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2017, the year that changed everything

An extract from the book Les Vêtements de Football 2017-2022 to be presented on 15 December in Milan

2017, the year that changed everything An extract from the book Les Vêtements de Football 2017-2022 to be presented on 15 December in Milan

Often, when people think about when the relationship between football and fashion first started, their most common answer is "forever", an answer that is all in all true: since the 1960s, George Best - the fifth Beatle - has been considered a cultural icon, capable of changing the tastes and habits of those who watched him play. After all, both football and fashion are cultural phenomena capable of influencing society in its taste, aesthetic, and even its politics. After Best came the Hooligans, Stone Island, and Terrace Culture. Then came the catwalks and the explosion of the age of entertainment, the 2000s so celebrated today, and pay-TV, which would take the role of the footballer from that of a sportsman to that of an idol. A relationship between fashion and football that, until then and counter-intuitively so, was still very English. The realm of subcultures privileges sportswear and it is there that certain brands (often Italian) began to enter the stadium, permeating the social fabric of those places. David Beckham highlights this concept: the Spice Boy became something of interest regardless of his sports performance. His new haircut made more headlines than his latest goal, and talent was thus overshadowed by unprecedented media and aesthetic power. Everything seemed set for the world of football to break into all circuits of the fashion industry, and not just through sporadic collaborations. Then something broke down.

The cyclical nature of fashion and the European explosion of American sports changed the perception of what is cool and what is not in relation to football. The return of the 1990s and the media power of the NBA make basketball very fertile ground: the sportswear of the giants contends with the NBA and collectives like Pigalle are favored over football. Fashion, however, is always cyclical, and things changed when 2017 arrived. 

What exactly happened in that year? What led the entire fashion industry to reconnect with a world it had held in low esteem for years, considering it uncool, national-popular, and difficult to fit in? It is to answer this same question that in that same year, nss magazine launched its sports vertical, nss sports. The project stems from years of experimentation, from a column formerly called New Sport Side, which saw its content slowly change: from NBA jerseys and Michael Jordan stories it moved to the aesthetics of the upcoming World Cup, the first one being the one in Russia. In the common narrative, World Cups are often underestimated, but it is with the advent of a Soviet World Cup that something begins to change. The first World Cup in Russia carries with it the innovative charge of a country living on football that had never been able to really show the world that passion since the fall of the Wall. By a series of not-so-coincidental coincidences, it was precisely during the same period that the aesthetic that came to be called "post-Soviet" entered its golden moment: Gvasalia brothers' Vetements, Lotta Volkova, Heron Preston's Cyrillic copies, Paccbet, and the explosion of Gosha Rubchinskiy.

Gosha's football scarves and his collection for the occasion of the Russian World Cup had the designer bring to the runway a collection with adidas inspired by the great Manchester United and the Russian national team itself. Gosha proved to be fundamental to the common proliferation of football scarves and jerseys from catwalks to the streets during fashion week periods, as seen in the looks of so-called influencers of influencers, key opinion leaders who silently alter the aesthetics of yesteryear. And it is exactly at the same time that the fledgling nss sports began work on Les Vêtements de Football. As can be guessed from the very name of the project, LVDF is affected by the passing of time and immerses itself in it by drawing unlimited inspiration from it. Les Vêtements de Football was created with the desire to show what football jerseys would look like if they had the aesthetic dignity to collaborate with big luxury brands. It was a deliberately provocative product, drawing heavily on the bootleg aesthetic that, since the days of Dapper Dan and Vetements itself, had challenged fashion to take itself less seriously. Perhaps that very same reason made fashion take itself even more seriously, as LVDF placing a modified version of the Gucci logo on a football jersey came five years earlier than Palace's collaboration with Gucci. Balenciaga became Balenciagol, Comme Des Garcons became Comme des Goals, ACNE became ACAB, Burberrys became Bomberry, and so on and so forth. The national-popular excellence thus became high fashion and the success was instant and constant. LVDF was "featured" by leading magazines in the industry and beyond, invited to no less than three editions of Intersect (a popular Chinese streetwear fair) and two pop-up stores in Korea. It is precisely in the Far East that what can now almost be called a brand is becoming more popular than ever. Indeed, football is in extreme expansion and phenomena that mix football and fashion in a symbiotic way are emerging daily. From Real Bristol FC (a fictitious English football team that produces only merch) to Nivelcrack to City Boys FC, these movements come from afar and once again coincide with a World Cup: that of Japan and Korea in 2002. 

However, to explain a winning project (especially within the fashion industry), structural causes are not enough and we find ourselves needing contingent causes. In 2017, the fashion industry was shaken by its biggest earthquake, that of streetwear. Not that the phenomenon was born that year, but it is perhaps then that the invasion of high fashion circuits happened at short-circuit levels: in that year the most desired sneaker was Balenciaga's Triple-S, and the most important collaboration was between Supreme and Louis Vuitton. The infiltration was thus complete and the barriers between what can and cannot be considered "fashion" definitely fell. The same year, football scarves are included by all the industry media within the lists of the most influential trends of the year, along with the Triple-S and the collaboration between Supreme and LV. This is no coincidence: it is the beginning of a new era, one in which the boundaries between sectors become more blurred, in which sports and entertainment slowly begin to become the same thing. A huge and very long process, which the pandemic on the one hand accelerated and on the other abruptly slowed down, but still radically changed the Western aesthetic on the surface. 

From 2017 onward, football reclaimed its position as most popular sport in the world and began to become a fixed thought in the fashion industry: collaborations between football teams and brands became common, collections inspired by football teams are born, ‘bloke-core’ is born, and the cultural value of football returns to the level that had accompanied its explosion in popularity in the 1990s. nss sports, as a media outlet, reinterprets all these happenings with the vision of promoting all the non-strictly sports aspects of football, which it shares with a network of media that over the years replace the old football media in importance and influence. Part of that media flow into the PUMA Influence project, in which nss sports takes part in by making a football jersey in collaboration with PUMA as a tribute to its city of origin, Naples, and its relationship with Kagoshima, Japan. From the same breath came the collaboration with StockX to create nss Metrostars, an exclusive drop on the platform that celebrated Naples, New York, and one of the first MLS teams. Alongside the daily work of information and insight related to the evolution of the relationship between football and fashion, nss sports has worked as an agency and digital incubator, bringing its imprinting to the creation of the bells of AC Milan and the Italian national team and promoting the physical and digital capsule collection between AS Roma and Brain Dead (the first ever kit of the Capitoline team to land on PES). In fact, the influence of the digital world couldn’t be ignored in this period: from 2017 onward, the opening of a certain form of aesthetics to the world of football has produced a multitude of interesting products, such as the phenomenon of creator kits, which sees digital artists influence the design of the world's leading teams from their bedrooms.

A blending of worlds, ideas, intentions, aesthetics and cultures began in 2017 and mended football to a more culturally interesting and inclusive environment. Footballers have emerged and accomplished things that only a few years earlier seemed impossible, collaborating with brands like Bellerin or Rashford, and have positioned football in a different cultural segment. Transitionally, this made football more appreciated, and it all started in 2017: starting from cultural niches to the World Cup.

Les Vêtements de Football 2017-2022 will be presented on 15 December in Milan at Marsèll Paradise, Via Privata Rezia, from 8 p.m.