England Takes On Italy Off Pitch With ‘Decadent’ Soccer Suits

Spain and Brazil are seen as the biggest obstacles to Fabio Capello’s England team winning its first World Cup in 44 years. Off the field, the coach’s main challenge may come from his native Italy.

Capello, 63, contributed to the design of the Marks & Spencer Group Plc suits that players including Wayne Rooney will wear at the World Cup, starting in Johannesburg on June 11. Italy, winners of the 2006 tournament, will be dressed in Dolce & Gabbana close-fitting suits, sunglasses and briefs.

“Footballers represent our ideal of beauty,” said Domenico Dolce, the brand’s co-designer and co-founder. “It’s useless to deny it. They’re today’s true icons. Young, virile, sculpted men with athletic and healthy bodies.”

The month-long competition is the world’s most-watched sporting event, providing a showcase for fashion companies, as well as for sporting-goods retailers Adidas AG and Nike Inc. Oddsmakers rate Spain as the favorite to win, followed by Brazil and England. A replica of the England suit went on sale in 90 of Marks & Spencer’s U.K. stores and on its Web site from May 20.

For national attention “there’s nothing bigger, other than a general election, than England playing in a World Cup,” said Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency BrandRapport. The agreement with England underscores Marks & Spencer’s “Britishness” and increases media exposure, he said. “It’s about positioning to potential customers.”

No More Armani

The association with England may help Marks & Spencer attract younger shoppers. The suits “will strike a chord with the public,” according to Lorna Hall, a senior retail analyst at London-based fashion forecaster WGSN.

The English team wore suits by Armani at the last World Cup four years ago. “Those were pre-credit crunch days,” Hall said. “Now we’re post-credit crunch.”

Marks & Spencer’s four-year sponsorship deal with England’s Football Association expires in July. According to Currie, the agreement was as smart as the appointment of Capello, who led England to nine wins out of 10 in qualifying for the World Cup.

“Fabio is quite particular on how he wanted the boys to look,” Duncan Morris, Marks & Spencer marketing manager, said at last week’s unveiling of the suit in London. “He actually had a definite sartorial direction.”

The two-button wool suit has a slim silhouette, narrow lapels, four-button cuffs and a “decadent” red check lining, according to the retailer. Trousers are flat-fronted and half-lined, while the four-button waistcoat gives “style kudos,” Marks & Spencer said. The jacket is priced at 120 pounds ($173), with the trousers costing 79 pounds and the waistcoat 35 pounds.

Trophy Case

Dolce & Gabbana’s latest advertising campaign features five of Italy’s World Cup soccer players photographed in the Milan- based label’s black and grey underpants, emblazoned with the word “calcio,” or soccer in English.

Other European teams have similar arrangements with local providers. Spain will wear Cortefiel SA’s Pedro del Hierro fashion line, while Germany will again be suited by closely held Strenesse AG, mostly known for its women’s wear.

The World Cup trophy is also getting a fashion makeover. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and Louis Vuitton announced this month their collaboration on a new travel case for the trophy, which will be used for the first time at the tournament.

“A trophy as precious as the FIFA World Cup Trophy deserves a travel case of the same elegance and prestige,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said May 4. “The trophy will not only travel in safety, but it will also travel in style.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.