From Cristiano Ronaldo’s own fashion line CR7 to David Beckham’s now iconic partnership with Calvin Klein, athletes have long occupied a central position in the cultural zeitgeist. The combination of athletic prowess and celebrity status enables them to draw enormous fanfare and power to influence.
Thanks to the rise of social media, and with it the blurring of the line between the viewer and the viewed, athletes have come to be valued for much more than their profession and physical ability. The way they present themselves, their views on the world, and even the company they keep, all contribute to their ability to draw a crowd.
Their diverse interests outside the competitive arena connect them to existing fans, engage new ones, attract sponsors and even help propel messages of social good. As they continue to gain exposure for non-sports aspects of their lives, audiences react, giving rise to sports fans that don’t care about sports. These once indifferent consumers now engage with sports in novel ways.
From the pitch to the catwalk
Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of fashion. Basketball alone is noteworthy in overlapping between the two, with many players becoming fashion icons in their own right.
In the fall of 2018, LeBron James commissioned custom Thom Browne suits for the Cleveland Cavaliers to wear as they walked on court, with fashion behemoths, such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, covering the story.
Similarly, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder made a name for himself as a model for Acne Studios. So ubiquitous has basketball’s association with fashion become that The New Yorker recently referred to the suits of the NBA draft night as a cultural barometer of tailoring.
It doesn’t end with basketball either. Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin, off since the beginning of the year due to an injury, recently walked for Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2020 show.
Members of the US Women’s soccer team went even further, starting their own fashion company, called re--inc. Built on the ‘drop’ principle and trailblazed by the likes of Fenty and Supreme, re--inc offers an alternative to the male-dominated fashion industry, a prime example of how these ventures go far beyond just business.
Sport is the new black
Parallel to this, we are increasingly seeing some of the most illustrious figures in fashion turn to the world of sports for inspiration. The synergy between the two worlds is far from one-sided. Riccardo Tisci, for example, then creative director of Givenchy, themed his entire 2014 Autumn/Winter show around basketball.
Looking at pop culture at large, sports continue to draw in big names. Beyoncé not only wore a sports jersey for a Coachella performance, she had a marching band backing her. Drake, meanwhile, collaborated with the Toronto Raptors on merchandise.
Streetwear’s rising status in high fashion over the last few years is evidenced by the likes of Off-White and Vetements, and the appointment of their respective founders to creative director roles at Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga. This showcases the undeniable force of sports culture, with subcultures such as that of skate fashion also proliferating far beyond its origins.
Sneakers, sweatshirts and t-shirts have entered the runway, showing the intrinsic connection between the two worlds, while the sneaker, long having lost its athletic origin, has made its way onto not just the runway, but also museums, while also giving rise to an array of 'sneakerhead' publications, such as Highsnobiety.
Sports and athletes have created a much more visible connection between fashion and the public. The overlap of these two worlds speaks to the merging of what was formerly known as 'high' and 'low' culture. Much like social media broke down the divide between celebrity and audience, so too has it brought about new convergences across once separate industries. The implication for sports and fashion brands? Step outside of your lane – you might just find new fandoms in unexpected places.
Hannah Conway is brand strategist at Brandpie.