MILAN, Italy -- Fashion has a new sex symbol: the soccer player, who joins rock and movie stars as icons of male style.
From Giorgio Armani to Dolce and Gabbana, from Donatella Versace to Vivienne Westwood, the ready-to-wear designers showing their 2004-05 men's winter wears on the Milan runway, are courting Europe's soccer heroes. They are dedicating photo exhibits and books to the sport, asking players to model on the runway, showering them with invitations to shows and after-show parties, and above all drawing inspiration from their off-the-field style.
"They're the new icons of contemporary style: young, quite often good-looking and very, very rich," said Stefano Gabbana who along with partner Domenico Dolce dedicated a coffee-table book "Calcio" - Italian for "Soccer" - to the sport and its players.
At a cocktail party Sunday, Giorgio Armani opened a photo exhibit entitled "Sport Faces," featuring portraits of players from the Italian soccer league as well as other sports heroes such as track and field Olympic winner, Carl Lewis. The exhibit will become a book later in the year with proceeds going to the Special Olympics for handicapped athletes.
It all started with David Beckham, British midfielder for Real Madrid and husband of ex Spice Girl Victoria. His hip look, earring, blond ponytail, jeans and T-shirt under loose fitting jacket became a symbol of soccer chic, copied by players and fans alike.
The fashion world was quick to catch on. Last year, Dolce and Gabbana dedicated an entire collection to him, while Armani gave Beckham's name to one of his famous blazers.
Dolce and Gabbana opened the five days of preview showings Sunday, with lots of new options for the spiffy sportsman.
Amid metal outdoor cafe tables and a replica of Rome's Trevi Fountain set up under a tent in the designing duo's downtown Milan headquarters, models evoked the lore of the "Dolce Vita" and its hero, the late actor Marcello Mastroianni.
Suits with a three-buttoned jacket with marked shoulder and soft but never baggy trouser, three-quarter coats with sumptuous fur lining, classic camel hair coats, and ultra-soft cashmere sweaters all combine to create a relaxed but elegant look. The turtleneck under a suit harked back to the best of Mastroianni; the coat worn with T-shirt was contemporary Beckham.
Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Baily, designer for Burberry, were in town from merry old England.
The eccentric Westwood filled her winter menswear wardrobe Sunday with everything from kilts and high-heeled boots to hooded sweaters and stiff tight-fitting jackets reminiscent of the armor of a medieval warrior.
On hand with a bouquet of red roses to thank the designer at the end of show was Carlo Cudicini, the Italian goalkeeper of England's Chelsea soccer team. Westwood, who produces her collections in Italy, recently opened a store in Milan.
Burberry, who also showed on Sunday, preferred to stick to its British guns, showing modern, tighter-fitting cardigans, velvet sports jackets, and a series of luxurious printed trench coats reminiscent of the silk bathrobe.
Sitting in the front row at Donatella Versace was Ukrainian soccer hero Andriy Shevchenko, forward for Italy's AC Milan. The handsome player can find lots of fun outfits in the designer's Versus collection, aimed at the younger set with its oversized brightly printed T-shirts, leather bomber jackets with faded Tartan pattern, and oh-so-tight jeans. But for Shevchenko to wow his multitude of female fans off the soccer field, there's nothing like the new Versace three-piece suit in navy pinstripe, fashioned out of wool interwoven with strips of aluminum to give it that bold macho look.