SHOW of the Week: Umbro 100 Sportswear x Fashion

by Hetty Mahlich on 16 April 2024

Umbro's central role in the evolution of sportswear from functional to fashionable is traced in a new exhibition by the Westminster Menswear Archive in London.

Umbro's central role in the evolution of sportswear from functional to fashionable is traced in a new exhibition by the Westminster Menswear Archive in London.

Just last week, Junya Watanabe's C.P Company collaboration hit stores, merging Italian functional sportswear with the Japanese designer's experimental cuts. It's not unusual for fashion and sportswear brands to partner up on limited edition clothing and paraphernalia, but it wasn't always like this. Most are aware of the impact sportswear has had on the way we dress, since tracksuits, trainers and brands like adidas and Nike have become part of everyday wardrobes, but few know that it all started with Umbro. A new exhibition in London traces this lesser told menswear history.

@menswear_archive Umbro by Kim Jones, 2005

Founded in 1924, Umbro launched in Wilmslow, just outside of Manchester, as a sports clothing and equipment maker. Growing up in the UK, the diamond Umbro logo is an ever-present symbol; Umbro have historically provided sports uniforms for everyone from professional players to local teams.

However, it's often felt like this overexposure to Umbro has relegated them from the exclusive, limited edition storybooks of sports and fashion collaborations. It's fascinating to trace back Umbro's legacy to a 2002 England football shirt by British designer Paul Smith - the first designer to collaborate with a sports brand on a full collection - and how sportswear's evolutionary role in regional and national identity, subculture and belonging leads back to the brand.

Palace x Umbro

From Kim Jones's design work at Umbro in 2005 to collaborations with fashion labels Vetements and OFF-WHITE, graphic designer Peter Saville and the music group New Order, Umbro have teamed up with over 60 brands and designers. Sportswear has become, in many ways, mainstream, despite its cultish and subcultural roots, and Umbro 100 Sportswear x Fashion is a visual timeline of how this relationship has developed.

The exhibition, split into thematic sections including MANCHESTER, ENGLAND and REPLICA, shows how different designers and brands have played with the rules of functional sports clothing to play with what they tell us about the wearer; much more than the football team they support, it's what music they listen to, what ideologies they align themselves with.

OFF-White x Umbro, 2017

What shines through in this show is not an exercise in showing off rare finds - although there are many - but the intelligent treatment of fashion garments as objects which provide social, political and historical context, and design reference points. All items in the exhibition are part of the Westminster Menswear Archive, founded in 2015 as the ultimate resource tool for contemporary menswear. Founders Professor Andrew Groves and Dr Danielle Sprecher have been adding to the archive for the past five years in preparation for the current exhibition, which they felt was lacking in sportswear, a vital menswear archetype today.

Umbro 100: Sportswear x Fashion

12 – 28 April, 2024.

Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS

Free admission.

Open 11:00-19:00 daily.

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