Fanatic Feelings: Fashion plays Football

Thea Hawlin uncovers the intimate connection between fashion and football

Oscar Wilde famously declared that football was the sport of gentlemen played by barbarians. Barbarians or not, players and supporters have always had a keen sense of style, influencing trends on and off the pitch. In Florence earlier this year, Pitti Uomo saw the opening of an exhibition, curated by critic Francesco Bonami and Markus Ebner, the founding editor of German magazines Achtung Mode and Sepp, that explores the links between the beautiful game and the clothing that makes it possible.

Under ancient vaulted ceilings, Fanatic Feelings greets its audience with the triumphant roar of stadium crowds, blasted from speakers to ricochet off the cool stone walls. Colours dance in projected super-sized video footage around the main hall – deep red, bright white, vivid blue, neon yellow. It’s a captivating spectacle, the strange movements of the crowds: the swaying arms, coordinated clapping, open chanting mouths, each team demarcated by their own signs, colours and traditions.

There is a sense of unity in these scenes, not merely in the teams but among the crowds that support them. To watch these fans move so seamlessly together is to see the power of fashion in action. We witness the symbolism of colour in all its fragmented forms: hats, jerseys, scarves and shoes coalesce in a vortex of cheers and cries; a literal tie, binding players and supporters.

“Playing with no fans is like dancing without music,” said Eduardo Galeano, football’s ‘pre-eminent man of letters’; it matters how this music plays itself out, how it presents itself. The football jersey has a history of great cultural significance and a beautiful subsection of the exhibition, entitled Azzurra and curated by the Italian magazine Undici, looks at the changing design of the national Italian team’s iconic blue jersey. In a country where one of the most popular newspapers is the Gazzetta dello Sport (which in Italy is practically shorthand for Football), the fact that a magazine such as Undici can survive (along with Tuttosport, Corriere dello Sport, to name a few) at a time when print media is famously struggling, speaks volumes for the significance of the game in Italy.

Azzurra reveals there’s power in the smallest of details. Take the way that in 1936, when Italy won the Olympic Football Tournament in Berlin, the team wore jerseys emblazoned with the Fascist logo, alongside the Savoy coat of arms. After the defeat of Fascism and the end of WWII, the jersey instead bore a tricolour badge – the country’s identity stripped back and renewed, representing much more than simple unstitching of fabric.

Emilia Cavanna, the mother of legendary striker Silvio Piola, embroidered her son’s jersey to commemorate Italy’s match against Austria in 1935, which saw Piola score both goals against Italy’s rivals in Vienna. Thanks to his mother, Piola carried that memory from his debut match as part of the national team with him throughout his career, clothing himself not merely in a piece of apparel, but in his own history. 

Details like this make clear how fashion and football share an “immediacy” and an “emotional element”, as Bonami says, that deserves rigorous interrogation. One only has to think of Annibale Frossi, a player made famous not only for his skill on the pitch, but for his penchant for wearing glasses while playing – an aesthetic decision, that, though charged with necessity, also provided him with a sartorial identity.

In the age of athleisure, with sportswear a prominent part of how we dress, and athletes heralded as style icons, it’s little wonder that designers now create team uniforms and present collections inspired by the game. Today footballers habitually take front row seats at fashion shows and star as models in advertising campaigns.

The exhibition traces these icons, from George Best in his striped shirt to Beckham in a burgundy beanie. Paparazzi snapshots sit next to editorials and advertisements – an embellished Neymar at a Balmain show in Paris next to Keisuke Honda in Tokyo, decked out in a yellow blazer, floral trousers and tasseled moccasins (a uniform that presents a marked distance from the simplicity of shorts and jersey) – exemplifying, again and again, how fashion attempts, successfully and unsuccessfully, to harness football’s energy from all corners: sport, players, fandom.  

“The deeper affinity between football and fashion is this,” declares Luke Leitch, the fashion writer, his words loudly printed in bold red type on the wall: “Both are entirely artificial constructs: games into which their respective supporters pour their emotional and financial investment every season, before that season ends and we start all over again.” 

These cycles reveal the enduring appeal that such spectacles and rituals share. It’s hard to forget the impact of a great game, just as it’s hard to forget the impact of great fashion; despite the impermanence and disposability of each season’s designs, the legacy endures. Fanatic feelings, as this exhibition demonstrates, are not easily forgotten. 

FANATIC FEELINGS – Fashion Plays Football was held at Complesso di Santa Maria Novella, Florence from 13th June to 22nd July 2018. 

City Boy: Phil Foden

Port meets the rising star of British football, Phil Foden, as Nike launch a new collection designed by Kim Jones

Phil Foden may be a teenager but he has already garnered more accolades than most players could dream of. A product of Manchester City’s youth system, last month, as part of Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking title-winning side, Foden became the youngest player in history to pick up a Premier League medal. A handful of performances – notably a precociously assured display against Manchester United – have thrust the young midfielder into the spotlight. 

Foden’s breakthrough domestic season came after a special performance at the Under-17 World Cup in India last summer. He made headlines after scoring two in the final, with England coming from behind to win the trophy, beating an impressive Spain side 5-2. He would later be awarded player of the tournament, placing him in the glittering company of Cesc Fàbregas and Toni Kroos.

Passing through Foden’s hometown of Stockport on the London train to Manchester Piccadilly, the towering 55,000-seat Etihad Stadium comes into view – and Foden’s own journey, from life in the suburbs to one of the biggest stages in world football, suddenly becomes apparent. The ground stands as a marker of Manchester City’s meteoric rise to the top of the game, and it’s a trajectory Foden seems well placed to follow.

Despite the plaudits and lofty comparisons, Foden is focused on the job at hand. On a sunny day in Salford, we joined him to celebrate the launch of Kim Jones’ football-inspired collection for Nike. An avid enthusiast of the game, Jones blends football’s iconic silhouettes with the brash edginess of London’s 1970’s punk scene. Foden looks at home in it.

“It’s different from other Nike ranges,” he says, looking down at the pieces he is wearing. “It’s comfortable, and it feels nice and tight fitting, which I like.” The items are made exclusively in Italy, using only Italian materials. It’s an understated, professional, high-quality collection, befitting a model that holds the composure and confidence of a player on the cusp of success. 

“Dedication,” Foden says when asked what he attributes his accelerated progression to. “My mum and dad have helped me with moving away from my home area and getting my head down.” This dedication could just as easily be described as obsession, a mentality of focused determination that often separates top athletes from their peers. Even after a day of training, Foden’s hunger to improve isn’t sated. “When I feel like I need to do more, I’m out in my garden playing football with my brother,” he says. “I do get tired, so I try and get a decent night’s sleep – I try and rest. But, if I feel like I’ve got more energy, I go out and train.”

Foden would play football every day of the week if he could. Even when asked about his lifestyle off of the pitch, the 17-year-old answers through the lens of an all-consuming obsession. Last season, after the Under-17 Euros in Croatia, Foden visited the estate he grew up on and was inundated with youngsters wanting to play football with him. He duly started playing at 1pm and was only allowed to stop, hours later, at 9. “The next day I couldn’t walk,” he jokes.

On the occasions that Foden does switch off, he leaves the city altogether. “I try and go fishing; I find it relaxing,” he says. While others jetted off on holiday to celebrate the title triumph earlier this summer, he “went fishing, in a tent, in England.” For Foden, fishing is time spent with his father, and given the frequency with which family is mentioned when we discuss his development, it’s clear that they have been crucial in nurturing the teenager through the early stages of his career. “They helped me get where I am today, really,” Foden says. “They’ve not missed a game.” 

Few industries offer the opportunities for travel that football can. The sport is global in every sense of the word, and Foden has a long career of regular trips ahead of him. We asked where he is most looking forward to visiting. “I’ve been to a few now,” he says. “I like America, though, so hopefully I can go back there. We’re going there for preseason, actually.” The summer tour will kick off another important year in Foden’s development, and we discussed the teams he is most keen to face up against in the sky blue of City. “I liked playing against Real Madrid. I’d like to play against Barcelona, though, to see what they’re like. It’s good watching them on TV but I want to be on the pitch next time… chasing them,” he laughs.

Despite the extraordinary situation in which he finds himself, Foden is recognisably an English teenager. “I don’t know how to make toast,” he jests when asked about his ability in the kitchen, citing his mother’s steak and chips as the house’s specialty. Outside of fishing, his downtime means playing Fortnite, the wildly popular online game that has seen the likes of Dele Alli and Antoine Griezmann ape its in-game dances as goal celebrations. Asked if he’d follow suit, Foden smiles and says: “Well, if I score, yeah – why not?”. It’s a comment that evinces Foden’s sense of where his career currently stands; he’s focused on the incremental steps, quietly aware of his ability, and is taking it all in good humour. 

Before getting back to finish the shoot, we considered the expectations placed on young athletes, particularly footballers, to succeed. After years developing at one of the world’s biggest clubs, as well as representing England at every age group since Under-16, Foden is not only well-conditioned to handle it, but rejects the notion altogether. “I don’t feel the pressure,” he says. “I just feel at home. When I get on the pitch I just feel comfortable. It’s where I feel like I belong.”

Nike x Kim Jones collection available from 6th June at

Photography Neil Bedford
Styling Rose Forde
Hair and makeup Ditte Lund Lassen using Oribe Hair Care, Eau Thermale Avène and