BARCELONA, Spain – Even with dark Gucci sunglasses, Héctor Bellerín couldn’t walk without incident to the garage where he kept his battery-powered Cupra Born, a few blocks from his apartment. Most of the assembled fans kept their cool; A young woman shivered, asking the professional football player for a photo. The World Cup is a month away – the first game is in Qatar on Sunday – and although he won’t be competing this year, it didn’t matter. Being a football player in Barcelona is like being a Kardashian in Calabasas, California or anywhere else.
“I pay them to do this,” he said with a smile.
Mr. Bellerin had recently returned to FC Barcelona after working as a defender for more than a decade at London club Arsenal. At the age of 16 he left Spain to compete in the Premier League; He was barely speaking English at the time.
Now 27 years old, he’s back as the La Liga zoomer, David Beckham: a world-renowned athlete with a cockney accent, rock star mullet and a lucrative one-year deal with Barcelona. (Arsenal terminated Mr. Bellerin’s contract with them at 11:58 p.m. on September 1; the summer transfer window closed at midnight. “In an instant, your whole life changes,” he said.)
Héctor Bellerín has recently returned to FC Barcelona after more than a decade at London club Arsenal. Credit… David W Cerny/Reuters
In addition to having impressive stats – his résumé includes 321 games and seven trophies – Mr. Bellerín is an incredibly stylish, rejuvenated consumerist who admires Craig Green and Raf Simons; facial symmetry of a movie star; and cool designer friends like Supriya Lele and KidSuper’s Colm Dillane.
Mr. Bellerín has appeared in the British editions of Vogue, GQ, and Esquire, and was recently featured on the cover of GQ Spain’s 2022 man of the year. He has been called “the world’s best dressed football player” (Highsnobiety), “the sharpest football player in the game” (Mr Porter) and “the greatest pioneer of the football fashion transition” (iD). She even managed to wear a sheer PVC trench coat from Maison Margiela, which she paired with a Prada bucket hat at Christopher Raeburn’s fall 2019 fashion show, without looking like a flasher.
“Clothes don’t scare him as much as they scare most men,” Jonah Weiner, founder of style newsletter Blackbird Spyplane, said in an email. “Looking for small brands doing interesting things that get overlooked, scavenging flea markets for gems, going down the eBay rabbit hole, and then figuring out how to take all of the above and put them together. If you want a cheat code to look ‘chic’, you don’t dig that way – you really don’t have to dig into clothes yourself. If you see it as a form of expression and self-discovery, you explore.
In the spring of 2019, Virgil Abloh, then the men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, recruited Mr Bellerinín, then Arsenal fullback and a member of the Spanish national team, to model a pair of bright pink shorts and a matching snakeskin. Hoodie at Paris Fashion Week. He was in Greece when he got the call, recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that had kept him on the sidelines for 31 games.
Mr. Bellerin said his heart was racing as he waited backstage for his 22nd podium exit. Adrenaline was reassuring: it triggers every time he steps onto the field with his teammates. But Mr. Abloh, who died of a rare cancer at the age of 41 last year, offered the athlete more than just a new challenge to overcome, he presented a roadmap. . “Virgil has inspired our generation,” said Mr. Bellerin of the trained architect, who began his fashion career as a Fendi intern. “He showed us that it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in – if you have the chance to do what you love, you’ll catch it with both hands.” Mr. Bellerin gathered this energy the following year when he embarked on a long journey to create his own clothing line in the winter of 2020.
Clockwise from top left: Mr. Bellerín walks the runway for the Vuitton spring-summer 2020 fashion show in Paris; Attending fashion shows at London fashion week in 2019; at the JW Anderson show in London in 2017; and in 2017, he was a guest of the GQ Men of the Year Awards held at the Tate Modern. Credit… Francois Mori/Associated Press, Mike Marsland/WireImage, Darren Gerrish/WireImage, Samir Hussein/WireImage
‘I am allowed to love other things’
One gray October afternoon, in the dining room of his apartment in Barcelona’s affluent Dreta de l’Eixample district, Mr. Bellerín was mixing his records, a mix of Amy Winehouse, Spanish singer Manolo García, and Australian funk band Hiatus. Kaiote His chef was in the kitchen trying new plant-based recipes.
In the adjoining living room, rescue cat Hanky lingered in a leather and steel chair from Marcel Breuer’s Bauhaus era. Elsewhere there were monographs devoted to the work of fashion designer Kenzo Takada and photographs of Paul Outerbridge and Andy Warhol. (Last year, point-and-shoot hobbyist Mr. Bellerin curated an exhibition of paintings by Syrian children living in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp.)
“As humans, we always put everything in boxes,” said Mr. Bellerin, who had just moved and was surrounded by boxes. “Fashion is probably in a box marked ‘feminine’.” His friends and teammates got ideas about his more adventurous outfits, but of course the same jokers eventually started asking for advice. “First they laughed, then they relaxed,” he said. Now they want to be a part of it.”
Growing up, if he wasn’t at school or playing with his older sister Gisela, Mr. Bellerin would sew pants with his mother, Matilde, who was a pattern cutter, or accompany him to his grandmother’s small garment factory on the outskirts of Barcelona. where he sweeps floors for candy and coins. When his father Jose, a retired language teacher, emphasized the importance of education, Mr. Bellerin said, “I want to be a football player. Nothing else.”
At the age of 8, Mr. Bellerin enrolled in Barça Escola, a football training academy for children. He devoted his youth to sports. While taking online marketing classes from the University of Pennsylvania, he said his expectation was “24/7 football thinking.”
Even the decisions he made in his private life were scrutinized by his fans. For example, when she switched to a vegan diet in 2016, fans worried that it might negatively affect her performance. Some have described her fashion pursuits as distracting – “it’s like I’m training 12 hours a day,” she said. (In reality, he spends about six hours a day on his football-related regime.) “I love what I do more than anything,” he said. “But I’m allowed to love other things too.”
“It’s very important for us to invest in some solid projects while we’re still playing football,” said Tiémoué Bakayoko, midfielder and style star of AC Milan, who invested in French fashion brand Études in 2020. . “It gives us so much more experience and confidence, puts our feet on the ground and prepares us for a future off the court.”
Mr. Bellerín has joined several fashion collaborations to expand his portfolio beyond a sport where the retirement age rarely exceeds 40: suits with the Los Angeles streetwear 424 line for men’s and women’s Arsenal teams; Outfits and kits for the EA Sports video game FIFA 21; and a sustainable collection of earth-tone essentials for H&M, including convertible pants with a matching gray anorak and a beige cotton blazer.
Last year, she joined a jury of fashion experts that selected Priya Ahluwalia, founder of the sustainable Ahluwalia brand, as the winner of the British Fashion Council’s BFC/GQ Designer Fashion Fund. “Héctor’s interest in young talent, style and fashion’s role in identity showed that he was there for more than just taking pictures,” Caroline Rush, CEO of BFC, said in an email.
As the Arsenal star began to rise, the specter of his inevitable fall haunted him. Mr. Bellerín “realized that it was time to start doing something for myself,” especially after he broke his anterior cruciate ligament. Like many of his generation, he was looking for ways to minimize his carbon footprint; and yet she couldn’t get rid of the constant urge to buy new clothes. “It’s all fashion that’s responsible, often quite boring,” he said. “I wanted to make things that lasted long but were also beautiful.”
It takes about 10 minutes by car from Mr. Bellerin’s house to his studio in Barcelona’s rapidly gentrifying El Poblenou district. Formerly the center of the city’s textile industry, the area has become a destination for hotels with jute rugs and Detroit-style pizzas. The smell of cigarettes pervaded the industrial loft, which he shared with his friend and business partner Horacio González-Alemán, mostly empty except for a few sofas, some obscure design books, and a Galaxian arcade machine.
In one corner of the room, Mr. Bellerin was pulling a light parka on his head, changing into gray jeans and a white tank top to take on the role of a fit model. Tattoos covered his body; The most recent, the clown in his belly, was done by his tattoo artist and social worker girlfriend, Elena, whom he met while on loan to Real Betis in Seville, Spain, last year.
The first batch of samples for the clothing brand was ready for review. Mr. González-Alemán, who has previously worked in retail and public relations, nodded approvingly as the brand’s designers, Israel Frutos and Quim Barriach, co-founders of India Juliett creative agency, showed off the jacket’s features. “Modular,” said Mr. González-Alemán, 31. “You can remove the sleeves, pockets and hoodie.” He later said, “Maybe we won’t even sew the tag. We’ll give it to you with the suit, then you can do whatever you want.”
Aside from being impractical, the sentiment reflects Mr. Bellerin’s view of fashion – as a way to communicate more than influence. Or, as Mr. Bakayoko put it, “His sense of style doesn’t just orbit big logos.” Similarly, Mr. Weiner admired that Mr. Bellerin “didn’t go on autopilot and dress straight from a lookbook or let a stylist tell him who he was”. (Mr. Bellerin uses no stylists.)
There was still a lot of work to be done before the outfits were unveiled to the public, scheduled for February, but Mr. Bellerin and Mr. González-Alemán, who have been exchanging ideas for nearly two years, were hopeful. The space was filled with mission statements about the brand’s identity (“no greenwashing marketing”; “no minimum sans serif”) and mood boards that pay homage to Spanish techniques and traditions (the Catalan jarapas texture, a thicker fabric typically used to make it). rugs and bedspreads; cropped cut of a bullfighter’s ceremonial dress).
Their next task was to verify the brand’s name, although the team wasn’t ready to announce it. They were operating under the GE alias while navigating a trademark and copyright dispute.
He then worked on a prototype of cargo pants with holes at the back of the knees and a built-in cord system that could change the shape and length of the garment. In a different trousers, they can offer shoelaces as a style alternative. “It’s all about establishing a special relationship with the work,” said Mr. González-Alemán. “It’s not pure consumerism like just buying something, unpacking and putting it on.”
Clockwise from top left: Mr. Bellerin attends the Washington Wizards v New York Knicks game in London; At the 2020 London Fashion Week; posing for the cameras at London fashion week in 2018; He attends GQ’s 2022 Spanish Men of the Year Awards in Madrid. Credit… Karwai Tang/WireImage, Dave Benett/Getty Images, Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images, A. Perez Meca/Europa Press via Getty Images
Mr. Bellerín said everything in the collection is made almost entirely from upcycled fabrics or recycled fibers. “If it has to be waterproof,” he exampled, “why will it be done? We know that every time we wash polyester, up to 4,000 microplastics end up in the ocean, so we need a better way.” To keep them on the right track, they consulted The Bear Scouts, a Netherlands-based company that connects fashion brands to factories using sustainable practices.
When the clothes are finished – Mr Bellerín said they expect to start with a collection of around 25 gender-neutral garments, and then start with a range of accessories, luggage, pet gear, shoes, furniture, glass jugs and ceramic pots – they are direct-to-consumer, at least at first. It will sell for between $30 and $1,000. “That’s the plan,” said Mr. Bellerin. “Who knows. A month ago, I thought I’d be in London for another year.”
Back to “office”
Two days later, Barcelona were competing against Celta de Vigo at home. 19-year-old midfielder Pedri González brought the team back to the top of La Liga with a first-half goal, bringing a stadium of nearly 100,000 football fans to an ecstatic boiling point. Bellerin, who played several games due to a muscle injury, applauded his team from the stands, his face partially obscured by a black Raf Simons ball cap embroidered with the Atari logo.
A few seats behind him, a young girl had spent the first 45 minutes of the game glued to her phone. She stopped swiping at halftime long enough to let an older couple out of line. He gasped when he saw Mr. Bellerin.
“If you were a football player before, that’s all you could have been,” said Mr. Bellerin. “But sport is not just sport anymore. Clothes are no longer just clothes,” he added. “Now, everything is everything.”