Creative Soccer Culture

Why Kappa Have Achieved Premium Status With Their Shirt Designs

In amongst the European giants’ summer releases ahead of the 23/24 season, one brand has stood out for its consistently sublime attention to detail and premium, bespoke releases: all hail Kappa, and their ongoing quest for football shirt perfection.

For several years now, in amongst the hustle and bustle of football shirt culture, Italian brand Kappa have quietly gone about their business, recruiting a very select roster, devoid of any European giants, upon which to bestow some of the best kits of each season. And it’s been a very measured approach, made out of shrewd decisions, a willingness to accept outside influence from third parties, and an embracing of their position in the game.

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Kappa know that they’re not going to compete with the likes of Nike, adidas and PUMA when it comes to the sheer scale of operations, so instead they’ve taken a quality-over-quantity approach that is paying dividends, marking their output out as being some of the best around ahead of yet another campaign.

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Ask any football shirt fan which brand has been leading the way in recent years and the answer you’re most likely to get is adidas, and rightly so. The German brand has raised the bar when it comes to shirt designs, creating hit after hit on both the international and club scene. While adidas supply some of the biggest clubs in the game, Kappa have gathered a smaller set of teams, featuring, for the most part, lower league sides from across the continent. But the shirts they are producing for these teams is every bit the equal of the Three Stripes…

One of the key elements to all of these kits is the use of Kappa’s Omini logo. The silhouette of a man and woman leaning against each another – representing the equality of men and women and their mutual support – has taken on an almost cult-like status in the world of jersey culture, being at once nostalgia-laden (it has huge throwback 90s feels), but also acting as a mark of absolute quality, often being interweaved into the very heart of a design, its presence instantly elevating any shirt. And it’s the different use of this branding that stands it out against the competition: it can take up a regular placement on the chest, can sit on the upper arm, can feature in the Kappa banda formation, often seen riding down the sleeves or down the side of the shirts, can be oversized for extra impact, and can obviously alter colour to sit seamlessly within any specific aesthetic, often featuring fittingly as a final flourish in gold.

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It was arguably executed to pure perfection on the Vasco Da Gama 2022 long sleeve home shirt (above), taking up position on the forearms – a simply sublime switch up, and it’s this level of versatility that really separates it from its competitors. There aren’t many other brand logos that actually become an element of the shirt design itself, and it’s impact is not just restricted to clothing, as was seen with the beautiful new Lega B match ball for 23/24, which was emblazoned with numerous oversized Omini logos across its blue and white surface.

Beyond the impactful power of the branding itself though, Kappa have also been at the forefront of embracing design influence from external sources, with the easiest example coming from the game-changing Venezia collections. Venezia emerged from the relative obscurity of lower league Italian football to firmly establish themselves as a unique force in football culture, one that blurred the lines yet further between football and fashion, and their partnership with Kappa coincided with their return to the top tier of Italian football, an achievement marked with the release of four of the best kits in recent memory. It was a statement that introduced the club to the wider footballing world, placing them firmly on the map and creating an appeal that defied their performances on the pitch.

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The brand’s partnership with the Italian side commenced in 2021, and the pair haven’t looked back since, consistently delivering some of the best shirts of each season. That first campaign was underpinned by New York creative agency Fly Nowhere, who worked in collaboration with Kappa, and that baton has since been picked up by Munich-based design studio Bureau Borsche, who were also responsible for the club’s rebrand in 2022.

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Sitting in the vanguard of a new wave of jersey culture, they’ve since been joined in the space by the likes of Athens Kallithea in a move that is not coincidental in the slightest, given the involvement of Ted Philipakos, the man behind the disruptive rise of the Venetian club. Again, Bureau Borsche have been brought on board, and together with Kappa they are setting about exploring that intersection between football and fashion yet further.

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Monaco, who have benefitted from Kappa’s in-house design capabilities since 2019, when the pair commenced their partnership for a second time following the successful 1998-2001 period, have also reaped the rewards of the brand’s willingness to open their doors to external influence. During the 22/23 season, a special jersey and capsule collection was dropped in collaboration with French fashion label Drôle de Monsieur, further expanding the club’s appeal into the streetwear and fashion scene.

Another side that benefitted from a left-field collaboration back in 2022 were Bari, with Kappa linking up with Leonardo Colacicco's LC23 brand to great effect for what was a limited edition hit of pure pleasure.

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Back to France, and another niche team on Kappa’s current roster that blazes its own trail is Red Star FC. The Parisian outfit have a rich history in the game, and yet their rebellious and creative culture often sees them playing free of the confines of tradition. Last season, they recruited Dutch brand Lack of Guidance to assist in the design of their kits, while this season, in a perfect blend of tradition and advancement, the club and Kappa have worked with UVL studio, a creative studio that uses artificial intelligence, for their new home and away shirts. The AI was fed with images from the club's archives, team photos, photos of the stadium, images of each old shirt and more, and what was produced is the shirts that the club will wear for the 23/24 season. And Kappa did the rest.

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The beauty of the brand though is that while they’re only too willing to collaborate with outside agencies, they’re also more than capable of dropping some sublime designs all on their own. A quick look at some of their output across Europe for the 23/24 season is like looking at a best of list in itself: Fiorentina, AS Monaco, Bari, Genoa, Kaizer Chiefs, Metz, Spezia Calcio, Valladolid, SCU Torreense, FC Vizela, Aris Thessaloniki… these are easily some of the best kits around, existing like an exclusive club of absolute cool. To wear that Omini logo exists now as a badge of honour, marking out the quality of a design.

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Daniel Jones

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