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.