Notre Dame and Under Armour: Building a Unique Uniform

Not being a sports fan, press reports about Under Armour’s new uniforms for the University of Notre Dame’s famous football team would normally get a pass from me.  Yes, I graduated from Notre Dame Law, and yes, I own a few articles of clothing by Under Armour – Superman shirts, natch.  Yet those facts alone usually wouldn’t be enough to attract my attention.  However when I read that the company looked to the buildings of Notre Dame itself for inspiration when designing these particular uniforms, that connection seemed worth exploring.

If you know a little bit about Notre Dame, even from such films as “Knute Rockne, All American” or “Rudy”, you know that the football team’s helmets are painted gold.  This references the Main Building or “Golden Dome” at the heart of the school’s campus, which is topped by a gold dome crowned with a statue of Our Lady.  You may also be aware of the giant mosaic mural affectionately known as “Touchdown Jesus”, This covers the south facade of Hesburgh Library, and is visible from the Notre Dame football stadium.  The image of a triumphant Christ, His arms raised in blessing, is reminiscent of a football referee signaling a touchdown.

The headline of the article linked to above isn’t exactly correct, in that the new uniforms don’t look like campus buildings themselves.  That sort of design would prove rather cumbersome when running around a field: someone in a suit shaped like one of the beehive turrets on Sorin Hall would find it difficult to slip past an offensive onslaught, for example.  Instead, the references are in one instance, subtle, and in another, quite bold.

Just as the team helmets are a nod to the university’s headquarters, so the sleeves and the sock tops of the new uniforms now bear a stripe referencing the striped top of Hesburgh Library.  I can’t say that I like that building, which is one of those mid-century concrete monstrosities by disciples of Le Corbusier.  Nevertheless I can appreciate why, for Notre Dame football players and fans, this subtle reference to Touchdown Jesus will  be regarded with affection.

The real eye-opener though, is the design for the “Shamrock Series”, a newer sports tradition at Notre Dame.  The shirt and accompanying gloves feature an intricate, Renaissance Revival pattern, which reproduce the pattern of the floor tiles inside the central hall of the Golden Dome itself.  Now this is a form of architectural reference in clothing design, done in quite a passionate, attractive way.  Yes, I know it’s probably over the top for most people, but if the Italian condottieri and Spanish conquistadores of the 15th and 16th centuries were around today, they would probably be wearing something like this base layer beneath their steel armor.

Of course, placing a stripe or tile with an architectural reference onto an article of clothing made for athletes, then translated for public consumption, isn’t going to convert me into a football fan.  However, even this non-sports fan scrivener might be willing to pick up a shirt or a pair of socks bearing such a reference, if the mood strikes.  I appreciate a bold design, and much as I hated the isolation and the interminable South Bend winters, I do remember good times like tailgate parties in the stadium parking lot during football season, even if the games had no interest for me.  And in building these updated uniforms upon the architectural beauty of the campus itself, Notre Dame and Under Armour have done a great job.

Detail of Under Armour's design for the Notre Dame "Shamrock Series" uniforms

Detail of Under Armour’s design for the Notre Dame “Shamrock Series” uniforms




>La Reina Quien Salta

>I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Spain win the World Cup yesterday, after so many years of being unable to bring it together. Naturally enough, another person who clearly enjoyed yesterday’s match was Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain, who was in attendance at the final along with the Prince and Princess of Asturias. Earlier in the week, the Queen had paid a visit to the Spanish locker room after the team beat Germany in the semi-final, accompanied by Plácido Domingo and other Spanish dignitaries. She received an enthusiastic welcome from the players, and did not bat an eyelid when the lone scorer in that match, Carles Puyol, emerged unexpectedly from the showers covered only by a towel.

Yesterday when Andrés Iniesta scored the game’s only goal, which won the match for Spain, The Queen quite literally jumped for joy: up onto her seat in fact, as shown below. One cannot imagine other European monarchs having had the enthusiasm to do the same – and this was rather impressive feat for a lady of seventy-one years. “It was marvelous, we are absolutely delighted,” the Queen told the press afterwards about the final. “The bad thing of being here,” added her son Crown Prince Felipe, “is not seeing how everything will be there,” back in Spain.

Assuming the Spanish Royals have made it back, that loss will be remedied this evening beginning at 7:00 pm Madrid local time, when the national team will take a long parade route around the city. The route begins at the official residence of the Spanish President, and winds its way past some of the capital’s most emblematic spaces and structures, including the The Prado, the Cathedral, and the Royal Palace, for approximately two hours. The parade will finish at the Explanada del Puente del Rey, a large open-air space, where a number of Spain’s popular musicians will perform in concert. While I imagine the Queen is rather tired from her journey yesterday, no doubt she will be putting in an appearance at some point during the celebrations.

Spain’s Queen Sofia jumps onto her seat at the World Cup Final, looking down at Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia of Asturias (backs to the camera); a disappointed Prince William of the House of Orange is seen to the right.

>¡Viva el Pulpo!

>Regular readers of these pages know that The Courtier does not, in general, follow sporting events, with the exception of Grand Slam tennis and the European Cup Final – or more recently, the World Cup, at least as far as charting Spain’s progress. Unless you have been living in a remote, undisclosed location, you are probably aware that Spain is playing The Netherlands on Sunday in the World Cup Final, having reached a final for the first time in the country’s history. Press reports this morning indicate that Paul the Psychic Octopus, a resident of the city aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, who has successfully predicted the winner of every game Germany has played in this World Cup, has now predicted that Spain will win on Sunday.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, celebrity chef José Andrés (who hails from the former Kingdom of Asturias, in northern Spain), owner of many D.C. restaurants and host of the “Made in Spain” television cooking show on PBS, tweeted that if Spain won the match against Germany that he would take octopus (in Spanish, “pulpo”) off of the menus in his restaurants. When Spain did go on to beat beat Germany to move to the Final, Sr. Andrés true to his word. Watching the coverage online, The Courtier saw Spanish fans around the net going completely crazy. One can only imagine the reality of what it was like to be in Madrid that evening.

To be a Spaniard and to not be in Spain – or in South Africa – for this final is rather wrenching, for the Spanish community in the United States is very small. Nevertheless, in a gesture of good will, Sr. Andrés tweeted this morning that if Spain wins, “games will be shown at all Jaleos!If we win glassofcava on me!Plus people that watch games and ate if we win your food on me!with the check”. This message is, if you are familiar with his television show, not only is a classic example of his gigantic enthusiasm for his work, but also exemplary of the rather charming way he writes and speaks English.

Despite having what most soccer fans would consider among two of the best and most revered teams in the world, Barça and Real Madrid, Spain has always fallen short when it comes to World Cup play. Not being enough of an expert on such matters to give a reasoned explanation as to why this has been the case, The Courtier should defer to those who are more informed on such matters to provide appropriate theories and explanations. However in discussion last night with a friend, the conclusion was reached that one factor in the frequent disappointment in the Spanish national team is an endemic problem for Spain as a country: to wit, that Spain is and remains a state which is very much divided against itself.

Unlike Italy, for example, whose individual states decided to work together in the 19th century to unify themselves into a single Italian identity, to some degree of success, Spain as a single entity has always been something of a pipe dream for those who, historically, attempted to achieve a kind of pan-Iberian union. For example the Reconquista, i.e. the re-taking of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim invaders, took well over 700 years to complete, and its progress was hampered in part by the fact that the Peninsula was occupied by several smaller kingdoms and principalities, many speaking different languages and having very distinct cultures.

The movement to create a unified Spanish state gained a foothold with the union of King Ferdinand, of the eastern Kingdom of Aragon, and Queen Isabel, of the central kingdom of Castile. Under the Habsburgs, the numerous smaller units which constituted the Spanish “whole”, including the Catalans, the Basques, and the Galicians, among others, were able to varying degrees to retain many of their local rights, languages and customs, even as they were ruled from a central authority. During this period Portugal, as some readers may not be aware, was made a part of Spain from 1580-1640, but it eventually managed to re-assert its statehood and individual identity.

With the arrival of Felipe V, grandson of Louis XIV of France and the first Bourbon King of Spain, a more concentrated effort began to stamp out regional identity within Spain and create a more strongly centralized, national identity, along the lines which had occurred in France. Almost three hundred years later however, and despite this autocratic center, ruled at various times by Bourbons, Bonapartes, and military dictators, the popular concept of “Spain” among the Spanish remains incomplete. It never took as complete a hold over the minds and hearts of the people as did the concept of “France” among the French or “Germany” among the Germans particularly since the 19th century. There is no “La Marseillaise” or “Deutschland, Deutschland” in Spain: the Spanish National Anthem, the “Marcha Real” or “Royal March”, is only a musical piece and has no words, though various proposals have been made over the centuries to provide lyrics.

So, as The Courtier picks up some Estrella Damm and gets out his yellow shirt and red trousers for ironing, he wonders again, whether this unending division between the components of the modern state of Spain is the real reason why the country has never previously reached a World Cup Final? No doubt it is not and cannot be the only reason, but nevertheless it ought to be considered as a factor. Ever since it lost its empire Spain, like many other former imperial powers, has been saddled with a mixture of historic pride tempered by a persistent inferiority complex and resentment of attempts to stamp out regional identity, from which it will probably never fully recover. Take a look at the images from Madrid on the night Spain beat Germany: you will see many Spanish flags, but you will also see many displaying flags with which the uninformed viewer may not be familiar. These revellers are waving the national flags of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarra, Galicia, and so on – all former kingdoms now subsumed into the Spanish state, but whose souls are not now and never have been completely devoted to the idea of “Spain”, politically, socially, or conceptually.

Among many people both in and outside the country, there will be great joy if Spain pulls off a win against Holland, in a sort of cleated revenge for the Thirty Years’ War. The Courtier makes no secret of the fact that he will be supporting Spain on Sunday, and will be overjoyed if the Spanish side wins. However if there is a loss, one can make an almost certain bet that commentators from different parts of the Iberian Peninsula will be laying the blame at the doorstep of players coming from other parts of Spain.