Keisuke Honda: The making of a Japanese football fashion icon
There’s no arguing that the game of soccer oozes style with its fancy footwork, dyed hairdos and the sheer number of trend-setting men in the sport (do we even have to mention that one pretty Englishman?). The Japanese Internet seems to think it even beats that other Japan-favorite sport -- baseball -- by a laughable long-shot. For the past few decades the country has wholeheartedly embraced the player-cum-fashion idol, but we’re hungry for some fresh meat to get style tips from and to sell us beauty products. So who’s it gonna be?
First, a look at the first two poster pretty-boys who will be influencing the next generation.
When he burst onto the scene with a polished devil-may-care style of a blonde buzz cut, jeans, fitted t-shirts, and aviator sunglasses at Narita airport he caused a storm that swept up the hearts of males and females alike. There was no doubting Hidetoshi Nakata had figured out how to make an appearance. Following this, the regular occurrence of stylish fresh-off-the-plane looks sparked the birth of the famous “Narita collection” of photographs documenting his airport fashion prowess in gossip pages.
His reputation continues to this day. He has global bloggers following his every fashion move, is a regular at red-carpet events for brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior, and was named as one of the “40 most stylish icons of the past century” by L’officiel Hommes China. He even helped bring “metorosekusyalu” (metrosexual) into the Japanese lexicon. Thankfully it didn’t stick.
Kazuyoshi “King Kaz” Miura
Just prior to Nakata there was Kazuyoshi “King Kaz” Miura, widely considered to be the first soccer style icon. He’s known for a propensity for slick custom Italian suits in splashy colors, like a mafia don at Mardi Gras. He created a historical “fashion moment” in 1993 when he burst from a giant balloon in a cherry-red suit and polkadot tie upon receiving the award for the J-League Most Valuable Player. Legend says he even wears his bespoke suits to bed.
With Nakata retired, Kaz past his prime and neither on the field at the FIFA World Cup, who is Japan's style icon in South Africa who can go on to sashay into the front-row seats at Paris fashion shows?
That baton has certainly been thrusted into the hands of Keisuke Honda, the young and wily midfielder who plays for CSKA Moscow. Honda is a chip off the old Nakata (nee Beckham) block with a penchant for bleaching his strategically bed-head-messy locks blonde and tooling around in aviator sunglasses and designer jeans. He has also inadvertently inherited the starring role of the Narita Collection from Nakata.
Last summer when Honda was snapped in jeans, Japanese sandals and a luxury watch on each hand, he sent the media and Internet message boards into a tizzy. Just what was with the two watches? Internet forum 2chan went crazy trying to figure it out:
CommenterX: "He collects luxury watches and he’s just trying to start a new trend?"
CommenterY: "One watch is on Japan time and the other on Moscow time?"
CommenterZ: "He’s obsessed with balance?"
“Who decided that a watch can only be worn on one hand?” was Honda’s own reply to the media storm. The kid’s a natural. Watch campaigns are surely just around the corner.
Making the man
To truly understand the mechanics of style in soccer, I spoke to Carlo Gariglio, CEO at luxury menswear brand dunhill. As official sponsors, the label has been snazzing up the Japan National Soccer Team with its suits since 2000. What was the appeal of the Japanese soccer team?
“We’re a British brand and soccer is close to our hearts. But more than that, just look at the Japan team -- they’re pretty good-looking aren't they?”
The style influence of the team is certainly quantifiable; nearly every limited-edition World Cup item, including the nearly ¥200,000 tailor-made suit, is sold out. And yet, their appeal also crosses the gender divide.
“Globally, soccer is a man’s sport. Except in Japan where you see more women at the stadium. Maybe that’s because the players are so kakko-ii (cool).”
So what makes these players so kakko-cool? And is Honda really the next in line to be a fashion leader?
“Nakata, Kaz and even Beckham are first and foremost excellent players. Maybe that makes whatever they wear look good. Honda may be fashion conscious but he is extremely focused on soccer when he's on the pitch. If he keeps up his game, he could be the next Hide.”
Ok, so fashion does follow function. But there must be another reason for these guys to partake in the immense time-consuming act of polishing their looks daily?
“Well, they can't play soccer forever.”