Hidetoshi Nakata DA MAN Exclusive Interview

Chic Nomad

Fashion-forward footballer Hidetoshi Nakata, arguably the greatest Asian player ever, has retired from pro ball, but his second career is in full flight. All clothing from the Dior Homme fall-winter collection.

Photographs: Quentin Shih
Styling: Stinger Wong
Interview: Ronald Liem

I first met Hidetoshi “Hide” Nakata a few summers ago when we were introduced by a mutual friend of ours. Hide had just retired from the world of soccer and had decided to pursue his dreams to travel around the world for a year. That was a few years back. And until now, he is still on his global nomadic journey.

Hidetoshi Nakata has been a national treasure in Japan since 1997, when at age 20, he cemented his place in the Japanese psyche by putting the team on his back and literally willing them onward and ensuring the nation’s maiden voyage to the World Cup with a crucial victory over Iran. He has been a fashion icon for the past few years and he is a global trendsetter in terms of the brands he wears (Dior Homme, being chief among them) and his varied hair styles. He’s also a marketing dream as he attracts lucrative contracts from every corner of the globe from most of the biggest, most prestigious labels and companies.

When Asia’s biggest, and most successful, global soccer star retired from the pro game three years ago, at just 29 years old, he was, by many accounts, at the top of his game. But something else pulled his passion away.

His “breakthrough” into the highest levels of the world’s most popular sport has been likened to the breakthrough by Jackie Robinson into baseball many decades ago. As a result, he opened the eyes of club managers in Europe to look east and now there are many Asians (mostly, Korean, Chinese and Japanese) playing in top clubs in Europe.

As it turned out, we both shared the same passion for traveling. We have kept in touch and have since spent time together and traveled, not only in Indonesia, but also abroad to cities such as Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and, a few years ago, we even went on a luxury camping expedition in the Australian Outback.

Of traveling Hide says, “Traveling for me is life’s biggest teacher. You learn a lot about people and yourself when you are traveling. I get new ideas whenever I travel—ideas that you get when you interact with people from different backgrounds.”

Hide doesn’t have a house or an apartment. He spends half his time now traveling outside Japan and when he is there, he calls the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel home. The last time we met was when he had a break together at the St. Regis Bali Resort in early June. Hide has this hobby of trying out new hotels and resorts around the world. Since his retirement, he has checked into hundreds of hotels. And when I ask him which ones are some of his favorite properties, he mentions “W Maldives, the Four Seasons Golden Triangle and the Four Seasons George V” as being at top of his list. So here we are at Bali’s newest luxury resort, the St. Regis.

Hide’s trip to Bali this time came in between some of his busy work commitments. He had just shot a commercial for Coca-Cola Japan, then it was off to Hong Kong to shoot this Dior Homme fashion spread that you are seeing right now. Then he was off to Bali for some rest, before flying out to Taipei to support a mutual friend’s charity event, and then back to Tokyo for a Japan Airlines commercial shoot. Such is the life of a fashionable superstar.

While on the subject of charity, Hide has recently started a foundation called Take Action-Life After Football. The charity raises funds through the organizing of charity soccer matches and clinics with former professional soccer player. In April this year, the first Life After Football charity match was held in Kofu, Japan. All 16,500 tickets for the match were snapped up within 40 minutes and the match helped raised funds, which were donated to UNICEF to help improve the conditions of 585 schools in South Africa.

In the past few years, however, instead of seeing him on the soccer field, you are more likely to find Hide immersed among the A-listers in the fashion scenes of Paris, Milan, London and New York. In his soccer-playing prime, he was known to be one of the most fashionable soccer players, and had graced the covers of many couture magazines and was even voted as one of the world’s most fashionable men by Vanity Fair!

Of fashion, Hide muses “I like fashion, but I can’t design. Fashion is always better to be enjoyed from the outside.”

When asked if he would ever consider doing his own label, he tells me, “Maybe a men’s underwear brand. Eco-friendly, organic cotton luxury underwear for men.”

Whether he is the face of a brand he is endorsing—such as Dior Homme—or working to support different charitable causes, one thing I know about Hide is that he will do it with passion. He cites one of the reasons for his retirement from soccer as being because he felt he had lost his passion. This is a man who follows his heart. DA

Soccer career

Pro Clubs

• Perugia, ‘98-’99, Serie A, Italy

• Roma, ‘99-’01, Serie A, Italy

• Parma, ‘01-’03 Serie A, Italy

• Bologna, ‘03-’04 Serie A, Italy

• Fiorentina ‘04-’05 Serie A, Italy

• Bolton Wanderers, ‘05-’06, EPL, England

Japan National Team

• 1996 Olympics Games, Atlanta

• 1998 FIFA World Cup, France

• 2000 Olympics Games, Sydney

• 2002 FIFA World Cup, Korea-Japan

• 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany

To see the full feature with more full-size images, click here for the DA MAN August/September 2009 back issue.

Special thanks to Dior Homme, Hong Kong