In #FitGoals, a series in partnership with adidas Football, we delve deeper into the merging worlds of fashion and football by shining the spotlight on some of the world’s best footballers and their style off the pitch.
When you think of French football players, Presnel Kimpembe is probably not the first that comes to mind. But the young Parisian has been steadily climbing up the ranks of Paris Saint Germain, making his Champion’s League debut in a clean slate 4-0 win against Barcelona in February 2017. Last summer, he made an appearance in the World Cup against Denmark and this February, he secured his first senior goal for the Parisian club in a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Born and raised in the Ile de France, Kimpembe is an example of the quality players produced through France’s esteemed youth academy system. But unlike some of his graduate peers, he wasn’t tipped for big things at a young age yet his patience, perseverance, and athletic abilities have rightly earned him his position on the acclaimed team. While fans continue to praise him for his skillful contribution to the Parisian team, it’s his personal journey and unwavering positive attitude that resonates with today’s generation of young Parisians. That, and his love for style, streetwear, and music makes him more relatable than many other players in the league.
As part of our ongoing partnership with adidas Football, we caught up with the Kimpembe at the Hotel Pavillon Henri IV on the Saint-Germain Terrace just outside Paris. The grand setting is the site of the first royal castle and the birthplace of Louis XIV – a landmark in France’s royal history and a symbolic location for the Parisian player.
“I remember the first time I wore the PSG shirt as if it were yesterday,” he tells us as we take in the view of Paris. “We played at Lens and won 3 – 1. I went on to substitute Thiago Motta, which was a big deal. But in the moment, it didn’t really sink in that I just accomplished something huge, which was wearing the shirt of the club that I'd trained for, for so many years. It only hit me at the end of the match when I was in the changing rooms. I was really proud. But even at that point, I still knew that that was only the beginning, 'cos you want to make sure you keep wearing that shirt for the rest of your lifetime.”
Raised in Beaumont-sur-Oise, a town just outside Paris, Kimpembe went through PSG’s youth academy and signed to the club’s under-21 team in 2014. Under its then and current Qatari ownership, the club has been investing heavily in foreign talent, which has only reinforced Kimpembe’s rarity as one of the few players born and bred in the city he represents. What he means to his supporters reaches far beyond the pitch.
“It feels amazing to walk onto the pitch that you always dreamed of playing on. But there are also responsibilities that come with being the child of “Paname” [French slang for Paris],” he tells me. “The city produces a lot of good talent that’s taken to the highest level through the academy. This special relationship pushes you to always want to do better, to make the fans proud but also to not disappoint these people that are from your town and even your neighborhood. I trained hard to become a footballer but it’s a gift to be able to do it in Paris.”
The additional pressure of wanting to make supporters proud doesn't seem to phase Kimpembe, nor does that fact that he's become a role model to a generation of French youth. “I’m 23, I’m French, and I’m a kid of my generation. I’m a very happy and open person and I always try to be myself so it makes me really happy when I hear that there are kids out there that want to be like me or play like me. I never would've imagined that” he says. “But because of that, it’s really important to me to remember that my actions – on and off the pitch – no longer have the same consequences if there are kids out there looking at you as a role model. It’s good, it makes me grow up.”
While on the pitch, he’s praised for his composure, maturity, and adaptability, off the pitch, he’s making a name for himself thanks to his style sensibility and eye for putting together a damn good outfit – one that earned him a place among the top spots of Highsnobiety’s most stylish World Cup players.
“I think it's important to have as much charisma on the pitch as you do in the street, and that’s why style is something I care so much about. I’ve always been into it, although my style has changed over the years. But l think your personality and the vibe you give off is something that goes beyond clothing, especially when you’re playing. Take a good, well-cut suit for example. There are guys that’ll wear one and will look like nothing. But others will look really classy. In football, it’s the same.”
With a penchant for style, Kimpembe landed the job of creative director for adidas’ Underground Football Club, an informal tournament that brought players and creatives head-to-head in a graffiti-covered warehouse in Paris. “I’ve always been curious and open to new things, and I always think it's important to be doing something else other than focus solely on routine and training all the time,” he tells me. “Being part of a project like this and working with other people who are also trying to create something different, we inspire each other.”
The initiative originated from the idea of bringing the worlds of football and street culture closer together on the pitch. After all, Kimpembe, like most footballers, first kicked a ball around in the streets rather than stadiums he knows today.
“We’re living in a time when fashion and the street are coming closer together – one inspires the other. There are fewer barriers today than there used to be, the new generation has changed that,” he explains. “The two also need each other, football comes from the street and fashion is approaching urban culture more and more, so it's natural that the two are becoming more interlinked.”
It’s a two-way affair, and as football encroaches on its urban roots bringing football-inspired silhouettes and jerseys further into the lifestyle realm, football too is taking sartorial cues from fashion more than it ever has. Kimpembe has witnessed this progression, “They’re already learning from each other. You see more and more stuff come out that links back to football, like vintage jerseys and training kits," he explains. "There’s a cultural aspect too. Football is a culture and fashion could really take advantage of this. And I think identity plays a role too. I want to, and I do represent PSG, like all the supporters. If there’s a brand that can create that sense of desire, it’s football.
The other way around, football could look more to certain designs and styles from fashion. And also learn from the way that although fashion is constantly evolving, it still looks back to its heritage. I recently wore the retro PSG RTL jersey for example, and I think it would be awesome if they brought that back.”
Aside from style, Kimpembe is passionate about music and he's known for taking the role of PSG's resident DJ. His pre-game routine always involves music, he cites French rap as his choice for a Champion’s League game and trap or reggaeton for a League 1 match. Another quirk that makes the player more endearing is his superstitious habit, "I always hop six times on the left foot and six times on the right when I first step onto the pitch before a match. Its a superstition I guess. I’m not sure why I do it, but I’ve done it ever since I was around 20. It seems to be working – for now."
As the conversation comes to an end we move onto the topic of adidas who’ve been sponsoring Kimpembe for X years. He’s known for being a passionate sneakerhead and his favorites are – in true Parisian style – Stan Smiths. Not only were they the first pair of kicks he bought, but they were also the ones he rocked to his first professional game. More recently, he quotes Pharrell’s Human Race as one of his favorite collaborations and is regularly seen flexing Yeezys and adidas' recently released Nitejoggers. When it comes to playing, the X18 is his cleat of choice and to close, I ask him about his dream collab partner for the boot.
“Me! Ha, no don’t give me that idea,” he jokes looking over to his manager.
“But seriously, I would say... Beyoncé. She’s just an amazing woman.”