Simon Doonan is an established fashionisto and lifelong soccer obsessive, both of which he has poured into a new book dedicated to the style drivers of the sport.
So what, exactly, sets soccer players apart on the fashion front when compared to other pro athletes? For starters, they’re thinner than bulky American football pros and not extra tall like the basketball contingent. They’re closer to sample size.
“Soccer players look great in clothes. They’re wiry. They have the perfect physique,” said Doonan, who is creative ambassador for Barneys New York. “They can run to any store and buy whatever they like. They can wear anything.”
The 65-year-old Doonan, who grew up working class in Britain’s Reading, said fashion and football first came together in the Swinging ’60s with icon George Best, the glamour boy from Belfast who led the way for the likes of David Beckham, Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In his “Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness,” out June 12 from Laurence King Publishing, Doonan breaks down the dedicated footballers of fashion into five “style tribes,” in time for the start of the World Cup two days later. Here’s a look at how he sees the fashion sense of successful footie players when they’re off the pitch:
THE GOOD TASTE AMBASSADORS
Footballers, then Birmingham City managing director Karren Brady said in 1994, are “only interested in drinking, clothes and the size of their willies.” Not so, Doonan declares!
There’s a large and significant group who rebel against the cliche of flashy dressing and conspicuous consumption. Take Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s new golden boy. He dresses with the classy restraint of a Spanish aristocrat, Doonan told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
The king of good taste, however, is surely former Bayern Munich central midfielder Xabi Alonso, Doonan said. Alonso is vocal about his aversion to bling: “I don’t wear earrings and necklaces. The only piece of jewelry I wear is a watch.” The Spanish newspaper MARCA once described Alonso as so elegant, “he could even play in a suit and tie.”
Beckham, Doonan said, eventually became a good taste ambassador, as players often do when they reach the end of their careers.
“You don’t want to be dressing all Gangnam style if you’re looking to be taken seriously,” Doonan said.
So which designers do they like? Armani and Loro Piana, to name a couple.
“It’s about subtlety and quiet luxury,” Doonan said.
THE LABEL KINGS
It was spring 2016. The house of Saint Laurent marked the 1969 moon landing with a tapestry, funnel-neck blouson (think lightweight jacket drawn tight at the waist). Who, Doonan asked, would plunk down $2,690 for such a thing?
Netherlands forward Memphis Depay, for one.
Doonan called the label kings of soccer a force for good, for the fashion industry anyway. While pampered red carpet celebrities whine for freebies and discounts on designer clothes, footballers are often happy to splurge on their own dimes, he said.
Enter the Vuitton victors. The house of Louis Vuitton makes the carrying trunk for the World Cup trophy. Cash rich, prestige hungry footballers are feasting on all things Vuitton. That includes washbags, wheelie luggage and backpacks adorned with the company’s LV monogram print.
Hot on Vuitton’s heels is Gucci. Ronaldo, meanwhile, is on Instagram snoozing on his private plane under an Hermes blanket, while Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge keeps his eye creams in a $1,000 Goyard designer washbag, Doonan said.
THE PSYCHEDELIC NINJAS
In their studded Philipp Plein leather jackets, jaunty headwear and Comme des Garcons man-blouses, these players are avant-garde extremists who push boundaries.
Take Djibril Cisse, the recently retired French footballer who wore a Jean Paul Gaultier dress in 2003 and a Givenchy skirt and sweatshirt adorned with red stars in 2017. He once said: “I would like to be a woman, though I don’t know why.”
Brazilian star right back Dani Alves lets his eccentric fashion flag fly on the regular. He and his Spanish model girlfriend, Joana Sanz, attended the Georges Hobeika show during haute couture fashion week in Paris earlier this year, he in a jacket adorned with Baroque looking religious figures in blue and gold. At another fashion show, he went for a regal gold floral Jacquard with a wide black lapel and matching quilted cuffs from Dolce & Gabbana, a pair of pricey dystopian sunglasses on his face worthy of Mad Max.
The style of psychedelic ninja and one-name wonder Neymar, another Brazilian, is best described as Justin Beiber goes manga, Doonan said.
Soccer’s ninjas, he said, are “completely impervious to other people’s opinions. They have a taboo-busting approach to fashion.”
THE HIRED ASSASSINS
Count Mario Balotelli, Daley Blind and Samir Nasri here. Retirees Beckham and Eric Cantona venture into this style territory.
“They want to look tough. They want to look invincible,” Doonan said. “It’s scrappy, edgy. It’s very masculine, and it’s very popular with footballers.”
Doonan sees a whiff of sadism in their Rag & Bone jeans, John Varvatos cargo pants, Diesel hoodies and biker jackets.
“They’ll mix in designers but there’s nothing with a screaming logo on it,” he said. “It’s by far the most widely practiced look in football.”
Chelsea has a lot of hired assassins, Doonan said, including Cesc Fabregas and Marcos Alonso.
“This tribe reeks of testosterone, but the style is actually quite serviceable. It’s high voltage and high function.”
THE BOHEMIANS AND FAUXHEMIANS
Hippy-dippy clothes on footballers is not a tidal wave, but it does exist.
For many years, Doonan said, the footie world recoiled from the counterculture, but who’s to say what’s alternative nowadays? Perhaps the bohemian beginning in soccer was West Ham striker Andy Carroll when he threw on a pair of wellies and skipped off to Glastonbury.
Ben Foster, an English goalkeeper, has 300 or so pairs of trainers, but he once explained: “I don’t buy designer ones. Mine are old school. … I’m on eBay all the time.”
North America’s Major League Soccer has far more footie hipsters who just may be sipping herbal tea in the spirit of their comfy duds, Doonan said. While the Europeans may be dressing the part, he added, “who knows what they’re really thinking.”