Beauden Barrett models the new All Black jersey, designed by Yohji Yamamoto (supplied)

‘All Black jersey by avant-garde Japanese designer’ is less exciting than it sounds

Revered Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto has unveiled the jersey the All Blacks will wear when they compete in the Rugby World Cup this September. The result is… meh, writes Josie Steenhart.

Not only is there no white collar on the new All Blacks jersey, released yesterday (if we don’t count the accidental sneak peek by Aussie sportswear retailer Peter Wynn’s Score on June 24) – there’s no collar at all.

And while to the uninitiated the jersey may look an awful lot like a very tight, plain black t-shirt, both the Adidas and All Blacks camps are very keen for us to understand it has subtle layers (possibly some so subtle they’re subliminal).

Designed by celebrated Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto via his Adidas collaboration brand Y-3 for the ABs to wear at this year’s Rugby World Cup, the jersey is described in a press release as “a fusion of Japanese and Māori design elements”.

Other than the colour (Yohji is a big fan of black), it certainly has little in common with the Japanese-born, Paris and Tokyo-based designer’s elegant, intelligent and highly avant-garde aesthetic, which usually also extends into Y-3 to a lesser, sportier degree.

A model walks the runway at the Yohji Yamamoto fashion show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 in Paris. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

As this is definitely a situation requiring function over form, I guess he had to make an exception. We’re not going to win the Cup in swathes of cleverly draped and tailored fabric. But still.

“We wanted to create a jersey that brought together the Japanese and Māori cultures,” says Yamamoto.

And yes, on closer inspection, fern fronds and koru abound. They’re even “hand-drawn”, according to the release, though presumably it was only the original print that was hand-drawn as these are manufactured into the fabric.

“The fern design represents the legacy of those players who have worn the jersey in the past, while the unfurling koru represents the younger players coming through – the All Blacks of the future,” says Luke Crawford, New Zealand Rugby’s kaihautū (Māori advisor) who advised Adidas on Māori design.

“I think Y-3 have really captured the mauri (essence) of what the All Blacks jersey stands for and how it represents us, and created a truly beautiful garment.”

Captain Kieran Reed gives his bicep a scratch wearing the new All Black jersey (supplied)

In terms of technology – perhaps rather than design – it is undoubtedly innovative. A whopping 25 percent lighter than previous designs, each jersey is made using seamless, woven technology that “aims to provide an unparalleled fit, strength and speed”. And, apparently, “the all black collar returns for the Rugby World Cup” – a somewhat arguable claim, given that the new jersey is entirely collar-free.

There’s been plenty of controversy over the collar before. When the ABs ditched old mate Canterbury and switched to Adidas back in 1999, there was a right royal hooha, and the piece de resistance on the German company’s coup was to snip the big floppy white collar off the historic and globally recognised jersey, replacing it with a Mandarin-style short collar in, you guessed it, black. (They are called the ALL Blacks, so at least it’s accurate).

The white elephant, I mean, white collar, had been around for more than a century (my personal favourite rendition from 1924 involves a lace-up leather thong – it’s unlikely Adidas will re-up that detail any time soon), and has been brought back on occasion, including at the 2011 World Cup, won by the All Blacks for the first time since 1987.

The Japanese elements of the jersey that Yamamoto mentions are so subtle I think I achieved a full state of zen trying to identify them (I guess they have ferns in Japan too?), though the strikingly blue training jersey features an illustration (hand-drawn?) that purports to be a nod to the iconic Japanese ‘lucky cat’, which, according to the Adidas promo video, brings “prosperity” and “good fortune”.

Join us and help make
independent journalism happen!
Find Out More

I was 100 percent expecting it to be some fashion-forward variation of that cute beckoning kitty often seen in Japanese shop windows, but a lengthy Google search confirms that’s Maneki Neko and this one’s called Fuku Neko and Google has nothing on it. *Shrugs

At the end of the day though, it’s how the boys in black feel wearing it that matters.

“It’s always special pulling on the All Blacks jersey, and to wear one that has used our culture to inspire the design will be especially cool,” says All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

So while they might not be runway-ready, hopefully they’ll be ready to run.



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.