In what is surely one of the New Year’s most unexpected fashion collaborations, Chinese activewear brand Li-Ning is doing a martial-arts-inspired capsule collection with Jackie Chan, WWD has learned.
It is to be unveiled at the Li-Ning fashion show in Paris on Jan. 18 at the Centre Pompidou, kicking off a three-year sponsorship of the famous art museum — with the affable action film star in attendance.
The Beijing-based firm confirmed both projects exclusively to WWD as the brand marks 30 years in business and enjoys strong momentum amid an international expansion push.
Founded by its namesake, a champion gymnast boasting 106 gold medals, Li-Ning initially set out to provide Chinese athletes with a domestic brand to wear to the Olympics and ultimately grew to a publicly traded company with 2018 revenues of 10.51 billion renminbi, or $1.51 billion, and a market capitalization of 54 billion renminbi, or $7.75 billion. Its share price zoomed about 185 percent over the past year on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, fueled by the growing popularity of sports apparel and patriotic consumerism amid China’s spat with the NBA, according to equity analysts.
Li, executive chairman and joint chief executive officer, said the collaboration with Chan grew out of a long friendship and a desire to work together on a fashion project.
“Jackie was deeply involved in the design process, bringing his years of personal experience and expertise in kung fu, the influence of which can be seen across the products,” Li told WWD, also lauding Chan’s “heightened appreciation for and attention to detail and superior quality.”
Both men wished the collection “to be a reflection of authentic Chinese culture,” according to Li.
For the main fall-winter collection for Li-Ning, its designers referenced vintage video games, Chinese porcelain and a range of urban characters, from corporate executives and art-world illuminati to “the fashion and streetwear cognoscenti.”
The company added a premium, streetwear-tinged runway range in 2017 — initially showing during New York Fashion Week — as part of a larger strategy aimed at giving the mass brand a more elevated, edgy appeal. This has allowed Li-Ning to enter a range of prestigious retailers including Lane Crawford in several Chinese cities, Foot Patrol in Paris, Slam Jam in Milan, Kith in New York, Browns and End Clothing in the U.K. and online at Ssense and Oki-ni.
Li-Ning also plans to unveil a collaboration with designer Neil Barrett at his fall-winter show on Jan. 11 during Milan Fashion Week, widening its association to another key fashion capital.
For its runway range, the company has in the past collaborated with up-and-coming designer Chen Peng, Chinese men’s brand Pronounce and Berlin-based label Random Identities, whose first drop is slated to arrive in stores later this month.
Li noted the firm’s runway presence and designer collaborations have contributed to a “change in brand perception and overall domestic business performance while also garnering interest and demand from global consumers and retailers.”
Europe remains a key expansion focus, which is why Li chose Men’s Fashion Week in Paris and the association with the Centre Pompidou, whose mission is to make art, photography, design and dance accessible to the broadest audience possible.
The Pompidou sponsorship will involved live performances, its springtime “Move” festival and an exhibition each year, starting with “Matisse,” slated to open May 13, 150 years after the birth of the French artist.
“We’ve seen athletics playing an even larger role in the greater cultural discourse, one where sport has both influenced and intersected with the worlds of style, music and art,” the executive said.
Li-Ning is associated with a range of sports including basketball, running, badminton and training.
While Chan is famous worldwide, the Li-Ning x Jackie Chan collection will be available only in China, where the brand boasts some 7,300 retail stores, both franchised and directly operated.
Li hinted that his brand would unveil other projects to mark its 30th anniversary year.