PARIS — In the latest marriage between luxury and sport, Louis Vuitton and the NBA on Wednesday confirmed they have entered a multiyear partnership that will include a capsule collection of apparel and accessories designed by Vuitton men’s wear creative director Virgil Abloh.
As reported by WWD on Jan. 15, the French fashion house is hosting a cocktail at its flagship on Avenue Montaigne in Paris to celebrate the tie-up and unveil the exclusive travel case it has made for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, presented annually in June to the NBA team that wins the finals.
Vuitton has a history of sports collaborations, producing trophy cases for the America’s Cup, the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Roland-Garros tennis tournament, and extending into e-sports via its recent partnership with Riot Games, the maker of the online video game “League of Legends.”
“If it’s a trophy that people dedicate their entire lives to, if it’s a trophy that represents overcoming adversity and striving for perfection on a multiyear journey, then it’s a trophy we’re interested in, because those are the same values that Vuitton has,” said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton.
The NBA deal marks Vuitton’s first and only partnership with a North American sports league. It comes as the Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks are gearing up to play the first regular-season NBA game in France at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris on Jan. 24.
Vuitton opened the luxury doors to sportswear with its 2017 collaboration with Supreme, and the trend shows no sign of waning, with Prada and Adidas unveiling the launch of a long-term partnership, and Dior teaming with Nike’s Jordan Brand on a capsule including a sneaker, ready-to-wear and accessories.
NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum noted that while the league has collaborated with brands including Supreme, Marcelo Burlon, Jeremy Scott, The Elder Statesman and Maison Kitsuné, the Vuitton partnership is unique.
“We have done other collaborations with other fashion houses before, but nothing at this level and at this scale,” he said. “We know from social media that our fans follow that and are big fans of the Louis Vuitton brand. We know that they’re going to be excited about this new partnership and collaboration.”
Burke noted basketball was one of the popular sports in the world, both with Millennials and the generations before them. “The NBA is the most international league and most followed league globally of any sports league, so it’s obviously a natural between the NBA and Vuitton,” he said.
Tatum underlined that 25 percent of the NBA’s players were born outside the U.S., and the league broadcasts in 215 countries and territories. Last year, it played preseason games in China, Japan and India as it seeks to grow the global audience for the game.
Meanwhile, players like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade have become style-setters off the court with the power to ignite trends and found their own brands — Michael Jordan being the original example, with the launch of the Jordan sneaker and clothing brand in 1985.
“I think that’s why some of these luxury brands are looking to players, influencers, because they are the ones setting the trends and setting the culture, if you will, and these fashion brands are very much a part of that culture,” said Tatum. “Our players are often seen in Louis Vuitton merchandise.”
The capsule collection of branded luggage, clothing and other Vuitton products is set to launch in October. “Virgil is absolutely elated to be able to design a collection around the game and around the players. The NBA participates in that meeting of style, art, fashion, sport and music,” said Burke.
He said Abloh would be designing clothes inspired by three key moments in the life of the athletes: the press conference, the match and travel. The trophy travel case, the first in the NBA’s history, was made by six craftsmen over 100 hours at the Vuitton workshops in the Paris suburb of Asnières.
Coated in the house’s signature monogram canvas, it is lined with microfiber in the NBA’s trademark blue. Burke said there was room for the partnership to grow.
“It’s a multiyear agreement and we feel very good about it. It’s been extremely organic and every time we meet there’s tons of ideas that are floating around. There’s this mutual attraction that could lead to many different things,” he said.
So should we expect an LV-branded basketball? “Right now there are no specific plans for that, but that would be cool. A lot of people would want that for sure,” Tatum said with a laugh.