When rifling through my bombsite of an Instagram Discover feed last week, I was struck by how it had become an atrocity exhibition of twee vegan cooks and, worse still, seriously terrible yet unfathomably popular fashion labels. As a man who knows his silverleagu_e from his OrganicLab, I was perplexed, wondering why the algorithmic gods dealt me such a cruel hand of Flannels-friendly trash. This was an aesthetic-annihilation; a harsh redefining of the term “doomscrolling.”
Suddenly, it hit me. Premier League footballers — and the fact I follow so many — were the source. A trojan horse wearing stretched jeans with rhinestone embellishments had infiltrated and then run amock throughout my channel.
Ripping on sportsmen dressing badly is a bit like getting mad about the wind. It's merely a fact of life. Even if a more open-minded, style-savvy footballer has emerged in recent years (Highsnobiety favorites Serge Gnabry and Héctor Bellerín are the obvious examples) the majority, like a lot of young guys, are still fixated on premium mediocre streetwear. That professionals who are obsessed with the game to the point they don't really do anything else aside from eat and sleep would prioritize comfort over style is understandable. But we should draw a line when the gaudy aesthetic becomes a law unto itself, spawning its own little fit pic ecosystem as seen on the nightmarish feed below.
David Beckham might be the nexus of football and fashion, but there’s another former Manchester United player who is every bit as stylish. His name is David Bellion, and he’s the type of cultural connoisseur who’ll nerd out over a Raf Simons cape one minute, before talking about his favorite art piece the next. Now long retired, Bellion hasn’t spent his days on the beach. He serves as the Brand Manager and creative director of both FC Red Star — Paris’ coolest club — and Boredaux, while finding time to run his own creative agency that works closely with talent such as Napoli and France star, Tiémoué Bakayoko.
Keen to find out more about footballers’ buying habits and what makes them tick, I gave David a buzz.
Let's address the question forever on people's minds: Why are Philipp Plein and Amiri so popular among players?
I witnessed the rise of Philipp Plein. The price and shiny design captivated a lot of footballers right away. It’s exactly the same for watches — if there’s a choice between a big diamond watch with simple mechanisms or a sophisticated and complex mechanical watch with a tourbillon, the attraction will always be the diamond watch.
Brands like this and Amiri are perfect for the impulse buyer. The slim jeans, fitted style, colors, big patterns with skulls, and flowers tick a lot of boxes. If one player in the dressing room arrives with the most expensive jeans or a crazy print, then other teammates will follow the trend.
When you were playing, were your teammates still gravitating towards the same kind of hype labels? What were some of the more popular ones back in the early-to-mid-’00s?
Let’s go back to the ’90s first. It was a totally different world as there was no social media, no e-shop, and each country had its own style. The hype in my football academy in Cannes, France, was caps, tracksuits, and belt bags by Lacoste. Air Max TN’s were huge, and I loved Helly Hansen and Clarks Wallabees.
When I signed for Sunderland in the Premier League, I discovered a different fashion culture that leaned heavily on casual culture — Stone Island, CP Company, adidas Originals. A lot of English players used to wear Evisu and Maharishi with some Timberland boots. That was it. There was no relationship between fashion and hype labels in the early ’00s.
Do players really pay attention to fashion month, in your experience?
Speaking generally, no. Of course, you have players like Tiémoué [Bakayoko] and Héctor [Bellerín] who are very curious. But in general, football can be so overwhelming that you play, eat, and sleep the game 24/7. Knowing the fashion week calendar is not a priority.
How would the dressing room react when you wore more “experimental” fashion?
At the beginning of my career, they thought I was crazy! I actually used to love the dressing room banter and my role as the fashion weirdo, but some players were asking me in secret where I buy my clothes.
In 2001, I was wearing Dries Van Noten, Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto in the north of England! I knew that I had my own style and it was my personality.
Players like Bakayoko are an example of the new guard who does it right. How did you meet him?
I first met Tiémoué through a friend. It was for my magazine Sport-Étude, we went to London to do a piece on him. I came with a lot of edgy brands and underground labels to style him. He already had a great wardrobe; he’s very open-minded and very curious.
Can you tell me a bit about how most players actually secure fashion? Is it a case of buying “hype” labels online?
Players are influenced by musicians, video clips, Instagram influencers — the usual. But sometimes by hangers-on. When they go to fashion boutiques in the city, the seller builds a very strong relationship with the player and they get what they want before the rest.
The buying online is for hype labels, mostly. Players love to go shopping in the street, showing off their fancy shopping bags. It’s a sign of having made it.
I see these crazy brochures on social media that specifically offer and curate the player everything they could ever want — cars, clothes, houses, holidays. Were they around in your day? It feels a bit hollow to me.
They used to exist in my era. More for cars and watches, not really for clothes. I even remember a special brochure for French players. We could buy anything that wasn’t available in England: French food, French cable TV installation, etc. I was too much of a control freak for those magazines; they weren’t curated well.
What was the style like at Man Utd when you joined? You must have some great stories...
At Manchester United there was Rio [Ferdinand], Quinton [Fortune], Cristiano [Ronaldo] — that guy had crazy style but in another way — Giggs, Veron, Butt, Keano, Scholesy, Van Nistelrooy, Brown, Rooney… the list goes on. The dressing room atmosphere was fantastic. You had guys like Keane and Giggs with their very dry British sense of humor, whereas the likes of Rio and Quinton were more along the lines of, say, Jamie Foxx. They used to destroy Cristiano and I.
Rio and Quinton had good style; that early ‘00s hip-hop look. We couldn't really say much about the baggy jeans, polo tee, and Air Forces combination, but we used to have fun mocking the boring senior players like Giggsy.
Every year at Christmas, the kids in the academy perform a nativity play that caricatures all the players and staff. When it was my turn, they came out to “YMCA” by Village People, and portrayed me in the most ridiculous fits you've ever seen. In front of everyone in the squad!
You were close with the legendary Sir Alex — was he fairly open-minded with how his players dressed? He has a reputation as a disciplinarian, but I'm guessing that was more for younger players.
He was like a father figure, and always had a little fun when someone was wearing something strange in his eyes. Sir Alex was the Steve Jobs of football. Like, [Jobs] wore Issey Miyake, 501 Levi’s, and New Balance for his keynotes; the Gaffer was wearing the same outfit on the training ground — puffer jacket or tracksuit, shorts and T-shirt in the heat — or a blazer for football matches. I thought he was chic in this old-school Scottish style! I never saw him dressed differently than that.
He was a disciplinarian but in a respectful way. We knew the rules when we were young and he didn’t really have to mention them. I remember a young player one day turning up at training with a Bentley — he never came back with it again. For senior players, there were no issues, as he signed players for United that fit the club character. There weren’t any show-offs. I guess he would have gone mad with some of the Instagram players if they existed at the time.
Our readers are really interested in Cristiano. He's always dressed pretty fearless, to say the least. Could you ever convince him to wear some Dries, Raf, etc.?
Cristiano and I arrived a few weeks apart and we were separated by Giggsy in the locker room. He wore adventurous clothing, to say the least! He was fearless, but I respected him for it. He didn’t care at all what others thought. I was the same. We ended up mocking whoever mocked us; imitating them. We were imitating everybody — even the Gaffer.
He used to love Armani, and when he first arrived at the club, he was wearing a very colorful Versace top. I would never convince Cristiano to wear anything else, because it wasn’t his style at all. He was a young kid from Portugal where the fashion culture was more about Italian brands, namely Armani. I love that he didn’t care what people thought, and at the end of the day, he finally had an Armani campaign.
You mentioned you started to evolve your style when Hedi came in at Dior — did a lot of players gravitate towards that super skinny silhouette? I'm guessing it could be quite hard to execute if you were someone huge like Rio.
Not one player was into the Hedi Slimane look. I guess, up until recently, most didn’t know Hedi Slimane and his music inspiration. I used to love Helmut Lang, when he was still the designer, but that was unknown to football at the time because it didn’t resonate with the global football culture; 99.9 percent of the style in a football dressing room is the same.
Football was and is still influenced by hip-hop culture. You won’t see many skinny silhouettes from Dior, Saint Laurent, or Celine. But players will buy those brands if you can see the logo somewhere. The logo is everything.
How involved were your sports sponsors with the fashion side of things back then? The likes of Nike, adidas, and Umbro have really embraced pushing their players into a more lifestyle-context in recent years, but I'm thinking that was not always the case.
The fashion-slash-sports relationship didn’t exist, really. What stands out are the 2006 World Cup Italy x PUMA Jersey by Neil Barrett, and I personally own crazy Umbro x Evisu football boots. Kim Jones was at Umbro before Dunhill.
What was strange is that Nike, Puma, and adidas were starting to have luxury or edgy lines — NikeLab about 10 years ago, Y3 around 20 years, Puma Platinum around 20 years ago — yet none of their stars wore them. The bridge between fashion and sportswear has become really interesting over the last five to 10 years, which has a lot to do with streetwear.
Let’s talk watches. Were you big into them when playing?
I always loved watches. Being Parisian but growing up in Cannes, even if my family had no money, we could look at the windows and watches and fashion stores in La Croisette. I remember my agent, on the plane from Nice to Newcastle, just a few weeks after my step father passed away, had a Franck Muller King Conquistador. I was 18, and I was amazed with the shape. Then he told me: “After you start or come on as a sub five times in a match, I’ll get you the same as a present."
Then I asked him how much this watch cost. He told me £13,000! My mother had to work 1.5 years to earn this kind of money. I could never, ever at 18 parade a watch at this price in front of my mother. I would be really ashamed and embarrassed. So, when I finally played five games, my agent offered me the watch. Instead, I took a classic Cartier Pasha that cost £3,500. I was in a panic in front of my mother, but I still have it now.
Since then, I’ve gotten some more watches. My preferences are Vacheron Constantin, Jaquet Droz, F.P.JOURNE, Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Serge Gnabry once told me he is really into art, and I know you are as well. Do you think that is what underpins the style of guys like you? It's not just about clothing, but having that good taste in all aspects of design — from clothing, to art, to music, to food.
Totally. One of my favorite fashion documentaries is The Eye Has to Travel. It’s about Diana Vreeland, the legendary Vogue editor-in-chief. Always have your senses open.
The most important trigger is curiosity, whether that’s to do with art, music, photography, movies, design, food, architecture, hotels, books, magazines… your global culture should always be in motion. It gives you a new point of view in life and tastes that evolve, bringing you different kinds of encounters and emotions.
Do you think football could ever have a fashion runway similar to the NBA where the players wear their own stuff and it's kind of an event in its own right? Would managers stand for that?
It’s a great question, as it would connect fashion and football even further. But American culture and European culture is so different. I love the way the NBA portrays basketball as total entertainment, no matter if the team wins or loses. In France, when the players get picked for national football games, the media goes to Clairefontaine, the national football headquarters, to see the players entering the building; the players know it’s the time to show their fashion style. It opened a door for brands to wear their collections.
We can see teams like AC Milan signing with Roc Nation, PSG with Jordan, Red Star and Bordeaux, who I work for, Juventus in with Palace, Thom Browne with Barcelona — something is happening, slowly. It would be cool if players do that because it helps the team’s image and communicates the player’s identity. Everybody’s winning in the NBA, for example.
But it’s true that old-school managers don’t really stand for that way of dressing, and I guess football clubs will also choose some managers in the future that will have to play a part and be more flexible for this kind of fashion subject. You may need to give some rules where players can dress the way they want but still respect some color codes, or at least some elegance.