High-end fashion houses sprint to launch sportswear collaborations

Balenciaga, Gucci and Michael Kors eye adidas, Puma and Ellesse brands in bid to attract new fans

A look from the Exquisite Gucci runway show. Photo: Gucci
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Models in latex suits by Balenciaga and sportswear by adidas may have raised a few eyebrows on Wall Street, but last month's stunt was the latest example of money-spinning fashion and sportswear collaborations causing a buzz online.

According to Women's Wear Daily magazine, searches for “tracksuits” and “Balenciaga” rose 25 per cent after the French-owned brand’s spring 2023 runway show stunned the New York Stock Exchange, while searches for “adidas” increased by 13 per cent.

Balenciaga and adidas's event comes hot on the heels on one of the biggest collaborations of the year, as the German sportswear giant also united with Gucci on the autumn collections runway in February.

The Italian designer’s creative director Alessandro Michele, a long-time adidas fan, cleverly merged the brands' powerful signatures into a collection labelled Exquisite Gucci.

Adidas’s trademark three white stripes complemented Gucci’s signature red and green, as did the interlocking of the two logos (the adidas trefoil and the GG monogram) into a catwalk collection that is a classic Michele mash-up. Think rigorous tailoring plus vintage and club culture dresses with sports branding.

The covetable line of accessories includes hats, bags, gloves and boots as well as famed adidas trainers — of which Michele is a huge fan.

To mark the partnership, the sporty streetwear capsule is hitting selected Gucci stores around the world, including in the UAE and online, on Tuesday, June 7.

This is a far summerier vision for men and women, which taps into an athletic vibe that has been thoroughly Guccified.

Michele draws on retro tennis and golf looks for the dresses, which feature along with tracksuits, sport jackets and underwear.The bold colours and geometric branding of the scaled-up interlocking logos are sure to keep logomaniacs happy.

Such collaborations are becoming headline events and an on-trend way of connecting luxury names with wider fans of urban fashion.

Michael Kors, better known for his city chic and glamorous eveningwear, has teamed up with Italian sportswear brand Ellesse to produce a summer capsule for tennis. A skiwear series is in the pipeline for autumn.

Designer sportwear from the Michael Kors x Ellesse collaboration. Photo: Michael Kors

The designs are a luxurious and modern take on retro-athletic styles. Vibrant, sporty and glamorous, they tap into Kors’s memory as a night manager at a tennis club on Long Island, New York, in the 1970s before he became a designer.

He remembers how women at the time wore tennis dresses “just to show off their legs rather than play a game”, paired with a gold watch, diamond earrings and sunglasses.

“Personally, I was always a mediocre tennis player,” Kors has said. “But the two sports to me that were always glamorous, particularly when you look at images from the 1970s, were tennis and skiing. Both were a part of fast-paced jet-set life. We carried Ellesse in our pro shop [at the tennis club] and did very well with it. There was this blend of European glamour with the idea of athleticism. For me, movement is always very American.”

Like the interlocking adidas x Gucci logo, Kors’s MK monogram is reworked in the Ellesse brand's fiery colours for the print pattern. The design is emblazoned across vintage-style swimwear, shorts and backpacks, and elsewhere as an emblem on orange, navy and crisp white track jackets, pants, crop tops and trainers.

Collaborations are a shrewd way of merging famous brands to create desirable hybrids. There have been a number of design partnerships for trainers such as Air Dior and Dior Converse as well as Karl Lagerfeld and Puma.

Balmain produced a limited-edition line of boxing-inspired designs with Puma last autumn, and there has been the Fenty x Puma collaboration ranging from trainers to sporty street-style fashion at the height of the athleisure trend in 2017.

However, predating all these contemporary collaborations is adidas by Stella McCartney, which dates back to 2005. Rather than a lifestyle collection, the collaboration with McCartney was about performance sportswear.

The designer also created the kit for the eye-catching Team GB Olympics teams in 2016, produced with sustainability in mind.

A model for the Stella McCartney x adidas Agent of Kindness campaign. Photo: adidas

Last year, she created did a diversity-friendly outerwear runway show, and that message about inclusivity also underpins this summer’s Agent of Kindness collection, of bold-coloured silhouettes in recycled breathable materials, which is fronted by American gymnast Nia Dennis.

McCartney says the collection embodies her ambitions “to create standout performance wear that not only looks great but provides our community with innovative pieces that facilitate high-impact activity”.

Whether such collaborations stay true to spirit of sportswear or take a brand beyond the track, they all connect with a wider audience that might otherwise have only ever worn a pair of running shorts to jog in.

Updated: June 04, 2022, 7:57 AM