Saturday, Jul 15, 2006
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BLEACH IT LIKE BECKHAM

World Cup of hair style

Soccer players become stars as much for locks and looks as kicks and blocks

ERIC WILSON
New York Times
Some of the World Cup's style standouts, from left: Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata, Spain's Fernando Torres and Angola's Loco.
AP photos
Some of the World Cup's style standouts, from left: Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata, Spain's Fernando Torres and Angola's Loco.

David Beckham's hair echoes the energy level of most teams after a World Cup game.

His tresses -- normally the beau ideal of the soccer world's array of haircuts -- were just tired.

Previous dos have included a frosted fauxhawk, blond cornrows and a confection of rooster's peaks, but Beckham's hair in the June 10 opener was, like his game, neatly prostrate and minimally styled.

Mere gel, in soccer, is a letdown.

"The British players are tidied up now," said Howard McLaren, the creative director of the Bumble & Bumble salon in New York.

"If you look at the long hair of players from Argentina and Brazil, they are constantly pulling it out of their mouths, which can be distracting," McLaren added. "But they are willing to pay that price for the way their hair looks."

When the Japanese team lined up against Australia on June 12, the field looked like a hairstylist convention -- progressive dye jobs versus chippy spikes.

That so much attention is paid to players' hair and to the customary post-game swapping of jerseys no doubt contributes to soccer's standing in the United States as a vanity sport, even though it is the most popular sport in other parts of the world.

But with the global exposure of the World Cup, players who are famous in their home countries -- and emulated by local fans -- are now influencing style around the world, setting trends, endorsing designer brands and appearing in advertising campaigns.

"There's a euphoria about soccer players like I've never seen here before," said Timothy Everest, the London tailor who outfitted Beckham for his wedding. "When they were doing the walkabout here before the World Cup, it was reminiscent of the Beatles."

Soccer players are passionately studied on and off the field by billions of fans, and designers and athletic clothing brands have responded by courting the most stylish ones.

Beckham has been both celebrated and reviled as soccer's most famous clotheshorse, capable of igniting debates on diamond earrings and multistrand beaded necklaces for men.

But there were fashionista footballers before him -- George Best and Charlie George in England and Charlie Miller in Scotland, to name a few.

Many more have since turned up in the front rows of fashion shows and posed seductively for menswear designers, pushing Beckham, the once unrivaled star of metrosexuality, to fashion's equivalent of the bench.

"I really like Hide Nakata," said Italo Zucchelli, the menswear designer for Calvin Klein. Zucchelli, who is Italian, is familiar with soccer's international stars of soccer, among them Hidetoshi Nakata, a 29-year-old midfielder playing for Japan.

Nakata was a star in the Asian leagues before he was recruited to an Italian team in 1998, and his style and interest in fashion often draw comparisons to Beckham.

After Nakata began turning up at the runway shows of Giorgio Armani in Milan and Dior in Paris, often wearing racy T-shirts under a blazer or a fur-trimmed bomber jacket, he became known as the "Asian Becks."

"Beyond the fact he is a really beautiful man, he has a very nice style," Zucchelli said. "He plays with fashion like all of them now, but in a cooler, more sophisticated way than many others."

Other designers and fashion houses -- John Galliano, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and H&M -- have cited soccer as inspiration for their collections, some claiming that soccer players have more style than other athletes.

When Armani announced he would outfit the English team for their appearances off the field at the World Cup, he said, "Footballers are today's new style leaders." This is a bold endorsement from a designer who has usually expended his marketing energy on dressing blue-chip movie stars.

Dolce & Gabbana, which designs uniforms for the Milan team's regular season, has cast five of its members in a provocative new underwear campaign, posing in a locker room.

There are American athletes who are known for their flamboyant style -- Dennis Rodman, the Williams sisters or Johnny Weir -- but in this country there is a puritanical tendency to play down individuality.

Think of the constant nattering about hem lengths in basketball and resistance to facial hair in baseball.

Soccer players embrace their eccentricities, a tendency that McLaren of Bumble & Bumble suggests is explained by the pride of those with humble roots who have achieved international success.

"Usually it is the normal kids who become talented," he said. "It's not like a tennis star whose parents spend millions training them to become a star. It's the more common person who has contact with the streets at a young age. They are exposed more to street-level culture. They tend to pick up on that a bit more."