Louis Vuitton - Supreme - logos

When Luxury teams up with Sportswear

April 2, 2019

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. 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.

If we compare 2016 to the last 12 months, the mentions of luxury and streetwear collaborations on Instagram have increased by 25% among influencers posts, according to Heuritech data*. 

*This analysis is based both on Heuritech’s computer vision technology, which can detect bags and shoes on Instagram, and natural language processing, i.e. analysis of text and hashtags along with pictures.

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 Bain, high-end streetwear helped boost global luxury personal goods by 5% in 2017 to an estimated $309 billion.

Experts stated the trend should grow at a steady 5% yearly pace through 2020. The boom in sales that has resulted from streetwear has led houses to embrace both fashion and sportswear.

Take for example, Chanel which bejewelled trainers for its SS14 Haute Couture SS14 runway show, conveying a more laid-back fashion image of the brand.

Chanel - trainers shoes - SS14
Chanel trainers shoes from Haute Collection SS14 wear by shanalimartin

The luxury x sport collaborations usually starts with an iconic sneaker — to name a happy few: Cortez, Air Max, Air Jordan or Vapormax.

Indeed, the mentions of shoe collaborations on Instagram have almost doubled in influencer posts (+100%) if we compare the first semester of 2016 to the last 12 months, according to Heuritech data. Similarity, mentions of bag collaborations have increased by +34%.

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 Atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Animal pack”, the YCMC x New Balance 990v4 “Benjamin Bread” or Comme des garçons x Nike Air 180.

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 $28 billion worth.

The Nike - Off-white sneakers
Nike feat Off White Sneakers

The “it” brand recently projected it would hit $50 billion in sales by 2022.

The brand’s aura has already attracted Louis Vuitton, Balmain, Off-White, Supreme or Comme des garçons, among others.

Its latest achievement is a fashionista’s dream come true: convincing Anna Wintour to cocreate 2 pairs of sneakers for Nike’s Air Jordan’s brand displaying Vogue’s colors.

Not far behind this sportswear heavy-weight stands the climbing challenger, Adidas, ranked 4th most valuable fashion brand. 

It has already invited Alexander Wang, Jeremy Scott, Opening Ceremony and Junya Watanabe to collaborate.

Adidas Originals x Alexander Wang
Adidas Originals x 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.

Gucci - Dapper Dan
Gucci x Dapper Dan collaboration

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.

In da name of the “drop”: duplicating Louis Vuitton’s thriving foray into sportswear 

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.

Louis Vuitton - Supreme - bags - shoes
Louis Vuitton and Supreme collaboration in 2017

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.

Mentions of collaborations in influencers posts reached their peak during the second semester of 2017, with a +50% increase of mentions YoY, according to Heuritech data. This means that the engagement rate was still very strong several months after the Louis Vuitton x Supreme release.

Since then, standing alongside a respectable sportswear brand has become the new normal. 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.

Reebok - Victoria Beckham - Shaquille O’Neal
Reebok and Victoria Beckham featuring Shaquille O’Nea

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.”

In October, Karl Lagerfeld will release a new, eagerly anticipated capsule collection with Puma featuring 13 pieces which combine the black-and-white aesthetics of the iconic French designer with the sports universe influence.

Moncler also recently announced no fewer than eight collaborations including with Valentino or Simone Rocha.

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.

Scottish instagram artist, Reilly, was recently invited by Karl Lagerfeld to fuse Fendi’s logo with Fila’s vintage tricolore embroidered logo with humour.

According to Michael Dupouy, streetwear expert from laMJC consultancy, “more than collaborating with talents, brands do it with networks: they choose guest brand collaborators not according to creative input but because of their highly engagement on social media platforms.”

Versace - Kith jacket
Versace and Kith jacket

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