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.”

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