Rafael Nadal – fashion muse

One is as American as his signature red, white and blue palette. The other is a sensual Spaniard whose muscular power game has catapulted him to tennis’ Olympian heights.

On the surface, they would seem to have nothing in common. But Tommy Hilfiger and Rafael Nadal have proven to be one heck of a sartorial doubles team.

Nadal — the 14-time Slam winner and No. 4-ranked player in the world, who lost to Kei Nishikori in the bronze medal match at the Olympics but took two golds (with Marc Lopez and Garbiñe Muguruza) in the men’s and mixed doubles respectively — is the global brand ambassador for Hilfiger. He caused a sensation when he debuted last year in a series of “insanely successful” underwear ads (Gotham magazine), accompanied by teasing commercials and strip tennis events that also sent pulses racing.

The campaign marked the relaunch of Hilfiger’s underwear brand with a sleeker, stretchier, more tech product.

At the time, Hilfiger said, “Rafael Nadal has been a longtime personal friend and supporter of our brand, and I’m continuously inspired by his dedication and passion for his sport. This exclusive (two-year) partnership brings one of the greatest athletes of this generation into our Tommy family. Rafael embodies an effortless sense of style that exemplifies and reflects our brand spirit — he’s confident, fun and cool.”

Added Nadal, “I’ve always admired Tommy Hilfiger’s cool, all-American designs, which are sophisticated and easy to wear and I’m excited to be partnering with the brand.”

As if these ads weren’t enough to send the heat index soaring, there was also a campaign for TH Bold, in which Rafa’s molded, caramel-colored physique sported beads of perspiration, a red, white and blue towel, a playful smile and little else — except, of course, for the fragrance, featuring citrus notes blended with cedar, sandalwood and vetiver. (If only you could scent video.)

This past spring, Nadal suited up for THFLEX Rafael Nadal Edition, an extension of Tommy Hilfiger Tailored, with pieces made of elegant yet breathable Italian fabrics. The accompanying commercial showed Rafa playing himself in two different looks. Blue-suited Rafa beat gray-suited Rafa, with both looking swell in victory and defeat.

This is not the first time Nadal — whose early on-court appearances were marked by muscle Ts, pirate bandannas and clamdiggers — has shown a stylish side. The man who is often called “The King of Clay” for his nine French Open titles — five of them in a row — made a steamy appearance in a 2011 campaign for Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans. And on-court he wears an $850,000 timepiece by Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille. Forbes magazine, which ranks Nadal 21st among the highest-paid athletes, anticipates that he will earn $32 million this year alone in endorsements from Nike; Babolat tennis gear; Telefónica, a Spanish multinational broadband and telecommunications provider; and Banco Sabadell.

We can’t wait to see whom Rafa strips down to his skivvies for next.

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