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This season’s men’s fashion icon is Popeye the sailor man

How Popeye the sailor man became a high-fashion icon

At 93-years-young, Popeye the sailor man is stylin’ this fall. The King Features icon who first appeared in 1929 (per Britannica) is now the main character leading international men’s fashion. Maybe it’s the mean mug, or maybe an all-spinach diet just makes you live forever…

Now at the forefront of the pop culture scene, it’s not the old sailor guy who is gracing global high fashion houses. King Features and six international textile designers joined to reimagine Popeye with styles that meet and speak to upcoming generations. This co-op spans decades and oceans, from Seattle across the Atlantic to the UK, and down through the Middle East into India. While the sailor is riding a wave into the future, this isn’t his first time sailing in vogue seas.

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Popeye Intimissimi shirt on a model

How Popeye the sailor man became a fashion icon

“Apparel has long been a top-performing category for the brand as Popeye has evolved from a well-known character in print and film into a fashion icon,” Carla Silva, King Features vice president and global head of licensing, said in an email.

Silva cites Popeye and friends like Olive Oyl who have been regularly inspiring collections from luxury Italian maker Moschino for over 20 years. More recently, King has found success partnering with brands like Supreme, A Bathing Ape, and New Era. The animated producer and distributor very conspicuously aims for high-fashion collaborations.

“Popeye’s association with high-end fashion throughout the world is not new, but awareness of his fashion icon status is growing within the mainstream,” Silva said. “Today we are building some incredible momentum – our recent Iceberg x Popeye collaboration was highlighted by media in several countries during Milan Fashion Week. And the collaborations we launched this year have caused a ripple across the fashion industry.”

In other words, King Features is not going to settle for just any brand that slaps their characters on a shirt.

“When considering market-specific opportunities, finding collaboration partners who focus on quality materials and design is more important than the territory in which the partner is located,” Silva said. “Consumer engagement is also top of mind, so securing influential fashion partners who have significant brand awareness and social following helps Popeye reach new audiences.”

It is only fitting that Popeye will adorn a limited-edition collection of apparel and wares from Filson, for example. The iconic Pacific Northwest retailer and outfitter has deep roots invested in Seattle’s maritime community as well as the King Features Syndicate. This capsule will include custom Popeye graphics on Filson tees, a hoodie, and a variety of items available at and at Filson stores.

“We love the personality and character of everyone’s favorite spinach-loving sailor, and this collaboration was a natural fit for both brands, which are well-respected at the docks,” Filson’s chief creative officer, Alex Carleton, said in a statement. “Following the success of our first collection with Popeye in 2019, we’re thrilled to offer fans of these American classics new designs.”

Popeye Iceberg long sleeve football jersey.

Popeye the sailor man cares about sustainable fashion

Partners also relate to the Popeye aesthetic and advocacy. The Iceberg men’s collection, for example, captures the exploring lifestyle brand’s rugged and intrepid look with Popeye-inspired, nautical-themed designs. The spinach-eating sailor’s strong values embody the spirit of the collection and are an integral part of the garments’ concepts.

“The message is a powerful one: strength, resilience, confidence, and freedom to be yourself are so integral to Popeye’s identity,” Grazia Bussandri, Popeye’s Italian agent, said in a statement.

Speaking of maritime, the 21st century Popeye is also a clean-ocean advocate teaming with The SeaCleaners nonprofit to drive positive change in the textile space. This means partnering with designers and brands who are committed to eco-friendly materials and sustainable practices.

“Over the past few years, Popeye has inspired eco-conscious fashion collections around the world with United Colors of Benetton, Brava Fabrics, Noah, Mey, A-dam, and Á La Garçonne,” Silva said. “I’m thrilled to announce that this October, Popeye will be launching his first-ever, sustainably focused high-fashion collection where a portion of the proceeds will directly support The SeaCleaners’ ocean clean-up efforts.”

Though Popeye prefers salt water, he doesn’t discriminate against land lubbers, especially athletes and kids. Part of his new collaborations is a team-up with the biggest name in Indian cricket, Virat Kohli, for the all-new Popeye x Wrogn men’s apparel line, available now in India. Wrogn is an Indian youth fashion and apparel brand for men co-created by the international sporting sensation, Kohli, on a range of 28 t-shirts featuring classic poses of the spinach-eating sailor paired with the graphic Wrogn logo.

“Popeye has an incredibly engaged fanbase in India and this partnership with Wrogn brings those fans a fresh line of unique, on-trend merchandise celebrating his ‘strong to the finish’ lifestyle,” Silva said.

Popeye even recently underwent a makeover in the funny pages. After legendary cartoonist Hy Eisman drew the character for 28 years, Eisman retired this summer, passing the torch to Randy Milholland, who is lending his distinct style to bringing Popeye into modern times.

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