Winning In Style
From a maverick Italian cyclist to a madcap French skier, MR PORTER names the sartorial champions in the world of sport
Mr Tom Landry leads Messrs Drew Pearson, DD Lewis, Toni Fritsch and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys team to the field, Dallas, Texas, c1971 Focus on Sport/ Getty Images
When you think of sport and style, the usual suspects immediately spring to mind. Messrs David Beckham, Tom Brady and Henrik Lundqvist would be among the first names on a team sheet of suave sportsmen. But here at MR PORTER, we like to look beyond the obvious. So we have thumbed through our yellowed Wisdens, dog-eared Panini sticker albums and baseball cards of yesteryear to assemble this all-star squad of sporting gods that span decades, distances and disciplines. Each is a game-changing hero not just for his athletic prowess, but also for the flair displayed in the way he dressed.
Mr Killy at Stapleton Airport, Denver, 1968 mptv.com
The son of a French Spitfire pilot, Mr Killy was a reckless all-or-nothing skier who tended either to win or wipe out trying. In 1962 he famously won a race on one ski, having broken a leg in a high-speed fall 180m before the finish line. He later won triple gold at the 1968 Winter Olympics (subsequently dubbed the “Killympics” in his honour) and became a pin-up for his bold style and movie-star looks. “Every girl fantasised about Jean-Claude,” swooned gold medal-winning ice skater Ms Peggy Fleming. No man has ever looked so good in spandex and form-fitting woollens, and he also successfully negotiated the tricky terrain of après-ski, opting for shearling jackets, rollneck cable-knits, mirrored sunglasses and pre-hipster beanies. He married fashion and function with Killy, his own line of high-end skiwear, and went on to become a racing driver, actor and ambassador for the likes of Rolex, Porsche and Moet & Chandon – leading the writer Mr Hunter S Thompson to liken him to Gatsby in his celebrated feature “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy”.
Mr Coppi at the Tour de France, France, 1952 Photo Offside / L’Equipe
In any bike shop in Italy, Mr Coppi’s image is as ubiquitous as that of the Madonna, and just as worshipped. “Il Campionissimo”, or champion of champions, Mr Coppi was voted by Gazzetta dello Sport readers as the most popular Italian sportsman of the 20th century after becoming the first to win cycling’s great double – the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) – in the same year; a feat he then repeated before his legacy began to be tarnished by divorce and adultery. Today, Rapha’s game-changing cyclewear is largely inspired by Mr Coppi in his 1950s prime while cycling fanatic Sir Paul Smith also considers him a big personal influence out of the saddle: “If you look at him off the bike, [he] wore all these amazing double-breasted suits and big overcoats.” Fifty-five years after his early death from malaria, aged 40, he remains steadfast as the leader of the style peloton.
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Mr Frazier looks on from the bench during an NBA basketball game, location unknown, 1973 Focus on Sport/ Getty Images
It didn’t take Mr Frazier long to earn his nickname with the New York Knicks. Driving his signature Rolls-Royce while sporting a resplendent pair of muttonchops and an array of mink coats, rollnecks and wide-brimmed Borsalino fedoras, the 6’4” guard soon became known as “Clyde” after the cult 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde. He had his suits and shoes custom-made, his shirt cuffs monogrammed. He helped lead the Knicks to the two championship titles in their history (1970 and 1973, the last time they won) and he also scored freely off court. Together with fellow fur coat fan Broadway Joe (otherwise known as Mr Joe Namath, the Jets quarterback), Mr Frazier lit up the New York social scene and was a regular at Studio 54. “I became Clyde for my tenacity in believing in wearing what I want to wear,” he says. “When I came out with the ‘Clyde’ for Puma, kids had a respect for it. I made it a fashion shoe.” And so it remains to this day.
From left: Messrs Hogan and Arnold Palmer at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, 1966 Augusta National/ Getty Images
The words “badass” and “golf” aren’t usually synonymous, except when describing Mr Hogan, widely considered the toughest player ever to stalk the fairways. A serious car crash in 1949, after which he was not expected to walk again, proved to be a mere blip in the Texan’s dominance of the game in the decade following WWII. Mr Hogan cut an imposing figure both on and off the course, in cotton driving caps, navy cardigans, ties tucked neatly into immaculately-pressed shirts, argyle socks and bespoke golf shoes – all accessorised with an omnipresent cigarette and perennial attitude of cocktail-hour-readiness. Mr Hogan was, in fact, quite the bar-room philosopher: “As you walk down the fairway of life,” he once said, “you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.”
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Mr Landry at the Texas Stadium, Dallas, Texas, 1977 Focus on Sport/ Getty Images
Mr Landry guided the Dallas Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966 to 1985 (a feat no other club has matched), 19 NFL play-offs, and two Super Bowl victories. They were “America’s team”, and their coach, who’d also served in 30 B-17 combat missions over Europe during WWII, was a model of American rectitude. Standing on the sidelines with folded arms and stoic expression, clad in his signature trilby (which smartly covered his balding pate), sports coat, narrow tie and trench coat, the man described by People magazine as “pious, relentless, methodical” resembled a cross between Messrs Eliot Ness, Philip Marlowe and Don Draper. His Mad Men chic is as singular a managerial legacy as his reputation for being a supreme tactician.
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Mr Fry signing an autograph, Southampton, Hampshire, 1921 Mirrorpix
Sporting all-rounder Mr Charles Burgess Fry was a peculiarly British Boy’s Own kind of polymath, who cut a swathe through the country’s imperial heyday; he won 12 blues while representing Oxford University, was a world-class sprinter, played rugby for the Barbarians, held the joint world record for the long jump (after “a good lunch and a cigar”, he claimed), and played football for Southampton in an FA Cup final. He also represented England at football, but it was as a cricketer that he really excelled, captaining his country and scoring 94 centuries (a score of 100 or more runs in a single innings). His life off the pitch took a turn for the surreal – he was a prolific writer and poet who shot panthers in India and once claimed to have been offered the vacant throne of Albania – and he dressed accordingly, often in eccentric garments of his own design from elaborate funnel-neck sweaters to deconstructed blazers. If he was around today, England’s greatest ever all-rounder would surely have added “designer for edgy Belgian or Japanese fashion house” to his string of accomplishments.
Mr Owens, Waterloo Station, London, 1936 Hulton-Deutsch Collection/ Corbis
Everyone knows that Mr Owens, the 10th son of poor Alabama sharecroppers, achieved sporting immortality by winning four gold medals and incurring the ire of a certain Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics for not being sufficiently Aryan. But the “Buckeye Bullet” comported himself with equal brio off the track and field. This was partly thanks to his way with rakishly-tilted hats, form-fitting double-breasted chalkstripes (of the ilk 21st-century audiences would later much admire in Boardwalk Empire), and peerlessly patinated cases that Globe-Trotter would be proud to call its own. Perhaps such panache was what Mr Owens had in mind when he advised: “Find the good, and showcase it. It’s all around you.”
Mr Borg outside Langans Brasserie, London, 1981 Richard Young
Mr Borg looked every inch the 1970s sporting idol in his floppy-collared polo shirts, elegantly dishevelled sweaters and tracksuit tops as he gracefully dominated the men’s tennis, winning Wimbledon five times in a row from 1975 to 1980, before retiring in his prime at just 26. But it was off the tennis court that the Swede really excelled sartorially, exhibiting an enviably slouchy, louche look that Mr Luke Wilson channelled for his tennis prodigy character in The Royal Tenenbaums. With his Pre-Raphaelite hair; soft, unbuttoned shirts; cashmere sweaters tied loosely around the neck and selvedge jeans, Mr Borg’s effortless, slightly aloof, sexually charged cool appealed to men and women alike, and its influence is still felt whenever any designer unveils their latest 1970s-inspired look.
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Mr Pirlo filming in Milan, Italy, 2013 Olycom SPA/ Rex Features
“The Architect”, “The Metronome”, “Mozart”, “The Professor”. His various nicknames say it all: Mr Pirlo is a footballing legend in Italy, pulling the strings and pinging the passes for both club and country at the base of the midfield from the “quarterback” position. At the ripening age of 35, the free-kick specialist is enjoying the sunniest of autumns with Juventus with whom he has won the Italian league for the past three seasons. As a connoisseur who owns a successful family winery near Brescia, Mr Pirlo is well versed in things that improve with age. His game has never been based on power and pace but rather on flair and grace – attributes the resplendently bearded style icon displays whether dressed smartly in a midnight-blue suit and crisp white shirt or casually, as he is here, in a simple Oxford shirt and jeans.