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Yohji in Line With Adidas

PARIS — Convinced that sports will continue to strongly influence fashion, Yohji Yamamoto is expanding his association with Adidas and launching a new apparel collection to retail next spring.<br><br>And the partners have big ambitions, saying...

PARIS — Convinced that sports will continue to strongly influence fashion, Yohji Yamamoto is expanding his association with Adidas and launching a new apparel collection to retail next spring.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

And the partners have big ambitions, saying it has the potential to become a $300 million business in five to 10 years. The line for men and women, positioned to compete with the likes of Prada Sport and Polo Sport and priced from about $60 to $600 at retail, will be unveiled in October during Paris fashion week, possibly with its own runway showcase.

At a news conference here Wednesday, Yamamoto and Adidas officials outlined the long-term partnership, saying it will bring new attention to their brands and expand their customer base.

Erich Stamminger, head of global marketing for Adidas-Salomon, asserted that the collection — wedding Adidas’ performance orientation with a high-end fashion designer’s sensibilities — will create a unique product proposition.

Yamamoto, creative director of the new Adidas division, agreed.

“I’m already designing it,” he told a small group of journalists assembled at the Pershing Hall hotel. “I’m going to create merchandise that is not existing in the world.”

Yamamoto said the market lacks “nice sportswear for everyday life,” and that current offerings are often guilty of having “cuts that are bad” and colors that are “awful.”

Yamamoto first teamed up with Adidas for his fall 2001 collection. At his runway show in Paris that year, models paraded silently in limited-edition, co-branded sneakers, with the iconic three white stripes shrouded in black mesh. The designer said his desire was to make athletic footwear more elegant and “chic.”

Adidas officials said about 50,000 pairs of Adidas for Yohji Yamamoto sneakers have been sold to date. This fall’s collection, expanded to include boots, retails from about $290 to $490.

Stamminger said demand has outstripped supply and the strong reaction at retail took many in the activewear industry by surprise. It also helped change consumer attitudes toward the Adidas brand. He said consumers no longer describe the brand as “old fashioned” in focus groups.

Meanwhile, the sneakers have become trendy must-haves and brought new, younger customers to Yohji Yamamoto boutiques. What’s more, the designer said he’s energized by the prospect of reaching a broader customer base with more accessible products.

“I will design seriously simple T-shirts. That was impossible with my own brand,” owing mostly to the limited quantities produced, he said. “If someone came to my shop to by a T-shirt, it cost more than it should. I hate that. I’m very excited to be able to design and sell T-shirts in big quantities.”

On a personal note, he added with a chuckle: “Until now, I’ve always worn Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang T-shirts. Now I can make my own.”

Yamamoto said he was inspired to first enter what he called “the sneaker life” by observing young people across Japan, the majority of whom wear sport shoes and especially sneakers. The 59-year-old designer concluded he could ignore the preferences of today’s generation at his peril.

“Young people, when they start becoming fashionable, they look to music influences or sports players. They don’t start with famous designers,” he said.

Yamamoto added that the World Cup soccer tournament, which concluded last month in Japan and South Korea, had a “tremendous” influence on the local market. “The sports influence is going to be stronger,” he predicted.

The collection also has the potential to greatly boost Yamamoto’s privately held business, which currently generates revenues of about $90 million. Yamamoto operates about 160 stores in Japan and six directly operated units outside Japan. His products are also sold in about 200 wholesale doors worldwide.

Meanwhile, Stamminger stressed that Adidas will maintain its focus on athletic, performance products. They currently generate 85 percent of brand volume, which totaled about $5.8 billion in 2001. The balance of revenues derive from “sports heritage” items, which are classic products such as its “superstar” basketball sneakers from the Seventies.

“Our overall brand position is focused on sports. We don’t want to leave this area,” he said. But Stamminger also made clear that partnering with Yamamoto is not simply a marketing maneuver to give the Adidas brand more cachet. The co-branded apparel line is expected to become profitable within two or three years.

Adidas said the target customer for the collection will be brand- and style-conscious men and women ages 25 to 35, slightly older than the audience for its performance and heritage products.

The joint collection has yet to be named, but it will comprise women’s and men’s shoes, apparel and accessories. Adidas said the line will be marketed to 100 to 150 sportswear and fashion retailers in Europe and America — but not activewear or footwear chains. No freestanding stores are planned. Distribution will expand to Asia the following fall.

At the news conference, Yamamoto confessed that last fall he was seriously considering retiring from fashion. But once he accepted that feeling, another one arrived. “Strangely, my motivation came back,” he recalled. “From that moment, I thought I could do something else.”

And then some. The launch of the new line means Yamamoto could stage as many as six fashion shows per year. As of last Sunday, he moved the presentation of his ready-to-wear collection to Paris’ couture schedule. He plans to show his diffusion line, Y’s, on the runway during Paris fashion week in October and he’s considering a separate one for the new sportswear line.

Asked if he considers himself sporty, Yamamoto said he jogs to help recover from jet lag. In his spare time, he also plays guitar and does martial arts. But now he will have a workload that might be described as athletic. How will he manage? “I’m giving up music and karate,” he laughed.”