In 2008, Nike outbid Adidas to earn the football sponsorship rights with French Football Federation (FFF) for a price tag of $64 million per year from 2011-2018. Though Adidas had supplied the FFF since 1972, Nike sought to capitalize on its new partnership by reaching further back, tapping into French heritage and nostalgia.
The story of the recently released 2014 FFF away jersey (a gray-on-white striped jersey) stands in continuity with the graphic design narrative crafted by Nike in 2011 with a blue-on-white striped pattern FFF away jersey. Through these seemingly simple stripes, Nike showed its creative power as it narrated the stripes as rooted in historic origins. The jersey re-interprets the regional Breton knit top, marinière, of 19th Century Breton sailors. Simple, elegant patterns and details with secret messages of solidarity printed inside the jersey behind the FFF emblem “Nos Differences Nous Unissen”’ (Our Differences Unite Us), the 2011 jersey offered a thread by which to connect a nation that may have less easily seen itself as unified behind singular national emblems.
In a documentary film, Nike presents the jersey alongside interviews with 2011 French national team captain Alou Diarra and team manager Laurent Blanc (to tell and legitimize the jersey’s story). A distinguishing creative element in this documentary and advertising campaign is how Nike allies itself not only with the sport industry talents, but also with the fashion industry. In this way, Nike elevates the jersey further by drawing upon the iconic status of French fashion.
Beyond the films inclusion of French Institute of Fashion Director Patricia Romatet, who describes the Breton heritage of the jersey’s stripe design, Nike teams up with haute couture photography and retail great, Karl Lagerfield, Director of Chanel. Lagerfeld lends his hand to the project through consulting and working a photography feature.
With each iteration of the FFF jersey from 2011 to 2014, the jersey’s drop on the market was timed to coincide with photography and film features that serve to amplify the importance of these creative assets. As crucial strategic communication endowing this jersey design, these creative features are readied to circulate online, to spread as a consumable media and to make some noise that will better insure that fans and consumers take notice of this distinct design. Alongside Nike’s multi-platform advertising campaign, the jersey also enjoyed a star-studded launch in Paris at chic fashion retailer, Colette.
Nike’s sport branding of the French national team campaign has identified a look that can be seen and sold as French. Moreover, it has transcended the football market, convincing many that it is cool to wear this national stripe.
As JP Plunier, Feal Mor fashion and brand creator, described of the jersey, “If the cutting-edge-streetwear kids can wear the FFF shirt and don’t think they look hokey, then as a brand you are on to something. When you see them out and ’bout rocking their France jersey, skinny jeans and [Adidas] Stan Smiths. . . it’s going global.”
The FFF’s marinière jersey of 2014 strives to attract and carry the same global cache.
Between the time of Nike’s first generation marinière striped FFF away jersey and the current 2014 edition, the graphic design narrative of football, France, and fashion has extended with Nike’s FFF lifestyle apparel line, which similarly has conscripted a global roster (not just French) of famed musicians, artists and athletes – including the likes of sprinter Carl Lewis, skater Alex Olson and basketball player Steve Nash.
Though aesthetically smooth, this FFF lifestyle fashion campaign may overreach by offering too much, and perhaps arbitrary, celebrity. Authentically branding the French national team may require more subtlety.
For Martin Lotti, Creative Director for Nike Football, “This new away kit is unmistakably French. It is understated yet stylish and gives France a clear national identity on the pitch.”
The power of Nike’s branding and identity creation campaign for the FFF arises in the convergence of the sport and fashion industries’ telling of a national story. For the French and Francophiles, Nike’s creation of the French national team jersey interweaves a fabric and graphic by which to imagine who we are, desire to be and want to be celebrated.
Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. @cabinet48