Next up, the Swiss-born champ will test the waters in an entirely new arena: fashion. This June, in conjunction with NikeLab’s Summer of Sport celebration, Nike and Federer will launch the NikeCourt x Roger Federer collection of footwear and apparel. Aiming to up the off-court style of the tennis set, NikeCourt x Roger Federer will feature a range of sweats, shorts, shirts, jackets, and sneakers. We spoke with Federer about what it was like to design his first off-court clothing line—which launches today at NikeLab 1948 in London, and on June 30 on nike.com—his fashion influences, and that time he went a little bit Michael Jackson at Wimbledon. With 17 Grand Slam titles under his belt, Roger Federer has pretty much made his case for Greatest Tennis Player of All Time.
Esquire.com: What was your inspiration for designing this collection?
Roger Federer: I mean, I am a tennis player at heart and I believe we have a great heritage and history in our sport of well-dressed tennis players, even though I believe in today’s game we can do more. I thought we could work together with Nike and their innovation and take it off court. Keep the tennis-inspired sports style, but just take it away from the tennis court. So the first collection is quite subtle; I didn’t want to take huge chances on colors or anything. But I really like it, I’m really happy with the first collection.
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What made you decide to cross over into designing an off court collection?
I have a lot of events, a lot of photo shoots, I’m always in big cities, so I see a lot of well-dressed people. I’ve also been inspired and I’ve taken chances, and I’ve looked silly in some of them and in other ones I’ve felt very comfortable. So it was something that came bit by bit through my life living in the public eye and having to dress up. It’s been interesting. I wasn’t always relaxed about it. I used to get nervous about red carpets and what to wear, how would I look. And now I don’t worry anymore because I feel like I’m old enough, I’m experienced enough, I’ve made my mistakes, and I’ve gotten better over time.
How involved were you in the design process?
This first collection, I’ve gotten some more guidance from the very creative minds at Nike, even though I’ve done a lot to help with designing my on-court performance stuff for many years. They’ve always asked me about which colors I would like, or would I like a T-shirt or a polo shirt and so forth. And as the years have gone by I’ve had a bigger and bigger impact on how I look on the court. So this, to me, was just the next step. It was tapping into a field that I’m maybe not so experienced in yet: off-court style. So it was interesting, and I needed some guidance along the way. Now, as we’re going forward with new collections, it’s going to be more and more personal. But it’s amazing how much choice you have, and you have to make a lot of decisions. In the beginning it was a little bit overwhelming, but it’s been a dream come true for me to be a designer here at Nike. I never thought I would be able to do that back when I wore my first Nike shirt when I was 15.
Did performance come in at all for you, or was this only about style?
Well, I want a bit of both. I like really comfortable material, and then style. The idea of having the grosgrain in the shirt, it reminds me of how we started at Nike when the “RF” logo came about in 2007. I wore this tuxedo-black, Darth Vader kind of outfit at the U.S. Open. I’ve had to wear a lot of tuxedos because of red carpets, so I always enjoyed the grosgrain because of that; it’s something personal. And I think you have to utilize the Nike angle, because they have all these materials that are very much high performance. It’s beautiful to be able to choose from them, as well as the zippers, the buttons, the details.
A look from the collection.
How would you describe your ideal off-court aesthetic?
I just want people to wear what they feel comfortable in, and feel that they can mix and match it together with many other things. I think the first collection is subtle; the colors don’t scream out. I like the grays and the different blues. I just think it’s very comfortable. And I think it all starts with the shoes these days. A lot of people, when they go and dress up, they think of shoes first. That’s what I tend to do more and more, where before I used to start with the shirt first. So it depends on who you are and where you live, but I think this collection you can really wear anywhere. Not to every event of course, but you can match different pieces of it in different places.
Do you have any favorite fashion designers who influenced you?
Yeah, I mean I grew up enjoying Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. I love Dior and Louis Vuitton. I also have a lot of Tom Ford’s suits, so that’s kind of how I got into it. And I was lucky enough to meet a lot of those designers as well through Anna Wintour, who is a really close friend of mine. And moving about in big cities and meeting people like Oscar de la Renta and talking to them about fashion. Meeting people from the art world, it’s been very inspiring. Clearly I’m not in any way shape or form even close to them, but these people have definitely inspired me. And I like to dress up at night; it’s something I really enjoy.
Still one of my favorite moments ever was when you won Wimbledon and put on a white blazer and trousers rather than just a tracksuit.
Yeah, we went a bit crazy at Wimbledon. We first did the white jacket—then we did the jacket, vest, and trousers. Then we did like a Michael Jackson-inspired jacket with a military look, and that’s when I got criticized a little bit for taking it too far. But hey, you know what, you have to push the boundaries sometimes. I did feel a bit funny in the locker room with other players looking at me and going, “What’s he thinking?” But it brought some glam to tennis and some style and something to talk about other than just forehands and backhands. I’m really happy that I did it and that I took chances like that throughout my career.
The NikeCourt Tennis Classic Ultra Flyknit x RF