In 1966 Umbro had an agreement to provide kits for all 16 of the teams playing at the World Cup. The brand’s founder, Harold Humphreys, had sent his son John around the world to secure the deals. Contracts were drawn up, kits were designed and manufactured, and The USSR turned up in their own kit anyway. Brilliant.
Fifty-two years later Umbro discover a long-lost World Cup story that has never been told with the Unforgotten Collection. Inspired by ’60s Soviet design and with a uniquely modern aesthetic, the collection bridges the gap between Umbro’s past and its present perfectly.
We caught up with Russian photographer Olya Ivanova to discuss the unique story, how her work is inspired by her homeland and models that look like Russian poets.
A lot of your personal photography work seems focused on documenting the lived experience of people outside of highly-concentrated urban centres—has this informed how you approached this project?
My first assignment influenced me a lot. In 2009 I shot the story about people who run away from big cities to a small village in Siberia to wait for the Apocalypse. For the first time in my life, I spent a week in a village talking to people, trying to find somebody who was ready to pose for me. It was the first time I saw how people live so far from Moscow, between deep woods and fields. I was totally impressed with the feeling of freedom I found there. So I decided to continue photographing village life.
What was it like working with the narrative of the forgotten ‘Missing Team’?
It’s my first campaign experience, so it was a big responsibility for me. I had a lot of preparation: I found the stadium by myself, tested a few cameras there at day and night, film and digital, with floodlights and in daylight, I even visited when they were playing football to get a sense of the spirit during a game. I saw a lot of archive pictures with Soviet football teams, looking for poses and details. I enjoyed every part of this work.
With young Russian creatives being more visible than ever, do you think hosting the World Cup and football-related projects like this have created a lot of interesting opportunities?
I hope so. I don’t know much about other projects around football, but I like how sport and art support each other. And of course, sports brands give a lot of great ideas and freedom to create to the artists.
Why did you decide shooting on 120mm film was a good fit for the shoot?
I used wide film and two middle format cameras for this story because they give very atmospheric pictures with nostalgic colours and great Carl Zeiss optic. That’s important for portraits. At the same time, middle format gives me good quality enough for printing on a large scale.
What was it about the Eduard Streltsov Stadium that felt ideal for shooting this project?
It was the first place I thought about when I got the brief. Unfortunately, almost all the old stadiums in Moscow have been redeveloped, and the Streltsov Stadium will also be rebuilt soon. In Soviet times it was a sports centre for workers from ZIL (a famous automobile factory, now closed), and it included football pitches, a boxing hall, swimming pool and also a cultural centre nearby. Now the stadium is going to be closed for renovation, so we timed this perfectly.
The collection mixes contemporary leisure wear with a heavy nod to Russian Constructivism—do you feel the collection has aesthetically achieved this? How do you feel the shoot reflects this?
I did not know about a constructivism influence, but the architecture of the stadium supports this idea. Also one of the models looked like a young Vladimir Mayakovsky, a Russian poet of that period.
What was it about the themes of the Umbro ‘Unforgotten’ collection that excited you about working with it?
I love these kind of nostalgic stories with the ideas of revival, comeback, and greetings from the past. I’m interested in places on the edge of disappearing, with an atmosphere frozen in time like our stadium. Also, I’m grateful for an opportunity to use my documentary style of work and my ideas. I know it’s not very often where you can work with such a degree of freedom and respect for your preferences.
How do you feel the ‘Missing Team’ of the USSR of ’66 would react to the new collection and your shoot?
I hope they would react with humour.