France enters this summer’s postponed European Championships (still referred to by UEFA as ‘Euro 2020’, presumably to save on rebranding costs) as favourites, no doubt about it. The reigning World Cup Champions have made a habit of delivering at big tournaments and Les Bleus will be desperate to set the record straight, having come agonisingly close to winning the Euros in 2016.
France provides entertainment at every tournament, win or lose. Even when they go out, they go out in style. Think Zidane and his headbutt on Marco Matterazzi as France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup Final. Or at the 2010 World Cup, when the squad publicly turned on their manager with the world’s media watching on.
Drama aside, one thing that will always set the French Football Federation (FFF) apart from its counterparts is its appreciation of fashion. Representing a nation renowned for its sartorial prowess, it is only right that France has worn some of the most iconic kits in footballing history.
The current Nike-designed France home jersey, with its bold red strip beneath the FFF logo, pays homage to the kit worn by France during the 1998 World Cup win on home soil.
Mbappé, who starred as World Cup winner at just 19 years of age, commented on the kit launch:
“I think two years ago [at the World Cup] we brought the country together, just like back in 1998. Now we will wear a red stripe on our shirt just like they did. That was a great team, which created a legacy. Now is the time for us to create one of our own.”
Mbappé is one of many players in the French squad who see fashion as one of their biggest interests alongside football. This is no surprise, given he plays for PSG, a club that, in true Parisian style, has aligned its brand with fashion, most notably with its creative partnership with Air Jordan.
A walk through Paris will evidence the fact that the club’s tracksuits are worn as a symbol of pride, representing the new synergies between French football and fashion. PSG jerseys are worn worldwide – regardless of allegiances to the club itself – and the club is referenced across popular culture, from Parisian Afro Trap star MHD to Dave and his single ‘Thiago Silva’, named after the former PSG defender.
Christophe Quiquandon, former Football Brand Director at Nike and founder of Paris-based Bros. Agency, explains the revolutionised perceptions of football’s relationship with fashion in France. “In France, it’s not the same culture as in England. 10 years ago it would have been shameful to be seen casually wearing a football shirt in the street, but that has completely changed now,” he says.
According to Quiquandon, one of the key objectives from the outset of the FFF x Nike partnership was to “shift football jersey culture into French mainstream popular culture.” Nike immediately set about doing this with the famous Marinière design on the team’s away kit, referencing the ubiquitous blue striped shirts first worn by French sailors and later popularised across luxury fashion by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfield. The latter was heavily involved with the Nike launch of the Marinière kit, photographing the squad in the kit ahead of its release.
The stylishness of L’Équipe de France is perfectly demonstrated by one tradition: the Clairefontaine catwalk. When the squad reports for duty at the prestigious national training centre, they are met by photographers ready to snap each player in their outfits on the short walk from their chauffeur driven cars, up the steps and into Clairefontaine. Whilst clearly not ideal for some of the less outgoing players (especially camera shy Ngolo Kanté), the Clairefontaine catwalk is a show of power and elegance as the stars report for duty in their finest ‘fits.
A special mention goes to Karim Benzema, who has caught the eye with some of the coldest ‘fits in the game over the years. Benzema has been known to switch it up, from his favoured luxury streetwear looks in Gucci, Balenciaga and Dior, to the tailored game day suits he wears when travelling with Real Madrid. His outfits reflect his unwavering self confidence and they miss as rarely as he does in front of a goal. In one of many examples of this on his Instagram, Benzema wears a white Études tee, paired with a baseball cap and ripped jeans. In the background is one of his many supercars, with his initials “KB” just visible on his number plate. The prolific striker was back at Clairefontaine earlier this month for his first national team call up since 2016, after a well documented scandal involving former teammate Matthieu Valbuena.
Kylian Mbappé often favours comfort in his outfits and is not afraid to work in bright colours either, which is unsurprising for someone who has barely put a foot wrong under the pressure of the global spotlight since the age of 17. When it comes to footwear off the pitch, his sneaker of choice is more often than not a pair of Air Jordan 1s. Paul Pogba and Presnel Kimpembe (founder of his own streetwear collection, PK3) also deliver iconic looks without fail when showing up for international duty. Kimpembe likes to get creative, combining luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton with pieces from up-and-coming Parisian designers, finished off with a PK3 bomber jacket carrying the now famous motto: “LA FORCE” (“strength”). In an age when many people in the public eye have stylists who design their every look, the French players’ attention to detail, and personal input into what they wear and how they wear it, is what sets them apart.
Hailing from the Parisian ‘banlieues’ (a colloquial term for the estates or housing projects on the outskirts of a city, predominantly home to immigrant communities), Kimpembe credits the vibrancy of his upbringing’s surroundings for his love of fashion, specifically his take on streetwear.
“When you’re born and raised in the banlieues of Paris, as I was, fashion becomes part of your life very early. It’s a component of the urban culture,” he says. Positivity and creativity are two attributes that define Kimpembe, both in the way he plays his football and carries himself in life. The same is true for the energy he injects into PK3. The creativity, he says, comes from his ethnic origins. “My mother is Haitian and my father is from Congo. My roots shape who I am and this is reflected in the collections we build for PK3, with its colourful and joyful inspirations.”
So, who in the French dressing room has the best style? Presnel points to another Parisian, Kylian Mbappé. “We have this saying in Paris,” he says, “la banlieue influence Paname, Paname influence le monde” (the banlieues influence Paris, Paris influences the world).
When France steps out against Germany in Munich on 15th June, the nation will be praying that Kimpembe’s words ring true. If they are able to navigate through the “Group of Death”, which includes Germany, Portugal and Hungary, there could be very little to stop France winning their first Euros in 21 years. There would be a fitting symmetry should France achieve this, as their World Cup win in 2018 would mean they’d become both world champions and champions of Europe, as was the case in 1998 and 2000.
Win or lose this summer, one thing is certain: when it comes to fashion in football, there is only one nation going home with the trophy.