Laurel and Hardy, Eric and Ernie, Ant and Dec, Adidas and Stade Français. Some partnerships are so successful and comfortable that you never expect them to end. But while the two Geordie rap midgets show no sign of going their separate ways, one of rugby’s most famous double-acts was torn asunder at the end of last season, when Stade and Adidas went ended their relationship after more than 15 years, during which they pretty much invented the modern loud, brash, head-turning rugby shirt. Sob.
Adidas signed off with a bang with one of the nicest Stade shirts in years, and the fellas wearing it were clearly inspired by it – they went on to unexpectedly win the Top14 title. Now, Japanese firm ASICS has taken on the considerable mantle – in an interesting bit of symmetry, they were actually Stade’s last supplier before Adidas, back in the comparatively tame blue and red lightning bolt days. But a lot has happened since ASICS last made a Stade Français shirt, can they really do the last 15 years of eccentricity justice?
Clearly, of course they bloody could. Just look at that thing! It’s not only instant Stade, the famous blue with those classic, unmistakable pink lightning bolts given more prominence than ever before, but there’s an impressive level of subtle batshittery going on here, too.
Look closely at the crazy, abstract motif on the front of the shirt and you’ll see something that wouldn’t look out of place in Timothy Leary’s most friendly acid dream. There’s flowers, rays of sunshine, yet more lightning bolts, a giant fleur de lys, some kind of weird bell in a flower, the initials ‘SF’ in prison tattoo font, for no discernible reason at all… the closer you look, the more weird and wonderful nonsense you uncover.
Actually, hang on, right down the bottom of the jersey, in the middle… is… is that the fucking Moulin Rouge?!
It’s a lunatic’s love letter to Paris, and yet at the same time, it doesn’t feel nearly as over the top as some previous Adidas designs have – its essence is a bold, striking but actually pretty classy design, while the mad shit is left for the keen-eyed to enjoy.
And speaking of mad shit…
Honestly, we can’t believe we ever doubted that the good folks at ASICS had the requisite design lunacy on tap to do the Stade jersey. Whatever chemicals were imbibed in the creation of the two-part alternate and third shirts, we think it should be kept under lock and key, lest someone takes some and tries to design the next Springbok jersey… some people just aren’t ready for this.
So, where to start here? There’s a vague ancient Roman/Greek vibe to the absolutely stark raving bonkers scene depicted here, especially with those abstract swirly seas around the bottom of the shirt. Perhaps it’s more the former, however, given Roman numerals running across the drawing of the Eiffel Tower (back again after last season’s impressionistic turn).
The numerals, for those not versed on such things, represent ‘1998’, which those with good memories will recall was the year that Stade won their first Top 14 title in the modern era, and was the start of their period of sustained success in the early 2000s. With Stade back at the top table after last year’s title, it’s very apt.
Flanking the Tower, we have two vaguely Greek/Roman dudes, with impressive abs and perhaps even more impressive hair/beard combos. Given Stade’s penchant for lightning, we wondered if this might represent Zeus or Jupiter chucking bolts around willy nilly, but given that if you look closely they’re also holding rugby balls and er, not really wearing anything – perhaps it’s a little nod to Stade’s tradition of producing raunchy player calendars every season…
The third shirt really allows all the tiny details in this absolutely insane design to really stand out, and those with a knowledge of Stade Français jerseys past will see plenty of familiar details here.
There’s lightning bolts, of course, everywhere – from the sleeves all the way down to the ones troubling that poor little ship around the bottom of the shirt. Around that area you’ll also notice the lilies that became such a hallmark for a while, more fleur de lys, stars… as well as some new weirdness: laurel leaves, an abstract rising sun motif… there’s just everything, basically.
It’s hard to know quite what to say about these shirts – Stade Français don’t do things like other clubs, and their jersey designs have to be judged by a different, much more insane standard than everyone else.
We’ve come to the realisation in the last few years that the mark of a great Stade Français jersey is that, on first sight, it should make you laugh, and mutter to yourself ‘I can’t believe they’ve done that’. The home shirt comfortably passes this test, while the alternate and third shirts don’t just pass the test, they take the test, roll it up into a tube and use it to strawpedo a bottle of absinthe.
Adidas might have been the brand that gave Stade Français one of the most eccentric and recognisable looks in all of sport, but on this evidence, it’s clear that with ASICS, the legacy of lunacy is in safe hands.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: Paris, je t’aime