Take a look at some of the best kits of the 23/24 season and chances are you’re looking at something from Italy. The nation that is rightly hailed as one of the most stylish in the world away from the pitch is once again finding its feet when it comes to match wear.

30-something years ago, spurred on by the spectacle that was Italia ’90, Italian football became the pinnacle of the sport for close to the following decade. It dominated in almost every sense, from the level of performance and the stars that plied their trade in Serie A, to the beautifully extravagant and oversized kits that were on show, week in, week out. It was a golden era, and with 90s nostalgia currently at its peak, Serie A has been the place to go. Now, following a dip in output over the last decade or so that saw the Italian leagues’ shirt designs merely on a par with their European counterparts, suddenly for the 23/24 season its back at the top, delivering striking design after striking design, and it’s not just restricted to the top division either.

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Check out any list ranking the best kits of the 23/24 season, and if they’re worth their salt, you’ll see that they’re dominated by shirts from the Italian leagues. Why? Well, digging a little deeper than the obvious “because they look the best”, you see that Serie A actually has 12 different kit manufacturers supplying the 20 teams – more than any of the other big European leagues. It’s a fact that’s even more interesting when you see that none of the “Big Three” brands (Nike, adidas, PUMA) dominate Serie A, or even Serie B for that matter.

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While Nike boast four teams in both the Premier League and Bundesliga, and three in La Liga and Ligue 1, they only have Inter Milan in Serie A. But, that’s a special relationship; along with Barcelona, Inter are Nike’s longest affiliated club, and it’s not ending anytime soon, following the announcement of an eight-year extension of their partnership. The extension will see the partnership surpass 30 years, with the renewal to run until 2031. 25 years, 20 trophies won together, and still going strong, it’s a prime reason why the Swoosh may pay special attention to their sole representative.

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And this is not just applicable to Nike: adidas have four teams in La Liga and the Premier league, three in Ligue 1, and two in the Bundesliga, while PUMA has three in La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga (only one in the Premier League at present though.) In Serie A, they only boast Juventus and Roma, and AC Milan and Sassuolo respectively. Again, like Nike and Inter (although not in the same league in terms of duration), the Three Stripes and Juve have a strong relationship (eight years and counting), as do PUMA and AC Milan (not quite as established, but expansive since it commenced in 2018), while adidas and Roma have enjoyed one of the strongest starts to a partnership in recent memory with three of the best individual kits of the season and surely the best set of the 23/24 campaign.

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This Jerry Maguire-esque approach of “less clients, but better service” may not be solely by choice, but it seems to be serving the league well, with each brand having a clear “champion” on which to focus the majority of its creative juices. And its in part through necessity that they’ve had to up their collective games, thanks largely to a huge surge in quality from the challenger brands, spearheaded by native outfit, Kappa.

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We’ve been quite vocal in our love of what Kappa have been doing this season, not just in Italy, but across the continent, and the levels and consistency achieved in their home nation can’t be ignored. That elevated focus on fashion in football shirt designs that was arguably kickstarted with Venezia a few seasons ago is now spreading across the Kappa board, with the likes of Fiorentina and Genoa in Serie A, and Spezia Calcio, SSC Bari and Brescia in Serie B reaping the rewards. And where Kappa have led the way, others have been quick to follow.

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As mentioned, Serie A boasts 12 different kit manufacturers – as does Serie B, coincidently. Heritage brands such as Mizuno have made a triumphant return to the top of the table with Lazio in Serie A, and FC Sudtirol in Serie B, stamping their mark quite literally in the case of the beautifully embossed Lazio kits, while brand’s such as Joma, Macron and Errea have upped their game with the likes of Atalanta, Bologna and Cittadella respectively. Even New Balance have a limited but quality representation in the country through Modena.

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The focus on fashion in football shirt designs that’s been a driving force in the last half a decade is likely another key contributor for why Italy is suddenly finding itself at the top of its game, for if we’re talking fashion, where else in the world would you go other than Italia. Italian style is about attention to detail – even when it looks a little rough around the edges. It’s called “Sprezzatura”; considered effortlessness. It’s an absolute ease of style that comes without seeming effort, and it’s here that Italy has an advantage over most other nations in the world. If you’re looking for inspiration, for an angle to a design, then you have it right on your doorstep, and brand’s have been quick to tap into it.

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One club that has leaned heavily into this space is Napoli, with their affiliation with Armani and EA7. The partnership that commenced in 2021 has since gone on to produce 1,071 kits (OK, not quite that many, but feels like it) and they’ve finally struck gold with their home and away kits this season, with the fashion brand really hitting their stride, ably assisted by the club bringing the Scudetto home, something that elevates the shirt designs no end. It’s another case of best attention being paid to one client (EA7 currently only produce kits for Napoli), and hopefully we’re now onto more of a quality-over-quantity approach. One or two great kits should always be the preference over seven mediocre ones.

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The beauty of Italy currently is that designers are really embracing the creative freedom that’s on offer, and this is reflected throughout the league divisions. Serie B, for example, certainly has nothing to envy when looking at the kits for Serie A. If anything, it’s a place where there’s an even greater degree of freedom, leading to some beautifully bespoke designs, and this together with the increasingly technical level of the championship seen in recent years is serving to bring new attention to the league.

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Even dropping into non-league territory, and Italian design studio Ezeta have been mining the heritage of clubs to produce kits for the likes of Alba Roma, Vest Calcio, Cavese 1919 and Boreale that serve to put these minnows on the map, traversing the white line with looks that are virtually stand-alone fashion pieces in themselves. It’s an example of what’s possible when the shackles are off, and it’s an approach that is being adopted more and more in Italy, leaning into the history, heritage and style of the nation.

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Back to that competition between brands in Italy, and it plays off as an interesting opposite to MLS, where adidas produce kits for every club. There, the Three Stripes has complete creative control, and that freedom without competition seems to work well, leading to a strong working relationship with clubs and fans alike. But that domination of a league will likely never happen in Europe, and so it’s good to see something of a level playing field in Italy, where any brand could go the extra mile and bring out the kit of the season.

Italy are back to the glory days of the 90s in terms of their shirt designs, comfortably showing the way for the rest of the continent to follow, and we’re all for it.