In Collaboration with Gucci
The future of English football looks exciting. The talk is of a new generation of players coming through, young, committed and compelling to watch. Team players, for sure, but also eager to express themselves on the pitch as individuals.
One of them is Jude Bellingham
It took a little while for Jude to find the love of football. He preferred to play tag during his local Saturday morning football training sessions, but he got bitten by the bug at age 7 and began his academy experience with Birmingham City Football Club; where he remained for 10 years. But in January 2015, Jude Bellingham was an 11-year-old in Birmingham who had only started secondary school the previous term and was enjoying the final days of his Christmas holiday. A fan of Batman and Caribbean food, like other kids his age he liked to hang out with his friends. And he loved playing football: “All day, every day, any chance I could get to play football I was playing; break time, lunch time at school, and then I’d finish school, come home and then play outside with my mates for a bit on the little patch of grass… so just football non-stop, really,” he remembers.
“I always want to be authentic.”
The Gucci menswear show of January 2015 marked the ascendance of Alessandro Michele to the role of Creative Director at the house. A Roman and a 13-year veteran of the firm, steeped in its history, Michele took the reins at Gucci with a clear vision for what he wanted to achieve. That vision, now famously established, and perfectly expressed in the Love Parade collection he has created for this spring/summer, is one of Romantic eclecticism, and it has undoubtedly excited people’s desire for character and individualism in dress.
This approach has unquestionably engaged a new generation, hungry for a means of celebrating creativity and its sense of self. And Jude Bellingham is part of that generation. One that believes passionately in self-expression. “I always want to be authentic,” explains the footballer. “My interviews might have got me in trouble a couple of times this season already, but I feel like it’s always me talking, it’s never my ‘brand’ or the way I feel I should be speaking in terms of what other people think. So it’s always myself, whether it’s on the pitch, the way I act, or off the pitch. I know that I’m a respectful person, so I just try to be true to myself.”
Alessandro Michele has encouraged the unleashing of the imagination and championed the right to freedom of expression. You see this in his collections for Gucci: joyfully bohemian selections of idiosyncratic attire; eclectic, decorative pieces that have the spirit of Florentine craftsmanship about them, combined with a playful, pop-cultural sensibility. In the young Jude Bellingham, Gucci clearly sees a sporting equivalent of the type of contemporary free spirits it is habitually drawn to.
But while the footballer is unquestionably part of the up-and-coming generation, he has some classic tastes. Take his preference for old movies: “A hobby of mine is watching films. I like watching old films, like Pulp Fiction – Tarantino stuff and Scorsese, things like that. I don’t really enjoy the new films – I’m trying to catch up on everything that I’ve missed, 20 years before I was born, before I start going into some of the newer classics!” His dad, who still lives in Birmingham with his younger brother Jobe (who’s now playing for Birmingham City), while Jude is based in Germany with his mum, is something of a film buff. “My dad’s always sending me stuff to watch, so he’s probably my partner in crime when it comes to that.”
This fits in with what people say about Jude – that he is an old head on young shoulders. It’s often been remarked that he plays with a composure way beyond his years. Famously, when he left Birmingham City, the team retired his shirt, something unheard of for a 17-year-old: “They kind of sprung it on me… and I have to take the banter that resulted on the chin!” he explains. But where does that kind of confidence come from? “To be fair, I’ve got to say I was always pretty confident,” he admits. “I just felt like any pitch that I was going on to, I could contribute something. That wasn’t an arrogance in terms of thinking ‘I’m the best player here,’ it’s definitely not that – it’s just something where you believe in the tools that you’ve got; and I believe that I can find strategies and I can work hard enough to perform and deliver on any given day against anyone, really. It does help when you’ve got teammates… they’ve got that experience and that know-how to guide you through a game, and I can’t really thank them enough for the way that they were with me on the pitch. There were times when I didn’t have as good an understanding of the game as some of the players I was playing against, but then my teammates helped me get through it, put me in positions where they knew I’d thrive, and then it clicked.”
If, however, you need reminding of quite how young this young man is, consider this. When I ask him what his favourite record is, he replies: “Youngest ever Birmingham City scorer.” I then explain, to puzzled looks, that what I meant was music track or album. To which he explains he’s never heard the word ‘record’ used like that before. (The answer, by the way is that “music’s a big one for me, I couldn’t give you a favourite one; I’m always changing… I like to listen to stuff from years ago, it just depends on how I’m feeling – I’ll be listening to Biggie Smalls one day, then the next day Adele, the next day someone who’s rapping now; it changes a lot.”)
The confidence that Jude brings to his game is also a quality that sits well with Gucci. Because Gucci’s appeal over the past few years has also undoubtedly stemmed from an extraordinary level of self-belief. Alessandro Michele’s approach is one of unabashed individualism: like a magpie, he picks and chooses from a historical toolbox of references, managing to combine his love of pop culture (from Elton John to punk rock) with a fascination for the Renaissance (think Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and the poetry of Lorenzo de’ Medici) and an encyclopaedic knowledge of interior design (from the English country house to the Roman palazzo).
Which brings us to today when our young, self-possessed footballer arrives at the Royal Suite by Gucci at the Savoy Hotel in London for a photo shoot for SWM. He will wear pieces from Gucci’s collections in a setting that has been carefully chosen. For it was a century ago, in 1921, that Guccio Gucci founded his label in a small shop in Florence, having worked as a porter at this very London hotel. His decision to start creating luxury luggage in his Italian hometown was inspired by the time he spent carrying the bags of the well-to-do travellers who passed through the British capital.
It is not the first time that Jude Bellingham will be modelling Gucci. He’d had a taste of last year’s Aria collection when attending the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event in December. “They [Gucci] were really kind and happy to send me out some ideas, and ended up picking me one out that I liked, and it went really well, I really enjoyed wearing it,” he remembers, before adding, unassumingly, “and I think I looked alright.” What was it? “It was a normal suit but with a black velvet jacket, with a tie with a little pattern on it, and I just thought straight away when I saw it that it was me; it was still quite cool and clean, but it had a few differences that made it special. And I thought it really matched the way I wanted to look and the way I feel about myself.”
So when he got to the Savoy for the Gucci shoot for SWM he had some idea of what to expect. What are his memories of the day? Was it fun? “I loved it, to be honest. With a shoot it’s always a new experience,and I think that’s the thing that I love the most. Obviously I’ve not done loads, I’ve done a few [shoots] in the past. But when the experience is still new and I get to try on clothes, and you’ve got all these people working so hard and being so friendly to try and help you and make sure that you’re looking your best, but also feeling your best – it’s just a really fun day.” As he says: “You’re trying on top clothes from a top brand, and you get to be yourself with it and have a laugh in the meantime, so yeah, it was really good.”
This really was a first, he explains: “I’ve done stuff for my sponsors and my brand partners in the past, but nothing for a brand like Gucci. So it was a real pleasure for me. And as well as the pleasure I got from putting on the clothes, it was as much a pleasure to meet the staff and meet everyone who was working on it as well, because they were brilliant with me and they made me feel so at home in the outfits.” But he does admit to a few nerves. “On the way there, you’re thinking, ‘Am I going to wear it how they want it to be worn?’ Because they have a vision, of course, and you’re thinking, ‘Am I going to live up to the vision?’ But when I got there they just made me feel so comfortable.”
The shoot was designed to make use of the different locations on offer at the famous late 19th-century Grade II listed building. The Savoy is, incidentally, the only fivestar hotel on the Thames. So what was the young footballer’s favourite thing about the experience? “The work the team put in to make me look good was really good on the day. Obviously I’ve just turned up, looked into the camera and put on the stuff. But the way they organised the outfits and the rooms in which they decided to place me in for certain outfits was really clever. And I think that was my favourite thing about the shoot – how each outfit matched the vibe of the room and then the vibe of the pictures that we were trying to capture; that for me was the best thing.” He gives the example of the shot in which he wears a striped Gucci tracksuit, sitting by a table with a white tablecloth and white-and-green decorated tea set on it: “The one with the tracksuit is more chilled, with the cup of tea.”
And favourite outfits? “My three favourites were: the pink [bomber] jacket to start with; I think that was the cover photo. I really liked it. I just felt like it was different but still kind of quite classy and cool; and the next one was the tracksuit – it was lovely, but I think what topped it off was the way it was shown – I was in a relaxed environment, I had some sliders on and I was kind of just chilling. And then, for me, I feel like I’m a lot older than my age suggests, and to be in a suit is always fun for me; I just enjoy the feeling of feeling quite classy… Yeah, I think that one’s number one [the suit] and those two are close behind.”
The blue suit with white dots certainly looks smart, especially teamed with a blue open-collared shirt, tan Guccilogoed socks and brown leather Gucci loafers with the famous house green-red-green striped ribbon bearing the signature gold equestrian snaffle detail. Jude looks at home in the opulent surroundings of the Savoy in this ensemble, sitting on a small wooden bench-seat upholstered in red leather with a mirror and red lacquered walls with gold detailing behind him. He’s actually in the celebrated Red Lift – “I felt like it was the perfect scene for that [suit]” –, which has the distinction of being the first electric lift in London, and may well have been used by Guccio Gucci himself to transport guests’ luggage to and from their rooms. So if he likes a suit, does Jude like to dress up when he goes out? “Yeah. I think it’s because I don’t get to do it often that I enjoy that aspect of it more – you know, when you’re wearing something that you wouldn’t wear every day to train in, for example,” he says. “I think that’s when I get the most satisfaction out of fashion and what I wear, especially when you go to events like Sports Personality where you get to be in a suit. It’s just a really nice change from waking up and picking some of the stuff that’s in my wardrobe every day.”
Of course, since the two Davids – James and Beckham – first started modelling in the ‘90s, the marriage between football and fashion has become ever stronger. David Beckham is well known for gracing fashion magazine covers and has been an ambassador for several luxury brands, but we shouldn’t forget that the Liverpool and England goalkeeper, David James, trod the catwalk in Milan and appeared on billboards, modelling, before Manchester United’s famous son took to the fashion stage. But though that period of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and Skinner and Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League may have seen the moment when footballers became widely acknowledged as fashion role models, it had started years before, in the ‘60s, when another Red Devil who wore the number seven shirt was dubbed ‘The Fifth Beatle’.
George Best was arguably the first player to enjoy the status of being a fashion icon, and I wonder whether Jude has ever heard of him? He’s seen a documentary about him, he says, and then adds: “I’d done a skill in a game for England and someone from his family tweeted it and said, ‘This reminds me of someone.’ And I remember seeing it on my phone and I was literally shaking, in awe of what she had said. I’d known about him before, but I went straight onto YouTube and just watched him for hours; it’s unbelievable to watch the swagger that he had and the things he could do with the ball.” While Best is a relatively new discovery for him, Jude’s childhood hero was Wayne Rooney: “At the time he was just scoring goals for fun, and he was probably one of the best players in the world; and he just had everything really, I just loved watching him play – I loved how tenacious he was, I loved how he didn’t really care what was going on around him, he could just influence a game however he wanted to.” Then later it was Steven Gerrard: “As I got older and I started playing a little bit deeper in midfield, I liked Steven Gerrard as well. Similar to Rooney, he just had the ability to impact a game out of nowhere and take a game by the scruff of the neck. For me that was something that I was drawn to.”
It seems, in a way that is similar to his taste in movies, Jude likes to explore the past masters of the game. “The older I’ve got, the more I’ve looked back at football,” he explains. “Whereas some players have heroes from now, I’ve probably gained more from the past: the likes of Zidane. I’ve watched a lot [of footage of him] recently; just before a game or before a training session I find myself on YouTube and I’m watching hours of his clips, the games that he played in, his skills and highlight reels, and I’m just mesmerised by some of the stuff he was able to do.” Does he learn from these guys? “Yeah, definitely. Especially when I watch it before training, it really motivates me to steal some stuff that I’ve seen; whether it’s a skill, whether it’s a position or whether it’s a type of finish, I always try and look and take it into the game. I think that’s where my style comes from a little bit. I’ve reviewed a lot a players and watched a lot of players from a young age and then just taken all the bits that I love about each of them.” But he’s always his own man. “In every way I’m always trying to be myself… Some of the emotions that I show on the pitch – sometimes I watch it back and I feel I take it too far in some respects, but I’m not going to take that out of my game because then I might lose something that’s really valuable. I’ve just always got to try and be myself, and that’s what I’ve been taught growing up. As long as I’m respectful to other people and I look after my teammates, and off the pitch I treat everyone with respect, then I can really be how I want.”
“It’s always been an ambition of mine to play for England”
I wonder whether the fact that players these days often experiment with their hairstyles and clothing is an indication of a desire to express themselves off-pitch too? Is fashion something that they talk about when they’re together, I ask? Jude explains that he believes that the media does sometimes like to spice up its coverage of footballers’ personal lives by focussing on their fashion sense, but that yes, fashion is something that is a live issue for players. “As far as what happens in the changing room is concerned, I think it’s always been mentioned. We always come in in our own clothes so you get a glimpse of everyone’s style. It’s one of the first things that you speak about – if someone comes in in something that’s a little bit rascal, everyone straight away says, ‘Ooh, I’m not sure about that.’ But if someone comes in in something that’s a bit nice, consistently, you start to look out for them a little bit more. It’s fun to see how players interact with each other in terms of their outfits; and [what they wear] on social media as well.”
So do you influence each other? If you see something someone’s wearing that’s really good, do you ask where it’s from and maybe think about it for yourself? “To be honest, I feel like that’s a bit of an unspoken thing – I don’t think you’re really meant to do that, because then that’s copying someone else’s style,” he explains. “And you know, footballers can be stubborn, and with all the egos, I think that’s not something that they’d want to be known for doing. So I think everyone just tries to stick to their own thing and make it work. You have so much variation in the changing room sometimes that it’s fun to see.” Jude feels that fashion is very much on the radar of his contemporaries. “I think it’s something that footballers are really into at the moment,” he says. It’s the legacy of the Bests and Beckhams. “Now, like me growing up in football, it’s all I’ve seen, really. Whether it’s a football magazine I have, or I see a lifestyle magazine knocking about somewhere, there always seems to be a footballer involved in it. And I think that’s good because it crosses over the two worlds, and then you start to have music come in and it all gives a better vibe to the game as well… Players play with more expression and I think it then is represented by the clothes they wear, the things they listen to, and it makes it a lot more interesting for the fans as well.”
And though he’s a professional player, he still seems to be something of a fan himself: “I’ve read recent issues of SWM, and I mainly look for these interviews [like the one we’re doing] to be honest, when the players talk about their lives away from football, and see if I can pick anything up. That’s the thing about the magazine that I really enjoy, because it shows a different side of the players.” But for all this talk of fashion, and regardless of how much Jude clearly enjoys the glamour of a photo shoot in Gucci at the Savoy Hotel, there’s an underlying sense when you talk to him that he very much places football first. This is, of course, evidenced by the fact that he chose to relocate to Germany to play for Dortmund, instead of pursuing interest from British clubs, because he felt Dortmund offered the best fit for him at the time.
“I think the brand stuff’s cool and the modelling stuff’s cool for the players, but for me, I’m a footballer 100 per cent and that’s my job: my job is to go out there and try and help my team win, whichever team I’m playing for, whether it’s England or Dortmund, and that comes before anything, really.” Ah yes, England. “It’s always been an ambition of mine to play for England,” says Jude. “Even when I was at Birmingham and it seemed like a million miles away, I always believed that soon it could happen. And I’ve worked hard and I’ve had the breaks that I needed and taken my chances, and it’s happened earlier than maybe I thought it would.” Pride is what he feels when he puts on the national team shirt, he says, pride at representing so many England football fans; and he also thinks of his family, and particularly his grandfather: “My grandad who sadly passed not too long ago – he was so proud to be from England.” This is not just lip-service. You really get the impression that he’s sincere. “It means a lot to me, especially when the national anthem’s playing and I take a minute just to think about how lucky I am to play for my country.”
So there you have it. Jude Bellingham, young, confident and proud to be playing for both club and country. And who may well pull on a Gucci suit when the occasion arises.
SWM’s collaboration with Jude Bellingham and Gucci has been an incredible experience for everyone involved. Jude was identified by Gucci as one of the world’s most exciting talents and someone they were keen to work with moving forward. It was an honour for us to facilitate that introduction and play our part as the exclusive media platform for this collaboration. As huge fans of Jude, it was a pleasure for us to work with him and meet his family. The future couldn’t be brighter for a young star like Jude. We look forward to watching his career unfold and working with him and his family for many years to come.
LIAM & ANDREW - SWM
It was a great experience working with the guys from SWM for the mag, I felt very comfortable around them and had lots of fun on the shoot. In terms of the concierge side - it was effortless and I managed to sort my holiday very easily by getting in contact with the right people.