With an astoundingly vast and vibrant portfolio that strides confidently through the various worlds of football — domestic, international and street — and with a clients list that features Nike, Esquire, Mr Porter and Soccerbible to name but a few, London-based illustrator and designer Angelo Trofa is considered by many to be the present day Godfather of conceptual kit design.
Whether collaborating with contemporary brands such as COPA to provide a fresh take on the official national team jersey of Tibet, concocting commissioned kit designs for EA Sports for use in their juggernaut video game series FIFA, or fashioning creative illustrations inspired by drawings he made as a kid; updating and dragging into the modern professional world concepts originally crafted at the hands of a fearless, rule-averse child, Angelo is fast becoming the go-to-guy for bespoke kit design.
Angelo spoke to These Football Times to explain where exactly his enduring love affair with football kits all began, to detail the small differences that can make a good kit great or, worse, a bad kit terrible, and talk about what gives him the greatest kick out of his line of work.
What inspired your love of football kits and do you remember when you first realised that, more than just being able to accurately copy existing designs, you were good at making your own? I recall seeing a number of fantastic illustrations that had involved you taking designs originally conceived during your childhood and remaking them in the modern day. Do you remember the first kit you ever owned? The first kit you ever drew? The first kit you made up on your own?
“I got into football relatively late compared to my peers, which sounds ridiculous when you consider that I was nine. But it was the 1998 World Cup that got me hooked. Before that I was a completely superhero obsessed kid – Batman, Superman, Thunderbirds and Thundercats is what I was mad for. Looking back I remember redrawing all of these characters. You can see from my childhood drawings that I would spend time redrawing their outfits and details, I guess the attention to detail was always there. I was always drawing.
“After the World Cup, I took that passion into football, redrawing players, redesigning their crests and kits and even inventing my own. Coming from an Italian family in England, the first jersey I owned was the Italy shirt from that World Cup. I don’t think I took it off for months, I’d lay it down on my bed and study all of its details. There are so many drawings of kits and players I did. I also recently found a disk full of MS Paint designs, where I was applying my kits onto the clipart footballer illustration that came standard with Microsoft Word.”
Across the span of your portfolio of football strip concepts you’ve slalomed in and out of creating new and old looking kits, kits for international and domestic teams, as well as sampling designs that range from suave and minimalist to garish and hyper-commercialised. What are your personal favourite kits to design and what would you say are the three things that make a good kit stand out? What is the favourite of all the kits you’ve designed?
“The thing that I always look for in design is a story. Often you find that research can throw up some weird and wonderful narratives from the most unlikely of places. I guess this is what helps in creating a range of different styles of design that go from the crazy to minimal. I’m not sure I have a favourite design to work on but I do get excited when I think I’ve found a gem for a story, which could come from anything from fashion, a nation’s tradition, the story behind a flag, or the pattern on a local pack of playing cards.
“The three things I always look for would probably be a great use of logos that harmonises with the kit — there’s nothing worse than a sponsor that looks like it has been stuck on as an afterthought — a considered design which fits into the tradition of the team, and a good collar. I always think collars are what can make or break the kit. In a way I look at it in the same way I’d look at a frame for a painting; it can really ruin something beautiful.
“My favourite design is probably a two-way tussle between the Greece concept and the Italy national kit designed by Missoni. Both kind of simple but heavy on the storytelling.”
In addition to your eclectic work, since 2011 you have also been providing something of a service to the football world by producing and self-publishing a series of magazines which, you wrote, “initially started to showcase my own concept strips, patterns, graphics and typography” but has grown to “celebrate the design culture around the football kit and what it means to fans.” What exactly is there to be found in these magazines and can we expect another to be released any time soon?
“Initially it was a way of trying to get my work out there, almost as an alternative portfolio to show off what I felt I had to offer. I’d always been into magazines and manuals and loved the idea of having my own, it felt totally natural to compile all of my designs together in a zine.
“I guess the main thing you can find in there is my ideas on kits and a breakdown of stories and patterns. So much work goes into kit design and a magazine is a great way to tell the story behind each one. A lot of kits released by the big brands often face backlashes because I feel the storytelling isn’t done too well. I’m sure if brands showed how much research and love goes into the designs, fans would be more receptive to different takes on their team’s kit.
“There is a new one in the works. The last issue was had more editorial content documenting others designers’ works, and also interviews with a range of fans and what they love about kits. The new issue with follow the same route, but the idea is to aim it to the women’s game.”
As well as collaborating with numerous brands and teams, you’ve also had a dream of yours realised in being responsible for designing the kits for the classic team belonging to EA’s FIFA series. If you could have a kit of yours worn by one player, or chosen to adorn one particular team, from history, who would it be and why?
“Well, I would have said Diego Maradona but FIFA have gone and made that happen already, and in his peak Napoli years too! Growing up my favourite player was Christian Vieri so it would probably be the best feeling to see him in one of my designs, even if he has blocked me on Instagram.”
Wow. That makes the final question a very easy one: why on Earth did Christian Vieri block you on Instagram?
“The Vieri thing is ridiculous, I posted an image of him from when he joined Inter, it depicts him as an auction piece with his fee displayed as the auction price. At the time he was the most expensive player ever, prompting the Pope to release a statement which described the transfer as “an offence to the poor.” I posted the image with the Pope’s quote as the caption and shortly after I was blocked!”
By Will Sharp @shillwarp
Thanks to Angelo Trofa for speaking to These Football Times as part of The Gallery. If you’re an artist for whom football remains the ultimate muse, and you’d like to feature in The Gallery, please email us with examples of your work.