Few opposing ideas offer the dichotomy that occurs in most imaginations when thinking of high fashion and casual sportswear side by side. High fashion, haute couture, and fashion art design are usually topics reserved for the cities of Milan, Paris, New York & London and their various fashion weeks, not Adidas’ AC Milan, Nike’s Paris St Germain or Puma’s Arsenal FC. Simply put, high fashion does not find a middle ground with soccer.
Or does it?
Puma, Nike, and Adidas would argue that the two can in fact see eye to eye, walk side by side and potentially make hand over fist. Lately there’s been a steady upsurge in collaborations in the soccer world between high end designers and sportswear products.
This year Adidas has twice worked with award winning Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto to design Real Madrid’s 3rd kit and then to create a truly unique design for their Adizero F50 line. Puma, when they’re not designing unique, one of a kind, retro soccer balls with Alexander McQueen, are co-opting high-end streetwear companies like a Bathing Ape and Alife to create design collaborations for their Evo-power lines, while Nike co-opts Hirofumi Kiyonaga, founding designer of Sophnet, and his streetwear line, Football Club Real Bristol (FCRB).
While soccer these days has most certainly found itself intertwined with fashion, it still seems somewhat counter-intuitive to bring it together with high fashion. Couture design is considered to be high art and self expression which resonates with many aspects of soccer but it is also many times prohibitively high priced, has relatively low exposure and extremely low availability and shows little to no measurable profit. It is understood that on average only 200 people worldwide actually buy fashion week items.
The Alexander McQueen X Puma soccer ball is literally one of a kind, and the Yohji Yamamoto Adizero F50s (surprisingly enough these are the second pair he’s designed) were a 200 quantity limited release, leading one to believe that many of these collaborations are not exactly going to be impacting revenue figures too aggressively.
These are billion dollar companies developing incredibly influential and far reaching global brands though, and so these collaborations and partnerships likely fit into a plan. But how? And why?
Prestige and publicity are the primary drivers of participation in fashion week and can be carried over as explanatory factors for the collaborations with major sportswear and apparel companies. These partnerships, in part, are strategic in brand building for Puma, Nike and Adidas as well as the designers they partner with. Maybe Yamamoto designing the third kit for Real Madrid will result in a small spike in sales of the shirt but really they’re tying in the incredible culture and self expression found in high end fashion and tying it into the story that is soccer. Soccer has everything: intrigue in the build up to matches, the ebb and flow of action and drama during the 90 minutes, followed by the inevitable resolution and conclusion after stoppage time.
It was no accident that Yamamoto’s F50’s were worn for the first time during Europe’s most elite club competition, the UEFA Champions League, arguably the biggest stage with the most drama in the European game. Nor is it Yamamoto’s first collaboration with Adidas. He did a similar collaboration with Adidas’ F50 Tunit line, beyond the fact the that he has had his own Adidas fashion line, Y-3 since 2006. Puma’s Evo-power collaborations were almost all with established partners like Ferrari, BMW & Bathing Ape and like Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen had his own line within Puma for a while.
These partnerships suddenly seem less counter-intuitive and seem more opportunistic. Why not boost both designer and apparel brands by a collaboration, especially if there’s already a record of collaboration?
Above and beyond all of this though is the belief mentioned at the beginning that high fashion stands in opposition to casual sportswear. More and more, this statement is becoming an incorrect assumption. In 2013, activewear sales grew 9% and represented a $33 billion industry. Fashion week participants may expect zero profit from their activity on the runway but they do expect surges in sales in their sub-brands. Right now companies like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Puma are in position to capitalize on the growth of activewear sales, and in fact already are.
High end fashion designers recognize these trends and see the opportunity and popularity that comes from partnering with these major sportswear companies. The trend has even started to spread to boutique designers like with Toronto FC and Montreal based Frank and Oak. The two have partnered up creating an 8 piece Toronto FC menswear collection.
Just like how fashion week drives secondary sales of sub-brands, these collaborations build awareness of the designers’ other work with these companies and bring their names and brands to an audience that normally can’t tell the difference between Kanye’s $1200 Haider Ackermann sweater and a $30 H&M pullover (Lord knows I can’t). High fashion and soccer aren’t necessarily the oil and water they appear to be. Really they’re more like chocolate and caviar, not exactly an everyday combination, but when done properly the two can complement each other very effectively.