55. Nike 'Vapor I' (2016-19) *
Problematic. It’s an unlikely word to some up Nike’s first ‘Vapor’ offering in the world of shirt templates. Undoubtedly brilliant in its modern appearance (to say nothing of its construction as a sportswear garment), it has a complexity lost to many. For all that, it was an incredibly popular design and one that often took the spotlight away from its competitors… and became so good at doing so, that it actually made Nike a little less popular in the process.
It all began back in 2016 when Nike launched a set of kits that were made with its new AeroSwift technology built in. Featuring a special type of fabric weave that could stretch more, disband moisture better and make the player feel more comfortable, these new shirts were made for Nike’s prestige teams, including England, Brazil, France and Portugal.
From left: England (2016-17 home), Brazil (2016-17 home), France (2016-17 home), Portugal (2016-17 home).
Nearly all the shirts in this initial batch featured a woven pattern across the upper chest that looks like the result of asking ChatGPT what butterflies will look like in the year 3000. These patterns provided maximum ventilation and sweat-wicking benefits to those wearing them, and an intriguing layer of discernible detail to boot. Sadly, it seems only to have been offered to a select few teams, and no doubt those paying Nike the most money, at that.
Yet even without that lepidopterous pattern, there were enough features in the template to keep everyone else happy. Raglan sleeves were often coloured differently to the body of the shirt to extend the visual interest, while a tape ran vertically down both sides of the trunk for the same purpose.
From left: USA (2016-17 home, 2017 away), England (2016-17 away), Netherlands (2016-17 away), Portugal (2016-17 away).
Both of these elements contributed beautifully in a way that allowed some teams to freshen up their on-pitch look. Taking the USA men’s home shirt as an example, it meant the national team could wear white with powder blue sleeves and red taping quite harmoniously. Adjusting the tone rather than the hue meant that France could wear royal blue home shirts with darker blue sleeves and sides. A clever way to make a subtle (or not so subtle) change, depending on the team.
The trouble was, not every team was looking for versatile, clever design. When they answered Nike’s call for specifics on their new kit(s), some just wanted a predominantly one-colour shirt. New Zealand wanted one that was all black, Singapore chose an all red home shirt and Saudi Arabia picked all green for their second choice shirt. Other teams kept only the taping in a contrasting colour, or maybe just the short stumps of thick piping that ran either side of the neck.
From left: New Zealand (2017-18 away), Singapore (2016-18 home), Saudi Arabia (2017-18 away), India (2017 home).
For what seemed to be a relatively simple design, there were certainly enough ways for teams to customise it. Some versions of the shirt even had an additional inset to square off the shallow point of the neckline. Alas, all too many teams elected to have a fairly basic version of the template, one that looked, to all intents and purposes, the same as Nike’s Trophy III.
And that was half the problem with this initial version of the Vapor shirts; they seemed to have a split personality between colourful/interesting and plain/basic. Some lucky national teams managed to incorporate a complex design into theirs, such as South Korea’s tonal pattern featuring a subtle ‘S,’ or Turkey’s criss-cross grid that created its own gradient fill, but these were often the exception to the rule.
All very nice and all very well executed, but taken as a whole, Vapor I (as I’ve opted to call it) was essentially the first phase of an entire era that sprawls on to this day, morphing slowly from one interpretation of the design to the next. Knowing which versions fit into Vapor I, Vapor II, etc is actually quite tricky. Maybe they should all just be called ‘Vapor,’ as if to denote a single entity that merely adds new customisable elements from time to time.
From left: South Korea (2016-17 home), Turkey (2016-17 home), Poland (2016-17 home), China (2016 away).
It’s certainly true to say that the first great exposure for Vapor I came in Euro 2016, with both finalists, France and Portugal, wearing the template. It first appeared at the start of the same year on the backs of teams as far afield as Finland, Chile and China before finally reaching clubs such as Manchester City, Monaco and Shakhtar Donetsk in time for the 2016-17 season. The more basic version of the template made much wider inroads the following season, even reaching non-league football in England with teams such as Leyton Orient and Dover Athletic.
Yet what was apparent right from the start is that this super-template, for all its versatility and style, made a lot of enemies in the kit community right from the very start of its existence. Much like some of the great Adidas templates of World Cups past, Vapor I reached saturation point very quickly. A victim of its own success (or perhaps ruthless marketing), it was never going to be the kind of niche design appreciated only by people who ‘know their stuff.’
From left: Manchester City (2016-17 home), Monaco (2016-17 home), Shakhtar Donetsk (2016-18 home), RB Salzburg (2016-17 away).
For that reason alone, it’s a shame to think of this template as problematic, but it always did defy definition. For my money, Nike should have forced teams to have those shirt sleeves in a different tone or colour because that was part of the template’s charm. Instead, all too often, they allowed teams to wear the ‘boring’ version, the plain version, the version that had little to commend itself.
A template with great ideas that teams didn’t have to wear? That seems a little strange to me. Did a lot of teams want to wear it? Yes. Maybe that’s what we’re all missing; Nike know how to make modern kits with a universal simplicity that teams can either accept or make changes to at will. How can that not be considered a success?
To see more 'Vapor I' kits, visit the Nike 'Vapor I' template gallery page.
* Unofficial template name