RetroProgressive – Le rugby fashion: England takes a bruising

One morning, earlier this year, I spent a good few minutes standing in front of a large billboard close to Putney Bridge, trying to fathom out why models wearing curiously Continental, colour coordinated and perfectly clean clothing were made up to look as though they’d been in a punch-up. When I heard that French fashion firm, Eden Park, was kitting out the English rugby team, the story began to unravel.

Eden Park’s co-founder and chief executive is former French fly-half, Franck Mesnel, who together with four of his French team mates called themselves ‘Le Showbizz’. To celebrate reaching the finals of the Rugby World Cup in 1987, they wore pink bow ties during the match. This symbol was later adopted as the logo of Mesnel’s new fashion label – which is, of course, named after the famous Eden Park rugby stadium in… New Zealand.

Eden Park now has an annual turnover of over E50 million, with Mesnel overseeing the design and manufacture of garments from start to finish. As a trained architect, he’s used to design work, and claims that “detail is fundamental…We use all the processes and all the methods, and then at the end we just add a touch of fantasy.”

In this video the English team members enthuse about the detail in their new garments, including: Roses embroidered on their shoes in the style of rather gauche gentlemen’s slippers; pockets stuffed with handkerchiefs that foppishly spill over to reveal lively floral prints (more roses); cute little touches of embroidery inside the jackets – and bizarre looking bakers’ caps that were clearly inspired by Mark Lester in Oliver.

Mesnel explained to Drapers’ Record that, “The association with the English rugby team is a perfect way to help grow the brand in the UK. I want to improve the position of Eden Park to a high-level casualwear brand over here.”

Let’s forget about our English heritage then, shall we? After all, we only invented the game of rugby, and supplied the original inspiration for sporty, college-style casual clothing. Yes, we all know Ralph Lauren has successfully cornered the the preppy market, and newcomers like Abercrombie and Fitch have muscled in on the scene… But, until recently, the French offering was largely confined to the amusingly quaint Old England store in the boulevard des Capucines.

Could this be an opportunity for France to draw upon its legendary fashion flair and give England a thorough bruising off the field? Or is Monsieur Mesnel just indulging his own far-fetched fashion fantasy?

Take a look at some examples from the current collections on offer (as modelled by sportingly duffed-up, non-domiciled dreamboats)

– and let me know what you think… retro-progressive, or ridiculous?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

17 thoughts on “RetroProgressive – Le rugby fashion: England takes a bruising

    November 13, 2010 at 11:41

    ‘Shoemaker stick to your last’ – and I should. When I saw the piccy of the man in pink, my first thought was ‘who is that girl?’ Wrong.
    Not alone is he not a girl, he is just one of the most poetic rugby players it was ever my pleasure to watch – live, and on the box. No surprise therefore to learn that this ‘poet’ has turned his talent into a successful business, and that he leads a life that many men would crave.

  2. Gaw
    November 13, 2010 at 12:37

    Great subject for a post!

    It’s interesting how rugby has different associations over in France – the accent is much more on self-expression and style. Mesnel was a member of a generation of exquisite French three-quarters, though as ever in France, they flourished in the midst of quite a lot of brutality.

    The bow-tie incident actually occurred in a French Cup Final against Agen when the Racing Club de France backs also took champagne at half-time. The Agen players were so enraged at what they saw as a lack of respect that it turned out to be one of the more violent French cup matches (in a very strong field). Agen are a hard team of the South who had no time for metropolitan fripperies.

    Incidentally, the Racing Club de Paris jersey is identical to that of Cambridge University – light blue hoops on white. From the beginning French rugby adopted the Chariots of Fire champagne-on-hurdles ethos.

    If anyone’s interested in reading more about the culture of French rugby I wrote something here last year.

    Sophie King
    November 13, 2010 at 12:56

    Roses embroidered on their shoes? Really? I think maybe the French designer was making une petite plaisanterie…

    November 13, 2010 at 13:37

    M.Mesnel looks fetching in the CIA issue field officers jacket look alike, once the rage in the Carolinas, don’t think it goes with pink somehow, Think Pink, so late eighties. Kitting out the national teams has given fashion some of its biggest disasters, remember the M&S fiasco. Talking of disasters the club shirt with gold bands, makes them look like wasps.

    Mesnel looks like the bionic man and his teeth must have cost a fortune,

    November 13, 2010 at 15:04

    Mahlerman, my expertise is certainly not rugby, but I’m in awe of M Mesnel’s smooth appearance and ability to wear a scarf in that cool, arty way only Frenchmen can carry off without being considered effeminate. And yes, he’s done very well for himself, creating this ‘premium rugby brand’ but do you really think so many men are craving to work in the fashion industry (or was it the rugby playing you were thinking of?)

    Gaw, you obviously are an expert – and thanks for supplying full details of the bow-tie incident, which I note is also mentioned in your very comprehensive and entertaining post. The Wahol inspired Stade francais shirt design is quite something – and I’m very curious to see a photo of someone actually wearing one..

    Mais oui, Sophie, c’est tres marrant…and Malty – yes, fascinating that for all his Frenchness, Mesnel does not sport European teeth. That camouflaged shirt looks like it’s painted on.. very distracting for the players, I’m sure.

    Oh and I forgot to mention the British company (or at least I think they are) called Crew, also producing preppy clothing, more sailing than rugby, but surely contenders for a job like this? Non?

  6. Gaw
    November 13, 2010 at 15:24

    Susan, feast your eyes on this – there are a few images of the shirt I referred to as well as some of their other ‘curious’ designs.

  7. Gaw
    November 13, 2010 at 15:27

    …oh and a bit of rugby soft porn too. Something else they do over there that we don’t have here.

    November 13, 2010 at 15:32

    Well Susan, I was simply thinking that most 50 year old men would be very happy with decent looks, unmarked by a long rugby career, a perfect set of gnashers, a nuclear family, a Euro 50 million business, a pilot’s licence, the unstinting admiration of his peers and contemporaries….have I left anything out?
    It stacks up quite well against my CV

    November 13, 2010 at 16:13

    Thanks Gaw, very pretty, especially the shirt with lilies – though not so sure about some of the players! I see you can even buy these curious shirts too. Very Christian Audigier. Anyone tempted?

    Ooo, don’t you think he looks slightly older than 50? And I bet he’s not as musical as you, Mahlerman. But you did forget that he’s a qualified architect too..

    Gadjo Dilo
    November 14, 2010 at 07:34

    As usual I’m in awe of these guys, but the adding pink bow ties etc is frankly a ‘Clockwork Orange’ touch that just plain scaes me.

    Gadjo Dilo
    November 14, 2010 at 07:35


    November 14, 2010 at 10:08

    Gadjo – personally, I find the sartorial sloppiness of the the model above wearing a shirt, tie, rugby shirt and jacket all at the same time altogether more scary… No, no, no!

    November 14, 2010 at 22:28

    I for one am not remotely surprised to find rugby players dressing in pink and parading the catwalks. The only thing I’ve ever seen that was more homoerotic than an average rugby match was the movie ‘300’.

    November 15, 2010 at 10:52

    From memory the last time that I saw Jonny in the flesh was on a bitterly cold midweek eve, when the Falcons played Gala in a ‘friendly’, I say friendly….Even under the floodlights he had a certain je ne sais quoi, an ethereal quality, the sight of him lining up his ball, the straps of his mud spattered Balenciaga flapping in the wind had at least six of the local dudes outing themselves in public, rugged, yes that’s the word, rugged.

    Or is it ragged.

    November 15, 2010 at 11:16

    Or butch?

  16. Worm
    November 15, 2010 at 12:53

    I was listening to some programme on Radio 4 recently where they were discussing how rugby is naturally more likely to have ‘out and proud’ players than football, because with it’s homoerotic grapplings and dubious drinking games it is in the running to be gayest of sports, closely behind figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics

    November 15, 2010 at 13:18

    worm, is that why rugby players are prone to take all their clothes off after a few drinks?

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