From the sublime to the garish in design, the release of new football kits has become an annual recurrence in modern day football. Fans of teams flock to the club shop to buy the latest replica kit, a way of showing their tribe and connecting with their heroes. For some, kit design is also a passion and a hobby. Paul caught up with Frenchman and Newcastle United fan Kevin Sauvaget to find out all about his love for designing concept kits.

Football kits. Even as I get older and the players at my club become lesser idols and more ‘come on son,’ there’s still something exciting and intriguing about a new kit launch, and purchasing that shirt which your team will parade around on the pitch for 40-odd games the following season. 

Newcastle fans couldn’t decide what was harder to take – relegation, or the release of this shirt…

Nowadays, most clubs release three new kits each year, each with stylistic designs, using breathable fabrics and cutting edge technology…also providing parents with the possibility of having to re-mortgage their house to keep their children up-to-date. As the years have gone by, we have seen the emergence of more sponsors on kits, changing badge designs and fashions come in and out of the window.  There have been beauties. And fuck-ugly disasters, which end up being cult classics.

Whilst many of us simply enjoy buying and wearing football shirts, there is now a growing trend in freelance concept kit design, with many people now sharing their ideas online. One such football fanatic and concept kit designer is Frenchman Kevin Sauvaget, a Paris St Germain and Newcastle United supporter (more of that later).

A selection of Kevin’s concept kit designs

Kevin started getting into kit design around 10 years ago on Football Manager forums, before slowly starting to create football jerseys, “A jersey represents the history of the club,” he says. “It is important that it is well made and identifies with the club. Supporters can be quite strict about the colours, pattern and design of their jerseys.” It is certainly true to say that fans of any club would be up in arms over a huge shift in traditions. Who can forget when madcap Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan changed their traditional blue for red in an attempt to gain supporters in China? Even he admitted later it was a “huge blunder.”

I don’t think the YMCA is going to win them round Vincent

Going up against the likes of Nike, Adidas and Puma in designing kits are proper fans like Kevin, who uses Adobe Photoshop to generate his designs. It takes “hours of training” and certainly a key eye for design. Some are now using 3D software animation to design their concept kits, a tool that Kevin is still learning about.

From the hundreds of kits he has designed in the last 10 years, for an array of clubs, Kevin picks out an AC Milan home shirt, a Corinthians away jersey and a third kit for FC St.Pauli as his favourites. Designers like Kevin even have their preferences, “I like dark kits, sometimes a single jersey without spending lots of time on it, can be hot. Others, I’m going to spend hours on it.”

A few more delightful little numbers from Kevin

The thirst for concept kit design is growing, and now clubs and shirt makers are even holding competitions for the everyday designer. Kevin takes up the story: “Recently, I participated in a Twitter contest organised by Kappa and AS Monaco, where I had to design a jersey. The winner received their creation in real life and in person at Stade Louis II in Monaco during a match. On this occasion, I was chosen in the top 10 creations. Unfortunately for me I came in 4th place, but took this in great pride.”

Of course, when looking at football kits, everyone has a preference – some prefer minimal designs, others traditional and some even like the garish designs found in many early 90’s designs. Kevin has his favourites too which have inspired him. He cites the Newcastle United 1995/96 away shirt, with purple and blue stripes as one of the best, as well as the 1981/82 PSG home and away jerseys, loving the simple “authenticity” of them.  

What about the worst? Kevin wasn’t keen on the cut and flashy colour mixes of the early 1990s, “these were not fashion-forward” he says.  Looking again at his favourite team, he chooses the 2013/14 PSG jerseys as some of his least favourites he remembers.

Zlatan’s Malmo statue could only be defaced further by popping this 2013/14 PSG kit on to it

Looking at Kevin’s drawings, it is clear to see that he has a real eye for design and a particular style which he likes to carry out. There’s a beautiful simplicity to many of them, and some may look at these and think they would rather have a ‘Sauvaget’ than an identikit Nike or Adidas in the future.

Oh, and why Newcastle United? Kevin was brought up in Paris, which explains why he supports PSG, “through the hours of glory as well as the bad times, like being maintained in Ligue 1 on the last day against Sochaux in 2007/08.” However, the Newcastle thing is a better story, “My father told me my name was Kevin thanks to Kevin Keegan, who played for and coached Newcastle. I found out about this club from the North of England and came to love them as I grew up and I also fell in love with their jersey, which I think is beautiful.”

For Kevin and many others, football kit design isn’t just a passing interest once a year, it is a passion and a journey through memories of kits of yesteryear.

Kevin Sauvaget shows his kits designs on Twitter @Tooonss https://twitter.com/Tooonss Thank you Kevin for your insight, and for being our first overseas interviewee on headersandvolleys.co.uk 

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