Pitch Perfect: How Soccer Became the Last Word in Fashion

The World Cup starts June 14, bang in the middle of Florentine trade show Pitti Uomo, a fact that certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. A key feature in this year’s show is the multimedia exhibition “Fanatic Feelings — Fashion Plays Football,” completely dedicated to “the beautiful game.”

The show has been curated by Markus Ebner, founder of German fashion magazines Achtung Mode and Sepp Football Fashion, alongside art critic Francesco Bonami. The name of the game is to highlight the impact that soccer has had on men’s fashion.

Fanatic Feelings, Fan Moscow by Alexey Kiselev
“Fanatic Feelings,” Fan Moscow by Alexey Kiselev.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Visitors can expect to see illustrations of famous soccer players such as Paul Pogba by Karl Lagerfeld, photographs from the Sepp archives (including a whimsical portrait by Max Vadukul of Lucas Ossendrijver and Alber Elbaz), documentary screenings, a street-style section featuring David Beckham, a sports bar and pop-up merch stores selling exclusives from handpicked brands.

Fanatic Feelings, Christelle Kocher for Koche
“Fanatic Feelings,” Christelle Kocher for Koché.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Koché’s Christelle Kocher has created a limited-edition capsule of vintage soccer jerseys, Alessandro Sartori for Z Zegna has made Techmarino color-block polos with soccer crests, and Cavalli’s Paul Surridge has fashioned handmade soccer balls. There is also an MCM soccer fan kit complete with fanny pack and iPhone case plus a bandana by MSGM’s Massimo Gioretti. Meanwhile, Yoox has tapped 14 brands from all five continents representing the World Cup to each make a sweatshirt in the colors of their respective country. Y-Project’s Glenn Martens represents his native Belgium, with Kolor’s Junichi Abe flying the flag for Japan.

Fanatic Feelings, Yohji Yamamoto by Markus Jans for Sepp
“Fanatic Feelings,” Yohji Yamamoto by Markus Jans for Sepp.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Ebner argues that soccer and our obsession with the lives of players both on and off the field has had a pioneering impact on men’s fashion and its fusion of tailoring and sportswear. “Men’s fashion is going through crazy times where the worlds of tailoring, sports, active and streetwear are one big melting pot,” he said.

Roberto Cavalli soccer balls for Fanatic Feelings
Roberto Cavalli soccer balls for Fanatic Feelings
CREDIT: Courtesy

Case in point, Beckham himself. He’s starred in campaigns as diverse as Belstaff and H&M, sat front-row at Kim Jones’ Louis Vuitton swan song in January and wore a custom suit by Dior Homme for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding (which incidentally marked Jones’ very first creation for the label — the rest will be unveiled at his Paris Fashion Week show on June 23). Beckham is also the president of the British Fashion Council and a partner in the label Kent & Curwen.

Gosha Rubchinskiy X Adidas
Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas
CREDIT: Courtesy

For Pitti Immagine CEO Pitti Raffaello Napoleone, the sport’s impact on fashion also has an important cultural dimension. With this year’s World Cup taking place in Russia, he said, “It was very interesting to go deeper into the influence soccer has on fashion, especially for Eastern Europe.”

He cited designers such as Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia: “They use labels and images from their own worlds,” he said. So soccer’s fashion credentials are closely linked with their own attendant cool factor.

Off-White X Nike
Off-White x Nike
CREDIT: Courtesy

Rubchinskiy himself, who has in the past partnered with sports labels like Fila and Adidas, created a new capsule celebrating Russia’s World Cup host debut, including an Adidas Primeknit Predator boot, its color inspired by the Russian flag. No coincidence, then, that the “Fanatic Feelings” logo has been realized in a suitably Cyrillic font.

Virgil Abloh’s logo obsession also stems, in part, from soccer. “I was always inspired by the way European teams have a sponsor printed over the chest,” he said. Both he and Kim Jones have created soccer-inspired capsules with Nike. “I wanted to celebrate the different variants of typography,” he said of his own contribution, which includes Flyknit Zoom Fly sneakers daubed with the word “FOAM” on the soles.

Off-White X Nike
Off-White x Nike
CREDIT: Courtesy

Jones, meanwhile, has reworked garments into new proportions featuring sharp Italian tailoring inspired by the punk era. “I was inspired by the idea of DIY of the time — cutting up and putting things back together — to create something new,” he said. His sneaker is a hybrid version of his favorite kicks, the silhouette of the Mercurial along with Nike’s Footscape, Vandal and Air Max 97.

Under the auspices of their Nike collab, Abloh and Jones have also created special sneakers for Kylian Mbappé Lottin and Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, who play as forwards for Paris Saint-Germain.

Kim Jones X Nike
Kim Jones x Nike
CREDIT: Courtesy

The French soccer club is itself a Pitti fixture. “Fanatic Feelings” features Sepp archive photographs of other PSG players such as midfielder Marco Verratti, as lensed by photographer and Double Magazine founder Arnaud Pyvka.

The club is also at the vanguard of the soccer/fashion hookup. Recent collaborations include California based cobbler George Esquivel and Koché, the label designed by Christelle Kocher, who is also the artistic director of the Chanel-owned Maison Lemarié. The partnership, which debuted on Kocher’s spring ’18 runway, ranged from the expected sweat tops to her signature spliced silk dresses incorporating the logos of both PSG and sponsor Emirates Airlines. The exhibition pop-up store will sell these limited-edition pieces alongside PSG’s 2018 merchandise, a partnership with Nike.

Kim Jones X Nike
Kim Jones x Nike
CREDIT: Courtesy

However, for PSG, fashion collaborations are just one part of the overall strategy. Under the leadership of Qatari businessman Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaïfi, appointed chairman and CEO in 2011, the wider goal is to become a major lifestyle brand. To this end, the club has joined forces with brands as diverse as Primitive skateboards and Beats by Dre headphones, designed to appeal whether you like the sport or not.

The only criteria, said Fabien Allegre, who heads up PSG’s brand diversification department, is that they share the same values. “Before we even decide how to work together, we need to know why we’re doing it. With Koché, it was a good exchange, as we have a similar vision and a capacity to think outside the box,” he said, citing the label’s know-how and storytelling ability.

FIFA World Cup Official Match Ball Collection Trunk, Louis Vuitton
FIFA World Cup Official Match Ball Collection Trunk, Louis Vuitton.
CREDIT: Louis Vuitton

As for French super brand Vuitton, it has joined forces with Adidas to create a FIFA World Cup trophy travel case and Match Ball Collection Trunk. The latter houses a Louis Vuitton soccer ball plus re-editions of the 13 official Adidas match balls used since the 1970s. More affordable are versions of its Keepall and Apollo bags, which, with their special-edition hexagon design, have been made to resemble actual soccer balls.

However, lest anyone accuse the house of paying lip service, its employees have their own in-maison soccer club. Part of Paris’ Underground FC, a fashion industry soccer league where teams include Rick Owens, Adidas and Kenzo. Matches take place in an old warehouse in Saint-Ouen, and participants help raise money for the charities Unicef and Make a Promise foundation. As for the kit, it’s eminently Instagrammable. But we’d expect nothing less.

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