Football’s fashion own goal

As London Fashion Week kicks off Turhan Osman explores what sporting brands should learn from the world of fashion.

Turhan Osman

Creative Director House 337


When Vogue magazine names Lionel Messi’s pink Inter Miami shirt as one of the top ten must-haves of the year – along with pieces by Vuitton, Chanel and Margiela – you know football deserves a place in the fashion Super League.

But football does a woeful job of leveraging its fashion potential. While fashion is quick to borrow the values and credibility of sport, football does very little to get fashion’s clout on its side. It might be the world’s biggest sport, the so-called ‘beautiful game’, but football lags behind the likes of basketball, tennis and golf when it comes to building a credible presence in the wider fashion industry.

Why would a global brand the size of, say, Manchester United not launch a kit in the same way as Calvin Klein launches a new product line?

Turhan Osman, Creative Director at House 337

Kit launches are uninspiring, and the merchandise usually misses the mark; little effort is made to encourage people to wear a football shirt unless it’s to a game or a 5-a-side match with your mates.

Why would a global brand the size of, say, Manchester United not launch a kit in the same way as Calvin Klein launches a new product line? Maybe they already make millions without even trying too hard, but it seems clubs are missing a trick in terms of revenues, reach and kudos.

The power of sport gives many athletes a global platform that is artfully leveraged by fashion houses – take Neymar in Skims, or Saka and Son in Burberry. Many sports stars are huge fashion icons, but the football clubs where they showcase their talents make little of their influence. Clubs generally fail to recognise that, while they can bring a new dimension to a fashion brand, they can also bring fashion into football.

After all, Saka isn't fashionable because he's Saka, he's fashionable because he stands for something, which means fashion brands want to adorn him with their powers.

Paris Saint-Germain is the anomaly that understands the potential of fashion. The team has collaborated with Dior and Hublot, Japanese fashion houses Edifice and A Bathing Ape, and Nike’s Air Jordan. It has also opened retail stores in Paris, London, New York, and Tokyo.

PSG knows how to behave like a label in its own right. With online fashion platform G.O.A.T., for instance, the players are featured in a shoot that most top-end fashion houses would be jealous of; wearing kit from various seasons combined with pieces by Tom Ford, Dior Homme and Prada – styled in a way that positions club logos and products in a way that makes cultural sense, feels contemporary and ultimately looks desirable, and not like a, excuse my french, full kit w***er.

Arsenal has also been getting in on the act with engaging ads for its “retro” lines, which feature club legend Ray Parlour. It seems the club is starting to understand the potential in its work for the 23/24 kit, and with club legend Ian Wright, even whilst not standing toe to toe with the fashion world as PSG’s work does.

Mostly, though, kit launches are uninspiring – typically a picture of players looking like they are about to step out onto the pitch for their next match. There might be a social media push and an email to fans, but no effort to make expensive shirts look like they are worth the £80+ price tag nor to encourage people to wear them with style. In any case, will it ever be acceptable to wear a bright nylon T-shirt to the pub? Putting more thought into the design and purpose of supporter wear seems the way forward, as PSG well knows.

After all, if Calvin Klein can create a viral phenomenon out of Jeremy Allen White - and David Beckham before him - wearing underwear, a football team should be able to get an already loyal fanbase to get excited about its latest drop, whilst also reaching and acquiring new audiences thanks to a definitive style. By working with designers, stylists and marketers, they could turn a routine annual launch into a brilliant branding opportunity.

Strategic insight is also crucial to securing fashion credentials in football. Clubs need to think about customers rather than fans, whom they want to target, and how to elevate their brand beyond the pub and the terraces.

The blueprint and the potential are there if you look at other sports, particularly in the US. The NBA and the Jordan brand are everywhere, and a Chicago Bulls basketball jersey or varsity jacket would never look out of place in a music video. Football is the world’s biggest sport by a vast margin, and the opportunities for achieving that same crossover are apparent. The fashion elite knows precisely how to weave team logos into sophisticated fits.

It all goes back to identifying a purpose for your brand and creating clothing to match. As well as a match-day look, PSG has launched diffusion ranges that are more stripped back and retro-inspired, showcased in well-curated look books and expressly designed to be worn outside of a sporting situation.

Fortunately, there are signs that football is waking up to the power of fashion. Crystal Palace recently appointed the Premier League’s first-ever creative director, while Newcastle has just appointed a director of brand, marketing and social media. Paris-based Red Star FC, whose president is a former producer at Publicis, also hired a creative director and worked with Amsterdam fashion label Lack of Guidance on a recent kit.

Fashion brands want people to fall in love with their logo, while football brands already have an audience that will go to the ends of the earth for theirs. If they choose to create fashion collections, not fan merchandise, and to see themselves as labels, not badges, football can rule the sporting world beyond the pitch and onto the catwalk.

Guest Author

Turhan Osman

Creative Director House 337


Turhan is a multi-award-winning Creative Director specialising in fashion and lifestyle brands. His experience spans both the luxury sector - working with Marc Jacobs, CK fragrance, Mr Porter and Iceberg - as well as many of the high street's most well-known and loved brands such as M&S, Dr Martens, River Island, Benefit Cosmetics and Simply Be. Turhan has acted as a mentor across multiple industry initiatives helping to champion diversity within the industry - a belief reflected in his approach to diversity and inclusion in the work he creates (from crew through to casting). Turhan is also a part of House 337's neurodiversity network, speaking regularly about his ADHD and using his voice and experience to support others in the industry.

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