The year 2019 ended with the debut of three colossal sneaker collaborations: Dior x Jordan, Prada x Adidas and Puma and Balmain. But despite the hype surrounding these launches, could the days of the marquee sneaker collaboration be running their course?
Puma and Balmain launched first, debuting a campaign featuring Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing and Puma ambassador Cara Delevingne, with a collection that launched on Nov. 21. Prada and Adidas followed, revealing a co-branded limited-edition Superstar model sneaker and bowling bag on Dec. 4. Finally, Dior teased its collaboration sneaker with Jordan Brand at its pre-fall 2020 show in December, and the sneaker will launch in April, with more to follow.
Sportswear companies forming partnerships with luxury houses and fashion designers took some time to reach this point. The trend could be traced to the early Aughts with Chanel and Reebok collaborating on the latter’s Instapump silhouette, or even the inception of Y-3 and Adidas by Stella McCartney. But it didn’t really kick into high gear until the 2010s when Adidas tapped Jeremy Scott and later Rick Owens, Raf Simons, Kris Van Assche and others to design sneakers, and when Nike did the same with Rousteing, Riccardo Tisci, Kim Jones, Jonathan Anderson and Virgil Abloh for Nike, Jordan and Converse.
Under Armour got into the game by bringing on designer Tim Coppens to create the short-lived Under Armour Sportswear collection, and Reebok snagged Victoria Beckham, Pyer Moss and Cottweiler to join its stable. Asics works with Kiko Kostadinov and retailers such as Kith, Ubiq and Atmos, and New Balance kicked off the 2010s with J. Crew and also works with Kith and Atmos. Onitsuka Tiger recently collaborated with Givenchy and launched sneakers with Cinoh, KKtp, Christian Dada designer Masanori Morikawa, Shimo Zhou and Une Yea of Staffonly, Kathleen Hanhee Kye and Sulvam. Even French activewear brand Salomon works with designer Boris Bidjan Saberi.
Each company has built a roster of design talent to expand or transform their present offerings and archives for marketing and runway moments, to generate sales and build hype, and capture a new market segment. But these power couplings beg the question: Where do fashion designer sneaker collaborations go from here?
The products continue to perform quite well for companies such as Nike, which sells out its Virgil Abloh collaboration sneakers almost immediately, and Reebok, whose Pyer Moss sneakers sold out within four minutes, designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss said at the WWD CEO Summit last October.
Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, said, “It’s rare that we find a collaboration or partnership where people say it’s trash. The response is usually very good, sells quickly, is distributed in niche retailers. The feedback is usually very positive.”
Puma partners with brands such as Karl Lagerfeld, Rhude, Jahnkoy, Han Kjobenhavn, Ader Error, Les Benjamins and Chinatown Market, among others. Petrick used the Han Kjobenhavn collaboration as an example, saying, “Han isn’t going to sell out as quickly, but you do know there’s interest out there and you hope you get the sell-through you need. The space of fashion partnerships is really a nice place for us to play, especially with the ones we’re working with because they’re up-and-coming.”
He added that the Balmain partnership has sold well, but did not give figures.
Even so, the recent output from Dior and Prada had mixed receptions. The Prada x Adidas collaboration saw negative reactions on social media for its price — $3,170 for the sneaker and bag combo — and design, and the Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior sneaker met similar rejection, though one could argue that the detailing and craftsmanship that went into both sneakers were lost on an audience that judged solely on photos.
“Overall, as a share of the StockX sneaker market, sales of designer/luxury sneakers [i.e. those with $400-plus retail prices] were down in 2019 relative to 2018.”
He said designer/luxury sneakers sales were flat for the year, but saw a relative decline due to the StockX market growing overall. He added, “Also, price premiums and average resale prices for these sneakers were down as well, with resale prices falling by more than 10% on average.”
Einhorn looked at sneakers with retail prices of $400 and above since StockX does not have a category for “designer collaborations,” but the price point would include collaborations such as Adidas by Raf Simons.
“There were some popular 2019 releases, like the Tom Sachs Overshoe, which resold over 1,800 pairs on StockX, at an average resale price of $780, 42 percent above its $550 retail price, but brands like Balenciaga were down in 2019 relative to 2018. In 2018, we had seven different Balenciaga sneakers with at least 100 StockX sales; in 2019, there were only three Balenciaga sneakers with at least 100 StockX sales,” he said. This implies that the hype and demand is reserved for the sportswear companies and not exactly the fashion houses or designers, with exception.
Goat released a year in review of sneakers on Dec. 31, which found that Nike’s collaborations with Sacai, Fear of God and Off-White were the only top designer collaboration releases in 2019. The resale app also highlighted collaborations between Nike and Undercover and Asics and Kiko Kostadinov. Additional top releases this year, according to Goat, were more celebrity driven and included Yeezy, Travis Scott, Kyrie Irving, Pharrell Williams and artist Blue the Great.
Einhorn believes that the Air Jordan-Dior sneaker may inject more excitement into resale saying, “In pre-release sales, it is averaging a resale price of over $10,000, making it the most expensive sneaker of all 2019-20 releases.”