“I’m an emotional dresser,” said soccer star Megan Rapinoe over the phone from a training camp in Tampa, Florida, where the US Women’s National Team is gearing up for the Summer Olympics.
“How do I feel? What do I want to convey for myself? With the exception of using my mouth, (fashion) is the chief way that I express myself every day.”
The famously outspoken captain of the 2019 World Cup-winning soccer team recently found herself making headlines again, when she condemned the International Olympic Committee’s ban on political protest by athletes at the Games in Tokyo this summer. (“So much being done about the protests. So little being done about what we are protesting about,” she wrote in an Instagram Story on Friday, adding: “We will not be silenced.” )
But we talked about another facet of her career. For the first time, Rapinoe, who was named FIFA’s Best Women’s Player in the World last year, will be the face of a fashion campaign. The highly decorated athlete can soon expect to see her grinning face and signature dark pink hair on billboards across Paris for the luxury brand Loewe.
“Any chance I get to do something outside of sport, particularly in fashion, I’m all over that,” she said. “Particularly in the context of women’s sports, where I feel we’re very boxed in.
“OK fine, you’re the gay activist one. Or there are always different ways that we’re seen – they’re not always bad. But we’re seen through the lens that our sponsors, or society or US Soccer wants to put us through. For me, (fashion) is my way of getting to do and look and express myself exactly the way that I want to.”
No stranger to dressing for the camera, Rapinoe has graced the covers of publications from Glamour and Marie Claire to Sports Illustrated, which named her Sportsperson of the Year in December. This was on the heels of an earlier appearance in SI’s hugely popular (and controversial) swimsuit issue, which she saw as an opportunity to “mash up worlds.”
“I love the experience of doing something different, and being provocative,” she said. “In the sense of provoking people to just think. If you’re a stereotypical Sports Illustrated reader and you flip through, you might see me and think, ‘what’s she doing in here?’ Maybe you read the article, maybe you read the blurb, maybe you don’t like it at all – or maybe you think you’ll check out a game.”
The Loewe campaign will likely introduce Rapinoe to a different audience altogether. Shot by legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel, it captures a spirit of possibility an personal freedom that Rapinoe clearly enjoyed.
“I feel like it’s self-expressive but in a cheeky way,” she said of the main image, a portrait with her tongue slightly sticking out – an homage to the victory face she makes on the field. “It’s just like, ‘hey, we’re here, this is all of me.’ But it still leaves a bit to the interpretation of the person looking at it. It is fun and playful and there’s a lot of spirit it in.”
Rapinoe sees her chimeric expression in the photo as a call to embrace all aspects of one’s personality. “There could be multiple things happening at the same time,” she said. ‘That’s what I took from it and that’s what I like about it. In sport we’re seen one way a lot, but you can be multiple things at once. People should try to take up more of that space for themselves.”
The collaboration came about after she caught the eye of Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson, who told us, “I watched Megan on the news one morning and what she was saying resonated with me. I think she is an incredible role model.”
“I think he saw me on CNN talking,” Rapinoe said. “And the confluence of, hopefully, looking somewhat fashionable and having pink hair, (as well as) the way that I was speaking and the things I was speaking about – I think all of that spoke to him, and that was the genesis moment.
“(Fashion designers) have such incredible talent and skill that I know nothing about,” she added. “So to be able to participate in their creativity, not only wearing it, but to see it and participate in it – that, I think is really special.”
Rapinoe named LeBron James and Tilda Swinton as two of her style icons. And, like them both, she uses her public platform to pursue a wider agenda.
“I always use LeBron James as an example,” she said of the basketball player known for his activism and community outreach initiatives. “What he’s done has been totally groundbreaking, not just setting up his business the way he wants to, but also leveraging the celebrity for good around the world – and certainly in the US, and the area (in Akron, Ohio) that he is from.”
Part of Rapinoe’s social mission centers around her role as spokesperson for LGBTQ rights. She has also been a high-profile part of the US Women’s National Team’s legal battle for equal pay, and said that simply being a woman in professional sports can make someone an activist “whether you’re vocal about it or not.”
“We deal with inequality and longstanding discrimination of all kinds, all the time, just to actually play our sport,” she said. “From a very young age, and certainly right out of college, being on the women’s national team, going through a number of bargaining agreements and coming out before the Olympics… just me playing a sport in a professional league as a female is activism in a way, so to transfer that off the field doesn’t feel like something that is separate to me.”
Rapinoe has shown solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been unable to secure a playing contract after he protested against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. She thinks that athletes – women and men – are more outspoken now.
“As sport has become so much more popular, not only from a fan perspective but the media and commercially, and as we start asking our athletes to not just be role models but spokespeople, I think more athletes are taking ownership of themselves, their brands and the impact that they can have off of the field,” she said.
And, in Rapinoe’s view, her activism intersects with her new fashion venture. It’s proof of the rising status of women’s sports, which have long been overshadowed by the men’s games.
“As we start to progress, and our sport becomes more popular and we start to become more successful, you have fashion designers wanting athletes who have become cultural significant,” she said. “I think that fashion is a really good indication and case study for the progression of women’s sports.”