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Jeneé Osterheldt

He gets it from his mutha: Alex Bossi has style

Alex Bossi grew up in Orient Heights in East Boston and now is a high-fashion streetwear designer.
Alex Bossi grew up in Orient Heights in East Boston and now is a high-fashion streetwear designer. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Alex Bossi can jump. They say white boys can’t. But Bossi has reach.

People underestimate the lanky lefty at the gym. He’s not a pro. He just loves the game. And as an Eastie native, he’s used to being overlooked.

“The thing about East Boston is the planes fly over your head,” Bossi says with a chuckle.

On and off the court, his ability to stretch beyond stereotypes, play defense, and thrive is a Boston skill set.

Now Bossi sews together two of his favorite things — basketball and fashion — for his clothing line, Bossi Sportswear.

You may not know Bossi’s brand, but rapper Travis Scott, racing driver Lewis Hamilton, and stylistas are among fans of the fashion house based in Boston. East Boston.

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“It took me 32 years to design every ounce of this collection,” says Bossi, 32. “I never want to lose that integrity. I always want it to feel authentic to who I am and where I come from — East Boston.”

From the basement to the studio

His design studio in Atlantic Works overlooks Boston Harbor. A few minutes away is the Sterlingwear of Boston factory, known for supplying peacoats to the US Navy, where most of Bossi Sportswear is manufactured.

Bossi grew up across the street from Sterlingwear, where his family owns Danilchuk Auto Body.

The iridescent zipper pulls, buttons, and accents Bossi uses are inspired by oil slicks you might see at an auto body shop.
The iridescent zipper pulls, buttons, and accents Bossi uses are inspired by oil slicks you might see at an auto body shop.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The iridescent zipper pulls, buttons, and accents Bossi uses are inspired by oil slicks you might see at the shop. He remixed the Polartec fleece with the Bossi iridescents. Because New England is always going to New England. And Bossi is a proud East Bostonian.

“Everyone knows, the second I open my mouth, I’m from Boston,” Bossi says. “This is where I’m the most authentic version of myself, in my community. And they will let me know if I’m slipping.”

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On any given day, he’s in his studio wearing basketball shorts, a jersey, and Birkenstocks.

Solange might be playing over the speakers, while he takes in pictures of Justin Timberlake, AJ McLean, and the boy band vibes pinned to the mood wall.

Bossi keeps a photograph of his mother, Gail, on a wall in his studio, as he playfully plants a kiss on her cheek.
Bossi keeps a photograph of his mother, Gail, on a wall in his studio, as he playfully plants a kiss on her cheek. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A bag of family photos is always nearby to be both memory lane and fashion archive:

His mother in bright tracksuits and acid wash denim. His father in tropical shirts and neon. He and his brother in Cross Colours jackets, New Kids on the Block T-shirts, and Jordans.

The images inform his design process. And his “mutha,” Gail Bossi, taught him style.

An old photo of her, looking every bit of Suzanne Somers ’80s fine, hangs above his couch. He’s screenprinted her on shirts and a jacket.

“If I could have one image every season, it will be a powerful photo of my mother,” Bossi says. “Even if it doesn’t sell, it speaks to where I’m from and to the woman who encouraged me to wear whatever I wanted.”

If you’ve gone to Boston Logan Airport this summer, you may have seen her face gracing the pink Bossi billboard. It reads, “Tell ya mother that you love her today!”

If you’ve gone to Boston Logan Airport this summer, you may have seen Gail Bossi’s face gracing the pink Bossi billboard. It reads, “Tell ya mother that you love her today!”
If you’ve gone to Boston Logan Airport this summer, you may have seen Gail Bossi’s face gracing the pink Bossi billboard. It reads, “Tell ya mother that you love her today!”Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Gail moved to Florida a few years ago, but the East Bostonian woman is always with him.

“My mum dressed cooler than every other mum,” he says. “She was wearing neon colors and hoop earrings. She was getting us Jordans with neon laces.”

Where did Gail get her style?

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“My mutha,” she says, assuring me Florida hasn’t changed the fact that she’s 100 percent East Boston. “I grew up in Filene’s Basement under her legs.”

The beloved Massachusetts-based discount department store was a Bossi family tradition.

“Diesel and Dolce and Nike samples were in the racks of Filene’s Basement,” he remembers. “I liked that brands I could only read about were in the store.”

He may have been drawn to big brands, but Gail says he was always inspired to make fashion.

“Alex was always creating,” she said. “He never wore a store-bought costume. He made his own. Even as a 3-year-old, he was collecting wrestling characters and painting them and recreating their wrestling outfits.”

It makes sense his designs are NBA cool with that Dennis Rodman pop-punk flair.

Bossi models one of his colorful, glossy jackets.
Bossi models one of his colorful, glossy jackets. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On one end of the Bossi rainbow, he crafts a stunning blush pink floor-length alpaca coat, $2990. On the other, he sells a soft cotton “Eastie” T-shirt in limited batches for locals only, $30.

He makes reversible tees, shorts, jackets, and joggers. But he can tailor a topcoat, drape a shirt, and make a linen short suit that would turn Russell Westbrook’s head.

“His collection caters to a little bit of something for everyone,” says Kevin Alexander, store ambassador of Riccardi, the Boston boutique that carries Bossi. “It’s also more worldly. International clients come in and want to buy something from America. They buy a Bossi piece.”

He’s making the clothes of hip-hop, pop, and NBA culture but with fine fabrics of sustainability and style: the lux of a Loro Piana linen, the strong yet silky cupro viscose, Italian leathers manufactured in Lynn, and cotton so soft it feels like a hug.

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Even in all its finery and expense, it remains streetwear, sportswear, a descendant of Dapper Dan, Sean John, and Coogi. And it’s from the tree of Christian Audigier, Rick Owens, Dolce & Gabbana, too.

It’s all these things while still being a brand bred in Eastie, where Bossi learned to appreciate Jordans and Starter jackets.

“Fashion to me is the costume you can put on every day that exudes confidence and the person you want to show the world you really are,” Bossi says.

The dream, he says, is to see the Celtics outfitted in Bossi, like how the Cleveland Cavaliers wore Thom Browne suits that LeBron James gifted the team for Game 3 last year. It only takes one player to make the call.

Spools of colorful threads near a sewing machine.
Spools of colorful threads near a sewing machine.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A brand grows

Air-brushing hats and deconstructing denim might sound like an ’80s fashion startup, but some trends are enduring. Bossi started experimenting with selling his creations in high school.

Eventually he moved on to blinged-out Harley Davidson T-shirts like the Ed Hardy luxury shirts loved by everyone from Lil Wayne and David Ortiz to Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian.

In high school, he worked at the under-21 clubs of the North Shore. He loved watching every trend, each unique take on style, and every kind of cool walk in the door.

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“I love when people get ready to go out, this might be what you are wearing the first night you meet your future girlfriend or get into your first fistfight,” Bossi said. “I could always see what the world wore.”

He studied fashion at MassArt and Paris Fashion Institute. In 2008, he interned for fearless designer Lola Faturoti in New York. And in 2013 he interned for fashion icon Rick Owens in Paris.

But his path to his brand wasn’t immediate. Between then and now, Bossi has done logo design, creative direction, and even returned to Boston nightclubs.

As an art director for trendy hotels like London’s The Curtain and New York’s Gansevoort, his work took him to London. In 2016, he returned to fashion as concept designer for Amiri in Los Angeles for two seasons until it was time for him to strike out on his own.

To do that, the free spirit came home. Last year, he returned to Eastie to build his brand.

“I want this to be a Boston fashion house,” Bossi says. “I want this to be where I put my flag.”

It always was his launching pad — from birth, to pushing blinged-out T-shirts, to his first collaboration with Boston sneaker giant Concepts in 2012.

Justin Kirkland-Smith, marketing manager at Concepts, met Bossi more than a decade ago — at a club. They both used it as a place to spot trends and see fashion come alive. They both play ball.

“His love of the arts doesn’t just stem from fashion,” Kirkland-Smith says. He’s a lover of sports, and I think sports is an art. He’s a lover of music, of cars, of museums. And when you combine that, it brings out something special in an individual.”

When Concepts collaborated with Sorel in 2012, they called in Bossi to help with the design. It’s a boot Kirkland-Smith still rocks. And they are working on a new project now.

“He designs with the past, the present, and future,” Kirkland-Smith says of Bossi. “But how a story originates is important. Bossi grew up in Eastie, being himself, and he’s still the same dude the way Ray Allen always shot the same shot.”

And when it comes to fashion, Bossi’s aim is above the rim.

Photopraphs of Bossi as a youngster play an important role in his designs.
Photopraphs of Bossi as a youngster play an important role in his designs. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com.