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June 11, 2014

A Retrospective of Brasil's Yellow Jersey

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The yellow jersey. Called Amarelinha or Little Yellow One, the home shirt for the most successful football team in the world represents the exuberant pride of the nation and is as recognizable as the country’s flag.

“Football is so ingrained in Brasil, it dissolves into the culture. It’s hard to capture the meaning of the relationship between Brasilians and the sport,” says Peter Hudson, former Creative Director who worked on Nike football apparel for seven years. “I think you have to go to events, be at a match, look players in the eye on the starting line to really appreciate what it means.”

The Brasil national team home jersey wasn’t always yellow. It took a devastating defeat in the 1950 final at home to initiate a color scheme change. After wearing white and blue for half a century, the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) debuted a new kit in yellow, green and blue — the colors of Brasil’s flag — in 1954. The design was the result of a national competition, and the new colors stuck. 

Nike started making kits for CBF in 1997, after signing on as the team’s official apparel sponsor the year prior.  Here, a look inside the process of creating Brasil’s national team home kit for the major competitions of 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

1998

“The ‘90s were not a great time for football kits. Back then, football uniforms were heavy, had horrible sublimation and bad necklines,” says Devon Burt, then Nike Creative Director for Apparel. “We wanted to bring refinement and restraint to the jersey. We went with clean, finished seams and achieved a high level of craftsmanship. It was the first time we really got into the idea of perfecting a neckline — something that seems so simple but is tricky to do right.”

Burt and team had to convince Brasil that it was the right time to bring back the crewneck collar, as the federation had been wearing a V-neck style for some time. The eventual design featured a green knit-in crewneck collar and green piping detail on the shoulders for a true sport look.

The team remained in a crewneck jersey for years to come but the kit’s strongest legacy is the N98 Jacket, a key style today for Nike Football and Nike Sportswear. The designers took the equity of what they had done for the kit and applied it to Brasil’s warm-up jacket. The N98 is still defined by signature shoulder piping.

“The 1998 design helped set a tone for who we were and helped Nike stand out on the field,” Burt says. “We came up with something simple, refined and classic. The design was about beauty paired with a lot of great innovative details.”

2002

In 2002, Nike took a unified approach to its federations competing on football’s biggest stage and applied the same visual identity across all teams. The crewneck remained, but it was trimmed down. The shirt’s deep marigold yellow changed to a bright lemon shade to reflect the youthful team’s more aggressive, dynamic style.

“Nike was determined to make a strong visual statement on the field of play so we took a uniform aesthetic across all our national teams,” says Phil Hodgson, Nike Football Apparel Product Director at the time. “We also wanted to lead with innovation and deliver a product that would stand up to the high heat and humidity in Japan and South Korea.”

The innovation was Cool Motion, a two-layer system that consisted of a Dri-FIT mesh base layer to wick sweat to the lightweight polyester-woven twill outer layer, attached via interior shoulder seams. Although visually striking, it did not turn out to be Nike’s most successful apparel technology and players occasionally had difficulty taking the shirts on and off due to their construction; Cool Motion was retired two years later.

“We realized something important that year: it’s not about Nike and making a brand statement,” Hodgson recalls. “It’s about the fans and the country and the culture, and if we get it right for each country, those fans will love Nike all the more.”

2006

​Nike Football moved away from the one-design-fits-all approach for uniforms and in 2006, tapped into the heritage and culture of each team.

“You have to appreciate the lineage, the history and the emotional connection the players and fans have to the jersey,” says Hudson, who helped hone the design of the 2006 kit.

The design team decided to keep the shirt simple and powerful to allow the solid yellow to shine through, balanced with green trim. “We used those elements — the neck, the shoulders, the hemline —to add a nod to the future,” Hudson says. “Nike did a lot of research about what the jersey means to the country, to the hundreds of thousands of fans. What we learned reinforced the fact that we had to tread incredibly respectfully and carefully, but again, we’re Nike so you have to push it forward as well.”

Again, the neckline was a focal point. Designers went through many iterations of crews and V-necks but the jersey as a whole didn’t gel. Hudson arrived at the Mandarin stand-up collar as a variation on the crew, but more distinctive. “It was a bit different and fresh, the way it drew the eye in and allowed for more movement at the neck,” Hudson recalls.

While the Mandarin collar didn’t persist, the approach to designing numbers did. It was the first year Nike Football generated a culturally relevant number font on the jerseys for national team kits. For Brasil, the design team drew inspiration from the country’s currency, art, architecture, graffiti and road signs, resulting in a font that was fluid and playful — reflective of Brasil’s artful style of play.

2010

For competition in South Africa, Nike’s Global Football Apparel design team referred to what is perhaps the most celebrated era of Brasilian football — the early 1970s.  “The simple T-shirt style of 1970 is often called the perfect jersey, it reflects a golden period for the team,” says Nike Football Art Director Lee Murphy, who has worked on every Brasil kit since 2008. “So we kept 2010 really simple, it’s the innovation and the extra details that make it Nike.”

Those extra details included a silicon stripe on the sleeves, infused with a dot pattern that became a hallmark of Nike Football design. The kit also carried elements intended to honor and spark the passion of the players, such as an inner neck graphic reading "Nascido para jogar futbol” or "Born to play football," and a Brasil graphic on the outer back neck.

While the aesthetic was faithful to historic Brasil uniforms, the 2010 kit was the most technologically advanced kit in the history of football. It was a major leap forward in sustainable design, marking the first time Nike began making jerseys from 100 percent recycled polyester, diverting millions of water bottles from landfills in Japan and Taiwan. The lightweight, textured Dri-FIT Knit poly fabric also reduced cling and incorporated laser venting to aid airflow and cooling.

“It was so clean and pure,” says Nike Football Senior Design Director Stuart McArthur.. “It was kind of a bold, brave move not to mess around with the design.”

2014

With football’s biggest tournament returning to Brasil this summer and half the world’s population tuning in, Nike adopted “Cool under pressure” as the design mantra for 2014, re-focusing on details to reflect the country’s heritage and passion. “The signature that goes across all federation designs is: the best in Nike innovation meets national pride,” says Nike Football Creative Director Martin Lotti. “It’s like designing a second flag for a country, you need to honor the past, the country and its culture.”

Lotti and team set out to create a uniform that delivered on four design pillars: performance, style, soul and sustainability. He describes the kit as having complex simplicity. “From a distance it’s clean and simple, but up close you discover subtle details like laser venting and a small printed crest embedded in the bottom of the number on the back,” Lotti says.

The carefully embroidered CBF crest over the heart is bigger than previous designs and has metallic gold thread woven in to catch the sun during play. The enlarged crest was born of a direct insight from the athletes grabbing the crest and saying, ‘This is what I’m fighting for.’ “So, we stripped everything else away and let the crest shine though,” Lotti explains.  

The crafted quality of the crest is juxtaposed with technical fabrication and thermoregulation. Keeping players dry and comfortable is all the more critical in a climate with temperatures that vary sharply from the north to the south. It took four years to develop the jersey material, which has 56 percent more airflow than previous versions and is composed of 94 percent recycled polyester and 6 percent cotton —giving it the feel and drape of cotton and the thermoregulation properties of polyester.

The slim-cut fit reflects how body types have changed as the game has become faster. Nike scanned the Brasil players and other elite footballers and paired the body scans with tension maps that show how a garment performs in motion.

“It’s quite surprising how much the body type has changed,” Lotti says. “What we found is that four years ago, you would have needed 14 players to cover the same distance and perform at the same speed as 11 players today. The game is just that much faster.”

When Lotti presented the design to Brasil national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari at the final review, his response was emphatic. “I absolutely love this jersey,” Scolari said. “There’s only one thing missing: a sixth star.”