Is formalwear the next frontier for fashion’s football obsession?
There has been no shortage of fashion and football collaborations – and articles about fashion and football collaborations – in recent years. These collaborations have covered everything from third kits to special-edition boots, limited-edition merch, to luxury player endorsement deals. It has also included formalwear partnerships between the world's biggest clubs and the world's biggest luxury houses.
At the start of 2023, Dior Men's artistic director Kim Jones revealed two full collections designed especially for the PSG team. There was a formal collection – personally tailored suits, cashmere coats, and crisp white shirts – and a more casual alternative, which included a Harrington jacket, a knitted sweatshirt, and black leather derby shoes. It was a wide-ranging collection from Dior, showing how seriously the French label takes its partnership with PSG.
That partnership had been announced for the 2021/22 season and came on the back of other similar deals. Juventus began working with Loro Piana that same season, while Barcelona tapped cult New York label Thom Browne in 2018. At the time, Browne discussed the appeal of such a collaboration, explaining that "the uniforms provide a platform which allows the players to express their individuality while reinforcing their solid team spirit and comradery."
Through each of these partnerships, the clubs were able to communicate something about the way in which they would like to be seen. PSG aligned themselves with the world of high fashion, and the progressive designs of Kim Jones and Juventus reinforced their traditional Italian credentials by working with a historic luxury label founded close to Turin. For Barcelona, working with Thom Browne was a more fashion-forward approach, marking the club out as a cultural force with influence far beyond Catalonia.
While all of those clubs worked with legacy brands on traditional tailoring collections, there are signs that formalwear partnerships are beginning to push the boundaries. Last year, Manchester United's 15-year-long relationship with Paul Smith extended to include sneakers (a collaborative adidas Stan Smith), while Arsenal called upon Hector Bellerin's fashion contact book to begin working with 424 and AC Milan enlisted Off-White to produce its pre-game clothing.
Off-White's collections for AC Milan – the brand officially listed as the "style and culture curator" for the club – have combined traditional formality with a more casual approach. Double-breasted suits are adorned with the players' squad numbers and paired with red polo neck sweatshirts, while, in the past, tailored trousers have been worn alongside co-branded cream varsity jackets.
While Off-White's approach is markedly different from the more traditional formalwear partnerships, it is achieving the same ambition. By working with Off-White – one of the leading lights in the luxury streetwear world – AC Milan is aligning itself with the brand, its ethos, and its fanbase. Announcing the partnership late last year, AC Milan's statement spoke of "shared values and a commitment to positive change" as well as Off-White's "legacy as an unapologetic disruptor." The club's Chief Revenue Office, Casper Stylsvig, went further, explaining that the collaboration built on the club's values of "cultural inclusivity and equality" while also helping to "engage with younger generations through the convergence of football with other sectors."
At the heart of it – and for all the talk of shared values – Stylsvig's last point is what it all comes down to. By working with different brands on formalwear, clubs are able to access an entirely different audience, whether that's through working with the likes of Dior and Off-White, labels who have devoted younger fanbases, or by partnering with the heritage, luxury, and status of Loro Piana. Each partnership communicates something about the direction the club is heading in and the people it is trying to reach.
AC Milan's work with Off-White is the latest partnership to emerge, but it's unlikely it will be the last. Barcelona recently penned a deal with Italian label Herno to take over its formalwear, while a whole host of big-name teams don't have a full-time partner. Currently, the closest thing Liverpool has is Levi's (the team's "official denim partner"), while Chelsea has no formalwear deal.
Equally, there are big labels out there currently entering the football world – Gucci's work with Jack Grealish and Leah Williamson, for example – who could use a formalwear partnership to gain a foothold in the industry. Whatever happens, club's formalwear deals are likely to be an important stage as fashion's relationship with the sport continues to expand and develop.