Icon in Focus: West Germany 1988-91

An ever-present in any list of top football kits, adidas’s 1988 West Germany kit is one of the most impactful pieces of sportswear ever created.

Breaking tradition with the inclusion of geometric flashes of colours straight from the national flag, the shirt represented a huge risk on the part of the manufacturer. Previous kits had been predominantly white with simple black trim, and there was still hesitance in using such a bold nod to Germany’s national identity, even after four decades of peace following the war.

“We got the briefing from Horst Dassler himself. He came up with the vision to jump into colours.”

Ina Franzmann, Designer

Horst Dassler was the son of adidas founder Adolf Dassler, and chairman of the company. He had been an innovator in sports sponsorship and marketing, forging deals with both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, and was not afraid to experiment with bold new ideas. The suggestion that his designers threw aside years of convention and placed the West German colours audaciously as the central design of their shirt was one of his final acts, as he passed away in April 1987.

The idea was received enthusiastically by Horst’s designers as well as national team coach, Franz Beckenbauer. Ina Franzmann was part of adidas’s design team, which at that point consisted of just four people working across the company’s entire textile collection.

“We discussed the idea in our little creative team, and then it was obvious to use the German colours to identify the players and to give a symbol and sign to the German fans. Besides this, the three colours of the flag built up a strong contrast to each other and this was very typical for the taste and the spirit of this period.”

“The graphic itself is much more than three colours. We tried to reach a design with strong impact and a high recognition effect, and that’s why it was very linear and geometric with dynamic lines which communicate high ambition.”

Ina Franzmann, Designer

The same people who designed adidas’s football shirts in the late 1980s were also responsible for their tennis and track range. This meant that they were not able to dwell for too long on any particular project before quickly moving on to another, An effect of this was that Franzmann remained largely unaware of the lasting impact of her design until recent years, although she remembers the reaction to it at the time it was first revealed:

“The design found some favour during the Euros in 1988. Due to this, it was used in the 1990 World Championship, but the reactions after that hadn’t been fantastic or enthusiastic. There were some critiques to the German flag colours due to Germany’s history. The design was judged as very bold and loud and was unusual at that time, and there were some fans, but the media were critical.”

The kit’s release coincided with West Germany hosting the 1988 European Championships, the same tournament that marked the debut of another classic adidas design for the Netherlands. However, it was during the 1990 World Cup that it made a more widespread impression, as the nation lifted the trophy for the third time. That win should have been the kit’s swansong, but the departing Beckenbauer was allegedly so taken with it that it was retained for a further year. It would go on to be the first kit worn by a reunified Germany national team following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Franzmann’s design underwent several minor changes during its three year run, including the addition of a small collar, as well as a version in green used for a solitary away match. Some versions featured embroidered crests and heat-transfered logos, while others had all embellishments printed directly into the fabric of the shirt, including the famous three stripes.

However, as was common at the time, just as today, the design had a second life as an adidas kit template, available to buy with adapted colour pallets suitable for any team who wished to style themselves after the World Champions.

Franzmann on the legacy of her design: “To be completely honest, I didn’t even know about the hype of this shirt and it was surprising when I heard it was favoured among the football enthusiasts. It makes me truly happy after 30 years knowing that it became an icon, and it influenced the whole soccer shirt business. I’m proud, and it’s fantastic. I’m happy to be the designer of this iconic shirt.”

“My advice is to be revolutionary in what you are doing. Try to make a real change. Irritate, provoke, look for a vision and be confident.”

Ina Franzmann, Designer

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