IN COLLABORATION WITH GUCCI
To mark the start of a partnership with world-famous fashion house Gucci, SWM made the trip to Madrid to spend the day with footballing superstar David Alaba.
We caught up with Real Madrid’s latest Galáctico in the midst of Madrid Fashion Week to celebrate Gucci’s centennial year and latest collection, Gucci100.
In arguably the most sensational summer transfer window of all time, David made headlines when he left Bayern Munich for Real Madrid after over 13 years in Germany. He’s won a record 10 Bundesliga titles, six German Cups, and the Champions League twice since his professional debut in 2009, and he isn’t stopping there. The Austrian is determined to make his mark in the Spanish capital and if his performance in the first Clásico of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be one hell of a ride. In a world-exclusive interview, we discussed his love of fashion, the biggest influences in his life, and a dream move to Madrid.
“It was always my dream to become a successful footballer and play for the best clubs in the world,” says David.
When I decided to leave Bayern Munich, there was only one club I wanted to go to and that was Real Madrid. The history and tradition of the club are huge, so it was a great honour and a great feeling for me to become a part of it. I was very successful for years with Bayern and now I get to play for Real Madrid. They’re two massive clubs, so I’m sure many young footballers dream of that.”
It was a summer of transition across Europe, which saw clubs in the top five leagues complete 1555 deals worth a staggering £2.66bn. A number of the world’s biggest stars were on the move including Cristiano Ronaldo, Jack Grealish, and even Lionel Messi, who made the unimaginable switch to PSG after 21 years at Barcelona. In Madrid, the situation was no different. Defensive stalwarts Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos both opted to move on to pastures new, paving the way for a new defensive leader at Los Blancos. For most players, inheriting Ramos’ jersey would prove to be a daunting prospect, but David admits it’s only added to his excitement for what’s to come over the next five years.
“I’d already played a few times at the Bernabéu with Bayern,” he says. “Those were always very special games with an unbelievable intensity. The stadium is so impressive and with all the Madrid fans in it, the games are even more awesome. It’s just like Bayern Munich here and as a player, you want to win every game, every competition and every cup. I’m hoping to achieve as much as possible during my time with Real Madrid and preferably win everything there is to win. Winning is in the DNA of clubs like this, so I want to make history here and win many, many titles.”
Make no mistake, the move to Madrid was a huge step in David’s career. Real Madrid is arguably the biggest club in world football and has a reputation for signing world-famous superstars. When Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018, Florentino Pérez made no secret of his intention to replace the loss with world-class talent, so with David’s signature came high expectations. But after only a few months, David has already established himself as a fan favourite and proven he has all of the attributes to be a huge success in Madrid – a feat he puts down to his family and strong support network.
“My family and closest friends are always behind me, even now in Madrid,” he says. They mean everything to me and not only in football, but they also give me support and strength. I want to be successful for them and you can only be successful if you have people who stand behind you unconditionally. I’m looking forward to a new phase of my life together with them. These experiences will always connect us.”
Football is a game of fine margins and in recent years it’s become commonplace for the game’s elite players to work with personal trainers and mentors. One such coach is Tim S. Grover, a London-born motivational speaker, personal trainer, and founder of AttackAthletics, a world-famous training facility in Chicago, Illinois. Grover’s work with NBA players has earned him international acclaim and he’s widely recognised across the globe as the trainer to the world’s top athletes. His list of clients includes the late Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan who considers Grover to be ‘second to none in his knowledge of sports training’ and an invaluable part of his success throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. David has been working with Grover for some time now and believes it’s a relationship that has had a hugely positive influence on his career.
“I’ve been working with Tim for a while now and we have worked very intensively together, especially in the last few months,” he says. I read his book and looked at his story and from that moment on I knew immediately that I wanted to work with him, so I contacted him personally right away. From the first conversation until today, he was able to help me a lot and I’m convinced that this will be the case in the future. At the moment we are taking a little break so that I can settle here in Madrid, but in the foreseeable future we want to continue working together.”
Another influential figure who David draws inspiration from is Jay-Z; one of the most successful rappers and songwriters in history. There’s always been a synergy between sport and music, summed up perfectly in Drake’s song Thank Me Now where he says, ‘sports and music are so synonymous, ‘cause we want to be them, and they want to be us’. But it wasn’t the musical talents of Jay-Z that inspired David all those years ago. Instead, it was a conversation about life, influence, and the events that have shaped their careers.
“I’ve been able to meet a lot of cool people, whether it’s from the music business or other sports but I was already fascinated when I met Jay-Z back in 2013,” he says. He took time to sit with me before the concert and talked to me for a long time, and was also very interested in me and what I do. That was very strong and impressive. It gave me a lot of motivation and that moment also made me appreciate everything that I have. Every now and then if I catch myself losing motivation when I sign autographs or take selfies with fans, I remember this conversation with Jay-Z and the motivation is back.”
Having started his journey at Austria Wien II, David joined Bayern Munich’s youth setup in 2008 and worked his way into the first team in the space of just two years. He made his competitive debut at 17 years, seven months, and eight days old – a club record, and would go on to spend 13 years at the Bavarians making over 400 appearances. Today he is widely regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation, having played a pivotal role in Bayern’s domestic and European success throughout the last decade. It’s fair to say the club has been a huge part of his life, so inevitably the decision to leave was something the Austrian struggled with from both a personal and professional perspective.
“Everyone who knows me knows that I love Bayern Munich more than anything,” he says. “I have taken this club to my heart. I came here as a child and matured into a man, celebrated the greatest successes of my career here, made friends for life, and was able to play with unique footballers and great coaches. Once you’ve played for Bayern for so long, you know how special this time is and you know that you’ll never forget it. I had been thinking for a very long time about what my next career step would be. Leaving the club was very hard for me and it took time, but the important thing is to remember the wonderful time I had over the last 13 years.”
Home to residents of over 180 nationalities, Madrid is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in Europe and has some of the world’s best bars, art galleries and an eclectic dining scene. Over the years it’s attracted celebrities from all walks of life, including some of the most famous footballers of all time like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, and the Brazilian Ronaldo. Despite the obvious draws from a footballing perspective, David admits the opportunity to sample a new culture and lifestyle in the Spanish capital was a big factor in making the switch.
“For me, it was also a great desire to have a new experience in my life,” he says. “I was keen to get to know a new culture, a new country, and a new language. That’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment; I’m getting to know the city better every day, and I practice my Spanish every week. Madrid is a beautiful city where I am sure we will always feel very comfortable in the future – all the people here have given us a warm welcome so far.”
In stark contrast to sunny Madrid, Munich has a small-town feel to it and less than half the population. It’s worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Spanish capital, but having spent nearly half his life there, it would be hard not to miss It might not be for everyone, but David loved the city and everyone who made him feel so welcome throughout his time in Bavaria. Despite the new and exciting opportunity Madrid presents, it would be hard not to miss the city that he spent nearly half of his life in.
“Munich is Munich and Madrid is Madrid,” says David. “The good thing about the move is that I can now get to know a new dream city and experience living here. Of course I miss many, many things in Munich. For example, I won’t get Oktoberfest here, but I’m pretty sure at some point I will not want to miss things here in Madrid. Every city has its hidden gems, special restaurants, cafes, beautiful corners, and spots.”
When asked about what he enjoys most about being a professional footballer, the answer David gave wasn’t quite what you might expect. It’s not the lifestyle or the luxuries available to him, but the time and resources available to him in which he can make a difference to less fortunate communities. Throughout his career, David has given back wherever possible and made sure the legacy he will leave will not just be a footballing one.
“Everyone knows that professional footballers lead a privileged life in some respects,” says David. “That’s nice, but it’s also just as nice when you can inspire fans all over the world. When you can make children’s hearts beat faster because they cheer for you as a player, or when you can use money and resources to help people who are not doing so well. That is the special and very beautiful thing about being a professional footballer. For us players, it must always be a central point to give something back, in whatever form.”
During the off-season, David and his partner Shalimar Heppner can often be seen enjoying luxurious holidays in breathtaking locations around the world. Ibiza, Mykonos, and Dubai top the list of usual haunts loved by professional footballers, but David and his family prefer to explore more unusual destinations.
“I love to travel and want to see different, beautiful places,” says David. “But I also like to be in my hometown Vienna to spend time with family and friends. I often enjoyed being in the US before Covid as well as the Bahamas, Bora Bora, and there’s definitely loads more trips like that on my bucket list as well. Thank goodness there is still some time until I retire, but when I have more time I will definitely continue to travel.”
David has become known for his understated, minimalist look and made regular fashion week appearances across Europe. Having spent much of time outside of football travelling the world, he’s drawn inspiration from the experiences he’s had and cultures he’s sampled, and in 2016 launched his own brand DA27. Specialising in headwear, the brand is a reflection of his style and was inspired by his loyal fans all over the world.
“If I’m completely honest, my fans were the inspiration behind my brand,” says David. I once designed a few caps for myself and friends, then we got a lot of requests and decided to produce these caps for everyone. Travelling has had a huge influence on my personal fashion and style. Different cities and different cultures inspire me a lot in terms of my own fashion sense. My style is more informed and clean but varied too. If I had to describe it in three words, it would be informed, clean and varied.”
The SWM cover features David wearing a jacket with a GG kaleidoscope motif from the Gucci100 centennial collection, designed by Alessandro Michele. Gucci has always been an iconic brand, so it’s no surprise it’s worn by high-profile athletes, musicians, and actors. The list of influential figures who have famously worn Gucci is endless, and the brand has become increasingly popular in the footballing world since Michele’s appointment in 2015. Founded in Florence in 1921, Gucci is one of the world’s leading luxury fashion brands and part of the global luxury group Kering, which manages the development of a series of renowned Maisons in fashion, leather goods, jewelry, and watches. As the House marks its 100th anniversary under the creative direction of Michele, with Marco Bizzarri as President and Chief Executive, Gucci moves forward into coming decades with an ongoing commitment to redefining luxury while celebrating the creativity, innovation and Italian craftsmanship at the core of its values.
“The centennial, for me, represents an opportunity to bear witness to Gucci’s eternal vitality that year after year, is reborn, it renews itself, reestablishing an unusual relationship with contemporaneity as a boy, forever young, observing the world with a powerful vision. I recognized the manifestation of its youth in its having intercepted and traversed, for one hundred years now, popular culture in all its forms. Above all, in music: the only medium, aside from fashion, more reactive to the times that mutate and mark the new, the today, the now,” says Michele.
Conceived as a tribute to celebrate the centennial of the Maison, Gucci 100 manifests a deep connection between two universal languages, the language of clothing as an expression of personal identity and the language of music that recalls a collective memory. It all begins with reflections on a number: 22,705. This is the extensive number of songs in which the word ‘Gucci’ appears among the lyrics from 1921 to date according to Musixmatch, the Music Data Company that manages the world’s largest archive of music lyrics and that has collaborated with the Maison for this research.
“It isn’t a revisionist attempt to rummage through the past: if anything, mine is a ‘reverse’ revisionism of the House’s history, stitched back together by a piercing note, a melody, a refrain. Also because, if I were to depict Gucci, for me it would be an eternal teenager who hangs out at places where music is heard and played,” continues Michele.
Ready-to-wear and accessories feature the Gucci 100 logo or are adorned with verses from three songs chosen by Alessandro Michele from among the countless tracks that mention the brand: “Music is Mine Gucci Seats Reclined”, from the song “The R” (1988) by Eric B. & Rakim, “This One’s Dedicated To All You Gucci Bag Carriers Out There It’s Called You Got Good Taste” from “You Got Good Taste” (1983) by rock band “The Cramps” and “And The Men Notice You With Your Gucci Bag Crew” from Amy Winehouse’s “Fuck Me Pumps” (2003). (© Sony Music Publishing)
Reflecting on a century of heritage, Gucci100 has created a side-by-side tribute to both past and present exploring the House’s impact on pop culture over the last century. Sport is so deeply embedded in modern society that there was no better figure to help launch Gucci100 than one of the greatest footballers of the modern era. At 29, David is at the peak of his powers and in just a matter of months, has already established himself as Real Madrid’s newest talisman. In the words of his favourite rapper, ‘sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination,’ and while the destination remains to be seen, it’s fair to say the journey so far has been quite incredible.