“Football shirts give off a lot of signals,” Robby Smukler says. “They can indicate what you’re passionate about, where you’re from, and even your politics in some cases. That’s part of what makes them so special as a piece of clothing—there’s really so much that’s tied into a football shirt.”
It’s easy to agree with that sentiment. Combining place, philosophy, art, design, and, for some, religion and a sense of belonging, football shirts are the acceptable fashion piece that allow anyone to make a splash and stand out from the crowd. Whether worn at a match, at a festival, or for a quick trip to the coffee house, jerseys are the accessible statement piece anyone can pull off (or on) with ease.
You might also say that they’re a great way of telling your nosey Red neighbour that you’re a die-hard Blue in that silent “fuck you” kind of way.
Robby is the founder of Icarus Football, a custom kit design service making tailor-made shirts for everyone, from five-a-side teams to semi-pro outfits. Quintessentially one-of-a-kind, their jerseys offer one-off pieces that faithfully highlight the sui generis of each club.
Robby’s dream of being a creative started many years ago when he became fascinated with sketching football-themed creations at an early age. As a child growing up in Philadelphia, he would read up on cities and countries near and far before making jersey and crest designs to pass the time.
From the get-go, imagination and flair were key parts of his approach, and that has continued to this day, allowing him to realize all sorts of concepts for teams from a myriad of backgrounds. “We design shirts with fans of a club in mind rather than players. And fans are increasingly looking for creative designs to wear, whether that be for pick-up games in the park or music festivals.
“I think part of the appeal comes from the colours and designs used on football kits. They’re often a lot more creative and out-there than traditional men’s clothing, so football shirts offer something different. They’re also comfortable, so they fit in with the growing trend towards athleisure,” Robby explains.
Indeed, football jerseys are very in today; whether it’s the new releases by the top clubs or the retro classic continually making a comeback, there is a lot of demand for eye-catching sportswear.
Icarus Football’s jerseys appeal to a wide audience because they are steeped in personality, unique designs, and more. As Robby explains, the shirts they make are inspired by each club’s “history, iconography, imagery, fan culture, location”, offering an antidote to the bland factory-manufactured shirts that clubs and fans are often forced to buy.
Robby and his team offer distinctive, eye-catching shirts that clubs can wear with pride when they take to the field. Fans, too, can appreciate the carnival of colour that defines many of their creations, the tailored detail of the pieces, and the thoughtful artistry, too.
“For us, a design that references a team’s culture and history makes a shirt special. But for it to be totally iconic–it needs to be worn in an interesting context.
“The Holland ’88 and Germany ’90 jerseys are two of the most iconic designs of all time, and deservedly so. They’re amazing designs. But if they weren’t worn by those trophy-winning teams and wrapped up in those historic moments, I don’t think they would be considered as legendary as they are.
“The moments in which shirts are worn and the players that wear them both contribute to the status of a shirt. That also speaks a little bit as to why retro shirts have become so popular.
“Legendary players from the 80s/90s seem cooler, perhaps because a lot of young people didn’t get to watch them play during their careers. Only getting to watch legends like [Gheorge] Hagi, [Marco] Van Basten, [Johan] Cruyff, [Michael] Laudrup, [Roberto] Baggio …through limited YouTube videos and highlight reels makes them appear all the more legendary. And that rubs off a bit on the status of the shirts that they wore.”
Robbie’s thoughts confirm the notion that retro jerseys have long been on the comeback trail.
Instagram is full of posts with throwbacks to iconic shirts of old – and to football’s traditions and magical teams. Boca Juniors, Fiorentina, Liverpool, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and more are just some of the clubs that feature heavily in posts dripping with charm, style, and those-were-the-days vibes.
After all, what football fan can scroll past a post of Diego Maradona in the pomp of his career wearing that special Mars-sponsored Napoli shirt without leaving an emphatic ‘like’?
Nostalgia is a big art of the apparent resurgence in popularity of retro replicas, but kit designer Robbie also believes retro shirts are popular because of something else, too “Retro shirts are baggier and made from materials that are almost closer to modern-day sweatshirts than football shirts. That plays well when it comes to fashion.”
Indeed, Icarus Football’s line of historical concept jerseys speaks to how sought-after retro-style kits are. “We really love working on our historical jersey range. We love history, and these jerseys are playful attempts at football shirts for bygone civilizations (e.g., Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, The Republic of Venice, The Mongol Empire). There’s so much content to use as inspiration for these designs.”
New Amsterdam FC and Louisiana Krewe are two clubs Icarus FC have worked with in recent times, and they have also worked with clubs in the Ghana Premier League, among so many others. For several years, they have provided a nonconformist approach to fashioning beautiful jerseys shining with distinction. So, what about the future – what teams would Robby and his crew like to work with?
“At a top, top level, it would have to be a national team that’s open to something creative and experimental. National sides have so much imagery, history, and iconography that can be used for the purposes of a personal design. As a geography nerd, I’m extremely interested in working with national sides off the beaten path.
“I’d get just as much joy out of creating a design for Belize as for Brazil. Same thing goes for clubs. Give me TP Mazembe in the Congo, FC Noah in Armenia, and FC Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia (just to name a few) and I’d be a happy man.”
By Trevor Murray @TrevorM90