PARIS — Spend a few minutes in the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimović and you might feel inspired to jog a little further, or do a few more pull-ups.
Known to work out three hours a day or more, the formidable Swedish soccer player poured all of his sweat equity – along with his fashion instincts – into A-Z, his sleek new activewear range that was unveiled here on the eve of the 2016 UEFA European Championship.
“After 15 years of training, I know what you need to put on yourself to train,” he said. “It is pure me.”
A joint venture with Norwegian retail giant Varner Group, the 70-sku range for men and children went on sale Tuesday on a dedicated website, delivering to 11 European countries. Retail prices range from 9.95 euros, or $11.30 at current exchange, for socks to 89.95 euros, or $102.10, for a zippered jacket.
“We have high ambitions,” said Jens Bonesmo, chief marketing officer at Oslo-based Varner, the privately held parent of such banners as Bik Bok, Volt and Carlings.
Activewear is a new category for the firm and Ibrahimović adds immediate muscle – and credibility – to the foray.
“The market is growing and we want to be part of that market,” Bonesmo said. “Zlatan knows about training. He does it all the time so he knows what works and what doesn’t work.”
Bonesmo said Varner originally approached the athlete about doing a capsule for its men’s wear chain Dressmann, but decided the web offered a larger platform.
He declined to give sales projections, but hinted at future brand extensions – women’s is in the cards – and an eventual rollout beyond Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark Germany, Holland, France, the U.K., Austria, Spain and Italy.
At a launch event, the partners unveiled the form-fitting clothes on a diverse cast of fit dancers, along with a pulse-pounding advertising film with Ibrahimović voicing motivational slogans and reflections on his career and upbringing.
“Our motto is, ‘it’s not about the gear. Only you will make yourself better, stronger, faster,’” he told the audience of young fans. “It’s all about how far you take it.”
The sportsman, who recently left the Paris Saint-Germain Club after a four-year stint, nimbly deflected questions about his next move and widespread speculation he is headed to Manchester United. “There is no confirmation. You will have to wait,” he said with a smile. However, he cheekily noted A-Z would be available in the English city.
Asked to name the most stylish figures in football, he replied: “There’s only one: David Beckham.”
Then he gamely lifted his shirt to show the waistband of his briefs. “We do underwear, too,” he said, to a round of hoots and whistles.
In an interview, the six-foot-five striker said he tested all prototypes, insisting on the highest quality for the made-in-Turkey range and giving input on its discreet branding – a horizontal gold bar – along with the muted colors and minimalist shapes.
Often seen wearing the dark, elongated hoodies, shorts and T-shirts of Rick Owens, Ibrahimović said he relates to the ethos of the Paris-based designer.
“He does his thing and he doesn’t care what anybody else says and he keeps doing it. That is what I find cool because that’s the way I play football, with the confidence I have. I do it my way,” he said, seated on a leather sofa in navy warm-up jacket over a white T-shirt and navy sweatpants.
While the A-Z clothes wick sweat and allow freedom of movement, Ibrahimović said he’s not a big believer in highly specialized sport clothes, figuring leggings can be worn for running or yoga. “I believe the more comfortable you are, the easier you make it for yourself to train,” he said. “The cuts have to be good.”
Ibrahimović is upfront about his upbringing in a rough-and-tumble immigrant neighborhood of Malmö, using the term “ghetto” for lack of a better term.
“I didn’t have it easy. I didn’t have many opportunities. But when we were going around, we always had sporty clothes, track clothes because we were always playing football, running, doing gymnastics at school,” he said.
In fact, when he was 17 and visited the downtown of his city, he confessed he was struck by seeing people in jeans and polo shirts, saying to himself. “This is not my world.”
He noted tracksuits are still the standard uniform in have-not neighborhoods of big cities, and now its chicest quarters, too, thanks to the growing popularity of activewear.
Asked if his collection could be considered ath-leisure, he replied: “I believe you can wear it for normal everyday wear, but we are focusing on the training market. And we are the people’s brand so it’s for whoever you are, wherever you come from, it is for everybody, so A to Z, you can be an amateur or you can be Zlatan.”
The outspoken athlete made his first steps into fashion last year with a signature fragrance with licensee Amazing Brands of Sweden, also aimed at a wide audience. A new fragrance duo, for women and men, is due out soon.