The Legendary PUMA Palermo Captains the Big Cat’s Terrace Revival
Terrace styles are once again running riot in the sneaker industry in 2023. Reared in the rain-battered stadiums of England, the nostalgia runs deep for PUMA, having built a vast archive of football Hall of Famers. With terracewear experiencing a grandstand comeback among a new generation of sneakerheads, the Palermo is ready to captain the Big Cat’s lineup, with the legendary model now reintroduced in both new and OG uniforms.
Fresh Loot in Liverpool
Football fans in England during the 1970s and 1980s were a truly diehard breed. Devoutly following their clubs across Europe like a religious procession, supporters of clubs such as Liverpool FC packed stadium terraces in search of the holy grail: the European Cup.
But it wasn’t just in raucous stadiums that fans forged allegiances. Throughout Europe, football fanatics raided local stores in the hunt for rare sneakers and exotic sportswear, in what became an endless cycle of sartorial one-upmanship. These ‘casuals’, as they came to be known, were tracking down elusive models long before the term ‘sneakerhead’ entered our lexicon. For casuals, it wasn’t merely enough to put the ball in the back of the net more times than the opponent, supporters also had to outpace rival clubs by scoring style points in the stands.
‘It was all about the shoes English fans couldn’t get in the UK,’ says Jan Kessel, senior product line manager at PUMA sportstyle. ‘Fans wore them in their home stadiums, so everyone else knew they were travelling abroad with their clubs on away trips.’
The Striking Sicilian
Of course, the brand logos had become inextricably tied to the perpetual peacocking in the stands. The bigger, the better. And like any good Sicilian, the Palermo model didn’t arrive with subtlety. Originally part of a special series of sneakers created by PUMA that paid homage to some of Europe’s most famous capital cities including London and Oslo, the Palermo still evokes a deep sense of football nostalgia.
Emblazoned with head-turning ‘Palermo’ branding on the sidewalls, the model left no illusions as to where your allegiances lay. The rarer the shoe, the more coveted among your peers, and the Palermo was worn like a badge of honour for the lucky few who managed to hunt down the model.
The Palermo is now primed for a rip-roaring comeback, but resurrecting the archival champion was not without its challenges.
‘The fact that we didn’t have an OG reference sample on hand for the upper was really challenging,’ says Kessel. ‘We mostly had to rebuild it based on pictures.’ Luckily, when it came to recrafting the midsole, an OG German Army Trainer – which bears similar tooling to the Palermo – was on-hand to guide the design team.
Despite this, PUMA were able to faithfully reproduce a model long considered a legend of their football catalogue. Replete with all the design blueprints that made the shoe a hit in stadium terraces during the 1980s, the model is manufactured with throwback T-toe construction and gum soles. No doubt capitalising on the trimmed down, minimalist sneaker aesthetics running laps around the zeitgeist in 2023, the Palermo utilises a mixture of crisp leather and suede that helped define its terrace teammates.
And its power wasn’t only in its vintage characteristics, but also in its unique storytelling opportunities. Last year, PUMA teamed up with UK boutique ,size? for a The Godfather-themed collection including ‘The Wedding’, ‘The Bar’, and ‘The Restaurant’. Revisiting iconic scenes and locations throughout Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 opus, the collaboration featured memorable quotes, including the classic line, ‘Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.’
The Terrace Revival in 2023
PUMA are continuing to welcome more diverse members to the Palermo family. With the 1980s terrace revival hitting a fever pitch, a whole new playing field of possibilities is opening up for women and fashion-savvy sneakerheads. Just recently, pop royalty Dua Lipa and model Emily Ratajkowski were both snapped wearing the silhouette.
A far cry from the male-dominated hooliganism that once pervaded football styles, terracewear has broadened its aperture to include more progressive values and aesthetics, opening up its membership to those not necessarily stuck to the stadium seats every weekend. For the new generation of sneakerheads, the football fashion of the 1970s and 80s is being reimagined.
‘Back then, people were attached to the superstar players PUMA had on their roster, like Pelé and Diego Maradona,’ says Helmut Fischer, head of PUMA archive. ‘Fans idolised them, so they bought their shoes – the Pele Brazil and Maradona Sport. These days, it’s more about the individual silhouette and how it fits.’
Indeed, the styling canvas for the Palermo is boundless. Like a star utility on the field, the model can play any position. From nostalgia-laden denim and tracksuit ‘fits that herald 1980s casual styles, to more modern wardrobes that playfully reinterpret the silhouette (think plaid skirts, jorts and knee-high socks – even lace!), Gen Z are relentlessly curating looks on TikTok. A simple search of the blokecore hashtag, a movement largely led by women, will no doubt serve as a moodboard for numerous Palermo styling options.
‘It’s funny. I remember a time when sneakers were strictly worn on Sundays or for sports,’ says Fischer. ‘Fashion always moves in cycles. Now people are finding new ways to style the sneakers they saw their parents wearing.’
Thankfully, there’s more than enough Palermos to experiment with. Arriving in its indelible blue and white colour palette alongside a duo of zesty iterations inspired by fruit vendors (known locally as fruttivendolo) – with a slew of colourways to roll out later in the year – the juice was certainly worth the squeeze when it came to reviving the iconic Palermo.
The Hunt Is On
The T-toe Palermo is kicking goals in 2023, and it does so with the backing of a stacked lineup of archival models that were equally embraced by the casuals of the 70s and 80s.
PUMA’s capital city-spruiking series emboldened links to specific locales, from the Roma to London and Palermo, and the Big Cat’s football stampede was bearing its cosmopolitan claws to rival football fans in the stands, stamping their itineraries to their sneakers like a passport.
Take for instance, the Oslo City. Originally intended for indoor sports like handball and volleyball, the 1968 model soon found itself in football terraces. The casual leather design with clean suede overlays is a perfect bookend to tracksuits and denim jeans, and because the shoe was built to sustain the sharp movements and heavy friction of handball players, the model transitioned well to outdoor-wear.
‘Handball was a really big deal in Germany,’ says Fischer. ‘Throughout the late 70s, mid-80s, we were working really closely with the national team.’
Several other classic silhouettes from the Herzogenaurach archives also found a second life throughout England’s football terraces. The Super Team was also originally designed for the German national handball team in 1982, while the Army Trainer appeared on the feet of German armed forces in the 1970s. The Delphin, emblazoned by its OG canary yellow and navy blue colourways, were hard to miss.
Football fans were also gravitating towards tennis silhouettes thanks to Argentinian tennis player Guillermo Vilas. While he was grinding opponents down with his herculean backhand, the GV gave football fanatics whiplash in train stations and terraces thanks to its chunky PU sole units – emblematic of other terrace classics like the Argentina and California.
In other words, PUMA’s football catalogue was bursting at the seams. And with terrace style purring again in modern sneaker culture, it was only fitting that the Big Cat would rise to strike for goal.
The 2023 Palermo is sure to revive the model for fans both new and existing, with the new colours adding zest to an old favourite. The only thing left to do now? Put the ball into the back of the net.
The PUMA Palermo is available right now from PUMA.