Kappa: How a Sock Company in Turin Became a Cultural Powerhouse
From their humble origins as a sock firm in Northern Italy to the runways of Florence, Kappa have become one of the most malleable brands in contemporary sportswear.
Bolstered by the provocative advertisements of the 1970s, Olympic success in the 1980s, and lucrative football partnerships across Europe, Kappa quickly transcended any one definition, the head-turning ‘Omini’ logo adopted by hip hop visionaries like Frank Ocean and the trailblazing Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy.
In celebration of Kappa’s latest SS19 collection, Sneaker Freaker took a look back at the moments that defined the extraordinarily versatile and unflinchingly iconoclastic label hailing from Piedmont, Italy.
Socks From the Foothills of Northern Italy
It’s one of the most recognisable logos on earth. A man and woman sit naked, back to back, the outline of both figures gracing everything from Damon Albarn’s tongue-in-cheek tracksuits during the ‘Battle of Britpop’ to Ronaldo’s FC Barcelona jersey.
Conceived in 1969, it was by mere happenstance that the original design took shape. Created during a photoshoot for a bathing suit advertisement, the backlight created a unique silhouette that Kappa quickly adopted as their official logo. Sparked by some provocative advertisements throughout the next decade (Kappasutra, anyone?), the Kappa brand announced itself as one of the world’s foremost agent-provocateurs alongside its subsidiary, Jesus Jeans.
But Kappa’s genealogical roots extend far deeper than the Omini logo. In fact, the Kappa brand was first founded as a sock company in Piedmont – translated literally as ‘the foot of the mountains’.
Following the donation of a weaving machine, Abramo Vital began producing socks under the Maglificio Calzificio Torinese (MCT) banner, before branching out into underwear. In 1959, production hit a roadblock under the company’s Aquila label, and MCT began tagging their pieces with a bold ‘K’ – a nod to the German ‘Kontroll’ – to guarantee the quality of its products. The simple tag spiked a boom in sales, and two years later, ‘Kappa’ (the Greek letter for ‘K’) was born.
The Juventus Drip
Kappa’s rise to cultural ubiquity began on the football field. Convinced of their economic viability, Kappa were the first brand in Italy to sponsor a football team. Beginning with the local Turin club Juventus in the 1970s, Kappa would later kit out the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Roma and Tottenham Hotspur during the 1980s and 1990s, exposing the brand to Europe's feverish football fans, and the so-called ‘casuals’ with a penchant for high-quality Italian sportswear.
Soon, Kappa was embraced from a cross section of die-hard football fans and streetwear aficionados alike, with fans of English clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United spilling across Europe in search of the latest quality Italian sportswear.
The 1990s proved particularly lucrative for Kappa, with Juventus winning their third Champions League final, Barcelona FC winning their fourth European Cup, and 'The Phenomenon' Ronaldo picking up the top scorer in La Liga and Ballon d'Or – all while wearing the Omini!
In 1984, under the tutelage of Dr. Kuznetz from NASA, Kappa stepped into the most competitive arena of all: the Olympic Games.
Taking aesthetic and technological cues from Russian astronauts, Kuznetz used iridescent silver stylings to reflect light and keep the United States’ athletes from overheating. The partnership between Kappa and the US track and field team eventually spanned 10 years, with legendary athletes like Edwin Moses, Carl Lewis, and Florence Griffith Joyner all stepping up to the podium in Kappa.
But it’s not just the Olympic Games that caught the eye of Kappa. The Italian arbiters of style have also sponsored rugby teams, Fijian national teams, the famous New York Marathon, and even a music festival in Turin!
Empowered by streetwear’s current preoccupation with revivalist fashion, Kappa are perfectly primed to revisit some of the iconic pieces worn throughout the brand’s storied history.
In 2017, breakout fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy linked up with Kappa for a 1990s-laden capsule, while in February 2019, Kappa Kontroll resurrected the beloved ‘K’ as a nostalgic nod to the brand’s enduring roots.
Yes, the humble sock company that sat ‘at the foot of the mountains’ in Northern Italy continues to successfully scale the intersection between sportswear and streetwear, the label’s nostalgic SS19 catalogue once again showing that the Omini’s history is, like the foothills of Piedmont, impossible to ignore.
You can shop the latest Kappa SS19 catalogue right now.