7 Nostalgic Sportswear Brands that Are Enjoying a Renaissance Right Now

Thanks to the Kardashian family and buzzy designers like Virgil Abloh and Gosha Rubchinskiy, your beloved high school gym gear is very, very cool again.
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Thanks to the Kardashian family and buzzy designers like Virgil Abloh and Gosha Rubchinskiy, your beloved high school gym gear is very, very cool again.
Kappa pants at Milan Fashion Week. Photo: Chiara Marina Grioni

Kappa pants at Milan Fashion Week. Photo: Chiara Marina Grioni

What's a more powerful driver of fashion trends: nostalgia or Kylie Jenner? A$AP Rocky or irony? Fortunately, that existential ranking is one we don't need to grapple with today, as at least one current fashion movement seems to be a product of all of the above: Classic athletic brands are enjoying a very loud, very visible renaissance, thanks in equal part to savvy runway collaborations, timely old-school charm and well-placed support from both influential celebrities and social media trend-humpers.

Over the past several months alone, Umbro, makers of time-tested soccer uniforms, linked up with Virgil Abloh's hotter-than-ever Off-White; designer Gosha Rubchinskiy reimagined erstwhile Italian label Kappa, giving it instant relevance again; and Kim Kardashian West wore a Pony track jacket with heels and a (fake) lip ring. The early adopters went ahead and adopted; in today's high-low style climate, a little self-aware kitsch and some heavy logo-ing are the stuff of a fashion Instagrammer's dreams.

History often takes a back seat to aesthetics, for better or for worse, but many of the brands benefitting from this uptick in interest — a group that also includes Reebok and Champion — do have a legitimate sports heritage behind them, although their most recent claims to fame may not have been for making cleats and jerseys. Not that long ago, for example, brands like Kappa and Diadora were relegated to the dominion of "terracewear" or "football casuals," the subcategory of athleisure-adjacent gear named for where they could most often be found: on the backs of soccer fans in the terraces of English and European football stadiums. Others, like Fila, are now just as closely associated stateside with '90s icons like Tupac and Grant Hill, but haven't recently moved the cultural meter all that much until now.

Attempting to determine how long the classic athletic brand resurgence will last is a fool's errand, but the brands listed here are certainly cashing in on this increased interest while they can. They're also likely thankful that they've caught the attention of influential fashion figures, including a certain group of sisters from Southern California. To say that all trendy roads in 2017 lead to the Kardashian/Jenner/Wests may not be entirely true, but, as you'll see, at least a few of the major highways of this particular revival wind their way through Calabasas.

Kappa

Kappa x Gosha Rubchinskiy on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Kappa x Gosha Rubchinskiy on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Like his brethren at Vetements, Rubchinskiy loves a brand rebirth. His Spring 2017 show featured collaborations with five classic Italian brands of yore — including Kappa, the sports performance wear label identifiable by its "Omini" logo that features the silhouettes of a man and a woman seated back to back. Founded in 1967, Kappa was once the territory of soccer hooligans across Europe. But, the brand has hit the ground running since the Gosha partnership, playing up its heritage to win a place in the wardrobes of Bella Hadid, MIA and Kendall Jenner, who wore a vintage Kappa jacket that paid tribute to Juventus, the Italian soccer club. (The younger Jenner sister, Kylie, was snapped in February wearing a Kappa jacket, too.) With upcoming collaborations announced with Faith Connextion and Marcelo Burlon, it's probably safe to say that you can expect to see at least a few more L.A. teens dressed like Euro football fanatics in the seasons ahead.

Umbro

Umbro x Off-White on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Umbro x Off-White on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

The name Umbro is synonymous with soccer gear, dating back to the brand's origins outside Manchester some 92 years ago. Over the years, it has outfitted English soccer clubs like Manchester United, West Ham and Blackpool, and was the unofficial uniform of many suburban, American kids who played soccer in the '90s, too — this writer included. London skate label Palace gave Umbro some street cred with a collaboration in 2012, but "capital F" fashion types likely took a harder look at Umbro once Abloh gave the label a punkish spin as part of his Spring 2017 runway collection (see above). British label House of Holland also left its mark on Umbro this season with a capsule range of unisex pieces sold at Urban Outfitters, including some snakeskin swim shorts.

Fila

Fila x Gosha Rubchinskiy at New York Fashion Week. Photo: Imaxtree

Fila x Gosha Rubchinskiy at New York Fashion Week. Photo: Imaxtree

Unlike some of the other brands on this list, Fila never truly disappeared from the cultural radar — especially in the world of sports, where it has maintained an on-court presence over the last century thanks to endorsement deals with athletes like Hill, Monica Seles, Bjorn Borg and Derek Jeter. On the pop culture side of the world, its cool factor has risen and fallen cyclically; Fila has seen collaborations with Wu-Tang and Nas, got a shout-out in Left Eye's "No Scrubs" verse, and was worn by Tupac in a now-iconic photo. By the time Kourtney Kardashian was spotted in Fila sweats in LA, the brand had already been credited for its role in the lucrative '90s nostalgia taking over at Urban Outfitters and debuted its collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskiy (him again!). The latter partnership has, naturally, already been worn by Kylie, along with A$AP Rocky, who sported a Fila x Gosha tee under his mink coat at Raf Simons's runway show in January.

PONY

Photo: Instagram/@Pony

Photo: Instagram/@Pony

If you've ever wondered why PONY, the streetwear brand founded in 1972, is stylized in all caps, it's because the name is actually an acronym for "Product of New York." And if you've wondered that recently, you may have been one of the few thinking abut PONY at all. Sure, it's popped up here and there — most recently when they launched a premium line in 2015 after collaborating on sneakers with Kith's Ronnie Fieg and designer Mark McNairy— but the brand hasn't quite been able to match its '70s and '80's heyday, when PONY sneakers were a favorite of sports stars like Muhammad Ali and soccer legend Pele. Per PONY's Instagram, The Chainsmokers have incorporated PONY sneakers into their tour wardrobe, but Kim Kardashian West has easily granted the brand its most high-profile co-sign in years when she stepped out in a PONY track jacket at LAX in January. The label's website is currently under construction, so perhaps a proper rebirth is underway. 

Diadora

Photo: Instagram/@diadoraofficial

Photo: Instagram/@diadoraofficial

Another Italian brand (this one founded in Veneto in 1948), Diadora is in the midst of a major push surrounding its Heritage collection of premium sneakers. The brand is courting the fashion crowd big time — online influencers like Tina Leung and Linda Tol wore heritage sneakers during fashion week in Paris and Milan, timed nicely with the recently-announced Diadora collaboration with MSGM. (A Diadora rep confirmed Leung and Tol's sneakers were gifts from the brand.) For its Spring 2017 campaign, the company tapped UK social media stars like Charlie Barker and model Luke Storey, and also has a partnership with cult Japanese label X-Large to keep the streetwear heads happy. All of this is in addition to the brand's heavy cycle of regular releases at differing price points, catering to a wide spectrum of taste levels and tax brackets. Diadora is not without a Kardashian stamp of approval, either: Back in 2015, Kim photographed daughter North West wearing a miniature pair of Diadora cleats while playing soccer.

Champion

Champion x Vetements on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Champion x Vetements on the runway. Photo: Imaxtree

Champion, the Hanes-owned brand known primarily for its sweats, has been enjoying a recent resurgence thanks in part to its status as the classic logo streetwear troublemakers love to flip. Champion's legitimate creative partners have run the gamut in recent years, too, with untouchable brands like Supreme, Craig Green and Bape doing their part to keep the 98 year-old label fresh and Todd Snyder doing what he does to ensure bros stay swaddled in co-branded Champion fleece all autumn long. Vetements also famously gave it a high-fashion bump when they released hoodies that twisted Champion's famous blue and red C into a V, before eventually making things official with a fully-sanctioned collab in 2016.

Right on cue, that of-the-moment, high-low allure has grabbed ahold of trendsetters and trend-followers alike. Travis Scott included some customized Champion shorts in his Rodeo tour merch, and Chance the Rapper complemented his signature 3 cap with an uber-cozy Champion fleece to NBA All-Star Weekend. Khloe, Kourtney and Kylie posed together in matching Champion 'fits in January on Instagram, a look poetically described by Kourtney as "Burgundy Bitches." Even Danielle Bregoli, Dr. Phil's "cash me outside" teen terror, found the iconic logo irresistible, offering C-inspired, knockoff merch that may cash her a lawsuit. And speaking of legal woes, who could miss One Direction's Louis Tomlinson getting arrested at LAX while dressed in his-and-hers Vetements x Champion gear alongside his girlfriend? If you're going to go down, you might as well go down dressed like a — wait for it — champion.

Reebok

Photo: Reebok

Photo: Reebok

Reebok was founded in England in 1958, and named for, as legend (and Wikipedia) would have it, the Afrikaans word for a specific type of antelope. The brand saw immense popularity in the '80s and '90s — remember the Pump? — before largely shifting focus to the fitness category, hinging on its CrossFit sponsorship. But Reebok hasn't abandoned its lifestyle altogether: The Adidas-owned company has everyone from Gigi Hadid and Teyana Taylor to Kendrick Lamar and Future shilling for its Reebok Classics line of heritage-inspired sneakers and apparel. The brand also has a collaboration with British label Cottweiler, showcased this season during Pitti Uomo, a just-announced campaign with Urban Outfitters and Lil' Yachty-approved rapper Kodie Shane, and fans like rising Danish model Veneda Budny. If Reebok Classics don't turn out to be the next Stan Smith among fashion types, it won't be for lack of trying.

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