Power games: does luxury need sport? Or does sport need luxury?

21 December 2023

Group of male models posing and smiling in fashion clothing

Quintessentially Experiences muses on the relationship between luxury and sport as big brands enter a new league.

Luxury and sportswear seem natural opponents. High-end brands draw their exclusivity from hefty price tags and a sense of refinement, whereas their sporting cousins are typically much more affordable, their allure instead coming from high-performance fabrics, associations with top athletes, and cult-like ‘if you know, you know’ following.

However, in a bid to win over new customers, luxury brands are now aiming to get a slice of the athleisure market (projected to be worth $231 billion by 2024). The first whispers of this came when Jil Sander partnered with Adidas in 1998, but it was Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme in 2017 that kicked this collaborative strategy into the mainstream. The financials speak for themselves: the collaboration’s sales represented 23% of LVMH’s total income for the first half of 2017, reaching $23 billion in revenue.

Male model in North Face x Gucci fashion clothing stood on rocks in front of icy sea background
Male model in North Face x Gucci fashion clothing walking down grass catwalk

Since then, we’ve seen Nike team up with just about everyone from Louis Vuitton and Dior to Balmain and Off-White. Most recently, it partnered with Martine Rose for the Women’s World Cup 2023, adorning the US national team in fabulous jacquard, double-breasted suits, visor sunglasses, and fluorescent Nike Shox MR4s.

Gucci has partnered with The North Face, Palace, MLB, and Adidas, who themselves have collaborated with a multitude of luxury brands including Stella McCartney, Wales Bonner, Balenciaga, and Prada. Arc’teryx has gone from gorpcore subculture star to one of the hottest brands on earth, thanks in part to collaborations with Off-White, Jil Sander, Palace, and BEAMS.

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However, we are now entering a new phase of the luxury/sports arena: luxury brands are now jettisoning the shackles of collaboration and going it alone in the world of sports.

This summer, we’ve noticed Gucci go for a solo spin at Wimbledon thanks to a GG monogram duffel bag and the obliging shoulder of Italian player Jannick Sinner – allegedly the first time a high-end luxury luggage piece has been brought on the court.

Football team AC Milan’s pre-game outfits come courtesy of a partnership with Off-White, which acts as a ‘style and cultural curator’ for the team. In the US, Major League Soccer recently followed the lead of the NBA’s New York Knicks by appointing designer Guillermo Andrade as its creative advisor

(The Knicks brought in Kith’s Ronnie Fieg as their creative director in late 2022).

And, of course, there’s the big news that the indomitable LVMH will ‘own’ the Paris Olympics, sealing the deal across sponsorship opportunities, uniforms, champagne sprays, and competition medals.

Male model in North Face x Gucci fashion clothing stood in front of green landscape Male model in North Face x Gucci fashion clothing stood in front of green landscape

It certainly seems that, while luxury fashion has historically relied on collaborations with sportswear brands, sports teams and institutions appear to be entering a new league – and luxury brands are following suit.

In the future, we expect to see more of this as luxury brands continue to expand their repertoires and capture new markets. And who knows, with Hermès recently surpassing Nike to become the world’s second-most valuable fashion brand, we might soon see more Birkin bags on the court, too.

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