Hidetoshi Nakata’s impeccable global style is built on well- cultivated substance
Italy holds a special place in Hidetoshi Nakata’s heart. The former football star, widely considered one of Japan’s greatest players, had lived there for a number of years, and the experience left an indelible mark on him. Surrounded by Italian fashion, design, architecture, history, and good food, it was but natural for Nakata to be inspired. In fact, he credits Italy’s influence for his eye for style, which earned him comparisons to David Beckham. “It wasn’t about wanting to become more fashionable,” he said of his younger years, when he was beginning to appreciate good design. “It was about being influenced by a rich environment.”
During his recent visit to Manila, dressed in a somber palette of dark green and black with a discreet gold cross pendant and an equally discreet leather-and-gold bangle on each wrist breaking the monotony and occasionally catching light, Nakata was the picture of stylish ease—undoubtedly expensive and well-made, but also obviously wholly his own. He could walk into a boardroom, into a stadium, into a cocktail party, or down the street, and look as if he rightfully belongs there, a man of the world who can be at home anywhere. His fashion sense is vital to this appeal, of course, but Nakata understands that packaging can only go so far to disguise content that isn’t commensurate. “The things we use every day, from food to clothing, all hold great importance to us,” he explained. “Why do we care so much about what we eat? Because we eat every day. Why do we care so much about what we wear? Because we wear clothes every day, and what we wear can make us happy. I started liking fashion more when I lived in Italy, but even someone who doesn’t travel much or hasn’t had that much extraordinary experience can develop that deep appreciation for what they wear, what they eat, what they consume.”
Since retiring from football in 2006, Nakata has traveled the world and remained in the public eye as a philanthropist and humanitarian: he founded the Take Action Foundation in 2009, which aims to address global issues such as hunger and calamity relief through soccer matches, charity galas, and various events and campaigns. He also became known as a model—he showed off his athletic physique as a Calvin Klein Underwear model in 2010—and as a cultural ambassador, with his own sake brand “N” and his Revalue Nippon Project initiative that supports all dimensions of traditional Japanese culture, artistry, and industries. His deep appreciation for style, which informs the fashion choices he makes, has also led him to work on a collaboration with the Italian jewelry brand Damiani, the resulting collection of which is the reason behind his Manila visit last month.
Lauded for its contemporary and unisexual appeal, the 21-piece Metropolitan Dream by H. Nakata collection features necklaces and bracelets that combine black and pink gold and diamonds with leather—an innovative combination of materials that pushes the concept of jewelry for men beyond the usual chunky pieces that function more as display rather than personal touches. The collaboration began two years ago, but it had its roots much further in the past. “I had the chance to meet Nakata a long time ago and we became good friends,” said Damiani Group vice president Giorgio Damiani, who came with Nakata to Manila. “We shared a lot of interests: beauty, design, crafts, food, travel. Since he’s an internationally recognized personality who has good taste, and with Damiani, a celebrated brand in jewelry, I thought, why can’t we do something together?”
“I’ve never studied design, I’ve never done anything in fashion or anything else design-related before. I didn’t even do any designing in this collaboration,” the former athlete admitted. “What I had, though, was my point of view, which was from a consumer’s perspective—I thought of myself as a difficult customer.”
To help inform his ideas for the collection, Nakata had visited the Damiani factory in Valenza to learn more about the painstaking process of jewelry-making that the label has been doing since 1924. He was also quite involved with the production of the pieces, overseeing the style direction of the collection and being particular about the elements that could be kept and must be changed.
“He had very severe instructions,” Damiani half-joked, to which Nakata agreed. “And that was very good for us because we wanted his ideas, we needed him to create [something new.]” The use of leather, for instance, was something the Damiani label might not have done had it not been for Nakata’s vision of small, fine pieces that could straddle high luxury and streetwear. “That one was his suggestion, and that made it possible for us to come up with a more wearable line that still retains a touch of elegance that’s very important in jewelry.”
With Nakata’s ideas balanced by the Damiani expertise, the Metropolitan Dream by H. Nakata collection looks great whether worn with a suit or casual jeans, and Nakata is its most effective model—rightfully so, as it is built on his vision. “This jewelry is suitable for today’s lifestyle, which has been changing,” he observed. “More men, especially, are into fashion and grooming. The market needed jewelry that would fit into its current lifestyle but no one was giving it to them. We’re the first one to do so.” Working with Damiani has also heightened his appreciation for jewelry. “Before, I didn’t understand why it makes women happy; yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also expensive. Now, though, since I’ve started wearing them, I get why jewelry is important.”
Adding another dimension to the collaboration is how part of its proceeds is used to support Clean Water Project, a project that digs and constructs wells to help bring clean water to poor communities in Africa. Damiani and Nakata went to Uganda in May to visit the villages that they’re supporting, with the latter playing a few rounds of football with local children.
A humanitarian purpose behind his first foray into design was especially important to Nakata. “I thought I needed to create something that would be important to me to tie in with this collection. Otherwise, it would have been [pointless], because like I’ve said, I’m not a designer. If I had an important purpose for this, it would encourage me to see this project through and to do more.” The visit to Uganda was also crucial as both Damiani and Nakata wanted to see for themselves the people whose lives they’d be affecting. “After we shared the videos from our visit, there was a response from people who want to go with us there the next time. Charity is very important, of course, but it was also important to share with the rest of the world what a great time we had getting to know the communities, how much fun we had there.” Celebrity design collaborations could sometimes seem as if a popular name was simply tacked onto a line of products, but Metropolitan Dream by H. Nakata is not one of those, with its celebrity namesake very much invested and involved, from inception and production to promotion and social responsibility work.
A global sports career and a jetsetter’s lifestyle have obviously informed Nakata’s worldview, which bleeds into his personal style. But as he has stated, even a person with a more ordinary life can cultivate a cultured taste simply by being more interested in the world at large. “To appreciate something, you must have some knowledge about it,” he advised. “If you don’t know what you’re eating or wearing, it’d be hard for you to appreciate food or fashion. If you don’t try to get to know a person, how could you learn to understand and love them? When we lack knowledge, it’s hard for us to see someone’s or something’s value.” More than wanting to enjoy the finer things in life, developing good style is a process of educating one’s self, he stressed. “If you want to make your life better, study the world more. Read up on history a bit more. Just exert some effort. That shows you care."
“More men are into fashion and grooming. The market needed jewelry that would fit into its current lifestyle but no one was giving it to them.”