CCTV. Big Brother. Russian constructivist beings. They all made it onto football kit designer Angelo Trofa’s mood board for a kit honoring football’s most controversial new addition: the video assistant referee.
For the casual footy fans not dialed in on the sport’s drama, VAR is an official sitting in a room reviewing decisions made by the head referee with the help of video footage of the game from all angles. It’s no wonder a dystopian slant seeped into Trofa’s brainwaves before he scrapped them for something a bit less paranoid.
Looking at the jersey now as it enters into production, it’s hard to imagine what it would’ve looked like had he gone down that route because the end result is everything but dystopian. Slathered in the pink hue of Klarna — the Swedish “buy now, pay later” digital payment provider — Trofa’s latest kit is a worthy addition to the expansive design portfolio he’s amassed since producing the five-volume ‘Football Strip Concept’ publication that launched his career in football fashion. And, for the British-Italian graphic designer whose somewhat confusingly been called the “present-day Godfather” of conceptual kit design despite his youthful age, the brief posed by Klarna was a welcome challenge after years of perfecting his skill for storytelling through sportswear. It is, after all, no easy feat to translate both Klarna's position as the VAR of online shopping and the act of pausing and rewinding football footage in a booth into a beautiful kit worth wearing on and off the pitch.
Drawing on camera lenses and the VHS tape buttons we mashed through our childhood, his vision for the VAR x Klarna jersey is a throwback to the glory days of the loud, geometric print-heavy kits that dominated football stadiums throughout the 1990s. As the Klarna x VAR kit drops, we caught up with Trofa to talk about his “godfather” status, creating his first kits on Microsoft Paint, and how he turned South American crests and VHS tapes into a must-have kit design.
You've been called "the godfather of conceptual kit design" before. What do you think of that?
Angelo Trofa: It's become a bit of a running joke amongst my friends. I can't remember who it was that wrote that [but it’s] not something that I go around calling myself. Some people would get offended by it, but I find it quite funny.
It's a nice compliment. Maybe it just means that, despite being so young, you've tapped into something that really resonates with people who like football kits.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I've been publishing concept kits through Blogger and Twitter and Instagram [for 10 years]. There's just quite a lot of people doing it now, but this niche football kit community has really blown up in the last few years.
How did you create your first kit design?
The very first... I started doing it on Microsoft Paint as a kid.
Yeah, there used to be those clip art sports players, so I started drawing in the kit, but it all started as a kid. I was obsessed with comic books and superheroes and I always used to redesign their kits and their costumes. I got into sports quite late; I was more into the superhero stuff until I started looking at [athletes] as the real-life equivalent of superheroes.
I can't remember the very first design, but I like coming at it from a different angle. There was a Scottish team called Heart and I thought, how funny would it be if you literally give them a football kit that's covered in love hearts? It’d be quite funny to see a burly Scottish guy covered in hearts.
For the Klarna football kit, where did South American design come in?
For the crest. It was quite a tricky brief at first. We went through many iterations. It made sense for the monogram to take the shape of the camera lens. In the full-color logo, it has the monogram [and] white accents, which are meant to be the reflection of the camera lens that sits behind it. South American crests, if you look through them, get the monograms right so much more than any other continent.
I know you didn't want to do hands because it would look like an airline instruction guide, but how did you land on the VHS player as your inspiration?
Oh, that was trying to figure out how to represent VAR and almost breaking it down step by step. There's a real motion to [VAR]. When they show it on TV, it goes backward and forwards; fast forward and then rewinds, pauses, stops and slows down. I was trying to picture what the console in the VAR room would be like. The reality is it's probably just a screen with a scroll bar that everyone's touching — like an iPad.
What would it have been like if it were in the 60s? Someone putting a video cassette in and pressing these big chunky buttons. Visually, it's symbols. It's something that everybody recognizes. It's universal. It was trying to find the visual language that taps into what it's about without being so obvious.
Did you look at other kit designs in the 90s for inspiration?
There were all sorts. Originally, the concepts were all-out 90s. It was all the idea of the VHS buttons; I 3D’d them and made them colorful. The brief was to create something that was quite eye-catching, and the 90s kids did that better than any other. There was the famous Mexican goalkeeper, Jorge Campos. Fiorentina had this iconic 7-Up jersey [in the 1992/1993 season] that got banned because people realized that there were swastikas embedded in the design.
Yeah. Looking at the 90s kit designs as a whole, football did the crazy patterns more than any other sport. It's creeping back in; now that the kids have grown up and want to see something like that.
You've probably seen more kit designs than any other person.
[Laughs] Possibly. I spend way too much time looking at them. I'd say I probably spend half my day looking at kits.
Looking at all of these different kits, what's one of the biggest changes you've seen in terms of design?
It’s becoming a lot tighter. I think the Kappa “Kombat” kit in 2000 was the biggest shock because every kit until then was baggy. Then, all of a sudden, the Italian national team rock up in 2000 with skin-tight jerseys. The make definitely didn't flatter the fans; you'd have these rotund, big-bellied fans in the stands wearing Lycra jerseys.
I had never heard of the video assistant referee. I was curious how you feel about it? For me, coming from the U.S., we have the same concept as American football and we've had it for a while.
Yeah, definitely. To be fair, I'm quite a big fan of it. I follow Italian football quite closely and they've had it for two years. There was fear that it would take away some of the excitement or joy, but it's actually added a new dimension. You have these situations now where a team is running off celebrating, thinking they've scored the winner in the last minute. Then it gets chalked off because there was either a foul in the build-up or an offside. Then all of a sudden you get a situation where the other team starts celebrating instead.
Like you were saying, it feels like every other sport has it. We've got to a point where everyone in the world can see a mistake has been made, but the one person who is making the decisions on the pitch doesn't know that. It’s about time. I'm all for it.
The philosophy of it is: “Minimal interference, maximum benefit.” What's your philosophy behind designing kits? Does it change with every one?
I guess so. I always try to find the narrative and then build the design to fit within that. The ambition is to always design something that looks and feels timeless. Also, something that taps into the tribal nature of the sport. Something that's unique and bespoke to one team and reflects them; when the fans put it on, they feel like they're part of the wider team and they're together.
Besides biking and football kits, what’s a dream project you’d love to do?
Designing the Batman suit. Working in the film industry on a costume would be the dream project.