The big sports brands are used to getting down and dirty — and the aggressive moves this year to capture an even larger percentage of the casual and dress businesses is a prime example.
From Nike’s capsule collections with Riccardo Tisci and Kim Jones to Under Armour’s big jump into fashion with the Tim Coppens-designed UAS sportswear, these powerhouse brands continue to chip away at the traditional sportswear market.
Toss in the fact that ath-leisure has also swept the workplace, and it’s no surprise that these brands are also making their presence felt in the dress market as well.
And they’re investing big time to make this work, building palaces to house these collections and build cred with the fashion crowd. Adidas in November opened a 45,000-square-foot experiential store — its largest unit in the world — on Fifth Avenue, shortly after Nike opened a 55,000-square-foot behemoth in SoHo. Under Armour, which has a 20,000-square-foot Brand House in SoHo has inked a deal to open what it says will be “the single greatest retail store in the world” on the site of the former FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street sometime after 2018.
In the space will undoubtedly be UAS, which was perhaps the highest-profile launch this year. The technically infused collection of apparel, footwear and accessories marries Under Armour’s expertise in performance with fashion-forward silhouettes and designs from the award-winning Coppens, who had cut his teeth at Bogner, Adidas and RLX before branching out on his own.
The 110-piece men’s and women’s UAS line, shown during New York Fashion Week in September, hit the sales floor at Barneys New York, Mr Porter and some of Under Armour’s own Brand Houses.
Ben Pruess, senior vice president of sportswear for Under Armour, said UAS is “not your father’s sportswear brand.” Indeed. Transparent parkas with taped seams, camo-printed bomber jackets in stretch polyester and merino wool French terry sweatpants will never be confused with Dockers.
While the $4 billion-plus Under Armour continues to make inroads, it’s still a fraction of the size of Nike, with overall sales of more than $32 billion.
The Portland, Ore.-based giant offers much of its cutting-edge fashion product through its NikeLab initiative. In February, Givenchy designer Tisci provided his interpretation of the Nike Dunk sneaker and later in the year, a graphic and colorful collection that served to “disrupt the traditional notion of training footwear and apparel.”
This was followed in March by an outerwear collaboration with Undercover designer Jun Takahashi and in May, a soccer-inspired assortment from Balmain designer Oliver Rousteing. “Fashion is usually about the catwalk and the glamour,” Rousteing said, “but with Nike, it was about performance and the athletes. What I love is that we are integrating the iconic style of football into sport style.”
In July and in September, the brand unveiled the NikeLab x Kim Jones: Packable Sport Style collection from the Louis Vuitton designer that blended classic Nike silhouettes with updated materials and colors.
Other collaborations this year included Stone Island’s new takes on Nike jackets, as well as Comme des Garçons, where Rei Kawakubo offered a slip-on interpretation of the Nike VaporMax shoe.
Nike and Under Armour don’t have the lock on fashion designers.
In fact, Adidas — which had lost its number-two U.S. sports brand rank to Under Armour at the beginning of the year and grabbed it back by the fall — has launched ath-leisure lines with two of its major long-term fashion designer partners.
In January 2015, the German sporting goods powerhouse introduced Adidas StellaSport, an athletic collection aimed at a younger audience than the Adidas by Stella McCartney line that it has been producing since 2005. The new StellaSport collection of apparel, accessories and footwear is intended to be worn to the gym as well as on the streets. In April, Adidas collaborated with Yohji Yamamoto on Y-3 Sport, a men’s and women’s collection with a streetwear edge that is an extension of the 14-year-old Y-3 brand.
Adidas also has long-term affiliations with designers and creative artists like Jeremy Scott, Alexander Wang and Pharrell Williams, and its association with Kanye West continues to gather steam.
Adidas started partnering with West in late 2013, when he switched from competitor Nike in a wide-ranging deal that eventually produced the frenzy-inducing Yeezy Season 1. (Product drops included the Yeezy Boost 350 sneaker, which went on to become one of the most sought-after and fastest-selling footwear models in history.)
Then in June, Adidas revealed it was amping up the collaboration with the launch of the Adidas + Kanye West line, marking what Adidas billed as “the most significant partnership ever created between a nonathlete and an athletic brand.” It includes performance elements, thus “offering options for both sport and street,” Adidas said. No timeline has been set for the launch of the first performance items from the extended collaboration, but Adidas plans to give them their own stores.
What some of the athletic brands courting the gym-meets-streetwear hybrid are finding is that the popularity of these lines is having a positive ripple effect on sales of their athleticwear.
Take Puma, the world’s third-largest sporting goods maker, which counts Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, among its highest-profile global brand ambassadors, along with Rihanna. The influence of Rihanna, who was recruited as brand ambassador and women’s creative director in 2014, and other female Puma ambassadors, including Kylie Jenner and Cara Delevingne, is also spilling over to the performance categories, according to Bjørn Gulden, chief executive officer of Puma SE. Since taking over as ceo in 2013, Gulden has worked to reposition the company as a performance sports brand “that also sells lifestyle — with sports as its anchor,” and said the “brand heat is currently being generated on the lifestyle or sports-lifestyle sides.”
The first Puma by Rihanna shoe, the creeper, sold out within hours when it was released in September 2015. Tumbling together references including Japanese street, goth, erotica and sport, with spins on wrestling gear, boxing shorts and robes and tracksuits, the debut Fenty Puma by Rihanna collection, presented during New York Fashion Week in February, further cemented Puma’s growing fashion cred. “It’s definitely not performance wear,” Rihanna said backstage. “But it’s inspired by sport culture and street fashion.”
Then, the pop star kicked it up another notch, showing her second collection in September on fashion’s biggest stage: Paris. Inspired partly by 18th-century French style, the line was a mélange of extravagant corsetry, Chinoiserie, lace, pearls and underpinnings. “Obviously Puma is a sport-athletic brand,” said Rihanna. “It was a challenge to mix those two and make them make sense.”
It’s the popularity of this hybrid movement that is impacting retail with many stores shifting their focus to capitalize on the movement and away from traditional tailored clothing.
Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, sees the whole athletic movement as a huge opportunity — just don’t call it ath-leisure. “Designers hate that term,” he said. “So we’re calling it active lifestyle.” Whether it’s someone seeking the urban version of activewear or an ath-luxe take from brands ranging from Y-3 and EFM to Brunello Cucinelli, Adidas, J. Lindeberg golf and even “yoga-inspired brands, we’re building a zone of business,” Jennings said. And in-store, it’s being merchandised along with fitness trackers, headphones, grooming products and even “digestible beauty” such as Moon Juice.
Jennings said while the rise in active sportswear elements may impact the sale of the classic suit, many of the traditional tailored clothing players have jumped onto the bandwagon and now offer ath-leisure components to their brands as well so as not to lose out on the business. “It’s not ath-leisure that’s effecting the suit business, it’s more companies switching to business casual.”
The rise of ath-leisure is also impacting retailers internationally. According to Luke Mountain, men’s wear buying manager at Selfridges, “The role of suiting and formalwear within a man’s wardrobe has continued to develop in recent seasons. While there will always be an occasion for the classic suit, we have seen brands begin to experiment with technical fabrics, as well as bending once-rigid rules of formal men’s wear design.” He cited Paul Smith’s “A Suit to Travel In” spring offer — a suit made from 100 percent twisted worsted wool that “illustrates the innovation in fabrication that is affecting some change in the formalwear market.”
He said the introduction of luxury lifestyle brands like Brunello Cucinelli, Slowear, and, in January, United Arrows and Camoshita, to the suit area “also offers an insight into the changing habits of the typical formalwear customer. No longer content with just suits and shirts, men are now looking for an edit of casual, yet luxurious pieces which complement their other, classic pieces.”
Margaret McLeod, brand director Harris Tweed Hebrides, the main producer of Harris Tweed fabric in the U.K., said ath-leisure’s momentum has led to post-finishing treatments like special coatings that lend a sportier aspect to wools. “We’re absolutely not getting into sportswear,” she said, “but when it comes to the blurring of lines between formalwear and athleticwear, there’s much more happening in that area.”