How David Beckham Evolved Into A British Fashion Icon

Esquire style columnist Jeremy Langmead unpacks why after all these years, Becks is still the king of menswear

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Seventeen years ago, when I was working at The Sunday Times, I got a call from an agency representing David Beckham. Would it be possible, they asked, to photograph and interview the midfielder and put him on the cover of Style magazine? Sure, we said, without hesitation.

This wasn't long after the incident during the 1998 World Cup when Beckham was sent off for intentionally tripping Argentina's Diego Simeone. The agents were now busily orchestrating a public relations campaign as well as repositioning the footballer's style credentials. Another men's magazine had promised to put him on the cover and then, at the last minute, decided to only give him a single page inside — so we needed to publish our feature before theirs.

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On the evening of the shoot, Beckham came straight to the studio from the airport; wife Victoria turned up with a tiny baby Brooklyn in her arms. Becks, who was charming if shy, apologised for appearing rather red — he'd fallen asleep on the sunbed earlier and burned himself.

We put him in a striking red leather jacket, styled his hair into an enormous quiff, and were good to go. The following Sunday we published the story, the next Monday the images appeared in almost every other newspaper in the country, and everyone was happy. Except for the other men's magazines, of course.

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Seventeen years later, our paths crossed again. Not so long ago, Beckham took myself and a few colleagues through the first collection of the relaunched Kent & Curwen menswear brand; a traditional sporting outfitter being given a modern-day makeover by its new owners. Beckham has invested in the company and is taking an active part in its look and feel. He's not the designer — that job belongs to Daniel Kearns — but there's a strong nod to his own distinctive style in the sharp tailoring with chunky off-duty classics throughout this first collection.

Many traditional brands that grew up on Savile Row or the environs of Mayfair are seeking to make themselves relevant to a new generation. Kent & Curwen, for instance, has regatta ties to Eton College and Cambridge University boating teams, as well as other sporting institutions. Today, that heritage has been acknowledged, but given a contemporary feel. There are vintage-style rugby shirts in soft, washed cottons featuring the brand's English Rose and Three Lions emblems — the latter, by good fortune, is also one associated with Beckham — as well as sharply cut crombie coats, navy peacoats with lambswool collars, and rugged plaid jackets alongside the more obvious cricket sweaters and blazers with subtle regatta stripes.

Beckham, who introduced the collection to the press and buyers before handing over to the designer to talk through individual items, was impressive. A confident 41, he's unrecognisable from the young footballer who spoke softly and burned himself on sunbeds. And in those years, Beckham has gone from someone who got sniggered at for trying out new trends — head-to-toe leathers, sarongs, hairbands — to someone who now sets trends.

Despite his fame, wealth and wife, at some point Beckham got real. We look at him and know that he both chose and likes what he's wearing; we see a man who has some fun (he was bravely disguising a hangover from his best friend's birthday party the night before), and someone who grew comfortable with himself. In an age when so much that surrounds us is born from insincerity, someone who is genuine becomes ever more attractive. If Beckham can run a brand as well as he runs himself, he could have another hit on his hands (or feet).