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When 32 countries take the 2018 World Cup field in Russia for the most-watched sporting event in the world, every country walks onto the pitch with its own piece of design in the form of a uniform, created specifically for the event and to convey a distinct message.
Adidas and Nike outfit the vast majority of teams, each taking a design approach company-wide and country-focused. “In general,” Oliver Nicklisch, category football director of product for Adidas, tells HOW, “we are aiming for a look that unites all jerseys. In 2018, in particular, we have looked for authentic and iconic jerseys from the past that are still known today. However, we didn’t take them one-to-one but interpreted them in a contemporary and relevant way for today’s consumers, using modern design features and state-of-the-art technology.”
Before Adidas designers start the process ahead of a World Cup, they meet with each country to get a sense of just how far they can stretch boundaries. “For every event and football season, our aim is to create a look that has never been seen on football pitches and ultimately creates a new visual of football jerseys,” he says. “Of course, we respect traditional aspects of our partners, but at the same time ask them to be open for innovative, disruptive and consumer-relative designs.”
The effort includes far more than just a pair of finished ideas. As with any design, the creative process includes multiple iterations, plus a mix of training and culture wear and equipment. With FIFA World Cup rules requiring teams to have both a predominantly colored and predominantly white option—many viewers across the world still watch broadcasts on black-and-white television—teams have a mix of flexibility in their designs.
“A Germany home jersey will be very likely white for the upcoming years, however, we also change color shades, from a rather traditional red to a darker red,” Nicklisch says. Mexico offers another example, where Adidas darkened the green compared to traditional shades. “In general, federations are also open for graphics on their home kits, which gives us the chance to bring in new colors here too. On away kits, we are flexible with colors, which is from a creative point of view simply fantastic. It allows us to choose from millions of ideas.”
Using materials, fabrics and trims allow for designers to further push aesthetics toward the future. “Consumers, being it athlete or fan, are demanding designs and products that underline their personality,” Nicklisch says. So, using inspiration from past designs and the fresh technology of today “naturally” melds a fresh aesthetic that draws on history while moving teams into the future.
Further examples of this move forward come from Adidas “away” uniforms that include Russia’s celebration of street soccer with a white jersey and gray graphic depicting an abstract vision of Russian architecture. The Argentina colored kit sees the team wear black for the first time in history, a reinterpretation of a previous away look updated with a graphic inspired by the nation’s flag. Spain will mix blue shades with red trim, while Colombia offers blue with a bold graphic inspired by traditional scarf patterns from the country. Japan’s look offers a new interpretation of the 1991 home jersey, Sweden mixes blues with yellow with fabric detailing and Belgium shows off a true representation of the country’s flag colors.
The “home” looks from Adidas offer a more nostalgic look, including the German example, Russia tying to a 1988 Olympic style and Argentina paying tribute to the federation’s 125-year anniversary by incorporating elements of the federation crest into the uniform. The Spain look pays homage to the 1994 design, while Colombia ties to a 1990 uniform. Japan’s home design mimics traditional Sashiko stitching techniques with a white rough thread on an indigo-dyed base for a fresh shade of blue.
Nike also aims to move its federations into the future, using bold colors and graphics to update classics. France’s new look articulates the flag with a direct celebration of colors and graphics on the home kit, while the away white features a subtle red and blue hyper-speckle knit. “We pushed the boundaries of knitting technology and unlocked the unique possibilities of yarns, colors and fabrics,” says Pete Hoppins, Nike Football Apparel senior design director. “The result is stunning.”
Portugal plays off a theme of modern royalty with gold splashes, Brazil offers a more vibrant “Samba Gold” yellow than they have in 20 years, matching the color used in Mexico in 1970, while Poland plays up local pride in the eagle via graphic treatments. The Australian kit will feature gold from top to bottom for the first time on one kit and go completely green on the other, a departure from the tradition of a gold shirt with green shorts.
Croatia embraces heritage in a pronounced way, showing off the famed checkered shirt inspired by the national flag. This year, though, the checkers have gone more than twice as large as ever. “This is a real statement,” Hoppins says. “It is about being bold and beautiful. These oversize, in-your-face checks represent a true depth of pride.”
Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.