In a Venn diagram of soccer and fashion, the overlap might include some combination of David Beckham in a sarong, Neymar in head-to-toe black and Cristiano Ronaldo napping under an Hermès blanket on a private plane. If there’s one person who knows the ins and outs of this overlap, it’s Simon Doonan, creative director at large for Barneys New York whose latest work, “Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness,” is out now.
In the book — the author’s ninth, though he’s “stopped counting” — Doonan dives deep into the off-the-field fashion of soccer’s biggest players. His research included four years of reading autobiographies and magazine interviews, as well a lifetime of watching the sport. The result is a highly detailed, yet equally amusing read in which the biggest soccer players in the world are classified into one of the following fashion tribes: Good Taste Ambassadors, Label Kings, Psychedelic Ninjas, Hired Assassins and Bohemians and Fauxhemians.
“As I looked at the landscape of contemporary football, I felt a burning need to classify it and understand it because there were clearly very different groups here,” says Doonan on a recent afternoon at his Manhattan apartment. “What most people do is say, ‘I don’t like this but I do like that.’ I don’t do that ‘cause I’m looking at the culture of football.”
The Good Taste Ambassadors, he says, are more reserved — think Álvaro Morata, Xabi Alonso and modern-day Beckham — whereas the Label Kings — Ronaldo, for example — are more flashy. “They’re great patrons of à la mode,” Doonan says of the Label Kings. “God bless them, because they pay full retail. Hello.”
The Psychedelic Ninjas, Doonan’s favorite group, love to mix and match designer and vintage finds — and most likely own a Givenchy rottweiler printed T-shirt — while the Hired Assassins wear “lots of black, a black ripped Balmain jean, maybe an Off-White hoodie.” The Bohemians and Fauxhemians go against soccer’s traditionally antihippie attitude, with Andy Carroll, who posed for Alexander Wang’s 2014 H&M collaboration, as a leading example.
“Soccer players are very noteworthy in their absolute commitment to style and to fashion,” says Doonan. “It comes from several things. First of all, their build. They’re totally sample-size, they’re like a designer dream. Secondly, they’ve got the cash. I have quotes from Georgie Best in the Sixties. People who played with him would note that even after training, he would get washed and look like he was going dancing. Shouldn’t we all look like we’re going dancing all the time?”
Doonan identifies the start of true soccer style as the moment the Professional Footballers’ Association lifted its 20-pound wage cap in 1961.
“Suddenly you have players like George Best buying clothes, opening a boutique, having an E-Type Jaguar, that was all unheard of,” Doonan says. “Before they barely had bicycles to go to the training and the game. This incredible moment of timing came together where the Swinging Sixties collided with sports, collided with a new era of personality obsession. The same kind of confluence happened in the Nineties, where with new TV deals, football was suddenly this mega financial thing and new obsession with celebrity and new obsession with fashion.”
He also dedicated a section of the book to the personal tastes of the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes, and in another, he explores the players’ tattoo choices and various hairdos throughout the years. The most stylish player, he says, is “absolutely David Beckham.”
“He’s the patron saint of soccer style, no question,” Doonan says. “If you’re a working-class English kid and you’re hardworking and you’re creative and you’re positive in the way you approach life and you look great, it’s a fantastically inspiring story. I have nothing but admiration for [David and Victoria Beckham]. Both of them made that same transition. [David] from being a footballer, which was historically not considered to be so cool and he made it cool. She was a pop star, she made it into the fashion world very successfully. Victoria Beckham is cool. People want to be her, they want to see what she’s wearing.”
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