Last week, thanks to a leak from what seemed to be a credible source, we were treated to a grainy preview of what looked to be a forthcoming adidas x Gucci collaboration. More than this, though, it was a design for the thirty-four-time LaLiga winners Real Madrid – a heady mixture of not just high fashion and streetwear, but with football thrown into the mix for good measure.
Since then, much to the disappointment of fans of the brands and team alike, the Italian house has stepped in to let us know that the widely-reported and much-hyped news was, in fact, not news at all. “Despite speculations,” the Alessandro Michel-helmed brand responded to one outlet, “Gucci clarifies that the House is not involved in the project to create a new collection for Real Madrid football club.” That’s about as clear as it gets, really.
But the most interesting thing isn’t whether or not the rumours were true, but how they were received. The news generated a genuine buzz – a palpable sense of excitement. Where we have seen streetwear and high fashion begin to fuse more and more over the last decade or so, to the point where often the two are close to indistinct, why shouldn’t bonafide sportswear be a part of that deepening alliance?
And that doesn’t just apply to football, either. While Gucci x Real Madrid may still just be something of a dream, other collaborations are very much a reality.
Telfar Clemens of the eponymous and mononymous Telfar brand – best known for creating highly in-demand bags that exist on a sliding scale from tiny to just-about-workable – has created the official Olympic uniforms for Liberia. Not only that, but he’s done so to pretty much universal critical acclaim. And it’s easy to see why: what we have is one of the most aesthetically innovative sporting uniforms in recent memory – sleeker than Issey Miyake’s surprise turn for Lithuania in 1992, but, in many ways, just as disruptive to the conventions of elite sportswear design.
As a Liberian-American, Clemens’ connection here goes deeper than just a few jerseys. There is a level of synergy and of reverence in what we’ve seen of these uniforms that can’t simply be bought. Having designed around 70 pieces for the Liberian team, Telfar is not only the country’s official designer but also their sponsor with the brand paying for all five athletes, as well as support staff to attend the games. Their biggest external investment to-date.
Telfar, however, isn’t alone.
Istanbul-based brand Les Benjamins revealed last week that it would be outfitting Turkey’s Olympic team in partnership with Nike and the country’s Youth and Sports Ministry. It’s not quite the same level of involvement as the Telfar-Liberia partnership, but it is part of a clear trend that elsewhere finds the high-end Belgian tailor Scabal dressing Belgium’s national team for the games’ auspicious, non-sporting set of events.
Last week also saw Tiffany & Co. – the New York-based luxury jeweller and specialty retailer – use their Tokyo pop-up to offer up a capsule collection of blue-hued skateboards, basketballs, footballs and rugby balls. A drop in celebration of a 160-year heritage in the sports trophy game, but which also acknowledges the grass roots of what that means: a nod to the fact that, without the sports or the athletes who play them, there would be no trophies. Albeit one that comes with a minimum $380 USD price tag.
These kinds of partnerships feel emblematic of a possible shift in the fashion industry’s ingrained perceptions about sport and sportswear. Rather than continuing to simply outfit the highest profile and highest earning athletes, this feels more like a wide-ranging decision to see sport for what it is: as an elite-level practice, deserving of respect, on the same level as fashion itself. Another kind of artistry.
That the adidas x Gucci x Real Madrid collection seemed like it could so easily be possible – regardless of whether or not it’s actually happening – is a clear marker of changing tides. A shift in perceptions and in preconceptions of who sport – and football in particular – is for and who fashion is for, that feel like part of a broader push toward a less exclusionary industry.
And one that’s long overdue.
To that end, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if, after the buzz, this collection did end up coming through after all. And, if not this one, then another very similar: we’ve already had adidas x 424 x Arsenal – and there’s word of an Off-White x Liverpool collaboration in the works – so why not Louis Vuitton for Paris Saint-Germain, Burberry for England, Fendi for A.S. Roma?
None of those seem unreasonable in 2021.