How Sport Is Carrying The Torch for Future Luxurians

Category: Health & Wellness
27 Mar 2024
Read time: 7 MIN
MOF Strategist Louis Cardoe takes on the challenge of distilling the various strategies being used by luxury brands to break into the arena of sports. With luxury becoming the newest event for Paris 2024 thanks to LVMH's partnership, it seems the rest of the sector will follow suit.
Written By
Louis Cardoe

There’s a theory that all species, in all shapes and sizes, eventually turn into crabs. Carcinisation, as it is known, is an example of what the scientifically disposed call convergent evolution, in which different groups independently evolve the same traits. Inevitably, we will all become the crab.

The luxury market is fuelled by a similar logic. A commodity comes into existence and will inexorably become a premium product. The Fiat begets the Maserati. The Casio begets the Omega. The single bed inevitably is king-sized. 

Sports seems to be one of those things that luxury struggles to permeate. In a world run by meritocracy, there is little room for exuberant wealth and status. It is the greatest athlete, not the most wealthy that rules the world sandwiched between the starter gun and the finish line.

Still, the world isn’t simply one long version of Chariots of Fire, and sportspeople exist in our lives as people beyond the track & field. They are ambassadors, role models and, from a brand perspective, solid people to build partnerships with.

However, the relationship between athletes, luxury brands and consumers has always been muddied. You’d think people who stay in perfect shape, commit themselves to their craft and reach an elite level, attainable by only a certain few, would tick every box in the “dream luxury poster boy/girl.” but you also only need to glance at a Daily Mail newspaper to see that exultation often comes with envy (c.f. David Beckham’s reputation 1998-2024). The lens of luxury can often be volatile to those in such a strong spotlight. There’s also a commentary on social mobility that could be had in the same respect.


In only a couple weeks, a fire will be lit in ancient Olympia and begin its long journey to Paris, for what could be the most premium edition of the Olympic Games yet. LVMH, the glimmering bastion of luxury based in the City of Light, has a strong influence on many aspects of the Games. The medals will be Chaumet, the outfits Berluti, VIP guests will be sipping on Moet & Chandon champagne and Hennessy cognac and there are yet-to-be-revealed roles for Dior and Louis Vuitton too. At this point, you should assume the starting gun is a Purdey.

This is not to say luxury has just realised what sports is. Most sports were born out of some form of privilege and you just have to take a glance at Formula 1 to see what “the most rich man sport physically possible” looks like. What is becoming clear is that new opportunities to enhance luxury brands to new audiences are becoming more apparent to ambitious brands.

From Mobs To Models

Once upon a time, the tracksuit was for two types of stars: athletes and the cast of the Sopranos. Nowadays, the world of athleisure, or activewear, is huge, and everywhere. Statista predicts that by 2028, it will be a part of the retail market worth $451.1bn meaning that fashion unafraid to sacrifice form for functionality will only continue to grow.

From a brand perspective, this growth doesn’t simply exist in the often tedious world of brand collaboration. Nike x Jacquemus, Adidas x Wales Bonner are cool, but hardly groundbreaking. In fact, all a ‘collab’ does is offer a zeitgeist-y and one-off approach to incorporating activewear into your brand. That’s why it’s much more interesting to have a look at those starting to not simply toy with sportswear, but actively include it in their creations.

Many examples are perforating themselves through catwalks across the world, but for an example, a glance at the latest Aimé Leon Dore collection is a good start: this lookbook has models clad in a knitted football kit, bespoke retro shirts, baseball jackets and even one fit that looks like the model is about to get on his marks, get set, go. What makes this remarkable though is the fact that this proliferation of a more sporty look is making its way into the wider celebrity atmosphere, with it reaching peak-trend-you-should-care-about when none other than Kim Kardashian was recently spotted sporting an A.S Roma shirt. 


The fact that fashion houses are starting to define their collections through a more active look goes beyond the fad. It’s an acceptance of a culture that has previously been cast to streetwear, or in fact, to tiers of product below the “luxury” threshold. It is reflective of a more general shift in perspective – from that of exclusivity and rarity being the main purveyor – to one where the ability to choose and define one's lifestyle is the real luxury. It’s also a nice riff on quiet luxury – sure, it doesn't have the same modesty or subtlety but it still manages to convey a more laid-back approach to dressing oneself.

It is a shift indicative of one thing: that ‘luxury’ is continuously not being defined by the quality of a good, but of its societal value. Crystal Palace, South London’s finest footballing institution, have recently hired Kenny Annan-Jonathan as the club’s creative director, to bridge the gap between the club and the world of fashion. For him, it’s about moving beyond the diametric of streetwear for the kids, suits for the execs but instead creating more “shapes and silhouettes” for the consumer to choose from.

It’s a bold move – it gives the chance for a strong community-based team like Crystal Palace to tap into their local surroundings, and provide premium offerings that don’t have to rely on the lifestyles of the wealthy players of the team, but instead are a stronger indication of the community itself. The luxury industry taking a stronger interest in the world of sport has more to do with the shift of the perspective of the enthusiast instead of the sportsperson themselves. As Annan-Jonathan states: “Fashion is bigger than just the entity wearing it. I understand there's influence, but design value and telling the story of why this product was made or the story behind it is what drives visibility and conversation, not just the players that are in them.”

Community-centric storytelling can often be a more fruitful, and dynamic approach to selling a brand. Attaching oneself to a team, a sport, or an athlete leaves your brand at the whim of the ups and downs of athletic pursuit. Anyone who has enjoyed the recent plethora of “eat the rich” films will know that consumers are more aware of the thin, distorting veneer that premium products coat on reality. Incorporating the twists and turns of sport allows brands to relate to the downs, and benefit from the ups. As an owner of a Three Lions branded suit, I can tell you it is the piece of clothing I have the most rich, and volatile relationship with.

More Than Just Va-Va-Voom

If you can’t sell the shirt, then sell the person inside it. This is something that brands have been doing for years. Partnerships with sports stars are a key part of luxury marketing – there are even suggestions that Roman gladiators were partial to a bit of product placement. Why? They generate large amounts of engagement from loyal fans and are part of conversations from parliaments to water coolers around the world. 

Nonetheless, far too often that relationship in the past has been a bit one-dimensional. It’s often been “[insert luxury car] – driven by X”, or “wear the same watch as Y”, or “come stay at the [insert luxury hotel] frequented by X, Y and Z.” 

For example, you have the freshly-coined Henry-Owen paradox. Everybody remembers Thierry Henry’s Renault Clio adverts – suave, sexy spots that gave a somewhat underwhelming vehicle a certain va-va-voom. Conversely, have you ever heard of the Jaguar x Michael Owen partnership? 

Both household names in their own right, with differing results. I know which one I’d rather drive. I also know which person I’d rather be stuck in a car with.

And this is where there is an opportunity for more premium brands – it isn’t simply slapping a familiar, or popular face on a product, it’s about building a story around the talent. Thierry Henry’s adverts worked because he personified exactly what the brand was looking to sell, not the product itself.

For example, Gucci choosing Jannik Sinner and Mohamed Salah to front their recent “A Hero’s Journey” campaign is based on much more than a “best-in-class meets best-in-class”. Sinner’s campaign contains the young tennis star in the throes of writer’s block, languishing in the glitz and glamour of the Italian Riviera, clad in Gucci’s finest. Think Call Me by Your Name meets Fellini’s 8 ½ and Allen’s Match Point. It’s suave, sexy and crucially, there’s not a rally in sight.

It is a dedicated campaign to craftsmanship, high performance and an ode to being at your best – aspects shared by the elite consumer and the elite athlete. With regards to Salah’s, the focus here is more on aestheticism, peace of mind, and family values, as opposed to scoring goals, or winning trophies. What says exclusivity better than telling the story about the sports stars you thought you already knew everything about?

For sports branding enthusiasts (if such a thing exists), Mr. Sinner lived up to his name on Centre Court, going against the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s rigid set of rules to unleash the “first time a high-end luxury luggage piece has been brought on court”. 15-0 Gucci. Hikhat Mohammed, an editor at Women’s Wear Daily, stated “the amount of work it took to get that bag out onto Centre Court was truly something” but code violations aside, this act should be considered a statement of intent from the fashion house.

As with many things in life, men were late to this game. It’s women who have been rebelliously transgressing the AELTC’s rules. Modern tennis (even sport as we know it) owes itself to the world’s first sporting celebrity, Suzanne Lenglen, who wore fur coats to games, sipped cognac in changeovers and glided across the court with a diamond chiffon for a bandana. I’m sure somebody watching Lenglen’s games then (of which she only lost one in her whole career) would have been furiously typing away a similar article on their typewriter – history sure does repeat itself.

In the same vein, Emma Raducanu was the first to sign deals with Dior and Tiffany’s, while Sinner’s rival, wunderkind Carlos Alcatraz, has also partnered with Louis Vuitton. Part of a generation that has grown up with social media, these are sports stars who hold great importance to how their lifestyle is perceived after close of play. It isn’t unfathomable that in the future Nike & Adidas will be competing with the maisons for the top sports stars in the world.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and who better than a great finisher with a passion for lunchtimes to complement that? Teaming up with Burberry, Rashford has fostered a bright and fruitful relationship between brand and player. Through their campaign, Burberry has had their clothes hawked by one of Britain’s most likeable, recognisable and principled sports stars, and in return have given support to fifteen youth-related charities, two of which were frequented by Rashford in his youth. 

The results? According to The Industry.Fashion, the Manchester United footballer was Burberry’s single most impactful ambassador in the UK from June 2021 to May 2022, powering $2.1M EMV (earned media value), outperforming Burberry’s number two earner, supermodel Naomi Campbell, by over $600k EMV. A successful marriage of Burberry’s identity with Rashford’s principles led to a fruitful partnership, and when he went to collect his MBE, there were no doubts about who he was going to wear.



To return to the start – that whole crab nonsense – it isn’t a freak act of nature. It’s an evolutionary predisposition to become the most potent force possible. Luxury’s recent forays into sport are the sprouts of a larger picture, and perhaps one that goes beyond sport itself. 

It is indicative of luxury’s continuous evolution into something more accessible, and something more personalised. By tapping into communities, fandoms or parts of society that the elevated lifestyle has previously been more nervous to touch, it is opening itself up to creating more shapes, sizes and silhouettes. It’s innovation for innovation’s sake. 

Blurring the lines between exercise and leisure, performance and pleasure is a brilliant way of ensuring that there is constant invention between the sports and luxury sectors. Sports never stop entertaining and are a constant source of joy to billions around the world. Tapping into that, and enhancing experience through this world will ensure that luxury brands retain their fresh, pioneering spirit, and resist getting caught up in the claws of stagnation.

Published by Louis Cardoe


Health & Wellness

Annual Luxury Reports, Sector Analysis, Consumer Psychology & more.