steven and he was white, with an older brother—both of his parents were together.
Steven would always say, “Come over, go swimming.” Whenever his dad was there—not a problem. But his mom was always making an excuse like, “Oh, we have to clean the pool.” There was a group of 6 to 8 of us, 3 black kids—and the rest were white. So whenever she’d say the pool was getting cleaned or whatever, I’d stay home and the rest of the white kids would go swimming. Steven would ask even ask his mom, “Why can’t he come over?”
One particular time I asked my mom, “Why does Steven’s mom never let me go swimming?” She said, “Son, there are certain things you will be able to grasp, but you can’t grasp them now.”
My mother would put on her bathing suit, get out the Slip ‘N Slide and then we’d get cracking. We had the largest lawn, so Steven would be on our lawn with the Slip ‘N Slide, too. That was a certain level of racism, so that is as deep as it got for me.
BC: What’s the craziest story that you can tell us from your time at the agency?
Waraire Boswell: Like, working 16 hours a day? Other than that, we’d get an envelope from Warner Brothers or another studio for one of the actors and it was for something like 16 million dollars. Seeing that, I was like, “Oh my god, that’s incredible.” That’s about as crazy as it got. Reading three scripts a week and writing coverage or having to finish a 1000-page book in a day or two, that’s not really crazy…that’s just idiotic that any human would put themselves through that torture. By the way, have you seen the show “Silicon Valley” on HBO lately? It’s hilarious.
BC: I find it hilarious because it’s really not as satirical or ridiculous as it seems sometimes. What’s most striking to me is how the lack of diversity on the show is mirrored in real life.
Waraire Boswell: I have yet to see an African-American in one of those meetings or conferences. One of my clients works with Google—it’s his job to sell ad space everywhere. So he’ll have me go to the Frank Gehry-designed campus in Venice and they have every single amenity possible. They have food, yoga, meditation, everything to keep you there. It’s just white and Indian guys and a couple other Asians sprinkled in, but no African-Americans at all.
When my business started to roll a bit more, the gentleman who ended up putting up my website together was Asian and his company was called FOB [Fresh Off the Boat]. I didn’t know what it meant at the time. We’d meet in a group with others from his company and they’d talk about the racism they faced; it was interesting to hear what they faced. Often times, you think if you’re saying how hard it is in the professional world, it’s only you or your own racial group…but they were dealing with it, too.
BC: There are many microaggressions each group faces; it’s only when you discuss them together that you realize we all deal with it in some way on a near-daily basis. What was it like striking out on your own?
Waraire Boswell: After leaving the agency and working at the production company, we got our severance packages; it was a large sum that made me realize, “I need to find something I like to do.” But while I was making that statement, I didn’t have the go-to pieces I needed yet to meet power brokers.
In the early days, I was driving back between Pomona and Pasadena for this patternmaker. After I had my first shirt and pair of pants made and they actually fit me the way pants were supposed to fit, I felt very empowered.
There’s something very empowering about how clothes are supposed to fit; we take it for granted that our hearts are always beating, all day every day. But you can’t take clothing that fits properly for granted.
Being 6’7″, I didn’t have that luxury. So if I found brands that made a shirt or pants that fit right, I’d buy every piece even if I couldn’t afford it. That is the hallmark of my niche—it’s a traditionally overlooked market that’s very rich with passive income and nobody pays attention because it’s so difficult to break through. Making clothes for regular people, it’s based on small, medium, and large sizes. For tall athletic men, I had to determine if I wanted to be one thing to a specific group. As a man or woman with a business, you have to have your value proposition. I’m making contemporary pieces for men 6’2” and taller. From there, I developed a business model…and here I am.
BC: Who championed you along the way?
Waraire Boswell: The initial people would be my mother and father, but the person who actually put the first money into me and also followed that up with belief was my sister. I tell my wife all the time, before LeBron and Kobe started wearing my designs and the guys at WME/UTA, it was my sister who was on the phone when I was frustrated or I had pants with seams popping open to deal with. She was the one who said, “You can do it.” She said, one, be more resourceful and two, just take your time.
There was a point where I’d talk so fast, I’d be stuttering. My sister would always say, “Slow down. Stop. Now talk.” It helps tremendously when I’m talking to someone and slow down, especially with the clientele, because people can read body language and you’re probably talking too fast and moving too fast. So if you’re blessed to be in a position where you can pursue your dream, the last thing you want to do is be right in front of the person who can help you get to the next level and be stuttering. Or be in the position where you make them uncomfortable.
Whether it’s a Klan member or an oil tycoon, I feel that I can have a conversation with anyone, regardless of our differences.
It’s not a black world, it’s not a white world—so it’s important to learn how to communicate with everyone. I can go anywhere and I feel that I can talk to anyone.
BC: Who are some historical figures that you would like to dress, if you could go back in time or in the future?
Waraire Boswell: I would have loved to dress Haile Selassie [the former emperor of Ethiopia]—someone like him would be fantastic. He had a small frame so everything would look good on him. Ralph Bunche [the political scientist and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation in Palestine] would be another.
Robert F. Kennedy would be a good guy to dress. He, of course, came from a blue-blood background but he always looked very blue-collar in the way he dressed. JFK was always dressed up like a playboy, like Frank Sinatra, so it would be good to dress three different guys from three different backgrounds.
BC: What are some of the fashion trends that just need to go away?
Waraire Boswell: Being a Libra, I can find the beauty in everything…
BC: I’m a Libra as well, but Uggs and miniskirts as a combination should just not exist. Neither should Tevas and socks.
Waraire Boswell: [laughs] You can put that down—that should not exist. There’s a bubble that I’m in, the aesthetic that I strive to preserve. If you’d asked me this question when Christian Audigier [Editor’s Note: He of the infamous Ed Hardy shirts that plagued us in the early 2000s] was still around, I’d definitely say that. But the heavens have answered our prayers and he’s no longer around.
As terrible and terrific as some things are, let’s see…shoes that are pointed in the front should not exist. Ginormous khakis should not exist. Pleated khakis should never exist. Ill-fitting clothes. For men, no matter what income level you’re at, you’ll have something for you. At the lower end, you’ll have Topshop and Zara and H&M, then you have the middle of J.Crew and their Ludlow suit, and Rag & Bone…and if you want something custom, there are brands like mine. If you do a little research, you can find what you need. There is no excuse.
BC: Did you experience any stigma for pursuing fashion?
Waraire Boswell: It’s very interesting; I have that conversation with my COO all the time. Whenever I see Ralph Lauren or Tom Ford and it’s all white guy designers, I don’t immediately think, “Oh, he’s making stuff for white guys. He’s making stuff for people who can afford it.” For me, a lot of the people I dress are agents and attorneys, Jewish white guys—they don’t want press. They want to be felt, not seen.
On the flip side, the athletes get all the press, whether it be from GQ or The Hollywood Reporter or Du Jour magazine…so people automatically assume that I only dress African-American men. For me, it’s like the craziest thing. For years, people were like, “You only dress tall guys,” but I was like, “Nah, I dress all different types.”
When you think of your business, the foundation has to be sound. And for it to be sound, the business has to have the value proposition. What is it that you do that I can’t get from somebody else? The thing that I do is that I provide custom clothing for all men of all sizes but with Boswell, I’m creating ready-to-wear, contemporary casual pieces for men 6’2” and taller.
BC: As a seasoned designer and someone who is 6’7”, what style tips do you have for guys of any (and every) size?
Waraire Boswell: I would say the best thing to do is to keep it simple. Even though 6’2” isn’t even that tall…for guys of any size, just know what works for you. If you’re not the adventurous type, don’t pick out the adventurous pieces—just know your lane. I like bright colors; they look good against my dark skin. But for guys who are tall or pale, just know what’s for you. Don’t be influenced by a magazine or a blog to tell you to put something on that you know in your heart of hearts isn’t working for you.
I wear white shirts all the time. It’s so easy, like the Einstein wardrobe—it’s so brilliant to me. In having a white shirt, you can do different variations like cuffs, long sleeves, short sleeves. So if you like colors, just know what they are and stick to those and make sure they’re fitted as perfectly as possible.
Whenever I talk to clients, I tell them to think of me as their assistant director. This is your movie; I’m just helping you realize it and get it to the screen. So if a client says to me, “Why don’t you tell me what I need? Make some suggestions” I can make them but I always tell them after I make them that if these things aren’t jumping out at you, don’t get them. Because if you get them, you’ll never wear them—and a lot of good that does both of us.
BC: Do you remember your first time shaving? How did you develop your routine?
Waraire Boswell: My second or third year of college is when I started to develop serious facial hair. There’s an art to everything; there’s an art to poetry, even to being that of a masterful criminal. So I learned that you have to shave in the direction that your hair grows. I was shaving this way, that way, and I was breaking out. It was like the worst look.
I just recently embraced wearing facial hair—for the longest time I was gonna be clean-cut, but then I said, I’m gonna do what I wanna do and hopefully it looks good and is distinctive and people appreciate it.
The second year of college I was shaving and finally mastered it when I was a young adult. I learned my lesson after I shaved with the razor you buy from the store, a razor like Gillette—I never did that again.
BC: Does your wife have a preference?
Waraire Boswell: She doesn’t like the facial hair. We’re expecting our second child now, and she’s hoping that [my facial hair] changes. I may shave it down but I won’t shave it off. She’s just going to have to deal with it.
BC: What was it like, becoming a father for the first time?
Waraire Boswell: One word: responsible. I feel like even in the past two to three weeks, I’ve really gotten even closer with my son. It’s so interesting, like before his school ended for the semester—he’s two years and three months old—so there were days where I was on Daddy duty and had to be with him all day. I’d take him to the beach, to the Getty…and I’d find myself so emotional around him. I see him and I can’t describe it…that’s literally me right there. I’ll be so emotional I’ll start crying and he’ll come to me and say, “Daddy, don’t cry. Don’t cry.” This happened at the beach, at the park… I’m like an emotional wreck around this kid—it’s crazy.
My wife and I are at the stage where he’s the poster child for the terrible twos. I’ll get him dressed and tell him, “Beat it! Beat it, kid!” And now he says it with the proper inflection, so if someone messes with him, he’ll say “Beat it!” But now we have to reprogram him to not say beat it to everyone, because it’s not the best look. Kids will repeat anything you say. So he says a lot of “No!” and he says a lot of “Beat it.”
BC: Maybe convince him to sing it like the Michael Jackson song instead?
Waraire Boswell: His mom made a CD for his birthday that had MJ’s “Beat it,” “Happy” by Pharrell, and “Dancing on the Ceiling” by Lionel Richie on it. So he always wants to hear the song now but somehow the very aggressive, terrible form of “Beat it!” has stuck with him. It’s crazy.
BC: What’s the love story of how you met your wife?
Waraire Boswell: We met at this function that happens once a month; it’s like a moving social, a happening. It was there that we met about 6 years ago or so. When I first saw her, she and her friend were parking and going to the event. Then I saw her again when she was paying her money to go into the party. When she was upstairs with her friend, I saw her a third time and I thought, “This girl is gorgeous.”
It was upstairs in this place, which was an old church on Skid Row. I was with my buddy and when I saw her again, I was like, “I have to go talk to her right now. Let me just go do it.” When I walked over and introduced myself, she started asking me all these questions, like “How tall are you? Have you ever been married? Do you have kids?” so I was like, “This is too many questions. I just wanna dance. Help me out here!”
BC: How did you know she was your person?
Waraire Boswell: Well, first we danced. Relationships have their peaks and valleys but for the most part, she’s been fantastic…a blessing in many ways.
The interesting thing about women versus men is that men say what they mean and mean what they say. Women—not all, but many—say the opposite of what they mean. I’m gonna let you in on a little something. When my now-wife got pregnant, she said, “Propose to me when you’re ready.”
So I was like, aight, cool…but I later learned what she really meant was, “I’m pregnant—we need to be married before we have this kid.” We’ve only been married a year and my son is 2 years and 3 months old. So we were having these conversations and I was like, “You told me to marry you when I was ready!” And she’s like, “Jackass, that’s not what I meant. I wanted you to read through it and marry me!”
My question to you is if you’re in love with a guy and he’s dragging his feet and you want to know if it’s going to work out, would you say to him, “I want to know where this is going?” Would you ask him?
BC: Most definitely—how else would I know? I’ve been very direct in my past relationships because no one has ESP and I would never expect anyone to be on the same page as me unless we talked about it. But I also have brothers and grew up with guys and I’m a weirdo, so that’s maybe why. I like a little romance but I prefer honesty; I don’t have time to wait around for someone to make up their mind about me.
Waraire Boswell: Somehow, I’m not surprised by that answer.
BC: What’s a dream collaboration for you?
Waraire Boswell: Tom Ford has [Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo] Zegna make all of his suits, so what I’d like to do is partner with Ariston and Dormeuil to do a similar project like Tom Ford and Zegna, where they open up the catalogs and you can make your own specialized fabrics for Boswell through their catalogs. It’s unique in that they make suits and also fabrics, whereas fabric mills mostly make only fabrics. I’d love to partner with one of the mills with the same credential on the custom tailoring end.
BC: Who’s the most adventurous client of yours? Who’s willing to take more fashion risks?
Waraire Boswell: Tyson Chandler, most definitely. Also, Blake Griffin and LeBron James. The reason why I say Blake Griffin is because up until this year, he was very conservative. I dressed Blake for the draft; he’s working with a very talented stylist named Courtney Mays. She’s into bucking tradition and doing something that’s out there but feasible for the regular person to understand. I had an all-white shirt with a black print featuring jayhawks and cardinals. It was a very bizarre fabric, but we made it as a shirt and it turned out beautiful.
BC: The Waraire Boswell logo is super striking and playful at the same time. What inspired it?
Waraire Boswell: The logo is an Irish Terrier—he’s the master chameleon and able to adapt to any environment. He’s extremely loyal and extremely nefarious at the same time. He’ll watch the house but if you leave him home alone for too long, he’ll shit on the bed. I know that because my own Irish Terrier did that to me. When looking at ideas for a logo, I was like “What do people love? People love dogs.” I’ve met countless people who haven’t met me before, but have seen my logo.
BC: Final question. You get five minutes with your younger self. What would you say to him?
Get out of your own way. That’s the main thing. Make sure you focus on one task at a time, and don’t take on too much at once. Don’t talk yourself out of things.
And whatever you thinking about doing, nine times out of 10, the person you’re thinking about talking to? Just pick up the phone and call them. Say you wanted help from someone who knows coding and you need help with something; if you’re diligent and resourceful enough to get to the person, just know that this person might be willing and available versus thinking, “Why would this person want to meet me?” It’s like how when I met my wife, I just said, “Give me your phone number. We’re going out.”