Fashion’s Favourite Sport Returns to New York | The Week Ahead, BoF Professional

  • The US Open tennis tournament begins on Aug. 30 in New York

  • Naomi Osaka, the sport’s top earner in terms of endorsement deals, returns after a leave of absence; she’ll also co-host the Met Gala shortly after the tournament ends

  • Tennis saw its popularity soar during the pandemic and is experiencing renewed interest from a younger, more diverse audience

The US Open typically concludes right around the start of New York Fashion Week. And while the timing may be coincidental, there’s plenty connecting the two events. Elite tennis players are among the most sought-after endorsements for fashion brands. For the biggest stars, a mega-contract with a sports brand is table stakes, as is a brand ambassadorship with a luxury watchmaker. Naomi Osaka, whose first Grand Slam victory was at the 2018 US Open, has signed deals with a murderer’s row of luxury, sports and tech giants.

As with other celebrities, tennis players are increasingly choosing to leverage their star power to promote their own products. Serena Williams has fashion and jewellery lines as well as Serena Ventures, which has invested in start-ups such as Lola and Noom. Roger Federer is headed for a spectacular payout as the Swiss running brand he backed, On, moves toward an IPO. Osaka is launching a skin care line for people of colour. With $55.2 million in annual earnings — all but $5 million from endorsements, according to Sportico — it won’t take her long to match her veteran peers off the court.

The Bottom Line: Osaka’s meteoric rise on and off the court reflects the changing demographics of both tennis and fashion. At 22, she is a Gen-Z superstar in a sport still dominated by athletes like Williams and Federer who straddle the Gen-X/Millennial divide. Her frank discussion of personal struggles with racism and depression have endeared her to a new generation of fans. They and her brand partners — including Louis Vuitton, Nike and Tag Heuer — will no doubt be rooting for a deep run at Flushing Meadows.

Changing Plans

  • Rakuten Fashion Week begins Aug. 30 in Tokyo

  • Some designers are switching from physical to virtual shows as new Covid cases in the country soar

  • Tokyo’s shows often targeted a domestic audience pre-pandemic; they’ll do so by necessity this year as travel restrictions limit international attendance

Rakuten Fashion Week is coming earlier than usual this year; typically, Tokyo’s shows are scheduled after those in America and Europe, rather than at the start of the month. Until recently, the schedule shift looked to be a wise move, putting the week more in sync with domestic buyers’ schedules while their international counterparts were mostly barred from entering the country. But the Delta variant has changed the equation, and Japan is now experiencing its worst Covid-19 outbreak to date. Designers are scrambling to adjust to a rapidly changing situation. Some, including headliners like White Mountaineering, are abandoning plans for in-person events. Organisers say the shows will go on in some form, and can point to the Olympics and the recent Fuji Rock festival as examples of long-planned, large-scale events that were adapted to unusual times. Still, the upheaval is an inauspicious omen for brands planning to party like it’s 2019 in New York or Paris.

The Bottom Line: It’s been said before, but there’s reason to hope this is Japan’s last fashion week that will see such widespread disruption. After a slow start, the country’s vaccination campaign is ramping up, with over 40 percent of the population fully dosed. That puts the Japan close to where Europe and America were when they loosened lockdown restrictions and began warming again to the idea of international tourism.

Zoe Suen contributed to this item

The American Fashion Formula

  • PVH Corp., owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, reports quarterly results on Aug. 31

  • Coach, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren recently posted strong sales and improved operating margins

  • Earlier this year, PVH sold brands that depended on department stores for sales to focus on growing its core labels

After getting walloped by the pandemic, American fashion conglomerates are on the up again. Tapestry, Capri Holdings and Ralph Lauren have all reported better-than-expected results, including progress on long-gestating turnaround plans. Each is pursuing some variation of the same formula: nudge consumers toward brand-owned stores and away from ailing wholesale retail, invest in e-commerce, expand internationally and maintain tight discipline over inventories and pricing. PVH, the next to report, has followed much the same game plan, under both Manny Chirico and Stefan Larsson, who took over as chief executive in February. The company sold labels like Izod and Van Heusen that were largely sold through department stores and sees its future in digital sales and fast-growing markets like China.

The Bottom Line: PVH’s “focus on the core” strategy has its own hurdles — consumers have stubbornly resisted attempts to move Calvin Klein upmarket — but the strength of the rebound at the company’s main rivals bodes well.

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