If you’re a loyal reader, you’ll remember Mark Willis. He’s an absurdly talented designer with a sixth sense for futbol; his recent San Jose Earthquakes rebrand really speaks for itself. What you may not know is Mark also has a hand in clothing — at Clean Sheet Co. he’s created a whole line celebrating the upcoming World Cup. (The Pasadena, in particular, I adore. Mine’s seen two USMNT games already.)

Mark’s the perfect guy to pick apart the recently unveiled LA Galaxy and UNDEFEATED collab. So we did just that:

There’s a lot to digest here — a number of pieces, and not many recurring elements between them. So this is a big question:  now that we’ve seen the line, what’s your takeaway?

It’s a very cool approach. It looks like the collection combines three specific things: UNDEFEATED’s sense of style, the Galaxy’s brand and a general fútbol aesthetic.  In general, it does so quite successfully.  UNDEFEATED’s approach is a careful one – and I think necessarily so – because they’re dealing with an aspirational brand.  The resulting pieces run the gamut from basic (the sweatpants) to cool (the hoodie) to inspired (the black longsleeve).  They did a great job.

A complaint I always hear about collections like this, but especially this one, is that it’s too simple. I think one guy on Reddit basically said “Give me a screen printing machine and some t-shirts and I’ll do better.”

That can be a common refrain; I’ve heard the same thing from time to time about some of our work at Clean Sheet Co.and, at least for me, it often misses some truth about designing great clothing. There’s a reason UNDEFEATED is successful, and it’s not an accident.  They have beautiful ideas, and they’ve put the time and effort in to get them out into the world. That’s not easy to do, and not nearly as simple as having a screen printing machine at your disposal.  The UNDEFEATED brand is where it is because James Bond and the team behind it have 1) the talent to excite people with design, and 2) the drive to actually produce their ideas as real products. The internet makes it very easy for bombastic comments to gain traction, but in reality it’s really hard to do either one of those things, let alone both. In fact, I highly recommend trying it!  After some practice – cycles of designing, making, selling, and analyzing – it gets easier to understand why simplicity done right is so powerful. It’s powerful and it connects with people.

We’re used to seeing sportswear that’s just a regular jacket — or shirt, or shorts — with the team’s emblem slapped on. What are the things a designer has to think about when taking a brand and adapting it into legitimate streetwear?

I touched on this a bit in the piece I wrote recently about branding the San Jose Earthquakes.  One of the general points I made there was that interesting identities need to have an aura – they should be visually arresting, but there should also be something a bit unexplained about them, something that entices people to learn more.  Shep Fairey’s OBEY sticker – which became a brand before there were any products to sell, and before it even made sense to most people – is a prime example.  It made people need to find out more.  Good brands have this quality, and streetwear brands like UNDEFEATED have it in spades. The Galaxy has an established, obvious brand – so UNDEFEATED had the task of introducing elements that weren’t so easily explained, and that had an element of intrigue to them.

Last year’s capsule collection was made by Adidas, but the design was all about LA. In UNDEFEATED’s line the two brands are given equal footing. I think for some LA fans the reaction is almost: “What gives them the right?”

That’s fair.  Although as far as streetwear goes, often the brand and the design approach can’t be separated. UNDEFEATED’s distinctive “tally” logo itself is a centerpiece of their style. To give something that UNDEFEATED look, the logo needs to be there. I can see Galaxy fans being cautious about this, and that’s totally understandable. This might be a capsule year to skip for some Galaxy purists; I’m sure there will be other approaches in the future that give the Galaxy more of an individual treatment.  To me, the interplay between the two brands creates a lot of good energy.

UNDFTD sweats

You’ve put serious man-hours into redesigning MLS crests. UNDEFEATED whipped up a different take on the Galaxy crest for this line — they stuck a sword through it. Thoughts?

I don’t think they mean the crest to be taken too seriously; my impression is that it’s something UNDEFEATED found in that margin where the Galaxy’s branding met their own work.  It’s interesting to pull apart the themes that each brand is going for – the Galaxy name and branding culture are not inherently confrontational; the idea of the Galaxy’s brand harkens back to the New York Cosmos and the idea of a collection of stars and a mass of great talent.  It’s not trying to intimidate you by showing force; more by showing status.  Meanwhile, UNDEFEATED’s very name is confrontational; it dares you to take it on. The collaborative crest splits the difference – it’s got the silhouette of the Galaxy crest, and a tip of the hat to the quasar symbol – but the sword and the UNDEFEATED mark give it an aggressive, domineering feeling that the Galaxy brand alone doesn’t have.

There’s more to come from UNDFTD later in the season. What would you like to see? In what ways do you want to see the Galaxy broadening their brand?

I think James hinted at some creative cut and sew pieces that will take the collaboration beyond screenprinting – something, incidentally, we’re also working on at Clean Sheet Co. – and I have a feeling that he and the UNDEFEATED crew have some really cool ideas up their collective sleeve.  I’d hope for a take on the Galaxy’s jersey; maybe an interesting callback to the gold-and-green days, or something that references the sash.  Whatever they come up with, I know I’ll be watching closely.

One other thing I want to mention is that the top soccer brands in the global game have an artistic streak.  Top leagues like Germany and Spain are a great indicator of this – Real Madrid, who arguably inspired LA’s current look, have a very simple first-choice jersey, but a very creative approach to things like typography.  The Bundesliga has, traditionally, had very creative takes on the same. One of UNDEFEATED’s best touches showed how the Galaxy’s number font could be influenced by the quasar (check out the long sleeve black shirt for a great example).  This is what great brands do – and though there is a uniformity to MLS uniforms, in my opinion it’s something the Galaxy could actually keep and use on the field.

And – for the record – Clean Sheet Co. would love the chance to create a capsule collection with an American soccer club.  The Revs are in our backyard, but there are some amazing American soccer brands out there in MLS and NASL which could do some incredibly creative things, and we’d love to help.