My name is Brian Wolff, or to my online friends ‘Baku Brian.’ Chelsea fans probably know me as Vice Chair, Chelsea in America, or the head of Chelsea Chicago Supporters Club. I also serve as the Overseas Representative on the Chelsea Fans Forum. But there’s one job that brings me great joy (or creative pain, sometimes both.) For the past 7 years or so, I’ve been designing numerous banners and flags that have hung proudly inside and outside Stamford Bridge. They’ve appeared in a variety of away stands at home and abroad, and also within Chelsea supporter clubs around the world.
Since I started my journey of creating flags based on retro Chelsea shirts, I thought it would be fun to walk you all the steps that go into my creative process. With some luck and ideas of your own, you all can find the untapped potential in your own clubs’ historical shirt collections as well!
1) SELECTING A SHIRT
All of my designs start with an initial step of selecting a shirt to which I want to “give life” through art. I personally enjoy vibrant, rich colours that stand out both on physical and digital platforms. Strong colours that tend NOT to be used every year by the apparel manufacturers (i.e. home kits) are fantastic because they capture attention for being unique.
Reading the room is also important. The 90’s have been en vogue as my generation has grown up and craves the nostalgic looks and feels of yesteryear. Those looks, colour palettes and overall style are really popular right now, as evident by current kit design.
2) UNIQUE DIFFERENTIATORS
The Chelsea 94-96 tangerine-and-graphite away kit is one of the most recognisable in all of football, regularly charting near top of lists for most ridiculous / ugly kits of all time. Its colours have rarely been used on Chelsea kits since, and they are certainly unique enough to grab the eye. Of course it had to be my first effort!
In this case, I knew the colours would be a massive hit within the Chelsea community. I also wanted capture the vertical design and colour contrast. Those are my differentiators that I will build my design around. Try to find what makes your shirts unique from all the rest – patterns, colours, designs, fabrics, logos…by now I’m sure you’ve got some ideas.
3) EXECUTING A DESIGN
Using those differentiators as anchor pieces, I always try to build a design that both honours and calls back to the original shirt, but without being an exact replica. This is where creativity and personality in graphic design can really help make a unique piece.
As you can see, the final design is quite simple. The vibrant orange stands out immediately, contrasted by the grey, and every Chelsea supporter knows what look I am trying to echo. I skipped adding the very small black crosshatch on the shirt as it would take away from the vibrant colours. Often, less is more!
Let’s take a look at these second and third efforts. This red-and-white diamond piece is inspired by the 1990-1992 Chelsea away shirt. As you can see, I didn’t replicate the shirt pattern entirely, instead creating my own more simple background pattern inspired by it. I think it gives balance and uniqueness to a flag that the actual shirt lacks.
This yellow-blue-sky blue flag is a very basic reimagining of Chelsea’s iconic 1998 away shirt, one of the most glorious periods in the club’s history. Shines as bright as the sun on rainy London days! Man’s best friend approved. This copies the unique gradients on the shirt’s vertical stripes but leaves the rectangular shapes unblended for harsh, maximum contrast.
In executing a design, I urge you to focus on what you will like because you will be your harshest critic and need to be happy with the final effort. Don’t be afraid to tinker, saving 5-7 different designs if you can’t settle on a certain feature. Go to bed, wake up and I can assure you that fresh inspiration will hit you!
I’ve diversified into making more modern flags as well based upon kit designs post-2000, as well as player flags. I also am working on long overdue flag for this fantastic 1992 Chelsea home shirt, one with a really unique 90’s fabric pattern.
If you’d like to follow me on socials to keep up to date with new designs, see very opinionated Chelsea takes, or just chat about design work, follow me on Twitter @brienwulff