They say you should never meet your heroes because they might burst the bubble of idolatry that you've built around them, but that couldn't be less true in the case of Thierry Henry. Joining me on a Zoom call from his home in London, the football legend is exactly the same guy who has been charming television screens for the past 20 years. Assured, cool, and delightfully wry, Henry speaks with a kind of removed pensiveness that would befit a 20th-century French philosopher. Given his status as the most naturally stylish player to ever grace British shores, he more than gets away with it.
The word "baller" wasn't around in Henry's Arsenal and Barcelona salad days, but in a sense, he's almost like the proto definition. He may have long retired, but remains one of those almost mystical sportsmen whose appeal has transcended the generation that grew up with him. It's why, at 44, Henry remains a marketing tour de force, and has signed on as the face of PUMA's new premium MMQ line. As the man whose ice-cold delivery of va va voom eventually saw the phrase wind up in the Oxford English Dictionary, it's difficult to think of a better fit.
An acronym of "Macht’s mit Qualität” (or “Made With Quality”), MMQ is the German giant's foray into the hot-right-now elevated basics category. Fear of God, Calvin Klein, Highsnobiety... they/we are all at it. A lot has been written about the rise of opulent loungewear in the post-pandemic, WFH world, but the demand among sports aficionados and athletes has always been there. As someone who basically lived in tracksuits for most of his professional career, Henry understands the value of comfort better than most.
Ahead of MMQ's release, The King opened up on fashion and what "quality" means to him.
The word "quality" is fairly obvious in a sporting context, but can be subjective depending on the category. What does it actually mean to you?
For me, it's what wows you — when you get that "wow, that's quality," feeling. In football, it can be a shot; it can be a dribble; it can be a tackle; it can be a save.
In a fashion context, quality in my eyes has always been longevity, and how long a product can last. How do you see it?
I'm sure you must have seen some pieces on the catwalk that had you go, "wow." You might not be sure about the collection, but there's one piece that makes you stop. It might not be built to last or whatever, but it's something you just need. That's quality. "Who is the judge?" is what I always say. For me, it's about what you like, what you feel comfortable with, and what inspires and transcends you.
The word "perfectionist" is also thrown around a lot when your name is mentioned. Why have you always paid more attention to quality than others?
It comes down to how you've been brought up. My dad was a freak about looking good and taking care of his clothes. He always had to have the latest and best stuff. He would wear stuff that only Roland Garros tennis superstars of that time would have. He would also take care of his clothes so immaculately, and would even walk around with a felt roller. That kind of thing rubs off on you.
You've always been seen as a style icon — what do you look for in clothes these days?
First and foremost, I don't think I'm a style icon.
I don't think so. I like what I like. You don't have to like it, but I like what I like. First, it's always trainers. Then a hoodie. I love my hoodie and I love my trainers. I sometimes wear a suit because of work, but I need to be comfortable. I don't have anyone telling me what to wear. I don't roll like that. I don't go with the idea that you need to wear this and that, either. Before it used to be categorized as, you're from the hood if you wear a tracksuit, but now everybody is in them. That just shows how fickle people judging can be.
But I like underground stuff. I like brands that you don't even know about. I don't often go with “brand,” apart from a suit, because sometimes you just like a certain cut, so when you find your cut, you find your cut. But other than that, if I like something, I like something. It doesn't have to be a name. It doesn't have to be a thing.
You grew up in Paris and your playing career took you to cities such as London, New York, and Turin. How did those environments influence your style?
When you go to New York, you see things in a different way. What I like there is that you can wear whatever you want. People are not going to look at you a certain way. If you're in New York, and you're dressed a certain way in the morning, at night you still can wear the same thing and go out and have dinner anyway. I love London, but if you wear a tracksuit and a hat, sometimes you might have to go back home, because in some restaurants, you might not look like you belong. Sometimes you can't even enter.
When I first arrived in Italy, I wanted some trainers. I remember the Italians on the team looking at me like, "Wow, you're wearing trainers." Two weeks after, they all came in wearing them!
Paris is just different — it's unique, with so many quirks. I remember when you wore a tracksuit, you put the socks over the trousers. Now everybody is doing that, but it was always a thing growing up. But, as I say, I like what I like. I don't dress to impress people.
What bits do you particularly like from the collection?
I don't have a specific piece that I like — what I like is more the colors. They're original. I like the materials, too.
It must be interesting for you to see the rise of premium sportswear, which wasn't really a big thing until fairly recently.
Everything is a lifestyle now. Tracksuits, back in the day, meant you were from the hood, but not anymore. It's about being comfortable and doing you. That will always be the most important thing.