Have We Reached Peak Sportswear x Luxury Collaboration?

Analyzing why subverting tradition and unapologetic irony could push a brand’s limits too far.

Fashion 
28,100 Hypes 30 Comments

The design cues of traditional sportswear companies and heritage luxury houses aren’t as far apart as it seems. Cast your eye back to the 1980s when Gianni Versace’s sporty silk blousons were the height of fashion, or the ‘90s with Chanel’s foray into ski jackets and puffy clothing. It continued with adidas in the 2000s, tapping Yohji Yamamoto before it enlisted everyone from Raf Simons and Rick Owens to then-up-and-coming designers like Craig Green and Wales Bonner. This is nothing new, but today it seems that collaborations – particularly ones that combine sportswear and streetwear with heritage luxury labels – are a dime a dozen.

This concept has caused a shift in what luxury fashion means. It arguably started with Louis Vuitton x Supreme, potentially the catalyst for Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton x Nike collaboration, Dior x Jordan, and of course in recent times, adidas’ work with Prada, Gucci, and now Balenciaga. Sportswear collaborations within the luxury realm such as these have become industry-defining moments and have gone on to change brand strategies, particularly for once-antiquated luxury names.

The recent Balenciaga x adidas collaboration, which debuted during the label’s Spring 2023 show held at Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange, transformed the American Dream into an atmosphere that commented on (to the point of mocking) capitalism, bootleg culture, and just how far a brand can push its audience. This has become Demna Gvasalia’s modus operandi, and now we live in the era of brands testing the limits of what “luxury” means in the fashion industry. 

Balenciaga’s collaboration with adidas was all of the above, and instead of being inspired by bootleg culture – something Demna often did at Vetements, famously with its DHL T-shirt – the collection turned out to be more in its own lane of “bootleg couture.” Simply, high-end variations of everyday adidas items. 

As the Instagram account Diet Prada highlighted, a strappy adidas dress that usually costs $45 USD is now a $1,550 USD strappy tank top, seemingly just because Balenciaga replaced adidas’ name with its own. This continued with $18 USD socks turned into $210 USD co-branded ones and a technical track jacket made largely from the same materials seeing a price increase from $120 USD to $2,350 USD – arguably because the silhouette was exaggerated in Balenciaga’s usual manner and its branding appeared once again.

But with anything Balenciaga, you have to look beyond face value. Like its viral Distressed Paris Sneaker, Demna makes a point of wearing sneakers worth $1,850 USD that, if they were not Balenciaga, you would throw away. Likewise, the Destroyed Stan Smith warranted comments from HYPEBEAST’s audience such as “You can just buy some regular Stan Smiths and wear them through hell for three years, and they’ll look just like this.” Other products such as the adidas Triple S divided opinions, once again proving that many luxury brands, like Balenciaga, are looking at provocation.

Demna, both when he was at Vetements and now with Balenciaga, is obsessed with irony. It’s a part of Balenciaga’s brand DNA, heavily influencing collections such as the Spring/Summer 2022 red carpet-themed show that saw hypothetical celebrities (aka the models) arrive at a faux event for a screening of a very satirical episode of The Simpsons. Here, this worked, as Demna would present retro-futuristic tailoring and divisive footwear in a setting fit for the Met Gala, or previously with Vetements, Demna delivered Juicy Couture tracksuits and reimagined Levi’s denim on a runway inside institutions like McDonald’s

This level of subversion is apparent in Balenciaga’s recent runway – wealthy, fashionable onlookers were invited to Wall Street at a time the stock exchange is tanking and the cost of living continues to rise, all while gimp mask-clad models walked down the runway. Commenting on the show, Demna said that money is the biggest fetish of them all, but did Balenciaga really evoke the irony we’ve come to expect by showing multi-thousand-dollar garments inspired by the bootleg culture and Wall Street at the NYSE while it also directly benefits from this industry, theme, and luxury price bracket?

In short, this is all great marketing for a house that continues to be the world’s hottest brand year on year. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand who the latest collection is for.

adidas’ collaborations with Prada, Gucci and Balenciaga are certainly not for its typical consumer. While plenty of the Gucci collaboration was well-received, especially its $850 USD Gazelles, it isn’t unreasonable to question why these shoes are more than eight times the price of the original sneaker. It comes down to how meticulously well-designed they are, that they’re made in Italy by the hands of Gucci’s own artisans (like Dior’s Air Jordan 1), and use some of the highest quality materials in Gucci’s armoire. The same goes for the rest of the Gucci x adidas collection, which saw traditional Gucci silhouettes infiltrated by adidas’ Trefoil and Three Stripe iconography, coming together harmoniously in a way that appeals to lovers of overt branding and the culture of hype. However, perhaps less so to OG adidas heads. 

For adidas, it means it can have a slice of the luxe market without having to fully devote itself to this field. For the brands it collaborates with, they get to reap the benefits of a younger audience deeming it relevant in their world, all while neither are actually making products for those pockets of society. Here, the appeal is on the luxury house’s clientele, subsequently pushing the agenda of rewriting what luxury means in today’s climate. 

These collaborations have changed the face of luxury and have introduced a new theme to the high-end audience. To most of us it seems like a tact marketing ploy, but perhaps it’s more about breaking down the boundaries of traditions. adidas’ collaborative partners are the perfect case, because while Prada, Gucci and Balenciaga offer their own take on sportswear as an extension of their aesthetic and identity, they also realize that adidas offers them something money cannot buy: authenticity. 

However yet again, this is where it gets sticky. Just how authentic are adidas’ luxury collaborations? Forget price points and audiences; adidas is a heritage sportswear brand with mass appeal. Balenciaga is infamously controversial, Gucci plays on history and flamboyance, and Prada’s latest direction is as high-fashion as it’s ever been. 

As we’ve come to learn, authenticity is key to a good collaboration – research has shown that 59% of 16-24-year-olds are more likely to buy fashion brands they consider authentic. Studies have also shown that “Many consumers who buy luxury goods are not in a financial position to be able to afford luxury goods” and “some people perceive non-luxury goods as inferior simply by virtue of them being non-luxury, [so] they also come to the conclusion that higher priced goods are of better quality (contrary to any evidence about their actual level of quality or durability).”

Maybe this is what we are facing here. Balenciaga, through adidas, is giving its fans what they want – irony in its most palpable form, so visually impactful that everyone knows you spent that kind of money on the power of a logo. 

Instead, these collaborations have paved the way for brands that were typically not associated with the luxury world to dip their toes into that realm, authentically or not. They have tried and succeeded in creating a new era, meaning, and cross-pollination of hype, luxury, streetwear, and fashion, and this goes beyond just making luxury houses so-called “cool.” This is the Balenciaga effect: dad sneakers for $1,000 USD and the distorted destruction of high-luxury goods have been the norm for some time now. The question is, how far can these collaborations go before the pendulum of trends swings against its favor and we all return to a less satirical era of fashion?

Read Full Article

What to Read Next

Balenciaga’s adidas Collaboration Comes to Life in New York Stock Exchange Runway Show
Fashion

Balenciaga’s adidas Collaboration Comes to Life in New York Stock Exchange Runway Show

Confirming the highly speculated brand partnership and joint venture.

Is the adidas x Balenciaga Triple S Collaboration Really Happening?
Footwear

Is the adidas x Balenciaga Triple S Collaboration Really Happening?

Badidas? Adiaga? Either way, here’s your best look so far at the yet-to-be-confirmed partnership.

Take a Closer Look at the Balenciaga x adidas Destroyed Stan Smith
Footwear

Take a Closer Look at the Balenciaga x adidas Destroyed Stan Smith

Demna’s styling cues meant the collaborative pair was well-hidden on its Spring 2023 runway in New York.


Official Images of the Prada x adidas Forum Collaborations
Footwear

Official Images of the Prada x adidas Forum Collaborations

The Italian luxury house lines up monochromatic colorways with detachable pouches.

NOT Architects Studio "Scoops Up" Surrounding Scenery for Skinny Tokyo House
Design

NOT Architects Studio "Scoops Up" Surrounding Scenery for Skinny Tokyo House

Taking in elements of the nearby neighbourhood that inspired them the most.

Daily Paper and Beats Unite for '90s Graffiti-Inspired Studio Buds
Tech

Daily Paper and Beats Unite for '90s Graffiti-Inspired Studio Buds

With a campaign featuring Unknown T.

Takashi Murakami Presents 'Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow' at The Broad
Art

Takashi Murakami Presents 'Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow' at The Broad

Showcasing the artist’s monumental 82-foot-wide painting.

FaZe Clan and Disney Ready "Mickey On The Grid" Capsule
Fashion

FaZe Clan and Disney Ready "Mickey On The Grid" Capsule

Featuring graphic tees, sweatshirts, and baseball caps.

Bad Bunny Reflects on Starring as El Muerto for Sony and Marvel
Entertainment

Bad Bunny Reflects on Starring as El Muerto for Sony and Marvel

Calling the role “perfect.”


New York City's Last Payphone Has Been Removed
Travel

New York City's Last Payphone Has Been Removed

Replaced by LinkNYC Wi-Fi kiosks.

Corsair Unveils its First Gaming Laptop
Tech

Corsair Unveils its First Gaming Laptop

Complete with a touchbar and a 1080p webcam.

8 Drops You Don't Want to Miss This Week
Fashion 

8 Drops You Don't Want to Miss This Week

Featuring Supreme, HUMAN MADE, Balenciaga x adidas, YEEZY Gap, Palace and more.

The Latest Awake NY x Crocs Collaboration Is an Ode To Present Day Artisans
Footwear

The Latest Awake NY x Crocs Collaboration Is an Ode To Present Day Artisans

Available starting today.

Chanel Is Opening Private Stores for Its Top Clients
Fashion

Chanel Is Opening Private Stores for Its Top Clients

Following reports of increasing sales by 50%.

More ▾
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Looks like you’re using an ad-blocker

We charge advertisers instead of our readers. Support us by whitelisting our site.

Whitelist Us

How to Whitelist Us

screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlock icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Under “Pause on this site” click “Always”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlock Plus icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Block ads on – This website” switch off the toggle to turn it from blue to gray.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the AdBlocker Ultimate icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Switch off the toggle to turn it from “Enabled on this site” to “Disabled on this site”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the Ghostery icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Click on the “Ad-Blocking” button at the bottom. It will turn gray and the text above will go from “ON” to “OFF”.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the UBlock Origin icon in the browser extension area in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Click on the large blue power icon at the top.
  3. When it turns gray, click the refresh icon that has appeared next to it or click the button below to continue.
screenshot
  1. Click the icon of the ad-blocker extension installed on your browser.You’ll usually find this icon in the upper right-hand corner of your screen. You may have more than one ad-blocker installed.
  2. Follow the instructions for disabling the ad blocker on the site you’re viewing.You may have to select a menu option or click a button.
  3. Refresh the page or click the button below to continue.