From WAG to blogger to designer: fashion's new normal
Sep 28, 2015
Move over Victoria Beckham, there is a new WAG on the fashion block. Winonah de Jong, wife of AC Milan's Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, says she is realising a "little girl's dream" after making the leap from blogging about fashion to designing her own line of clothes.
Inevitably some will suspect a vanity project, an overspill from the surplus millions splashing around in football. And the bombastic publicity material for the launch of the "Winonah" line at Milan fashion week does nothing to dispel such scepticism.
The Surinam-born 34-year-old is described as an "exotic beauty with an innate sense of style" as well as a "Dutch celebrity, style icon, trendsetter and social media star". The description of her new line might make you think it is aimed exclusively at WAGs -- Wives and Girlfriends, the dismissive term coined in Britain for the usually glamorous partners of millionaire footballers. The collection is, they say, one that "doesn't shy away from daring colours, cuts, openings and captivating transparencies, or unexpected slits for a stunning red carpet arrival".
In person however Milan's newest designer could not seem further removed from the caricature of an egotistical, empty-headed footballer's wife. She likes dressing up and admits her evening wear will be beyond most people's reach. "But I am also quite tomboyish and I am a mother. Sometimes I just want to wear jeans and a T-shirt. I think you will find something for everyone in the collection." Winonah says her husband -- more than her 150,000 followers on Instagram -- influenced her decision to take the plunge into a sector which already has too many producers chasing too few wealthy customers. "He is the one who said, 'you need to do it. It is your dream'," Winonah told AFP at the Milan showroom where she is showcasing the small "capsule" collection with which she has launched her company.
The mother of two is not totally unqualified. She graduated from a Dutch fashion college, albeit having specialised in retail management and textiles rather than design. She says her standing on social media did not make her believe she could emulate Victoria Beckham's success. But she acknowledges it helped in terms of giving her confidence that there is a market for her vision. "My fans would really love to see a product that I made, that I designed," she says. Of Beckham, she adds: "I respect her a lot because she worked her way up and she is very good at what she is doing."
Nigel de Jong's 2012 switch from Manchester City to AC Milan put Winonah in reach of the support she needed. "I met the right people, I met the right manufacturer and now the dream has come to reality," she said.
The manufacturer is Maison M, a company which produces clothes for other designer labels and is also handling the Winonah sales operation. Company CEO Matteo Speggiari says deals have been struck to get the range into upmarket boutiques in a number of countries. "Winonah is very simple," he says. "She has a clear target, so it is fantastic to work with her."
On the field, Nigel de Jong's reputation is as one of the toughest midfield enforcers in the game, collecting nicknames like "The Destroyer" and "Lawnmower." Off it, he is an articulate and successful businessman with a luxury car dealership in Hamburg - a business he acquired in his early 20s when he was playing for the German club. That equips him to counsel his wife on finances but he does not interfere too much on questions like the cut of the kangaroo leather bra-bustier that features in the collection. "Sometimes I give her opinions but she does not take them ... maybe if it was a menswear line she would."
De Jong sees parallels between fashion and football. "As a professional athlete I know how it is to achieve some of the goals and dreams you had as a little kid," he said. "Since the moment I met her she was always into clothes, into fashion. Sometimes she made me crazy about the whole fashion addict kind of thing. "So it was only logical... that she made her own brand, and she did it." (AFP)