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In the quiet corner of a corporate hotel lobby, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is acquainting me with the very literal agony of his adolescent life. ‘I grew so fast in such a short space of time that I ended up with a stress fracture in my lower back,’ he says, remembering the six months when he shot up from a compact 5ft 8in to a rangy 6ft plus. ‘I remember being at school and having back ache all the time [from] sitting on the plastic chairs.’ He leans forward and mimes a geriatric stoop. ‘At 15, I basically felt like an old man.’
There was, thankfully, gain to go with the pain. Though he was sidelined from playing in the academy at his boyhood club Sheffield United for a period, it was this physical transformation that turned him from a goal-scoring midfielder into a spring-heeled, aerially dominant striker. Without the dramatic change in stature there would probably have been no move to Everton as a 19-year-old; no goal on his senior England debut in autumn 2020; no climb to becoming one of the most talented (and coveted) young centre forwards in the country.
And now, around a decade later, the 25-year-old has undergone another striking and, in its own way, life-changing metamorphosis. Having initially come on to the scene as a puppyish, fresh-faced lad in standard issue turtle necks and luxe streetwear, in recent years, Calvert-Lewin has emerged as a game-changing sartorial force. Posing on Instagram in tinted American Gigolo shades, a blue velvet suit and Chanel handbag from his private collection; turning up to the Michael Kors show at New York Fashion Week in 2020 sporting another extravagantly Seventies, open-collared affair; frying the internet’s collective mind with a 2021 Arena Homme+ cover featuring schoolgirl tube socks, another model’s own handbag (pink Prada this time) and a pair of flared culottes that many mistook for a skirt (we will of course come back to this).
Here, set against men’s football’s macho homogeneity and historic aversion to anything even vaguely coded as female, was a young, elite athlete expressing himself fearlessly and upending gender norms in the process. But if Calvert-Lewin’s fashion choices have been praised for their wider social ramifications then he is keen to stress that this has never been his intention. ‘It’s no secret the kind of clothes I like to wear,’ he says, in soft Yorkshire tones. ‘And I think the most important thing is just staying authentic to yourself. I’m not trying to do it for the purpose of pushing boundaries or whatever. I’m just trying to be myself and then that’s open to interpretation, depending on how people want to take it.’
Those of us who have been on today’s shoot — featuring Calvert-Lewin in a variety of looks from the hotly anticipated Adidas x Gucci collaboration, gamely clutching sunflowers, lying on the drizzle-dampened grass in a nearby park and joking about the snugness of a pair of flared tracksuit bottoms — have got to see his palpable passion for clothes in action. It is the day after the last game of the Premier League season and four days after Calvert-Lewin scored the goal that saved Everton from relegation and sparked two separate, frenzied pitch invasions at Goodison Park (‘It was an outburst of raw emotion,’ he says. ‘And to be the man who secured safety, well, it was what I was visualising for weeks’). There is notable fatigue, and maybe some stiffness to the way he moves his lean, looming frame.
Even so, when he first started embarking on a more considered fashion journey (most notably through his collaboration with Harry Lambert, stylist-provocateur to the likes of Josh O’Connor and Harry Styles and star of this week’s My London) it is work on illustrious collaborations such as today’s that he had in mind. ‘It’s like the perfect marriage,’ he says, in reference to the Italian fashion house and the German sportswear brand teaming up. He has changed into his civvies now, a stonewash blue Adidas short tracksuit with yanked-up white Noah socks. He describes his style as ‘a bit throwback, a bit retro’ but who inspires it?
‘I always say people like Sammy Davis Jr and Jimi Hendrix,’ he says, doe-like hazel eyes peeking through his signature spray of bouncy curls. ‘I feel like, in a way, men were more flamboyant then. And it’s like we’ve gone backwards in a sense. [People] act like it’s alien but really and truly it’s been done way before I was wearing these suits.’ It’s a good point. But where the likes of, say, George Best offset the plunging paisley shirts with a demonstrably old-school attitude to booze and women, Calvert-Lewin seems comfortable enough in his masculinity to push at its boundaries. Those world-shaking culottes are a case in point. ‘I thought I’d just pulled some shorts on,’ he says with a laugh. ‘So when the cover came out and it looked like a skirt, I didn’t even know what [had happened]. The irony of it was that it wasn’t a skirt. But even if it had been, if I’d seen a skirt and pulled it on, it is what it is.’
There was, he concedes, inevitable negativity on social media. But what he wasn’t prepared for was the positive side; the scores of parents thanking him for ‘being a positive role model just by being myself’. ‘It never crossed my mind that I could positively influence people,’ he adds. ‘That far outweighed any kind of trolling I got.’ He is full of praise for Jake Daniels, too — the 17-year-old Blackpool striker who became the first openly gay professional footballer in a generation last month. ‘Credit to the lad,’ he says. ‘It’s taken such bravery, even at such a young age, to tell the world who he is. Maybe in his confidence in doing that it might spur other people on. It shouldn’t be a big thing when you look at the world that we’re living in now but football is strange.’
Or, perhaps, you could say that football isn’t strange or inclusive enough. Calvert-Lewin — as well as understandably craving a holiday after an injury-ravaged, emotionally gruelling season that he describes as ‘the hardest period of my career’ — is out to shift this. He knows better than most, after those hobbled days in the classroom, that change isn’t something to be feared.