From Son Heung-min scoring at Burberry and Calvin Klein, to Gucci going in on Grealish, soccer stars are are taking over fashion right now

Taps in, tops off, and pints of lager on tap – the Premiership is back! To be honest, we’re still buzzing from that big Euros win, as the Lionesses swooped in with that last-minute Chloe Kelly goal and an instantly iconic celebration. Of course, it wasn’t the only thing Leah Williamson seemed to have bagged. Rumours raged through the tournament that she’d signed a major deal with Gucci, but while nothing’s been confirmed just yet, she’s fast becoming a friend of the house. The England women’s captain was personally invited to Alessandro Michele’s Cosmogonie show back in June, and is often spotted out and about in the designer’s eclectic fashions.

Williamson’s not the only fashion forward player doing the rounds right now. Earlier this year, Spurs star Son Heung-min, who’s known for his laid-back looks, was announced as a new Burberry ambassador, before scoring a second position at Calvin Klein just a few weeks ago. He followed in the tricky footsteps of Kylian Mbappe, who was snapped-up by Dior as its latest poster boy, and Jack Grealish, who recently scored a seven-figure deal – which is only a month’s wage, mind – for Gucci.

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Add to this Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who sat front row at Versace’s last show and cosied up to Donatella in an acid green sweater, and Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips spotted out and about in labels like Loewe – a label US soccer star Megan Rapinoe modelled for circa AW20 – and it’s clear these footballers aren’t just poster boys and girls for fans of the sport, but now, perhaps for the first time, full-on fashion heads, too.

Part of this trend is purely financial: football really can foot the bill. The sport is worth an eye-watering £25.1bn in Europe alone, which is more than Iceland’s entire GDP (we’ll never forget 2016, OK). Once upon a time, Premier League football was grisly, gristly pies, cheap tickets, and free on TV. Now, a premium season ticket in the UK can cost upwards of two grand and an official shirt over a hundred quid. 

If FIFA are right that five billion of us worldwide can be considered football fans, willing to spend an increasing amount of their income on the game, then the market’s an open goal for brands across the globe to keep an even cleaner balance sheet. It’s why high-end houses have got directly stuck into the merchandise game: FENDI just announced a deal with AS Roma, PSG have been working with Dior on the club’s official wardrobe, and AC Milan are linking up with Off-White.

The social following of the sport is also mega. The most-followed Instagram account aside from IG itself is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 459m followers, closely followed by Messi and Neymar. Social activations with footballers have huge potential for popular brands; Superdry’s campaign with Neymar drove two million engagements within the first fortnight, while Valentino memorably joined forces with Memphis Depay and GAFFER for a social-first campaign, forwarding their brand to new audiences. 

What’s new, though – and really exciting for football fans and high-end brands alike – is that unlike Neymar, Ronaldo, or Messi, football’s younger players are genuinely fashionable. Where Sturridge was once deemed the only fashion-conscious footballer, there’s now an entire team’s worth in the Premier League, with subs to boot. Scores of players still at the top of their game are swapping kits for genuinely interesting ‘fits, making them ideal ambassadors for luxury labels.

Part of this change is down to a newfound finesse when it comes to the dressing room. Take Calvert-Lewin. The Everton and England player is styled by Harry Lambert, who looks after just three other clients: Harry Styles, Josh O’ Connor, and Emma Corwin, all extra-bold types unafraid to go wild when it comes to their clothes. For his recent GQ shoot, the footballer opted for a double denim suit and Chanel handbag, quipping that he’s a “standard bearer for new flamboyance”, following his appearance in a full Prada look on the cover of Arena Homme+ late last year. His kingly response after being heckled at a charity gala for wearing a skirt? “​​Actually, they were culottes.”

Fellow England player Kalvin Phillips is similarly keen on a daring look. While his collaboration with CP Company is a not-unexpected, casuals-inspired affair, he got clocked a few months back wearing Loewe’s new ‘Quaver’ shoes, leading Grealish to say: “If you ever wear them shoes (sic) and that outfit again I’m unfollowing you.” King of Egypt and our hearts Mohamed Salah is also into his high-end gear, even if some of the ensembles are a bit mish-mash. Best of all, though? Tom Davis, who was papped at NYFW a couple of years ago – twinning with Calvert-Lewin, naturally – wearing a checked dressing gown, a silk neckerchief, and a pair of Cadbury-purple shoes. 

Even Grealish, who, granted, might be a little more old school when it comes to his laddish style, has a charisma endlessly more exciting than the footballers of the last few decades – ones seen solely on the field, in shaving adverts, and sandwiched sadly in the middle of a pack of Panini stickers. Sex sells, but so does style, and these new icons have it in spades. And unlike Peter Schmeichel trying to flog bacon or the Red Devils promoting, ummmm… tomato juice, it feels authentic. The game’s current ambassadors are genuinely interested in what it is they’re selling.

Of course, footballers have dipped their toes into the world of fashion before, but they’ve never really been that fashionable. That now-iconic photo of Rooney, Scholes and co – clad in bad-lad clobber and diabolically-cut blue denim – wasn’t an anomaly. English footballers used to regularly have a howler trying to dress themselves, made worse by the fact that they were essentially wearing a top and jeans. Even Becks, who has admittedly moved from selling alcopop fragrances and H&M underwear to being dressed by Kim Jones, wasn’t exactly bending conventions, sarong aside.

If you’re looking for the playmaker who changed this all, it’s got to be Hector Bellerin. The Arsenal defender pioneered this new strike partnership between luxury fashion and football in 2019 when he walked at Louis Vuitton. Proving yet again his undeniable legacy as one of fashion’s great trailblazers, Virgil Abloh sent the Spanish player down the runway in a bolshy fuchsia monogrammed hoodie and shorts set for SS20. And while Bellerin’s collection with H&M was a miss, it at least aimed to move the high-street brand in a more sustainable direction, after he invested in eco-friendly football team Forest Green Rovers, turned vegan, and bought himself an electric car. 

It’s this kind of social consciousness demonstrated by modern footballers that means brands don’t just see pound signs when looking at the players, but also the social currency that comes from being aligned with the game’s most progressive thinkers. High-profile footballers have never been more politically switched on and outspoken, and while we might be facing a slight Southgate-gate at the moment, Gareth’s focus on grouping super young, engaged talent together for the men’s England squad has created a team for Gen-Z kids to look up to, both as style inspirations and role models. 

Needless to say, none have been more influential than Dazed’s Summer 2021 cover star, Marcus Rashford. The Manchester United forward’s tireless social activism has led him to a partnership with Burberry, which encompasses campaigns, capsule collections, and a kickstarter initiative intent on opening new youth centres and enhancing library experiences for disadvantaged young people. He’s also been snapped up by Levi’s, teaming up on a project focusing on sustainable shopping and ‘buying better’. 

This combination of boldness, fashion know-how, and progressive thinking is why high-end brands are signing up footballers left, right, and centre spot. Where players of the past were reserved when it came to fashion, the new flamboyants are scoring from outside the box, led by purpose and a genuine interest in the field. What’s next? We’d love to see top-stopper Mary Earps wearing a pair of those PUMA x Nicole McLaughlin gloves, or Jill Scott in Stoney while gloriously giving it the big ones

Fashion and football are closer than ever before, and it’s likely they’ll bed down even harder in the seasons to come. So, next time you go to weigh in on a pub conversation about Kane having a dodgy season, you’d probably better check whether it’s Harry or Christopher they’re talking about. 

This combination of boldness, fashion know-how and progressive thinking is why high-end brands are signing up footballers left, right and centre spot. Where players of the past were reserved when it comes to fashion, the New Flamboyants are scoring from outside the box, led by purpose.

So, next time you go to weigh in on a pub conversation about Kane having a dodgy season, you might need to check whether they’re talking about Harry or Christopher.