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Umbro 100

Sportwear x Fashion

Umbro 100

Over the last century, sportswear has evolved from its functional, athletic, and sporting roots to become the daily uniform for billions of people around the world.  Founded in 1924, the British company Umbro has been central to this revolution.

Today collaborations between sportswear companies and fashion brands are the norm, but Umbro’s collaboration with Paul Smith in 2002 was the first to include a whole range of garments, including jackets, sweatshirts, polo shirts, t-shirts, as well as luggage, and leather accessories. It marked the beginning of this trend. Since then, Umbro has collaborated with over 60 different designers and brands.

Umbro 100 investigates how this relationship has evolved and its significance for both sportswear and fashion, using over 120 examples drawn exclusively from the Westminster Menswear Archive.

Designers featured in the exhibition include Kim Jones, Aitor Throup, Aries, Palace, Paul Smith, Vetements, Supreme, ALMOSTBLACK, Bikkembergs, Eliminator, Philip Treacy, Slam Jam, Factory Records, FORESOMEONE, Peter Saville, Patta, Off-White, John Smedley, Nigel Cabourn, Christopher Raeburn, Rowing Blazers, NOWHERE FC, Gio Goi, Hanon, House of Holland, KANGHYUK, New Order, Numerals, Sweet Sktbs, R. Newbold, Pretty Green, and N.HOOLYWOOD.

Curated by Prof Andrew Groves and Dr Danielle Sprecher 

Umbro 100: Sportswear x Fashion
12 April  – 28 April 2024
Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS

Free admission. Open 11am-7pm every day.

Manchester

Manchester.jpg

Umbro has consistently intertwined textiles, sport, and style—three things synonymous with Manchester—in order to build and evolve their business.
 

Manchester was the world’s first industrial city. The city’s rapid growth was underpinned by colonisation and slavery which fuelled the global cotton economy and the industrial revolution. Dubbed ‘Cottonopolis’, in the 1850s Greater Manchester manufactured forty percent of the world’s cotton textiles output. The industrial city also played a crucial role in the development of modern sports, bringing together large urban populations. By 1890, the majority of workers had gained a half-day on Saturday afternoons, allowing them to engage in sports as both participants and supporters. Manchester City FC’s Maine Road stadium opened in 1923. It held approximately 85,000 spectators, making it England’s second-largest stadium after Wembley Stadium (then known as the Empire Stadium), in London, which opened the same year.


By the 1970s, the collapse of the British textile industry and a global recession had forced the beginnings of Manchester’s transition to a post-industrial city. Music was a key response, with Factory Records and The Haçienda nightclub repurposing the language and iconography of Manchester’s industrial past to forge a new cultural
identity for the city.

England

Umbro 100 England

Umbro were the official kit supplier for the England football team for the majority of the period between 1954 and 2012, giving the brand a significant role in definitions of England’s national identity.


Football’s position within English culture has sometimes made the England shirt a contentious garment. Umbro sought to reinterpret its meaning through designer collaborations that used various elements of the shirt’s design to construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the shirt and, by extension, our notions of Englishness.


The Tudor rose, which appears on the England crest, was originally used by Henry VII in 1486 to symbolically unite the Houses of Lancaster and York following the Wars of the Roses. It was reimagined by Kim Jones as an all-over print motif for his 2006 World Cup collection for Umbro.


Christopher Raeburn deconstructed and reassembled a series of England shirts manufactured by Umbro between 1996 and 2010 creating a fabric print that was used across a variety of garments.


Peter Saville’s ‘New Fabric of England’ shirt design was intended to symbolise the country’s diverse cultural makeup by incorporating a pattern of St. George’s crosses in four colours: the red, blue, and green taken from England’s crest, along with a purple that combined all three colours.

Replica

Umbro 100 Replica

One of fashion’s narratives is the celebration of individuality. In contrast, sportswear is built on uniformity, both on and off the pitch. The millions of replica sports shirts worn by devoted supporters every weekend is testament to this, embodying emotional identification with their team and one another.


Sportswear is one of the most strictly regulated forms of dress, with rules evolving alongside the rise of organised sport. For example, the 2021 FIFA equipment regulations span over 128 pages covering construction, uniformity, branding, emblems, logos, names, numbers, and colour.


Colour is central to sportswear’s identity and codification, with distinctive tones and combinations designed to differentiate competitors and aid spectators. From 1891, English football clubs were required to register their team colours in order to avoid clashes because many teams wore the same style of strip.


Additional iconography such as badges and crests, team numbers, sponsorship or player names are newer additions to many types of sportswear. Variations to team numbering in rugby union continued until the late twentieth century while it wasn’t until 1994 that the English Premier League decided that players’ shirts should also include their names as well as their squad numbers.

Tailored

Umbro 100 - Tailored

Tailoring has been central to Umbro’s approach to producing sportswear since the 1920s, ensuring that their garments were fit for purpose and to give athletes a competitive advantage.


In 1958, they innovated by partnering with Manchester United manager, Matt Busby, to produce new ‘Continental’ style football kits under the label ‘Styled by Matt Busby for Umbro’. This echoed similar developments in men’s tailoring and fashion of the time.


Their concept of tailored fit for sportswear was exemplified by the kit they supplied to the England football team when they won the 1966 FIFA World Cup – each shirt was labelled ‘Tailored By UMBRO in England’.


Designer Aitor Throup applied the tailored approach to his collection for Umbro in 2011. Seven iconic Umbro garments from the 1950s to the 1980s were reinterpreted for his Archive Research Project. To replicate the movement of players, Throup created a series of life-size wire sculptures of the human body in anatomical positions, which were then used to inform the cut and construction lines of each garment.


The focus on cut and functionality replicated the thought, care, and precision that a Savile Row tailor puts into making a bespoke suit. The final garments were made in Italy and combined a traditional tailored approach with modern construction methods, resulting in an ergonomically-focused approach to technical sportswear.

DIamond

Umbro 100 - Diamond

Since at least 1934, Umbro’s iconic diamond logo has been a part of their brand identity. For Umbro, the diamond has represented qualities of perfection and indestructibility for the sportswear they produced.


However, until the 1970s the diamond was primarily only used on labels inside the garment. This was the result of convention as well as sporting regulations, which in many codes prohibited the visible branding of a player’s kit.
The increasing commercialisation of sport gave sportswear companies new branding opportunities and Umbro responded in the early 1970s with a simplified version of their logo. A new diamond logo removed the company name and by the mid-1970s the double diamond had become Umbro’s brand identity.


For Kim Jones’s first collection with Umbro in 2005 the diamond became a small discrete motif, referencing the patterns found on the back of playing cards. While for other designers, such as Virgil Abloh at OFF-WHITE and Demna Gvasalia at Vetements, it was reproduced as an oversized logo emblazoned across garments for their runway shows or limited edition drops.


The collab model and the emphasis on the juxtaposition of logos in contemporary sportswear and fashion makes a strong brand identity ever more significant. The uniqueness of Umbro’s diamond iconography has been subject to both subtle referencing and outright unauthorised use, as other brands attempt to capitalise on the authenticity of the double diamond in sportswear.

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