Watching the two managers pace the dugout at last month’s Champions League tie between Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, you were struck by what a difference a uniform makes.
In the yellow corner, Lucien Favre, a man known more for quick and dynamic football than sharp tailoring. In the blue and red, Ernesto Valverde, the Barcelona manager wearing a suit of quality and proportion, sloping slightly at the shoulders and subtly cinched in at the waist.
Now, Thom Browne couldn’t pay us to write that the reason Valverde’s side beat Dortmund 3 – 1 that night was down to a partnership that sees the New York brand dress the team during Champions League matches (although we are open to offers). But there has to be some sort of psychological impact to dressing like a champ.
“I think when there’s that little bit of putting on a uniform in general, there is that formality which does elevate your preparation for anything,” suggests Thom Browne himself, who founded the label in 2001 and has since become known for his challenging and modernising takes on American tailoring. “I guess it completes the story, for them as a team. And I think it looks amazing – really strong and very unique.”
It’s something the designer had done before, of course, when he dressed the Cleveland Cavaliers in his Super 120 twill suits during the NBA playoffs a couple of years back; the team arriving on masse like a coterie of living statues. Like them, Browne found the Barcelona team – of superstars Messi, Suárez and Dembélé – to be willing collaborators.
“I would never have forced them into something that they were uncomfortable with,” Browne says. “It’s been something that they’ve understood and they’ve embraced and they’ve wanted to get into. The same with the Cavaliers. I mean, I’m sorry but if I saw that coming towards me, I would be somewhat intimidated.”
And so they arrive in made-to-measure flannel tailoring, a group of preternaturally talented individuals moving as one silver shoal. “I think there’s something really culturally important in that,” Browne says. “And not to take anything away – each one of them is such a strong individual in regards to how important they are within the world of football. But the idea that they represent this strong unit when they’re going to the games, I think is really important. Especially for young kids to see.”
And for the boss. Browne attended his first game last October when Barcelona appeared in London to play a Champions League match against Tottenham Hotspur. Arriving at Wembley stadium, the team were dressed for the first time in their grey two-ply Fresco suits with white oxford shirts. Did they win? Of course they did.
“They yelled up to me: ‘This is for you!’” jests Browne. “They’re the best in the world. When you actually see it live, you realise the almost balletic experience that football can sometimes be. It’s amazing.”