Serena Williams is set to be honored with the Fashion Icon award at the prestigious CFDA awards in New York next month. With her stylish fashion sense and successful clothing line, it is fitting for the fashion industry to recognize her. This will be the first time an athlete has received this award, highlighting the growing connection between sports and fashion. This trend is expected to continue leading up to the Paris Olympics next year, which will be supported by LVMH, the largest fashion conglomerate in the world.
Lefty’s trend analysis report reveals that the collaboration between sports and fashion industries has resulted in $78.5m (£64.7m) in earned media value (EMV) during the current year. EMV is a measurement of the potential earnings a brand can receive from social media mentions.
Prominent fashion brands are collaborating with athletes in unique and groundbreaking ways. During the Wimbledon tournament, professional tennis player Jannik Sinner made headlines by carrying a Gucci bag with the iconic monogram onto the court, marking the first time a luxury luggage piece had been used in such a manner. Additionally, following her victory at the 2021 US Open, Emma Raducanu has been serving as an ambassador for Dior.
Famous athletes like Bukayo Saka from Arsenal are often seen in the front row at fashion shows for luxury brands like Burberry. For example, Prada provided suits for the Chinese team at the Women’s World Cup, while Louis Vuitton enlisted Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for a promotional campaign leading up to the 2022 Fifa World Cup. This trend does not come as a surprise to Gary Armstrong, editor of CircleZeroEight, a magazine that covers the intersection of sports and fashion. According to Armstrong, designers have come to realize the immense influence that athletes hold over the public.
“These individuals have amassed a significant number of followers on Instagram. They are idolized in a unique manner, unlike that of a traditional movie star or musician.”
Football is without a doubt the dominant force in the UK. @footballerfits, an Instagram and TikTok account created in 2020 by ex-Argos employee Jordan Clarke, showcases the fashion styles of players. It currently boasts 560,000 followers on Instagram and 1.5 million on TikTok.
Daniel-Yaw Miller, a senior editorial associate at the Business of Fashion, has observed a shift in attitudes. He notes that fans are becoming more accepting of players expressing themselves. While there may still be objections from some fans who disapprove of players wearing designer brands, overall there is a noticeable change in acceptance.
Stylish athletes such as Héctor Bellerín, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Megan Rapinoe, and Leah Williamson have demonstrated this. In 2019, Bellerín walked the runway for Louis Vuitton, while Calvert-Lewin appeared on the cover of fashion magazine Arena Homme Plus last year wearing a kilt. Rapinoe was part of a campaign for Loewe in 2020 and Williamson signed a contract with Gucci last year.
This contrasts with the culture 25 years ago, as documented in the recent David Beckham series on Netflix, which showed how the footballer became front-page news for wearing a sarong on holiday. “He was really ahead of his time in terms of how a man in a hypermasculine sport would dress,” says Miller.
In 2023, football culture has had a makeover – with football shirts now a fashion item. Stella McCartney’s shirt for Arsenal women, released in September, was worn by influencer Mia Regan, and has sold out. When Lionel Messi signed for MLS team Inter Miami in July, the team’s pink Adidas shirt sold out so quickly that a brand executive told the New York Times that they had “evaporated”.
Instead of solely focusing on kicking a ball, Alex Ferguson attempted to maintain a young Beckham’s attention by incorporating fashion creatives in sports teams to enhance the link with style.
Ronnie Fieg is the creative mind behind the popular American streetwear label, Kith. In 2019, he was appointed as the creative director for the New York Knicks basketball team and has since designed their official uniform and merchandise.
Crystal Palace employs Kenny Annan-Jonathan as a consultant and creative director to manage their clothing collections and partnerships in the fashion industry. Armstrong states, “Football clubs are considered brands in their own right, so they desire to align with trendy and desirable merchandise.”
Athletes at the professional level, known for their brief careers on the playing field, have come to recognize the potential for fashion to serve as a source of income post-retirement.
According to Miller, many individuals choose to create their own unique image and reputation early on in their professional lives, rather than waiting until later. They see fashion as an ideal means to expand their reach to a broader audience beyond their sport.
A recent report by Miller has highlighted the emergence of a new micro-industry – sports styling. By collaborating with fashion experts, athletes can gain attention from brands and potentially secure profitable partnerships. American basketball players are at the forefront of this trend, often being photographed in the tunnel leading to the court while @leaguefits captures their high-end fashion choices.
Stylist Algen Hamilton, who works with Premier League footballers such as Reiss Nelson and Trevor Chalobah, explains that players have the opportunity to wear their own clothing during games, giving them the ability to showcase their individuality. However, the regulations in football differ greatly from those in the Premier League, which is known for its traditional values.
The Women’s Super League, on the other hand, is an untapped market. Fashion stylist Kiera Liberati has experience working with female soccer players and believes that there is still a ways to go before one reaches the fashion influence of someone like Beckham. “Many of the [England team] still have a tomboyish style and wear sports brands, but I do believe that will change … Currently, in any photoshoot featuring a female soccer player, there is often an English flag in the background or they are wearing a soccer jersey.”
Football and basketball may be the most talked about sports, but other sectors of the entertainment industry are quickly gaining popularity. Troi Anthoni is a fashion expert who specializes in working with wrestlers, including Seth Rollins. In August, American GQ recognized Rollins as WWE’s “undisputed fashion king” due to his bold and colorful suits. Rollins also made headlines for wearing the “big red boots” created by art collective MSCHF, which have become a viral sensation.
Anthoni praises Rollins for expanding the horizons of wrestling enthusiasts. He likens it to showing them something unfamiliar, as they are used to casual attire and merchandise, but this is like a display of haute couture. Every week on Monday nights, fans can find inspiration.
According to Armstrong, the world of athletics has made significant strides in terms of fashion. He notes rising stars like Sha’Carri Richardson who are injecting personality back into the sport, which he believes has lost some of its spark in recent years. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops.
It’s likely to play out spectacularly over the next year. In July, LVMH announced its sponsorship of Paris 2024, using its various labels for different activities. Chaumet jewellery will make the Olympic and Paralympic medals, and Sephora makeup will be involved in events along the Olympic torch route. LVMH has also started to unveil a group of athletes that it will be directly supporting at the Olympics. Names so far include swimmer Léon Marchand and gymnast Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos.
It appears that the connection between sports and fashion is just getting started.