Calzificio Torinese: The Kappa Story

Fashion / September 30, 2015
by Tom Armstrong

Every school had them. Those few lads with effortless, enviable flair, who could send an entire 20-a-side playground the wrong way with the most audacious of step-overs, who weren’t afraid to bend the rules of school uniform to add a touch of their own style.

In my school they were identifiable by their choice of sportswear. Two figures sat back to back. As Italian as espresso, conjuring up images of concrete bowl stadiums on balmy evenings, of Football Italia on a Sunday. Juventus, Ronaldo, Zidane. Kappa.

Kappa started life as ‘Calzificio Torinese’ a small company manufacturing functional socks in early 20th century Italy, supplying the Italian army with durable underwear and knitwear throughout WWII from their factory in Turin.

The change in branding to Kappa was, like most great ideas, born out of an accident. In 1956 an error in manufacturing lead to a run of stock being returned en masse by customers. To guarantee quality thereafter, the company added the ‘K (kappa) Kontroll’ tag to distinguish future products. Within two years, demand for these premium products made Kappa Italy’s leading producer in socks and underwear.

A young man named Maurizio Vitale took the reigns of the company in 1968, changing all production of its underwear and socks to army green after seeing John Lennon on TV wearing fatigues from a Vietnamese soldier. A year later during a photoshoot for Beatrix Swimsuit Catalogue, Vitale spotted the simple silhouette of a boy and a girl sitting back to back. In that split moment, the iconic Kappa logo was born.

The introduction of Kappa’s ‘Jesus Jeans’ in the 1970s caused outrage in the deeply traditional country, with court cases and widespread condemnation from the conservative establishment. In 1973 a court judge ordered the removal of hundreds of “religiously offensive” Kappa posters, finding an unlikely ally in radical feminists who also took exception to the campaign’s portrayal of women. Needless to say, the public controversy sent Kappa’s stock among young, fashion conscious Europeans sky high.

The 70s also saw Kappa introduce sportswear into its range, a development which would see the brand go on to sponsor Olympic and football teams, the logo famously decorating Giovanni Trappatoni’s formidable Juventus side, including one Michel Platini, throughout the 1980s. In fact, Kappa were the first brand in Italy to sponsor a football team, the importance of which can’t be underestimated.

Kappa’s association with football would be carried into the ‘90s on the backs of another golden generation of players. At a time when the English game was largely dominated by route one workhorses, the image of the Kappa logo on the sleeve of Ronaldo, Zidane and Figo plying their trade in the European leagues reinforced the brand as being synonymous with guile and flair.

As a kid at the time, wearing the distinctive Kappa logo on singled you out as different, worldly even. Gave you a license to flick, whether that be your curtained hair or a size 5 mitre over the caravan park. It took you out of the dull concrete landscapes of urban Britain and into the cobbled alleyways of Italy you’d seen on Fiat adverts, a legacy which endures to this day.

Click here to shop Kappa at Scotts.

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