As demonstrated by the large array of sneakers, yoga pants, tracksuits and trainers seen on the high street, the athleisure movement is in full swing, even further pushed by the worldwide pandemic this year that kept millions of consumers inside. The sports and fitness fashion market is predicted to reach $231,7 billion by 2024 at an annual growth rate of 4,42% (sources: Global Inc, Research and Markets).
In this race, the luxury industry is determined to benefit from the favorable surge towards Nike and Adidas. Not a month goes by without a new collaboration between luxury houses and sports giants.
This crossover makes sense when one looks at the root of what makes luxury and sportswear so appealing. Traditional luxury fashion draws its exclusivity from its high price point. But sportswear, and more narrowly streetwear, draws its exclusivity from an “if-you-know-you-know” mentality.
Luxury’s rebellion and the cool factor of sportswear
Sportswear and luxury first collided in 1998 thanks to Jil Sander, the earliest fashion brand to invite a sportswear firm, Adidas, to collaborate on a co-creation project. Since then, luxury brands have been drawing inspiration from sportswear shapes and culture.
According to Hypebeast’s and Strategy&’s Streetwear Impact Report this year, 72% of young respondents reported sneakers as their best-selling products, compared with 58% for hoodies and T-shirts.
Part of what makes the collaboration between luxury and streetwear so frictionless is both of their capacities to create a secret garden for its consumers. Luxury leans on its ethos for appeal, while streetwear creates an almost cult-like relationship with its consumer through highly personalised collection and communication strategies. Luxury brands want in on this close-knit relationship between brand-and-consumer: it’s no secret that Supreme manages to keep its audience on the hook with collab after collab with other streetwear brands as well as luxury.
The luxury x sport collaborations usually starts with an iconic sneaker — to name a happy few: Cortez, Air Max, Air Jordan or Vapormax.
This activewear trend took off primarily thanks to millennials, enticed by the incursion of major subculture figures into luxury through boldly designed sneaker collaborations. Take for example the Supreme x Nike Air Force 1 Low, the WTAPs x New Balance 992s, or the Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Lows.
For traditional luxury players, it presented an opportunity to rejuvenate their image and audience while giving the streetwear makers a much needed improvement in their production abilities.
The golden child is Nike, the world’s most valuable fashion brand, worth $34.8 billion. The brand’s aura has already attracted Louis Vuitton, Balmain, Off-White, Supreme or Comme des garçons, among others.
Not far behind is Nike’s rival sportswear brand Adidas, despite reporting a 1% decrease in brand value this year due to the pandemic. Adidas has equally collaborated with big names in fashion, from Yohji Yamamoto, to Raf Simons, to Alexander Wang.
Before defining fashion runway trends along with luxury icons, sportswear used to be devoted exclusively to athletes. As a consequence, fans created all kinds of derivations, often reworking established logos without the trademark holder’s approval.
Interestingly enough, yesterday’s unconventional fans that were sued for image infringement — Dapper Dan, Supreme — are now considered “cool kids” in the luxury world.
But back then, many brands were afraid of the threat of urban youngster’s reappropriation of the “well-off” stylistic codes. They didn’t want to replicate Lacoste and Burberry’s unpleasant experience which had put off their traditional audience off in the early 2000’s. All luxury brands are embracing streetwear — “the vibe of the time” according to Virgil Abloh.
Hugo Boss created Boss Orange, Valentino launched the VLNT line, Prada rebooted its Linea Rossa line and Philipp Plein built a whole brand dedicated to sports. And for those who don’t have one yet, the project is most likely already in the pipeline, such as Lanvin reshaping its silhouettes away from the romantic aesthetics drawn by its former Artistic Director Bouchra Jarrar.
In fact, the two worlds have already collided: Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh met Kanye West when he worked for Fendi, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci learnt streetwear at Puma and Dior’s Menwear Designer Kim Jones had already worked for Iceberg and Umbro when he came to Louis Vuitton.
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In the name of the “drop”: Duplicating Louis Vuitton’s thriving foray into sportswear
Back in 2017, Louis Vuitton was the first luxury brand to so openly and loudly embrace the streetwear movement with its capsule collection endorsing a skater culture emblem: New York’s Supreme.
Its iconic red color adorned both monogrammed products and the brand’s flagship floor. It resulted in a furtive, sold-out effect, on sale for only a single day.
The success was such that it represented 23% of LVMH’s total income for the first half of 2017, reaching $23 billion dollars in revenues.
Since then, Supreme’s recent sale to VF Corporation worth $2.1 billion continues to prove the salience of streetwear on the high street. As Jarrett Reynolds, senior apparel design director for Nike sportswear and Nikelab, said “where collaborations used to be really niche, now, collaborations are pop culture.”
Surprising and striking could be the relevant adjectives used to describe limited edition releases – also dubbed “drops” by streetwear enthusiasts.
Contrary to mass-market collaborations, entry prices are high due to the scarcity marketing nurtured by luxury brands: time-limited editions and a limited number of items. These high-priced cult objects fuels a resale market where prices can climb 10 times higher than the original retail prices.
According to Regis Pennel, CEO of L’Exception Concept Store “the brand merger has to be both surprising and relevant. To work accurately you need a discrepancy.”
Earlier this year, Moncler tapped Japanese streetwear brand Hiroshi Fujiwara for a collection of bold outerwear. The brand equally pursued no less than 8 different designers for a range of capsule collections all along 2020.
The subversive Russian designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy, introduced Burberry to the streetwear collaboration movement, reinterpreting the brand’s signature check pattern by incorporating Fila or Kappa logos.
Gucci recently announced a collection with The North Face, although the drop date remains a mystery.
In 2019, a study from Statista reported that 67% of Gen Z respondents had purchased luxury items from collaborations. Evidently, collaborations between luxury brands and others are succeeding in creating hype around their products, largely among younger consumers.
One of the most surefire ways to keep up with which products most appeal to consumers is through social media: when a brand can track their products’ visibility on social media, they can track its popularity, audience base, and more. For brands that rely so heavily on cult products and hyped-up drops like do streetwear and luxury brands, these kinds of insights are indispensable for better collection planning.