After a 25-year hiatus, the 2019-20 football season sees Arsenal renew its relationship with adidas. To celebrate the occasion, the Three Stripes has gone all out, digging into its archive to revive what is arguably one of the most distinctive jersey designs ever.
The “bruised banana” is back.
At the vanguard of the early ’90s wave of experimental football shirts, Arsenal wore an away kit in their 1992-93 domestic cup double-winning season that deployed chevrons before Nigeria had ever played at a World Cup. Almost kaleidoscopic, the striking yellow and black shirt was referred to by Arsenal fans as the “bruised banana” because of how the two colors evoked the fruit. It has since gone down in club folklore and has been known to change hands on resell sites for upward of $500.
At the time, the “bruised banana” polarized fans. For some, it was all a bit too maximalist. Yet in 2019, it feels in vogue with the times, with standout football jerseys having transcended their performance wear status to become a lifestyle staple seen on the backs of celebrities and trendsetters. Think of that Nigeria World Cup kit from last year or the pink Juventus shirt worn by Drake. Young football fans want something bold, something loud — and it doesn’t get much bolder or louder than the OG “bruised banana.”
Ahead of the new, slightly more pared-back version’s release, we caught up with the adidas designers, James and Inigo, behind the “bruised banana” revival. Check out what they had to say below.
The “bruised banana” is arguably the most unusual kit design in Arsenal’s history. Was there ever any question that you wouldn’t bring it back for the club’s return to adidas?
Inigo: I think we would have been in trouble if we hadn’t brought some sort of reference to this jersey back for the first year! It’s 25 years since Arsenal played in adidas, and it’s arguably the most iconic shirt in the history of the club. Certainly, from an adidas point of view. In fact, it’s one of the most iconic shirts of all time in general, right? For us, it was clear we were going to reference that shirt and bring it back in some form or other.
We haven’t done it as a straight-up revival. We really wanted to give it a progressive look and give it a new identity of its own. So it was more about referencing the past but giving it a new lease of life.
These loud designs — I’m thinking of last year’s Nigeria World Cup kit — are they a new thing in football? Where do you think the appetite for them comes from?
Inigo: The trend for expressive and individual graphics is something you’re seeing across not only sportswear, but streetwear as well. Lots of brands and designers are trying to express themselves in as loud a way as possible.
I think we previously went through an era of more toned-down stuff, so as a designer, it’s great to be able to play with these very impactful and strong-looking designs. It’s not the first time it’s happened. The era these shirts reference is the late ’80s and early ’90s. Those shirts back then were so-called acid house shirts, which is another era that’s very popular to reference right now.
I think it’s a bit of a circle at the moment, and things come back around again. This is a time where that’s coming into play a lot more. It’s a great thing for us to play with. We want to make bold statements where we can.
There’s a difference between how far you can go with a club jersey and how far you can go with a national team jersey. For example, that Nigeria shirt, they don’t have to contend with sponsors’ logos. It’s just the federation crest, then the manufacturer’s logo. For us, we have the Arsenal shirt sponsors coming into play, and [European football governing body] UEFA are also tight on the visibility of [player] name and number. We have to contend with these regulations.
You mentioned acid house there. Was that what inspired the original design?
Inigo: I think that culture, at that time, was very loud and graphics-oriented, and sportswear also took a similar approach. We don’t know the original designer’s inspiration for these shirts because [the shirts are] so old. So for us, we need to dive into the archive and do our own research to find out where these things came from.
The Arsenal shirt, that graphic, we looked into some old catalogs and it existed under the name “Italia.” But the Arsenal version in black and yellow obviously looked like a bruised banana and therefore became known as such.
What you say about keeping the sponsor happy is interesting. I guess many people don’t consider that. Is there usually a bit of back and forth?
Inigo: The club would handle the conversation with the sponsor, but when we work with the club they will raise what the sponsor may perceive as an issue in terms of visibility. So to cut the time down a bit, if you go in really challenging on the visibility, you know you’re going to end up probably having to do a back and forth on the design. We try to use our experience and expertise to make sure we reduce the back and forth as much as possible. But yeah, definitely, conversations go on between the club, their partners, and us to make sure everybody is considered and looked after.
James: And equally we would try to push the boundaries where we can, so nothing becomes pale.
I’ve noticed how football shirts have really worked their way into your average streetwear kid’s wardrobe in recent years. Do you have more design freedom now that the fashion-conscious crowd will want to wear these shirts as well?
Inigo: For sure. Our design ethos, or our creative ethos, is what we’d call “stadium to the street.” We brought this in on how we approached products around 2016-17 and made a conscious decision to make sure the stuff we do is equally at home on the street as it is on the field of play. I think that’s more of a visual challenge for us to make sure that we marry those things together and that we’re making sure we are relevant and looking after wider consumer or supporter groups, because everybody has an interest in football shirts and we want to make sure across the three kits.
On the other hand, the technology which goes into these shirts is high-performance technology, so what you see on the field, the materialization, the cut of the shirt, those things are obviously always highly athlete-tested and go through the most stringent testing process we have. So, massively performance-driven, but the look of it and how the graphic comes to it and the storytelling which goes in and the little details, that’s where we marry those two things together and make sure it’s doing both those things.
What can you add about the technology that went into the shirt?
Inigo: You have the shirt that is worn by the player. That’s what we call the authentic jersey. And then the replica one, which looks one-to-one the same. So visually the two pieces look the same and that’s expected from the fans. But they have different purposes. Basically, the player jersey is cut differently. The material is a different material and it’s the most cooling material we have. It’s the fastest-drying material, it’s had brilliant athlete acceptance. It’s a really, really great material and really liked by players.
The 2019-20 Arsenal away shirt is available now at adidas.