On Monday I mentioned that I didn’t think it was right to start the week out by writing about Brunello Cucinelli’s soccer team, but as the week wore on I figured why not round the week out by giving some love to A.S. Castel Rigone. Founded in 1998 and located in the central Italian town where he was born, Cucinelli only owns the team, but plays with them several times a week. The team and Cucinelli’s life long love of the game are a key part of the now famous philosophy that Cucinelli has used to guide his brand since it’s inception. Tucked away in the middle of Italy, Cucinelli has gained notoriety not only for his world class cashmere, but also for his ability to run an incredibly successful business free from almost all conventional industry practices. Cucinelli attributes his success to a belief system that advocates for enjoying life over everything else. By balancing hard work with down time Cucinelli and his employees have thrived in both work and life for decades. Which is where A.S. Castel Rigone comes in, a team that Cucinelli and his staff not only watch, but take part in as well. Not to mention the fact that the team’s off the field outfits are Cucinelli suits, making them easily one of the best dressed soccer teams in the world. I mean there’s a damn good reason why they all so happy in that team portrait.
It’s hard to argue with the purity of soccer. Two halves, ninety plus minutes, rabid fans, no pads, twenty two players. There’s something about that stripped-down nature of the game that puts the emphasis on what’s in front of you. There’s no frills, it’s just two teams and the moment. Yet the game wasn’t always this clear cut or streamlined.
Although soccer wasn’t always this orderly, initially it was just groups of friends that came together to play the emerging game. During this period clubs didn’t have set uniforms which lead to mass confusion on all sides of the ball. These players would wear either cricket shirts if they had them, or just throw on whatever they could piece together, and were separated into teams by small items such as hats or scarves. As soccer went professional in England during the early 1870′s both spectators and the press called for some uniformity in the sport (sorry I had to.) As soccer was largely an upper class sport, early jersey colors were mainly based on school or club colors. For players that weren’t lucky enough to be on wealthy squads, they were left wearing plain white shirts, as the expense fell upon the team itself, not the individual players.
This worked for a while, but it couldn’t keep up with the sport’s expansion, and pretty soon soccer outgrew this simplistic uniform system. Around the start of the twentieth century clubs were becoming more legitimate, and their uniforms followed suit. Low quality soccer shirts were replaced with tough, slimmed down jerseys, and clubs began sporting full matching unifoms. The details of the shirt were still largely up to the club itself, with many teams opting for laced crew necks (think Michael Bastian’s rugby shirt without the collar) and various stripes to make the players more noticeable.
Professional soccer was shelved at the start of World War One, and when it returned after the war, the laced neck was gone, replaced by a straight collar with a v-neck. Over the next several years teams continued to tweak colors and patterns to set their players apart. In 1939, this ingenuity reached a new level as British teams began putting numbers on the back of their jerseys for the first time. Unfortunately, just as this move was being made, World War Two began and it was over half a decade before numbered jerseys actually became prevalent on the field. After the Second World War, the numbers and details that had become an integral part of British jerseys spread throughout Europe, allowing teams to create jerseys that represented their respective regions.
Around the mid twenty first century teams began experimenting with new materials, shifting away from cumbersome cottons to lighter synthetics that allowed for greater movement. Long sleeve shirts were replaced by short sleeves, the v-neck was switched out for a crewneck, and the modern jersey shape was finalized. During the next few decades, more technical materials were introduced, and sponsors began slapping their logos across the jerseys. The jerseys of today are loud and in your face, covered in brash colors, big logos, and unmistakeable patterns. While on the field jerseys shift further into becoming intense statement pieces for the players, the influence of more the traditional soccer jersey can still be seen in menswear today. The long sleeved, striped cotton shirt can still be seen in many collections today, harkening back to the early English clubs and their primitive unis.
With the Euro Cup in full swing this week, I figured that it was only right to focus on the world’s game this week. And while I could have written about this years uniforms, or the best dressed players, or even Cucinelli’s own soccer team, I thought that I should start with arguably the most important of all soccer related brands: Adidas. When I started reading about the brand I anticipated I would find a straightforward story about a brand who’s best designs are also it’s oldest, but what I actually discovered was a complex story about two brothers, Nazi Germany, and not one, but two of the world’s most well-known sportswear companies.
The Adidas group website lists the brand’s founding date as August 18, 1949, yet the real story actually begins over two decades earlier. In 1924 brothers Rudolph (Rudi) and Adolf (Adi) Dassler were living in the small Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach. Their father worked in a shoe factory, their mother worked a laundress, and the two brothers had just returned from World War One. It was within these humble beginnings, that the younger brother Adi started making shoes in the backroom of his mother’s wash house. Adi was soon joined by Rudi and the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory was born.
The Dassler Brothers’ hand-sewn shoes were unlike any other athletic shoe on the market, and they quickly became an integral part of the European sports world. Just four years after the company was starter their shoes could be seen on the feet of athletes in Amsterdam during the 1928 Olympics, furthering the Dassler’s success. But their big break came in 1936 when the two brothers drove from Bavaria to Berlin to give Jesse Owens a pair of their shoes. That year Owens won four gold medals while wearing the Dassler’s shoes and the company was propelled into the national spotlight.
Yet life in Germany was changing fast. The Nazi party was rising to power and naturally the Dassler’s company, as a successful German brand became a part of the party’s propaganda machine. Both Dassler brothers became members of the Nazi party (a fact that the Adidas and Puma websites clearly avoid) and their company began to change shape in the face of the impending World War. Around this time the brothers, who had already been suffering through a strong bout of sibling rivalry, began to bitterly turn on each other. Stories about the brothers range from simple snide comments all the way up to Rudi claiming that Adi reported him to the Allies as a Nazi, but one thing’s for sure, by the mid nineteen forties their relationship had soured entirely.
In 1947, Rudi had had enough, leaving the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory to form his own brand, dubbed Ruda, a combination of Rudolph and Dassler, which was soon changed to be Puma, a name that sounded a bit more welcoming. Which brings us up to August 18, 1949, the official start date for Adidas (which is as you have probably guessed a joining of Adolf and Dassler.) After the companies split, Adi developed Adidas’ signature three stripe logo. The stripes would guide the brand over the next few decades as Puma and Adidas competed fiercely for publicity. Both companies would alternate outfitting teams and players with their shoes in attempts to win over the marketplace. One year the German national team would wear Adidas, the next year they would wear Puma. One race a runner would be wearing Puma, and just a few months later he would be running in Adidas.
In the end, it wasn’t so much that Adi won, but more so that Rudi lost. In the months leading up to the 1954 World Cup, Rudi got into an argument with the German coach, and as a result the German Team was sponsored by Adidas not Puma. Germany went on to win that World Cup as every player wore black Adidas with the unmistakable three stripes running down the side. From then on Adi and his shoes were unavoidable, as the brand not only became one of the leading athletic shoe companies in the world, but also crossed over into everyday wear as more and more people began wearing sneakers.
Today, both Adidas and Puma are still based in Herzogenaurach, although they are now publicly own companies. Like a lot of major shoe brands, both company’s recent designs leave much to be desired in my opinion. While their modern shoes are often over-designed and clunky (case in point the down right horrendous Adidas and Jeremy Scott collaboration) their classic, simpler designs still prevail as some of the world’s all-time greatest sneakers. Shoes such as the Adidas Samba and the Puma Whirlwind have that clean and functional look that harkens back to the attitude that Adi and Rudi first had way back in the twenties when all they were trying to do was create a better sneaker.