First Touch

From Handbags to Onion Bags: Interview with Simon Doonan

Ahead of this year’s Fall Fashion Week here in New York City we caught up with Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador for Barneys, New York and a judge on NBC’s hit reality show, ‘Making It’ hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

By L.C. Canivan

Doonan has a superb soccer book out called Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness. Soccer Stye is not just a book about the history of soccer and style, but the history of soccer itself. It is neither a beautiful, but mute coffee table book nor a droning history tome.

Chockfull of information, Soccer Style  is like a sparkling stylish soccer encyclopedia with over 230 photographs and a well-curated reading list. Filled with witty word volleys, Doonan is always charming and cheeky, but never mean-spirited.

Soccer Style delivers what Doonan might call, ‘meat-pie authenticity,’ served up tasty and tart. Simon Doonan is like the knowledgeable beer-bellied bloke you sit next to every weekend at the pub – only more fabulous and a whole lot funnier.

How did you first become interested in football?

If you grow up in England you cannot avoid it! I first went to games in the late 1950’s – I am very old! – when the pitch was a muddy quagmire and the players rode to games with the supporters on the town bus.

My mum had a Saturday job at the local evening paper. She had to sit by a phone – smoking Woodbines cigarettes – and scrawl down the scores as they were phoned in from pay-phones from all over the country, so that they could make the Saturday edition. The footie heroes back then were Danny Blanchflower and Jimmy Greaves. #butch #gritty #Brylcream

George Best & Mike Sumerbee
George Best (left) & Mike Summerbee (right) standing inside their men’s clothing boutique in the King’s Road, Chelsea

Your hometown team is Reading FC. Do you still follow them? When you’re in England do you ever go to any of their games?

A couple of seasons back I schlepped all the way to see Reading play Norwich. They got thrashed. It was horrible. I reconnected with my footie childhood traumas.

As someone who loves both football and fashion, I was absolutely delighted to hear that you had written this book. What sparked you to write Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness?

The idea for doing a book came from Michael Davies and Roger Bennett aka Men In Blazers. I was a guest on one of their early shows. They brought me on to talk about the players obsession with carrying designer washbags. (Dopkits). We were yammering away and they suggested the idea of a book marrying footie and fashion. I ran home and wrote up a proposal and miraculously a book deal. Voila!!!

Who would you say are some of your all-time favorite football fashion plates and why?

I love George Best. He had real swagger. His vanity and love of style was a profound thing. Eamon Dunphy who played with him in the 60’s recalls how he used to pull his look together every day after training, as if he was about to go out dancing. There’s a lesson for us all. Getting dressed up is life-enhancing. Your appearance should communicate positivity and optimism, especially in footie!’

You have some truly amazing photos in your book of those in the soccer scene both past and present, what are some of your favorite photos in the book?

I love the image of Pele lounging on the front of his Merc in a satin shirt. He is serving up major poetic machismo.

Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona in Manchester.
Not all gurus are fashion gurus.

In your Slate article, ‘Burn the Vest’ you urge Gareth Southgate to divest himself of his vest and in the chapter  ‘Bosses: The Dapper and the Damned’ of your book you cover manager style. With former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger out this year, were you sad to see his signature sleeping bag coat go?

If you are a manager it’s a good idea to develop a signature flourish. Bob Paisley had his tracksuits, Jack Tinn had his lucky spats, Fergie had his Saville Row Suits and Wenger had his sleeping bag.

As a sign of mutual respect, players often trade jerseys with each other -if you could swap tops with anyone, who would it be?

David Beckham defo. He is a great bloke. I have met him a few times. He is affable and so smart and puts everyone at ease. Cannot wait for his Miami stadium. His Kent and Curwen mens designer collection is  brilliant.

If you were a professional football player today, what style do think you would adopt?

I would probably go a bit over the top, with ink, Mohawk and the whole bit. My role models would be Dani Alves and Neymar, and Nainggolan. I like it when players are reckless and carefree with their style. Harry Kane is a classic classy guy, but hey, when you are young and you have some dough why not let your freak flag fly.

You have the rest of your life to adopt ‘good taste’.  I’m also loving Paul Pogba’s style. The haircuts are gorge.

In your book you illustrate how football players have picked up fashion trends, how have fashion trends picked up football?

I love how footie shirts have become a major part of hipster street-style. The recent World Cup was a style bonanza. I saw the shirts – Belgium, Nigeria, Colombia –  integrated into everyday hipster oufits all over London and NYC.

Recently, the internet was abuzz over an Irish hurling GAA uniform being featured in French Vogue – ahead of NYFW, do predict we’ll see football’s footprint on the catwalk this year?

I love that footie has become a global signifier of cool. Footie will always have its authentic roots, but it continues to evolve in ways which keep it sizzling and never boring. Style is part of drama which keeps people coming back for more.

Congratulations on all your success with the book and your new show ‘Making It’ what’s next for you?

I would love to do a book called ‘Footballers at Home’. In the course of my research I found fabulous vintage images of players lounging around their pads, eating crisps and stroking their pet spaniels and watching telly. Am not sure it would be a New York Times best-seller but it would make me happy.

Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness is available now in fine books stores and online.

Follow L. C. Canivan on twitter

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