The Interview: Neal Heard, Creative Director, Meyba
Neal Heard’s name will ring a bell with those who remember his old White Riot label, the first proper and iconic book about "Trainers" – renamed "Sneakers" for the US market, his sterling design work with brands like Le Coq Sportif and Lyle & Scott and, of course, his "The Art of the Football Shirt" exhibition (and "The Football Shirts Book: The Connoisseur’s Guide") featuring some of the most classic and collectable footie shirts ever made at Jacket Required in 2017. Not to mention his own Lovers F.C line of contemporary takes on old-skool shirts that flew out of Urban Outfitters.
Now though, he’s been head-hunted as Mr Creative and chief of design for the relaunch of Meyba, the old Spanish sportswear brand that made the kits for the Barcelona football team from 1982 – 1992, a period that saw Johan Cruyff’s "Dream Team" and players of the likes of Maradona, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and even a young Pep Guardiola don the famous shirt. But this is not just a relaunch of a retro kit, this is a full lifestyle/streetwear collection which will have various “drops” and collaborations with the likes of YMC and 6876. Not to mention making proper football kits again. Heard tells all ahead of the launch today on Meyba.com – and in stores soon, no doubt
What’s the Meyba story?
Meyba was actually established in Spain in 1940 as a swimwear brand, so it’s a name that has been around in various forms. It was originally started by two guys selling beach shorts. Their nicknames were Mey and Ba, hence the name. They then went into making other sportswear, particularly football kits – most famously for Barcelona for 10 years between 1982 – 1992. That was their big thing and it coincided with the time of Maradona playing for them early on, and later the likes of a young Pep Guardiola when they won the European Cup for the first time ever – wearing a Meyba kit at Wembley in the final against Sampdoria in 1992. They won 1-0 thanks to an extra-time free-kick scored by Ronald Koeman, who has of course gone back to be their manager now. That European Cup final happened to be the last game Barcelona wore a kit supplied by Meyba. The team’s success was the work of the great Johan Cruyff, who himself played for Barcelona from 1973-78. He returned to the club in 1988 to instil the "total football" philosophy he’d learnt at Ajax in the Netherlands. The ’92 winners were known as his "Dream Team". All the better for wearing Meyba!
What happened then?
They also made kits for other Spanish football clubs, but by 1992 other big brands were started to dominate the kit market and they were getting edged out. I guess like the likes of Admiral did by the big guns of Adidas and Nike. The following year, for the 1992/93 season, the European Cup became known as the Champions League with the new big TV deals bringing vast amounts of money in to the game. Obviously, the big brands subsequently wanted a bigger slice of the market and flexed their muscles.
Was there anything special about the kit Barcelona wore on that winning night in 1992?
What’s interesting about that particularly night was they wore their away kit, which was this crazy orange design. A couple of years ago, I think in The Economist, they did a study about the growth in the market for vintage football shirts, and that shirt has seen the biggest growth in terms of value out of any shirts from the past 40-odd years. It was the number one shirt, not even match worn, just the replica kit – which could fetch £700 for the shirt. I’ve got a remake of it, but even that was hard to find. I still collect football shirts myself, but these days the prices have gone insane for the most sought-after shirts. Three or four years ago, before I curated "The Art of the Football Shirt" exhibition as part of the Jacket Required trade show in July 2017, a really expensive shirt would have been about £150, though maybe the top five would have been a bit more. Nowadays, any of the really good ones go for more like £300-£400. Football shirts from the 1990s have become the hot thing now. There’s a certain nostalgia to it, but actually the kits got really graphical then and that’s the fashion appeal. There was Manchester United’s away "snowflake" shirt and then there was the Arsenal away yellow and blue "bruised banana" shirt – both very sought after. Even the England third kit shirt, the blue one they wore in the New Order "World in Motion" video in 1990 – is in the top five shirts nowadays. Anything a bit graphical and crazy tends to be the most wanted in collections, or just to wear as a vintage fashion piece.
How did your new role as Creative Director for Meyba come about?
Jordi Cruyff, Johan’s son, is involved with the company behind bringing the brand back, and they were looking at someone to come in and bring a bit of something different, while also respecting the brand’s past. I’ve been brought on board to take them in another direction with a new fashion line, though they are looking at once against supplying kits to teams. I’ve been saying for some time that football and fashion have been really fusing and crossing over. It didn’t used to be considered cool to be seen wearing a football shirt, but nowadays you even see kids in skate parks wearing them. If you talked about football shirt collecting 10 years ago, it would have been mainly nerdy train-spotter types – a bit like myself really! But the football shirts being worn now are seen as very fashionable, again particularly those crazier designs from the 1990’s, but even like the mad green one that the Nigeria national team wore at the 2018 World Cup finals.
How are you finding the new role?
It’s brilliant. They are superb to work for and it’s one of those dream jobs where I’m getting the creative freedom to do something a bit special. They hired me for my expertise, so they are letting me get on with it and do what I want to do. The goal is to really get across that football and fashion crossover - with lifestyle and sportswear pieces that really fit the brand and "the moment", targeting that younger and edgier streetwear kind of customer. I didn’t want to just go "retro" either, as other brands looking to remake old shirts have done. It’s great to have the heritage and work off that, but I want to take it forward. We should be making football shirts today that people want to buy in the future – making our own history.
So, did they approach you about designing football kits, a fashion collection, or both?
It was about both actually. They said they wanted to bring the brand back and they were targeting teams. They’re not doing it as solely a fashion label. But, I said they were in a beautiful moment in time – as football and fashion are fusing like never before. Even the likes of Palace, the cool skateboard brand, has made a third kit shirt for Juventus this season. That’s an example of where it’s going. So, I was saying that I’d love to supply teams but, as well as making the coolest kits we can, including what they train in and travel in, let’s make cool stuff that they want to wear off the pitch, which can then be sold in to fashion retailers, as the two coexist as one.
How big is the collection and what are some the key pieces across both men’s and women’s?
There’s about 28 pieces in total, but the new collection will be released in three staggered drops, launching with a nine-piece first drop to kick it off in early November followed by staggered releases up to Christmas. The important thing to remember with the whole collection is that it is based on the premise of football team-wear and fashion never before being so connected. The collection is based upon an actual football team’s "teamwear", but in a format that you would be as happy wearing to the pub after a five-a-side game with your mates as you would when actually playing a full proper game. We have taken classic football pieces such as actual shirts, bibs and training tops, and made them more streetwear relevant, utilising bold colours and fashion details. The pack includes pack away training jackets and zip-through tops with stowaway hoods. Tees are £35, sweats £65, hoodies £70 and jackets are £110.
Are you targeting fashion and sports retailers?
We are only landing on line with Meyba.com to start but are in active talks with top doors for exclusive launches. We definitely see it as cool sportswear and more fashion linked, but at the same time Meyba are getting back into supplying professional teams and they intend pieces of our fashion collection to sit in their teamwear offerings too. There’s a cross over we are seeking to develop and exploit and we have talked to a few teams in Europa League places over the past month, so watch this space for that.
What are the YMC and 6876 collaborations?
The collaborations see both brands rework some of the iconic Meyba Barcelona jerseys. Meyba were the kit supplier to the great club for 10years, which saw Johan Cruyff and Terry "El Tel" Venables as managers and players like Maradona, Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup and Ronald Koeman donning the Meyba "M" logo on their shirts. Kenneth Mackenzie of 6876 is a Cruyff acolyte, so he jumped at the chance of giving a 6876 flavour to the classic kit, and Fraser Moss from YMC scoured the archive to put a YMC spin on a Meyba Barca shirt. It’s going to turn some heads, as well as some defenders! They launch in the first week of December, with a few other collaborations such as with Hikerdelic, SoccerBible, Mundial Mag and Cult Kits. They have reworked our new tie-dye jersey and one of our historic Barcelona archive jerseys.
Any other plans for Meyba this year?
COVID-19 restrictions willing, the brand will have a pop-up shop in central London in order to celebrate our return, but also to say hello to families and friends and make new relationships. The new Meyba collection will be on sale at the shop, along with some surprises, so keep an eye out on Instagram @meyba_ and get ready for an overhead kick in the dying seconds!