From V Magazine’s Summer 2011 issue, V71 The Asian Issue

Photography Steven Pan

By the ripe retirement age of 29, Hidetoshi Nakata had racked up eleven years of field experience as a global soccer phenomenon. When he was 18, the agile midfielder scored goals as a member of Bellmare Hiratsuka before playing for the Japanese National Team in three FIFA World Cups, competing in the Olympics twice, moving to Italy to play for five Italian Football League teams, and, finally, achieving Knighthood of the Star of Italian Solidarity (one of the country’s highest honors). Following his departure from the sport in 2006, the player—who became known for his courageous hair colors as much as his career stats—set out to pursue new goals. Last year, when he was cast in a Calvin Klein Underwear campaign, the fashion world learned what sports fans already knew: that Nakata is also an emblem of sex appeal and style. Here, Calvin Klein menswear creative director Italo Zucchelli nails down the enigmatic globetrotter to discuss fashion, football, and a possible return to the field. Patrik Sandberg

ITALO ZUCCHELLI Have you always been confident in terms of self-expression?
HIDETOSHI NAKATA Confident? Well, maybe not, but I have become comfortable trying new things.
IZ What inspired your experimentation with fashion and hair color?
HN It comes from experience. I’m inspired by all of the things I see in everyday life. Everybody has good qualities. It’s the same thing as football. Somebody asked me, “Who is your idol?” I said, “No one,” because I think everyone is good, so why focus on one player? Everybody is my teacher.
IZ Do you consider yourself a fashion icon?
HN No. I am just a fashion addict.
IZ How do you see athleticism and fashion interconnecting?
HN Fashion and sports are easy to connect because if you have a good body and good muscle, it’s easier to wear good clothes.
IZ What is one great lesson you’ve learned from your time on the field that could apply to fashion?
HN That I’m being watched. When you play in a stadium you are always being watched, so you have to have good style and the attitude to match it.
IZ Does playing internationally influence your individual style? Does it influence your shopping habits?
HN Absolutely. I was in Italy almost every year and it influenced me a lot. If I hadn’t gone to Italy I wouldn’t be here today, or in the fashion world at all.
IZ Did your experience modeling for Calvin Klein Underwear change your perception of fashion?
HN It was all over the world…and wow! Before that I had done commercials in Japan but nothing international. It was a good experience, and I think it was good for me—not that I would do it again. [Laughs] No, it was great. The Calvin Klein Underwear campaign is the biggest in the world. I never thought it would happen to me!
IZ What essentials must you always travel with?
HN I don’t have a lot of things, I travel with only a suitcase. I have to have sunglasses, I used to have a couple hundred pairs, but now I only use two or three.
IZ Where do you consider home?
HN Home for me is where I am. It’s important to have friends. When I have friends that I feel comfortable with, I can be anywhere.
IZ How does it feel to have been embraced by the Italian people?
HN I love Italian people! I was talking to my friend about how much I love Italians because I think they know how to enjoy life. Their life is all about happiness and family. The food, the language, the songs, the architecture—it’s all about enjoying life. For Italians, fashion isn’t just about clothes. It gives you energy when you wear something good. You are happy. I love Italy, it’s my second home.
IZ You have moved between football, magazine editorial, and modeling. What’s next?
HN I think charities are an incredible way to connect with people. Traveling all over the world, I don’t speak a lot of languages, but through football I have found a lot of friends. It’s all about the connection.
IZ Do you still play football?
HN I love football and I miss it. I’ve organized charity matches a couple of times in Japan. A week ago I went to Abu Dhabi to play in one. I’m looking into playing in Vietnam or India. I always want an excuse to play football.
IZ Have you thought about coming out of retirement and joining the team for the Olympics or World Cup?
HN If I want, technically I can do it—and I have to admit it is on my mind. But at the same time, I have to say no because I made a decision that was not easy. I have to have a good reason to go back or else what the fuck is going on with my life? You can’t make big decisions in a snap.
IZ What does retirement mean for someone so young?
HN To have the courage to change things. So many people think I’m lucky because I travel and do the things I want, but I think they can do the same. You can travel anytime you want. It’s that you don’t, because you are afraid or don’t want to change. It’s a challenge to do new things. I didn’t have any idea of what I would do after retirement, but I just said I need to have a new experience and I have to open my mind to something. I will always miss football but I think I made the right decision.

Hidetoshi Nakata in New York, February 2011
Styling Jay Massacret
Left: Jacket Calvin Klein Collection
Right: T-shirt (customized by stylist) Calvin Klein Underwear
Pants Calvin Klein Collection
Necklace Nakata’s own

Grooming Sara Sibia (See Management)
Photo assistants Leonard Fong and Ben Bloom
Stylist assistant Olivia Kozlowski  Location Root [Bk]