Puma show absolutely no fear with new third kits

Puma are everywhere this year.

Before a ball was even kicked in the final of Euro 2020, one manufacturer had already wrapped up the ‘title’ as the most-talked about name throughout the tournament. A series of bold away shirts shoved Puma firmly into the limelight; that they also kitted out the eventual winners Italy was the cherry on top.

In an effort to try and understand the current shirt brand landscape I recently ranked the biggest brands in a personal top 10 list, considering a range of factors including the prevalence of a company throughout the lower leagues and how well a manufacturer’s designs had resonated with the collecting community.

To my surprise Puma kept beating adidas in multiple categories, despite my preconception that adi were one of the ‘big two’ alongside Nike. The only conclusion I could draw was that Puma deserved to be in that ‘big two’, not adidas, for this year at least.

At the time of writing, “Puma” is trending on Twitter with a huge 41.3k tweets containing the brand name. You all know the reason why though; a new collection of Puma third kits has sent social media into something of a frenzy, and today I want to try and unpick the collection.

2021 man city third shirts

What are these Puma 3rd shirts all about, and why do they look like, well, that?! You’re right to be shocked…


Fasten your seatbelts

puma 3rd kits

There’s nothing comfortable about the Puma third kits this season. Across the collection of 10 designs, you’ll find a grand total of 0 crests as you’d expect to find them in their usual, ‘over the heart’ position.

For anyone who watched the Euros, you’ll be familiar with this sort of aesthetic after the memorable away shirts of Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Austria as mentioned in the intro, but there have been a number of tweaks for the club shirts.

puma ac milan third kit

Without a crest, the Puma logo is left centrally at the top of the shirt, taking prominence in a similar style to the Switzerland away. Underneath the Puma logo is the club name in a club-specific font framed inside two horizontal lines. The wordmarks and lines are much larger here than the international shirts, where we saw much sleeker names and lines. A sponsor underneath the team name completes the baseline look of the new 3rd shirts.

For some of the shirts, you’ll also spot a subliminal, tonal pattern of the club crests throughout the body of the design. A small patch of the crest can be found on the back of the neck too, although it’s only a small transfer as opposed to a nice embroidered or plastic crest.

ac milan 2021

Carl Tuffley, Senior Head of Design Manager Teamsport (Puma) summed up the approach well:

“It is easy to play safe, but we want to change perceptions of a conventional football jersey”

There is a typical script when it comes to football shirts, but Puma aren’t sticking to it.

Valencia third shirt

I would argue though that the lack of a typical crest is more of a diversion than anything else. Crests haven’t always been a thing on football shirts, and many teams particularly outside of England remained ‘crestless’ deep into the 80s. What’s more striking to me is the fact that this new collection is heavily leaning towards the identity of Puma rather than the individual clubs, in the same way that many third kit collections of the past have done.

Shirt fans will remember (perhaps with frustration) Nike’s 3rd kit collections from seasons like 2014/15, 2016/17 and 2017/18. In these years, amongst others, clubs at the top of the brand’s portfolio received broadly similar designs which featured relatively low levels of customisation club-to-club. We often use the word “template” to describe shirts like this, but it’s not so much the fact the shirts are sharing the same template but rather the rigidity of the template involved.

Templates can be a good thing when there are high levels of bespoke detailing through things like the construction (collar, panelling etc.) or patterns on areas of the shirt. By contrast, templates fall flat when you take away elements like the crest or sponsor, and are largely unable to identify which team a shirt belongs to.

With this in mind, I think the reaction of many in the shirt community should’ve been anticipated. Ironically, Nike have been one of the key voices in moving away from the “template” era in recent years, focusing on shirts which feature more bespoke elements. Had Puma travelled more in this direction, I think we could have seen something quite special.

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You’re not the audience

Whatever your take on the shirts, we should address the fact that these designs are not particularly geared towards collectors. Let me explain what I mean.

The pattern-led approach we’ve seen pushed over the past few years has been something of a dream for many collectors, but as we begin to move out of this enjoyable phase, things will begin to look different. There will continue to be a place for those sorts of designs which are nailed on to be doing the rounds of all the typical Twitter accounts (my own included), but designs like the new Puma third kits are, in my opinion, aimed more towards a different crowd altogether.

2021 ac milan third shirts

As the likes of PSG continue to dig deeper into worlds of fashion and clothing outside of replica shirts, we’re seeing a burgeoning group of people who want to dip their toe into the football world without nailing their colours to the typical mast. Like it or not football clubs are brands now, and something like the new AC Milan third shirt is a symbol that ties someone to the ‘brand’ of Milan more than anything else. That it also happens to be a shirt the players wear on the pitch is more of a happy coincidence, rather than the reason for wearing the shirt.

The new Third kits create fearless new expressions of each club’s identity and challenge tradition by reimagining conventional football kits in a brand-new approach that merges football and streetwear culture.

Puma

In addition, the fact that Puma is prominent on the 3rd shirts is actually positive for some people, rather than a negative. Many will be happy to overlook the lack of a crest and instead focus on other areas like the aesthetics of the repeating tonal pattern in the body of the shirt; a potential talking point for that all-important Instagram post.

Whether or not a football shirt should appeal to this more ‘casual’ audience is a discussion for another day, but you might be surprised how well these new shirts are received outside the football shirt bubble.

Flying too close to the sun

I wanted to end things on a positive note, and although I appreciate what Puma were trying to achieve I can’t help but feel they’ve flown too close to the sun.

The football shirt industry is in danger of becoming very stale very quickly, and it takes moments like these Puma third kits to help shake us out of the mould.

I love seeing a brand take a risk, but the mistakes of the past (i.e. Nike 3rd shirts in the late 10s) should serve as lessons that football shirts are a difficult, complex beast to tame. When a fan or collector sees a brand mark or sponsor before anything else, it doesn’t sit well with them. If a shirt looks much the same as another team’s shirt, questions will be asked.

Puma themselves appeared self-aware of the risks they were taking, tweeting out “Rewrite the rules….(Yes, the badges are there. All over the kits actually)”, but one can only imagine the conversations being had now at Puma HQ. The story of Nike serves a reminder that a brand can not only recover, but thrive from bouts of ‘adversity’.

I can’t wait to see what happens now.

Phil Delves

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