Can He Be the Next David Beckham?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

Really sexy. Super-foxy. I mean, that body.

Go ahead and ask a few menswear designers and fashion editors about the star players in the World Cup in Brazil, and they aren’t talking about who’s going to score the most goals or which player is the best attacking midfielder in Group B. No, all the talk is about who’s got the best face, the best hair and that tight body that’s just right for their clothes.

“They’re some of the best-looking athletes,” Dao-Yi Chow, half of the design team at Public School, said at a GQ World Cup party Tuesday, the day after his label won a menswear award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

“They just have that build,” said Tim Coppens, another CFDA winner. “They’re elegant.”

Kevin Carrigan, a global creative director at Calvin Klein, said, “When you think of designing underwear, it just lends itself to footballers.”

Take a deep breath, everyone. The World Cup begins Thursday, and the fashion world is ready. Every four years, designers have a chance to locate, scout and mint a new fashion star. A footballer (that’s how the fussy soccer fans like to refer to them; forgive us Tom Brady) has the looks, a dash of international flair and a frame made for designer clothes.

Julie Ragolia, fashion director at Man of the World magazine, said the fashion world’s deep interest in soccer is easy to explain: “They are the perfect sample size. They are not huge like an American football or basketball player. You can take a footballer and put him in a sample, and he’d look 100 percent beautiful.”

Americans may be only dimly aware of their identities, but a short list has already emerged of the next World Cup-bound players who are ripe for ad campaigns and reserved front-row seats. It starts with a bunch of players who go casually by one name, a couple of Brazilians (Neymar and Oscar), and a player from Japan (Keisuke Honda), with a few Europeans thrown into the mix.

“There is something that’s very important with this period of the year when everybody’s eyes are on this game,” Carrigan said. “The World Cup is just very good for us.”

And when did this fuss start?

“These soccer players, they’re pretty happening,” men’s designer Todd Snyder said. “David Beckham really set the bar. He paved the way for all of this.”

Oh, yes. Trend it like Beckham. The former British player became a bona fide fashion star. After he got a faux hawk? So did everyone else. His underwear ads (there was another one during the Super Bowl this year) run viral. He married a pop-star-turned-fashion-designer, and he’s got a front-row perch every season.

The fashion world treats the soccer field like a runway.

“Designers see a fame that’s really important to them,” said Godfrey Deeny, an editor at large for Le Figaro and editor-in-chief of Sepp, a biennial soccer and fashion magazine.

In previous World Cups, Armani has cast players like Kaká of Brazil and Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine, while Dolce & Gabbana tapped Lionel Messi of Argentina. Dolce & Gabbana is dressing the Italian national team — it has designed suits and sweaters to be worn by the players before and after games — and tapped five members of that team for sultry underwear ads in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Freddie Ljungberg, a former Swedish player, has a panther tattoo stamped just so between his abs and his nether region that was tailor-made for a series of ads he shot for Calvin Klein underwear.

And then there is Japanese player Hidetoshi Nakata.

Nakata played for Japan in the World Cup three times from 1998 to 2006. He did a series of Calvin Klein ads, appeared in a GQ spread and has been seated front row at shows for Gucci, Givenchy and Dior Homme. He is also an editor at large at Tyler Brûlé's magazine, Monocle (his most recent contribution was a spread on World Cup logos through the years).

“Nakata’s one of those footballers that’s crossed over from football to fashion,” Carrigan said. “He’s good friends with a lot of designers.”

And the fashion world wants to know: Where are the next Beckhams or Nakatas or Freddies?

If there is one guy who’s gotten the early endorsement, it appears to be the biggest sensation in Brazil: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. (Just call him Neymar.)

The 22-year-old is playing in his first World Cup, and his global popularity has made him an obvious candidate for the fashion world. He appeared on the cover of Vogue Brazil alongside Gisele Bündchen, which was shot by Mario Testino. He’s also on the cover of the current WSJ magazine wearing a Calvin Klein Collection sweatshirt (and is one of three cover models for The New York Times Magazine this weekend). He seems at ease with his body: YouTube is swimming with Neymar in underwear ads (the label is named Lupo).

“He’s kind of got it all: He’s good-looking, he’s a superstar, and Brazil is a major force in the World Cup regardless of what country that’s hosting it,” said Will Welch, the style editor at GQ. “Add in the fact that Brazil is hosting the cup, and that’s just ramping it up even further.”

But it wouldn’t be the fashion world without some skepticism about the popular front-runner.

“I just don’t think that the way he dresses is very sophisticated,” men’s designer Robert Geller said. “He’s got a lot of money, but it just seems a little nouveau riche, a little cheesy.”

Welch said, “Fashion feels less like a natural part of his lifestyle right now than it does for Ronaldo,” speaking of Cristiano Ronaldo, the 29-year-old Portuguese player who has been in Armani underwear ads since 2010. More recently, he posed nude for the cover of Spanish Vogue, shielded discreetly by his girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, in a shot taken by (who else?) Testino.

Also baring a considerable amount of flesh is Neymar’s lesser-known 22-year-old teammate Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior (known as Oscar), who is starring in a Brazil-specific ad campaign that includes Oscar stripped down into Calvin Klein skivvies.

“He looks really hot and sexy in it,” Carrigan said. “It’s quintessential Calvin.”

And then there’s another player from Japan: Honda, 27. Is he a Nakata manqué? Or will he be the real deal?

“I just got back from Japan yesterday,” Geller said. “People are just crazy for him over there. You see him in commercials for beer and soft drinks. He’s become the face of the Japanese national team. He looks very cool.”

And he’s got something else: He’s got the hair. (“A cool hairstyle,” Geller put it.)

And just as with Oscar (who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League), he has that all-important X factor that football-minded designers and editors talked about over and over again: He plays in Europe, and in a fashion capital: Milan.


“That’s sort of reflective in his style,” Geller said. “It’s a mix of very fine Italian tailoring, and he puts a Japanese twist on things, so it’s a little more playful than the typical Italian style.”

After those three players, the consensus seems to fall apart, with at least a dozen other players being cited as potential breakout stars.

“Seriously, the Belgian team is really good,” said Coppens, the Belgian designer. “There are some really stylish guys in there.”

He made a case for Vincent Kompany, while Deeny argued on behalf of a 23-year-old named Eden Hazard.


“A lot of this depends on how interested they are in it,” Coppens said. “You can’t push it on somebody. And they don’t have a lot of time.”

This is an important point to remember.

“I really think it’s about interest,” said Welch, the GQ editor. “And not just about doing something for a paycheck or because their agent signed them up for it. It’s about personal style. It’s not only for people who can show up for a shoot and get groomed and styled, but people who can dress themselves in a compelling manner. But it has to be a reciprocal relationship.”

Oh, one last thing: They need to play well, too.

Three To Watch

Neymar, Oscar and Keisuke Honda are the ones to watch in Brazil.

Name: Neymar

Country: Brazil

Vital stats: 22 years old, 5-foot-8, 141 pounds

Why he might be the next Beckham: He’s the star of the host country’s team and is brandishing his fashion cred in a Vogue Brazil cover, posing alongside Gisele Bündchen. “He’s kind of got it all: He’s good-looking, he’s a superstar,” GQ style editor Will Welch said.

Name: Oscar

Country: Brazil

Vital stats: 22 years old, 5-foot-10, 148 pounds

Why he might be the next Beckham: Calvin Klein has tapped him as its underwear model for the World Cup, citing him as a future star in the same way it once discovered Kate Moss and Marky Mark. “He looks really hot and sexy in it,” said Kevin Carrigan, a Calvin Klein global creative director. “It’s quintessential Calvin.”

Name: Keisuke Honda

Country: Japan

Vital stats: 27 years old, 6-foot, 163 pounds

Why he might be the next Beckham: He plays in Milan, a fashion capital, and checks off an important box: He can dress himself supremely well. “He puts a Japanese twist on things, so it’s a little more playful than the typical Italian style,” men’s designer Robert Geller said.