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Fashion Archive: Kappa

Rehabilitating and reassessing the quintessential casual 90s sports brand

Taken from the May issue of Dazed & Confused:

Despite having one of the most loaded and all-too-easily derided logos in the fashion world, Kappa is happily enjoying a revival. Founded as a sock and underwear firm in Turin in 1916, it became Kappa in 1967, and first appeared on UK shores during the early 80s. “Liverpool football fans would bring back French and Italian luxury sportswear brands like trophies from their European Cup away legs,” explains Jason Fairclough, the brand’s marketing director. “Kappa was a firm favourite of the 80s football ‘casual’.”

Kappa became a household name by embracing Europe’s football culture, kitting out the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Barcelona, Roma, the Italian national side and even the 1984 US Olympic team. Hip hop heads adopted Kappa too, as Italy’s economic boom catalysed a new appreciation by youth for labels and designer wear. Urban tribes emerged, identified by allegiances to styles and brands of clothing. Kappa was one of the biggest.

Skip forward to the 90s and highstreet kids were rocking Kappa while indie musicians like Damon Albarn wore it tongue-in-cheek. “During the Britpop years,” Fairclough says, “the taped tracksuit became a real hit.” The millennium saw Kappa’s nude back-toback logo, the Omini, burned into memory as a tag for youth subcultures around the world. It was an unlikely trajectory for a symbol birthed by accident back in 1969, as Fairclough explains: “After a photo shoot for a Kappa swimsuit advert, a man and a woman were sitting back-to-back, naked, with the outlines of their bodies traced by the back lighting. It became a symbol of equality in sports between men and women.”

While some of the less desirable associations linger, fresh takes on the brand’s sportswear heritage by London teenagers and fashion-types alike have empowered the label. The key is that Kappa’s threads have transcended the stickiness of fashion’s pigeonholes to remain relevant to the tastemakers of tomorrow.