Venezia FC has risen as the world’s rock ‘n’ roll football club par excellence or, as they refer to it in the Lagoon, ‘your favourite club’s favourite club.’ Designed in collaboration with Kappa, Venezia FC’s recent jerseys have garnered attention beyond the pitch, with their sophisticated collared silhouette, subtle motifs and iconic golden Lion of Saint Mark badge appealing to the football hipster in us all. Pictured amongst a fashion shoot-worthy advertising campaign featuring locals and set on the city’s iconic streets and canals only heightened the cool factor. Endorsed by the likes of The Libertines, Maneskin and even Italian cinema legend Franco Nero, Venezia’s kits are now a common sight among fashion kids, football romantics and the jet-setting bohème of fashion weeks.
With their bold rebrand, Venezia FC has contributed towards a new image of the city that harmonises the passionate attitude of the local community with an elevated sense of Italian tailoring and style. The club have also worked on collaborations with both illustrious and upcoming talents of photography including Francis Delacroix, Sam Gregg and Eric Persona.
This shift in style is converting on the field. Following a breathtaking end to the previous season, the bookies make the Lagunari among the favourites for a Serie A comeback – they currently sit second in Serie B. We sat in conversation with Nicolò Michielin, Venezia FC’s former creative maestro who kickstarted the club’s image revamp.
Lorenzo Ottone: For a few years now, Venezia FC has been the most talked-about club in Italy and beyond thanks to its vanguard approach to communication. What lies at the roots of the club’s creativity?
Nicolò Michielin: I would say that, from the very start, it was the vision of [former brand manager, now at Athens Kallithea FC] Ted Philipakos, who I would describe as the Lorenzo de’ Medici of this story. Since 2016, the year he arrived in Venice and started to conceive his vision of the club, he put together a team that is unique in the world of football. The result was a Copernican revolution which turned the club, to quote the New York Times, into ‘The MOMA of sports communication’. Ted was responsible for choosing the designers, such as the acclaimed Mirko Borsche, who has been responsible for the design of Venezia FC‘s jerseys for the last two years. Kappa, then, helped us turn our ideas into reality, while maintaining the highest of performing standards.
“Venezia FC is, and I hope it continues to be, something elegant and punk in equal measure.“
LO: The kits indeed had much to do with Venezia FC’s global appeal…
NM: That’s true. Although personally, I don’t think that a nice shirt is the only thing it takes to make a difference in this field. I mean, these days not to design a decent kit you have to be tasteless. It’s all about why a person chooses to buy your kit, and that rationale is wanting to be part of something. That also applies to all the international artists who have endorsed our shirt so far: from Franco Nero to Maneskin and The Libertines. It’s the same as for band t-shirts: you don’t buy a Spacemen 3 tee solely because it looks nice. Perhaps it does, but you bring it home because you want to tell the world you’re part of something, because it represents a status. And for Venezia FC is the same thing, you buy a shirt because you want to feel part of the idea the club portrays, of its iconography. To me, that is a hooligan who sings shirtless in the curva [the curved fan area behind the goal] and has a Rimbaud book on his bedside table, it’s a supermodel with star-shaped sunglasses who’s just come straight from the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival, it’s a university professor who teaches Philosophical Hermeneutics at Ca’ Foscari and enjoys a beer before the match outside the ground. Venezia FC is, and I hope it continues to be, something elegant and punk in equal measure.
LO: Venezia FC has managed to impose itself on an international scenario by playing on this iconography, yet without slipping into the city’s obvious stereotypes.
NM: Venice, to borrow the words of Zygmunt Bauman, is the glocal reality par excellence: a constant tension between local culture, tradition and identity and a globalised model of society and market. The city has to come to terms with the need to self-preserve itself and at the same time with the desire to gain, or maintain, relevance on an international level. I think it is also worth pointing out how football is in itself something that is physically impactful on the city context, even on an aesthetic level: you have flags hanging from the windows, writings on the walls, scarves in bars, stickers on water bus stops, children playing football in the Campielli.
“I believe the fans of a football club are everything.“
LO: How do you strike a balance between the tradition of the local community and the necessary global condition of contemporary football?
NM: Balance is achieved by anchoring each project in authenticity, and I think the campaigns we did with [photographer] Sam Gregg are the perfect example of what I mean. Despite having his works in museums or fashion magazines, he was born a documentarian, and this is the approach we aimed for. For the pre-match kit, we went around the Sestrieri shooting people living in the city. The protagonists were both Venetians by birth and people who have deliberately chosen our city as their home, because Venice is historically a kaleidoscope of cultures, where the element of internationality is itself an integral part of the tradition. The same applies to the away jersey campaign, starring Arrigo Cipriani [author and owner of the Harry’s Bar], a Venetian icon, as well as to the third kit, which will be presented during the Regata Storica, the Lagoon’s historical rowing race. It features actual gondoliers on their daily tasks.
LO: This season’s home kit was inspired by Carlo Scarpa’s architecture, which is an often overlooked landmark of Venice. Like Scarpa, do you perceive this modernist tension of renewal in your work?
NM: Ours has been primarily a sociological mission, in the sense that we have tried, in our own small way, to give the city a new lease of life. Venice is an extremely class-conscious place – also as a consequence of the lack of nighttime venues. Places where, since the dawn of time, artistic movements and subcultures are born. The football ground, and more specifically the curva, is one of the very few places left where this can still happen in the city. Without wanting to turn the ground into an orgiastic feast, we looked up to the bacchanals, the moment in which in Ancient Rome social distinctions were broken down. We tried to make this happen with initiatives like Tribuna Magazzini, a stand dedicated to the city’s students and creatives, which was also informally known as the Art Tribune.
LO: As a Venetian, how do you perceive criticism of the art direction? Are fans not yet ready for a type of football that looks beyond the sport itself?
NM: I believe the fans of a football club are everything. On top of all they contribute to in terms of supporting, without the curva, without the ultras, there would exist no art, in the broadest sense of the term, in relation to football. It was the hooligan and ultras subcultures that made fashion turn its head to football. If you deprive fashion of what is its matrix, its truth, you’ll get something lame in return. So, I don’t think it’s a question of introducing fashion into this environment, because there has always been an exchange between these two worlds. The focus of the discourse is to be able to maintain credibility and balance. As for the criticism you’re talking about, I believe that the voice of the fans is always to be listened to, having said that, it should also be noted that in the era of social network there are many dynamics to consider behind every message that emanates from them. I truly believe that the curva, as well as being the heart and soul of a club, retains a poetic and romantic image that lends itself to representing the identity of our club, or at least part of it.
LO: Indie-rock music is also the focus of the new ticketing campaign. The impression is that Venezia FC pays great attention to the evolution of youth and underground culture.
NM: Rather than dialogue with the underground scene, I believe it is not wrong to say that Venezia FC is an integral part of it, both as an institution and in terms of the people who work there. There are artists and musicians working in the store in Rialto, like Alessandro from New Candys who is also a Sorbonne graduate, and talented fashion students interning with us, like Dilan from band Bragora. We all live in the city, fostering collaborations with other local realities, like [music event] Laguna Festival and fashion brand Lido, as well as enhancing the world-class talent of the students of IUAV [University of the Arts Venice]. It’s therefore about giving art a voice as much as possible, aware of the communicative power of football.