A fashion treasure, hummel is the 90-year-old sportswear label still making new waves in the industry. i-D online dug into the brand’s old albums and spoke to its owner and chairman, Christian Stadil.
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It’s one of the most recognisable logos in fashion, and the third oldest sportswear company in the world. hummel – always in lower-case – is the frontrunner, whose legacy is something of a jewel, not just in sportswear but in fashion too. In a time where fashion’s relationship with street-smart sportswear is stronger than ever, hummel has been catapulted back into stardom – not least on the London scene where its sporty, old-school and somewhat gritty retro aesthetics seem to speak a language not far from that of the city’s young designers.
German for ‘bee’, hummel was founded in Hamburg in 1923 and spent its life travelling from owner to owner before settling in Denmark in the 80s. Since buying the label in 1999, owner and chairman Christian Stadil has been putting his characteristically casual and rather ingenious touch to hummel, with a breath of fresh air that’s still in keeping with the old brand’s proud heritage and trusty customer base. On one of his monthly trips to London, Christian spoke to i-D online and gave us access to hummel’s priceless photo albums from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
What is hummel’s relationship with Great Britain? We were a relatively big label in England in the 80s. The way we like to look at it is that back then, the players chose what they what were wearing themselves. Today it’s very money-driven. But some of the biggest teams played in hummel: Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Wales’ national team. Some of the biggest players: Paul Gascoigne – and Vinnie Jones. We returned to the British market in the 90s, sponsoring Aston Villa and some of the Scottish teams such as Dundee United and Heart of Midlothian. So right now we’re branching out hummel and what we call ‘sports fashion’ on the UK market.
How much is sportswear and how much is fashion? We started doing ‘sports fashion’ in 1999 when I took over the company, and today it makes up half of our revenue. Our claim to fame in the 70s was the fact that we were a player’s brand. At the time hummel was owned by athletes such as Allan Simonsen, who was European Footballer of the Year in 1977, and Henning Jensen, who played for Real Madrid. Frank Arnesen from Chelsea was co-owner in the 80s. You can imagine the kind of sales he generated.
You’re quite popular on the London sportswear/streetwear scene. Do you cater to that segment? No, not really. We’ve got a kind of light tower strategy when it comes to marketing, which means we go for what we believe is right for us in terms of what we’re passionate about. I think as soon as you start chasing a certain target market, you’ll start chasing it away. At one point I thought about doing a campaign using famous hooligans as models – you know, with their crew cuts and so on – and tell their stories through the campaign; what firm they belong to and so on, but I was advised not to. I think the London subcultures are extremely interesting, though, and we always keep up with what’s going on.
Do you follow London’s young designers, and especially people such as Christopher Shannon, Astrid Andersen and Martine Rose, whose aesthetics are quite hummel? I do, and I’m completely omnivorous when it comes to fashion and culture and everything that’s going on. Also, I’m on the board of Denmark’s Design School so I get to meet all the graduates there and get under their skin.
Would you consider doing a collaboration with a young designer? We were in talks with in Astrid Andersen about doing something. I think she’s fantastic. The basketball stuff she’s done is amazing. We had two other collaborations planned around that time, though – we do about two a year – so the timing wasn’t right. But she’s incredibly, incredibly talented.
You launched the Japan collection, hummel J, a few weeks ago… Yeah, we’ve collaborated with different Japanese designers and artists. We’ve done bags and accessories with master-piece, which is one of the top five accessory brands in the world. Then there’s the apparel collection, which of course has a sports element to it. There’s a bee print, fleece-lined trousers, Thinsulate trousers, which are wind and waterproof… every piece has an element of functionality, even though it’s high fashion. I’ve owned hummel for fourteen years now, and I’m not afraid to say this is the highest-quality collection we’ve ever done.
Text: Anders Christian Madsen
All pictures courtesy of hummel International