It was all so unexpected. Not the fact that Serge Gnabry attended his first press conference in July 2018 as a Bayern Munich player. Nor the fact that the forward had torn up the Bundesliga the season before at Werder Bremen, having previously failed to break into a West Brom team under Tony Pulis. “He just hasn’t been, for me, at that level to play the games,” said Pulis in 2015. Gnabry returned to the Emirates early, in Jan 2016, after a total of 12 Prem minutes and two League Cup games.

Nor the fact that in the summer of 2016, the German-Ivorian shone in the World Cup for die Mannschaft, “Gnabbing” six goals, winning a silver medal and showcasing the kind of form that he burst into the Arsenal team with in the 2013-14 season, before the knee injury and complications that kept him out for the entirety of the 2014-15 campaign. Nor even the fact that Gnabry, having left the Gunners against Arsene Wenger’s wishes after five years in London for a reported £5.7 million – with Bayern rumoured to be involved in the deal – was immediately loaned by die Roten, who paid Bremen £7 million, to Hoffenheim.

No, it was the red-and-white-striped Gucci polo with snake detail on the contrast mustard-coloured collar that he stunted in at the unveiling, which threatened to put his Bayern shirt with “Gnabry 22” on the back (his age at the time) in the shade. “I have lots of exclusive items in my wardrobe,” he told German tabloid Bild. “And the colour red fits well.” As keenly observed by the website Bavarian Football Works, which has dubbed Gnabry a “fashion icon” as well as “Bayern Munich’s most important player” with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery entering the twilight of their careers, it was the same Gucci polo that legendary baller LeBron James wore in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Gnabry was simultaneously putting himself in good company, and setting himself apart.


“Serge has a personal style that isn’t like most footballers’, in the sense that it comes from his own viewpoint and not from what his teammates are collectively endorsing around the changing room,” confirms Daniel Rhone, a stylist and personal shopping consultant at Selfridges department store in London (he once looked after Gnabry there and has met him a couple of times since) who can name Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, John Stones and Virgil van Dijk on his client team sheet. “The biggest compliment that I could pay Serge would be that he looks just as good in a white tee, ripped-up Levi’s and a pair of Vans as he does in full-on Louis Vuitton, Sacai or Dries Van Noten.”

A glance at Gnabry’s Instagram reveals a mix of streetwear and classic tailored looks, albeit with considered, stylised imagery and a clear tone of voice. He’s setting trends, and not just for untapped potential departing England to be fulfilled in Germany, or donating one percent of his wages to the Common Goal initiative, a collective fund co-founded by Juan Mata that supports worthy causes around the world. (Gnabry was the second player in the Bundesliga to sign up, after Bayern clubmate Mats Hummels.)

Gnabry’s polished image can be at least partly attributed to stylist Josiah Sampson - @jobasa_ on Insta - who also works with Gnabry’s former colleague and current football clout god Hector Bellerin (a headline from Highsnobiety: “Hector Bellerin is Soccer’s Best-Dressed Player & It’s Not Even Close”). After meeting Gnabry through mutual friends in London, where Sampson is based, the pair started working together last year. At first, there wasn’t a specific brief as such. “He wanted to enhance his everyday looks and I was just focused on understanding him better as a client,” says Sampson.


As the months have gone on however, they’ve pushed boundaries ever further. “He's become more daring with statement pieces that he probably wouldn't have tried before, and he's not afraid to mix luxury fashion with streetwear, which makes my job more interesting,” says Sampson. At the winter time of writing, Gnabry’s been “killing the layering vibe: puffas, roll necks etc”, continues Sampson, who also highlights his client’s “dope” coat collection, including a charcoal, belted Acne number that we should specifically look out for: “The fit is insane.” Gnabry also owns a lot of Supreme, and is a fan of Raf Simons and Wooyoungmi, although Sampson adds, “Serge is keen on unlocking niche brands that aren't as commercial yet, so I'm always on the lookout for that.” 

Aside from the props from Bavarian Football Works, Gnabry’s style game has gone largely uncelebrated, perhaps because of cultural difference: in basketball, and increasingly in American football, it’s common practice for players to retain the services of stylists, and their pre- and post-game attire choices draw almost as much commentary as their performances. The Wall Street Journal has asked, “Is the NFL Becoming the National Fashion League?” There’s even an official NBA Style Award, voted for by fans. It’s accepted that players are tastemakers as well as athletes, suggests Sampson, in a way that isn’t yet replicated in soccer, David Beckham notably excepted.

“It’s my aim to shift the culture of how we look at our favourite footballers and put them in the conversation of style icons as well,” says Sampson, who is hatching “big plans” with Gnabry. “The fashion industry in Germany will be taking notice of Serge very soon.”


Meanwhile, sportswear brands are striving for victory in the fashion and lifestyle arena, and actively scouting for footballers who can assist by playing in multiple positions. For example, PUMA often “activate” Bellerin from a lifestyle perspective, to use marketing speak, adidas devised a capsule collection with Paul Pogba that was more fashion than football, and Nike recruited Kylian Mbappe to launch the Virgil Abloh-designed Off-White Mercurial. Similarly, Neymar features in campaigns for Nike Sportswear and Jordan Brand, who of course teamed with Paris Saint-Germain on a cross-pollinating collaboration “dedicated to the influencers, head-turners and gamechangers”.

With just over one million Instagram followers, Gnabry’s reach is modest compared to other top players. Many of them hire agencies to manage their social media output, which if executed right can help attract lucrative sponsors. Sportswear brands in turn look at quantity, which can dictate which players they sign, how much they pay them and whether they contractually oblige a certain number of posts, but they also look at quality. Players with fashion cred have added value in that they can be used by those brands outside the football and sportswear “verticals”, and lend them all-important authenticity. And whether it’s a deliberate strategy or otherwise, Gnabry’s putting himself in the shop window.

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Read the full Serge Gnarby feature in SoccerBible Magazine Issue 12, which you can get here.

Photography by Michael Suschek & Mario Stumpf for SoccerBible.