Two silly seasons arrive each June: the European transfer window opens, and teams start rolling out their new kits – the obligatory updates that tempt fans to drop eighty bucks on a new token of their fandom. And just as there are fans that hit the search engines each day ready to consume any transfer rumor that’s published, there are apparel-philes who, even if they’re not buying most of these shirts, love to see the little innovations each manufacturer blends into their clients’ schemes.
But those innovations are double-edged swords, particularly if you’ve signed on to a new manufacturer that’s trying to make their mark on the landscape. When the sides of that sword are exemplified by rivals like Liverpool and Manchester United, the contrast becomes even more pronounced.
Over the last two days, the two English Premier League rivals have revealed new kits, Liverpool’s apparel manufacturer Warrior responsible for their 2013-14 away kits (as well as their other kits) while Nike and Manchester United have unveiled their upcoming seasons’ home shirts.
The Reds’ version has been much-maligned, mostly for the pattern across the kits’ midsection:
Last summer, Liverpool’s contract with adidas ended, the German manufacturer electing not to pursue a renewal of the deal. The decision worked out great for Liverpool, who went on to sign a $38 million/year deal with Warrior Sports, a New Balance subsidiary. At the time, the contract was the most lucrative deal in Premier League history, worth $2 million more per season than Manchester United’s deal.
But with the move, Liverpool embraced a manufacturer that was relatively new to these heights of the soccer apparel game. With that came new ideas, some of which have been warmly received. The 2013-14 away kits, however, have been unveiled to negative feedback.
In fairness, Liverpool and Warrior don’t see the pattern as particularly revolutionary; rather, they see the twist as a “retro.” From the team’s website:
The new strip produced by Warrior represents modern retro and is inspired by the patterns and graphics featured on the club’s kits from the 1980s and 1990s.
Fair enough, but let’s contrast that with their rival’s kits, unveiled today by Manchester United and Nike:
So the fog is a big much, but people are focusing on other things. With a black collar that’s designed to evoke the era of Eric Cantona, Nike’s incorporated a small, revered piece of recent history into United’s 2013-14 home kits. From the club’s site:
The kit features the return of the black collar, a popular and evocative symbol ever since Eric Cantona wore it upturned in the 1990s. This season’s tailored, button-down collar boasts three buttons at the front and one at the back, a modern twist that’s also intrinsically Mancunian.
Though the kit’s been generally well-received, all’s not nostalgia and regality. Once those collars are popped, you get an out-facing vertical stripped design with faint horizontal accents – one which is better hidden under the basic black. It’s a twist the ruins the idea of United playing tribute to Cantona, with the potential of eleven of popped-collared Red Devils running around with their plaid accents creating a sense of foreboding.
What kind of nightmare will we see at next year’s North West Derby at Old Trafford? You’ll have Liverpool’s flame-embossed catastrophes contrasted with United’s Ralph Lauren rejects.
Don’t take these words too seriously, though. They’re just kits, and for every person who uses “catastrophes” and “rejects” to describe the new looks, there are bound to be some who see the changes as creative and innovative. Ultimately, people will vote with their wallets.
But the changes still tell a tale of the state of the apparel wars, both in terms of products and clients. Warrior paid huge money to become Liverpool’s manufacturer but when the Reds signed on, they implicitly accepted a compant that may not have had as much reverence for traditional soccer fashion, a design preference that could go either way.
With Nike, Manchester United has a player with an incentive to revere traditional approaches. So when they deviate from what’s expected, the changes are likely to be subtle, potentially hidden by a collar that should never be popped.