The Genteel
October 20, 2020


Italian Football team in Dolce & Gabbana briefs.

There's a world in which fashion and football harmoniously co-exist. This world belongs to Sepp magazine. The magazine began in 2002 and is published biennially from Berlin by Markus Ebner and Godfrey Deeny. The idea seems novel, but fashion and football isn't an unlikely marriage.

In Sepp's world, Ellen von Unworth photographs the German national team, while Alber Elbaz, Dries Van Noten, Donatella Versace and Giambattista Valli create their own football uniforms and Karl Lagerfeld illustrates himself in a Chanel kit. Imagine that: football players in high fashion football kits. A world where Nike and Adidas sponsorships are replaced with Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton logos emblazoned across the chest.

If Baptiste Giabiconi had pursued football instead of modeling, he might have been Karl [Lagerfeld]'s favourite muse.

But this world doesn't just exist in Sepp. The sartorial courtship of football is slowly becoming a reality. Karl's is not a lone love affair. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are also fans of football, a love they have been quick to translate into their brand. The Italian fashion house has already outfitted the Italian national team and cast them in a D&G underwear campaign. Last year, they signed a contract with Chelsea FC to design the team's formal club suits and even signed Lionel Messi to exclusively wear D&G. "We are big football fans: for us it means healthy competition, intense passion and great discipline," they told Vogue UK. "Football players are style icons both on and off the pitch." And they mean it. In 2004, the duo published Calcio, a coffee table book dedicated to the sport and its players.

There's also Giorgio Armani. The designer has designed Chelsea FC's official club suits and cast both David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo in Emporio Armani's underwear advertising campaigns.

David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo
for Emporio Armani.

These particular designers are genuinely passionate about football, but fashion's flirtation with football players is not unfounded. In the 2009/10 season, European football drew in $22.2 billion, according to the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Finance. The sales from football merchandise alone generate millions of dollars and are an important source of revenue for most clubs. In the 2009-10 season, Spain's La Liga generated an estimated $261 million, while the English Premier League drew $230 million. Football clubs and its players are worth a pretty penny.

Football players are also style icons off the pitch. David Beckham is the ultimate football-fashion icon, even though he's now well past his prime. Victoria Beckham might have had a hand in his fashion sensibilities (by reigning in some of his more serious fashion faux-pas), but he's managed to capture the attention of a persnickety industry on his own. In 2003, Dolce & Gabbana dedicated a collection to him. Armani even named one of his blazers after him. The man who has influenced many a faux-hawk could wear a sarong and make it look good (which, incidentally, he did). The point is that many football players have built their own personal brands. They sell tickets, they sell merchandise and outside their respective clubs, they're ambassadors for a plethora of products, including clothes. Lucky for them, fashion seems to be drawn to the football variety of athletes.

Then there's Cristiano Ronaldo. T, New York Times Style Magazine put the Real Madrid striker on the cover of its Men's Fall Fashion issue. The cover story was about football, taking a look at the last 25 years at Manchester United. Instead of putting a current Manchester United player on the cover, the magazine chose Ronaldo who was one of the club's most memorable players to walk the pitch at Old Trafford in recent history but more importantly for T, he's the most stylish footballer next to Beckham (also a former Manchester United player). Not all football players possess that star quality, but Beckham and Ronaldo are like the Moss and Evangelista of the football world if one is allowed to make such sacrilegious comparisons.

Football players make great muses and the ones that the fashion world are inevitably attracted to are world class athletes with Adonis physiques who could easily slip from pitch to runway if they wanted. Remember when Calvin Klein used Hidetoshi Nakata for its ad campaigns? If Baptiste Giabiconi had pursued football instead of modeling, he might have been Karl's favourite muse.

It's an incredibly clever way for luxury labels to reach a built-in audience for players who already have an established brand. A fan that idolizes a particular player will gravitate towards his sartorial choices.

So are football and fashion really that dissimilar? They're both multi-billion dollar empires, both revered, both fetishized. They are a lifestyle for their followers and a waste of time for their critics. And more and more, the two seemingly disparate worlds are co-mingling.  

When I watched Messi at the UEFA gala in Monaco this year, my first thought wasn't, "I wonder if he's going to win the Best Player award?" but rather, "Is that Dolce & Gabbana?"



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