By  on May 30, 2007

VALENCIA, Spain — Luxury is battling the Mediterranean waves once again.

Lured by the image of sailing, prestige brands from the worlds of fashion, watches and sports cars are making major splashes at the Louis Vuitton Cup races here to determine the boat that will challenge the Swiss team, Alinghi, for the Americ's Cup. The finals of the challenger series kick off Friday between Prad's Luna Rossa team and Emirates Team New Zealand.

"Luxury and sailing go hand in hand," said Malaika Arora Khan, Indi's first cover girl, pointing to a crew member who shimmied up the Girard-Perregaux-imprinted mast of the BMW Oracle Racing team's boat before it rounded the Louis Vuitton buoy (the boat later lost out to Prad's "Luna Rossa").

"Values of aesthetic and design are shared in both sailing and luxury," said Michel Bonnefous, chief executive officer of the Americ's Cup, who noted the plethora of new shops opened for the duration of the event inside the boathouses that dot the port, including Louis Vuitton, Luna Rossa and Tag Heuer's store at the China Team headquarters.

And the sailing set is taking the connection seriously, upping the design quotient at every opportunity. Prada drafted legendary Italian architect Renzo Piano to design its shorefront boathouse and headquarters for its Luna Rossa team, while the Veles e Vents (or "sails and winds," in English) building, home of a VIP roof lounge for its weather-beaten crew, was designed by the British architect David Chipperfield.

At times, the relationship is less subtle, as a fleet of prestige brands broadcast their names on the 80-foot ships that participated in the challenger series. Splashed across masts, sails, hulls and beams, luxury labels are fighting for valuable advertising space and supplying promotional products and limited edition lines in order to hitch their names to the exclusive sport and buoy sales.

Louis Vuitton, Prada, Audemars Piguet, Tag Heuer, Hublot, Girard-Perregaux and high-end sportswear labels such as Sergio Tacchini, Henri Lloyd, North Sails, K-Swiss and Aigle are among the brands lending their names to the sport. Even the cup itself is an original creation by the Parisian goldsmith Puiforcat.

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