Standing six feet, five inches tall, with barrels for arms that can spiral a football down a field and muscular legs that make him a rushing threat, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick cuts an intimidating figure. When queried about his self-professed addiction to shoes and hats, however, the 27-year-old turns sheepish.
“Shoes, probably I’d say 500 pairs,” Kaepernick said hesitatingly in a slight drawl hinting at his childhood spent in California’s Central Valley. “Mainly sneakers and then I have my dressier shoes, my shoes I go out in. Hats, I probably have 300.”
This October, Kaepernick will add three more to his collection. Rather than feeling embarrassed about his accumulation of accessories, he can be pleased with himself, for he designed the trio of hats as part of a capsule collection produced by New Era. An amalgam of his initials and football jersey number, Pinnacle CK7 is his first designing effort. It’s also another mantle in the overlap between athletics and fashion, a widening circle that benefits from professional athletes’ fit physiques, personal passions and multimillion-dollar contracts that pay for wardrobes overflowing with designer duds.
“It’s a great opportunity for athletes to cross over and become more well-rounded and be able to do a lot of different things, not just play their sport,” Kaepernick said, sitting on a curvy couch in a loft hidden in a gritty corner of downtown Los Angeles, where he was photographing the fall ad campaign for New Era. “I think it’s pretty awesome.”
As a guy who once asked his dad to drive him from their home to the nearest big city of Modesto, Calif., so that he could get cornrows, Kaepernick is sincere in his search for the sartorial. Born to a white mother and African-American father, then adopted by a Wisconsin couple who raised him and their two older children in California’s farming heartland, Kaepernick recalled his limited options when he was younger. “Fashion in Central Valley was a lot more difficult than it is now being in the Bay Area, being able to come to places like L.A. and New York, where you could really get into the fashion world,” he said. “I mean, growing up, I was so focused on sports. I paid attention to it but not as much as I do now.”
Kaepernick has been a quick study, leaning toward a style that he dubbed “pretty simple, pretty clean, but also a little edge to it.” After moving from backup to starter for the 49ers in 2012 and leading them to the 2013 Super Bowl championship game that they lost by three points to the Baltimore Ravens, he landed on the covers of V Man and GQ. While he counts Nike, Levi’s and New Era as his only fashion endorsements, he’s flooded his Instagram account with photos of himself in a fur gilet tossed over a gray hoodie and white jeans, Breton-style striped shirt under a light gray double-breasted peacoat, royal blue velvet tuxedo blazer with a shawl lapel, and a black-and-white Hood By Air sweatshirt with two side zippers that he undid halfway to show off an untucked white button-down layered underneath. He converted the garage in his house to a showroom of sorts, lining up his Jordan sneakers, Saint Laurent lace-ups and other shoes on the wall.
Last October, fans anointed him the best-dressed NFL star in GQ’s first-ever Style Wars. In addition to snagging a $10,000 donation to a charity of his choice, he also secured bragging rights over the league’s other dandies, including Victor Cruz, who’s modeled for companies ranging from Gap Inc.’s Factory outlet stores to Givenchy, and Cam Newton, who helms his own fashion line sold at Belk. Coincidentally, Kaepernick’s stylist, Rachel Johnson, also works with Cruz and Newton. Still, Kaepernick would never be crass enough to ask her to hoard the best looks for him.
“Oh, no, no, no. Never that,” he said. “Those are both really good friends so we always want to make sure all of us are on top like that.”
Camaraderie aside, Kaepernick takes the Style Wars victory seriously. “I’m very flattered by it,” he said. “Hopefully, I could keep that title and have people continue to view me in that light.”
Pinnacle CK7 keeps him in the fashion spotlight. With assistance from Johnson, Kaepernick is putting the finishing touches on the three styles that will be sold by New Era and select retailers. Mixing supple leathers in scarlet, white and olive with suede, the pieces incorporate gold metal and fabric to mirror the gilded theme for the season kicking off Sept. 10, in honor of the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary. The way Kaepernick described his designs, one is geared for workouts and another is a tribute to the military. His favorite incorporates snakeskin-embossed leather and gold foil.
“We want to carry that over as far as being able to hit the fashion world with something that’s like, ‘Oh, this isn’t just like a baseball hat,’” he said. “It was a very clean design but it just had something that’s a little bit different, a little edge to it that makes it stand out.”
If these hats function as keys to opening doors to more design studios where he can create clothes and shoes, so be it. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it if the opportunity came about where I had a chance to do that,” he said. “I’d definitely look into it and try to take full advantage of the opportunity.”
On the other hand, Kaepernick isn’t rushing to cash in on his fame. Covering his left side, stretching from his hipbone to his chest, one of his many intricate tattoos shows a snake encircling a hand emerging from a big wad of cash. Taking more than two years to perfect, the sketch represents that money is the root of all evil.
That ink, along with those of Polynesian tribal symbols and Bible scripture, remained covered under an olive-green waffle-knit long-sleeve T-shirt and red plaid flannel button-down, paired with crimson jogger pants and dark skinny jeans, in last Friday’s ad campaign shoot for New Era. Doing workouts with his team earlier that morning prepped him somewhat for the slow saunter in front of a wall of windows searing with heat from the setting summer sun. Despite the lack of air conditioning, he kept his cool under a pink chambray fitted cap and a retro knit hat crowned with a fuzzy red, white and black pompom, among other toppers that he modeled. As photographer Tim Tadder coached him, Kaepernick stepped in front of an industrial fan. “This is the spot right here,” Kaepernick said, staying put in the pocket of breeze.
No matter how entrenched he becomes in the fashion industry, there’s an accessory that he knows it could never give him, one that he values above everything else: a Super Bowl ring.
“That’d be the best accessory I could have,” he said. “I’d wear it with everything.”