Many know Louis Tomlinson as a Doncaster lad-turned-pop-icon and part of era-defining boyband, One Direction. But despite his superstar status, the 31-year-old has never lost touch with his relaxed Northern soul. It’s been central to everything he puts his mind to, from music to football… and now, fashion.
After fighting his way through X Factor, growing his talent in One Direction, and going solo after their break-up in 2015, Tomlinson split fresh ground while keeping authenticity at the forefront. Embracing the rockstar lifestyle, he has traveled worldwide on his own terms, revolutionizing his sound through chart-topping hits, including Bigger Than Me, Change, and Silver Tongues.
Now fiercely independent, Tomlinson is continuing to make strides that set him apart from the crowd, releasing his debut solo album Walls in early 2020. Leaving the pop-forward One Direction sound behind, Tomlinson embarked on a journey of self-discovery by embracing his British roots and revitalizing his musical journey with a fresh mindset.
After returning to London from the third edition of his Away From Home festival in Lido di Camaiore, Italy, Tomlinson prepares to continue his global album tour for Faith in the Future across Europe. But there’s much more than music on his mind these days – before he jets off on tour, he’s sitting down with Hypebeast to discuss all things 28, his all-new streetwear label that embodies everything he has been, is, and will be.
Growing up in Northern England naturally gravitated Tomlinson to football, selling pies at his boyhood club, Doncaster Rovers. But he’s kept a keen eye on fashion since his early childhood. “When I grew up, I viewed Doncaster as a working-class town. Now, when I go back to Doncaster, the streets have a real sense of style. That wasn’t the norm for me growing up; there was just scruffy and cool — there was really no in-between. We couldn’t afford really nice clothes, so it was just about working with what you got.”
Standing out has always been of utmost importance for Tomlinson, aligning his laidback attitude with the clothes on his back. Football tops were always a staple, taking to vintage and charity shops to find hidden gems that strayed from normality. “It was always important for me to look cool as a young lad, and I always enjoyed wearing good clothes. You might think, in a place like Doncaster, that it isn’t about fashion — and fashion might be the wrong word — because the thing that would turn people’s noses was that everyone is striving to look cool.”
“When I grew up, I viewed Doncaster as a working-class town. Now, when I go back to Doncaster, the streets have a real sense of style.”
Known for wearing striped tees and suspenders in One Direction, Tomlinson grew into his true self after the band’s hiatus, returning to his Doncaster roots and embracing comfort at all times. “As a young lad going into a business like this, you are surrounded by people telling you what’s cool and what isn’t. I’d say the boys could relate to this; you have to go through the motions of letting the industry tell you what they think you should do — because you don’t have enough confidence in that world yet to say: actually, no, I want to dress how I want to dress,” the singer-songwriter explains.
He grew up wearing essential British tracksuits, football tops, and trainers, drastically different from the boyband style that had every member dressed in “uniform.” “It’s only as I’ve grown confident in myself that I started to revert back to how I dressed as a young lad, just a kind of modern example of that. I really do wear Doncaster on every item of clothing that I put on, even if it’s subconscious, it’s so much a part of who I am.”
Launching 28 is a tribute to his humble beginnings in music, fashion, and sport, representing his Doncaster Rovers squad number and his lifetime devotion to the football club. The brand idea came to him nearly a decade ago, taking a closer look at standard tour merchandise and finding missing pieces, feeling “a creative itch that I wanted to scratch.”
28’s first drop is a tribute to all things football, embracing the beautiful game through vintage-inspired sports silhouettes destined for summertime. Checkered green tracksuits are ideal for pre-game antics, featuring distorted and faded patterns alongside “OFFICIAL PROGRAMME” collared jerseys.
“I suppose it’s similar to songwriting… seeing how deep your imagination can go when creating clothes.”
While concert apparel caterers to the general public, 28 allows his artistic talents to run wild. “That’s why 28 excites me. It’s something that can be a little bit more tailored, a little bit more stylized. I suppose it’s similar to songwriting… seeing how deep your imagination can go when creating clothes.”
When designing 28’s first drop, Tomlinson pushed comfort forward through quality craftsmanship and refined fabric manipulations. His ideas feature heavily across every design, architected on lightweight hoodies, turtleneck collars, and distressed knitwear. Abstract floral illustrations bloom on additional designs, complementing the collection with a neutral color palette. Collections will release on the 28th of each month, expanding its sportswear identity one step at a time.
28 is undeniably football-focused, making clothes he would identify with as a young boy growing up in “Donny.” Tomlinson aims to bring his community together with interactive drops and a story to tell, enlisting emerging creatives to front the brand’s first campaign. “Community is something that runs throughout everything I do, and after getting the casting ideas for the models, I knew I wanted to use street models. I didn’t want to use that traditional model face because that’s not what I grew up with,” Tomlinson says.
“If I picture that rough lad I grew up with in Doncaster, he certainly didn’t have that look — he just looked cool in the clothes,” Tomlinson says with a wide smile, “There’s a beautiful authenticity to that. I think there’s a more interesting way and authentic way of telling these stories for 28.” While Tomlinson is the brand’s Creative Director, he sees 28 standing on its own two feet without his face attached, building a core community within its evolving identity.
So what’s in store next for Tomlinson? “I’m going back on tour, which is my favorite thing to do. At some point, there’ll be a new record. I don’t know when, though; I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just trying to enjoy it. I’m mostly tour-focused right now — that’s why I love creating 28 — because it means that when my brain is all on touring and music, it’s creatively fulfilling to get into something else and scratch that itch.”