From Fields to Front Rows: How Athletes Became the Faces of Luxury Fashion Houses

Koktail Magazine

10 Jul 2024


Athletes have moved beyond sports to become fashion icons. Want to see how your favourite athletes are making their mark? Read below.

In recent years, the worlds of sports and fashion have collided in ways we never saw coming. Athletes have morphed from being sports heroes to full-blown fashion icons. Collaborations between luxury brands and athletes have made these sports stars more relatable and influential beyond their on-field achievements.

The Evolution of Athletes in Fashion

Athletes dabbling in fashion is not a new phenomenon. This relationship has been brewing for decades, with some unforgettable moments marking its evolution.

The 1980s: The Beginning

Michael Jordan's collaboration with Nike to create the Air Jordan line marked a significant moment. Air Jordans became a cultural phenomenon, symbolising athletic excellence with a style that fans worldwide adored. Today, the Air Jordan legacy lives on, captivating new generations of fashion enthusiasts.

The 1990s: Hip-Hop Culture and Sportswear

The 1990s saw hip-hop culture embracing sportswear brands like Adidas, Nike, and Puma, solidifying the connection between athletes and fashion. Basketball legends like Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal became style icons, influencing streetwear trends. Their impact shaped how young people dressed and expressed themselves.

The 2000s: High-End Collaborations

In the 2000s, athletes started collaborating more with high-end fashion brands. David Beckham, for instance, became known for his stylish appearances and partnerships with Armani. A crucial moment occurred during the 1998 FIFA World Cup match between England and Argentina, where a controversial red card heightened media attention around him. Nevertheless, his stylish off-field persona bolstered his cultural influence, alongside his endorsement deals that involved modelling underwear and clothing lines for Armani.

The 2010s: Athletes as Designers

The trend continued to grow with athletes like LeBron James launching his own fashion brand called 'House of Hoops.' This brand was a collaboration with Nike and Foot Locker, focusing on basketball footwear and apparel. Similarly, Serena Williams launched her own fashion brand called 'Aneres,' which is 'Serena' spelled backwards.

Additionally, these collaborations became more common. For example, the partnership between Nike and designer Virgil Abloh, founder of the fashion label Off-White, brought a high-fashion element to sportswear. Off-White gained popularity for its streetwear-inspired designs and collaborations with Nike and Louis Vuitton.

The 2020s: Athletes Leading the Fashion Pack

The trend has reached new heights, with Russell Westbrook collaborating with Jordan and appearing in high-profile campaigns, Dwyane Wade showcasing his fashion style, and Naomi Osaka becoming a fashion icon in the 2020s through her partnership with Louis Vuitton.

Football Field

Kylian Mbappé and Hublot

One notable example is French football star, who is playing in the UEFA European Championship (Euros), Kylian Mbappé and his association with Hublot, a Swiss luxury watchmaker. Mbappé, known for his speed and skill on the field, has become a key ambassador for Hublot. He has been seen wearing various models from the brand, including the Big Bang Steel White Diamonds. Its design is bold yet elegant, much like Mbappé's presence on and off the field.

Son Heung-min with Burberry and Tumi

Son Heung-min, the South Korean football sensation, has captivated fans worldwide as a forward for Tottenham Hotspur and the South Korea national team. Recognised as one of the best players globally and celebrated as one of the greatest Asian footballers of all time, Son's speed, precise finishing, and playmaking expertise have set him apart in the world of football.

In 2022, Son was named a brand ambassador for Calvin Klein Underwear in South Korea. He has been a brand ambassador for the British luxury fashion house Burberry. In March 2023, he was named the global face of Burberry's first campaign under its new chief creative officer, Daniel Lee.

In February 2022, he became a brand ambassador for the American high-end luggage brand Tumi. His role with Tumi evolved, and by February 2024, he had been promoted to a global ambassador, starring in a major campaign featuring the new TUMI 19 Degree Aluminium collection.

 

Tennis Field

Serena Williams and Nike

Another athlete who has made an impact in fashion is tennis superstar Serena Williams. Williams has had a long-standing relationship with Nike, collaborating on numerous fashion lines.

In December 2003, at 21, Serena Williams signed a multi-million, multi-year contract with Nike. This partnership has been one of the most profound in sports history. Despite facing public and private scrutiny in a sport dominated by white players, Williams leveraged her game-time dominance and Nike's support to surpass traditional tennis expectations. At the 2004 US Open, Williams debuted her partnership with Nike by wearing an all-black denim look and knee-high boots, marking her as a fashion icon. In 2022, she continued her bold self-expression, opening the US Open in a six-layer skirt and crystal-encrusted bodice, with custom Nike Court Flare 2 shoes.

 

Naomi Osaka and Louis Vuitton

Tennis player Naomi Osaka has emerged as a fashion icon through her partnership with Louis Vuitton as a brand ambassador. Beyond fashion, Osaka is a strong advocate for social issues, particularly racial injustice and inequality. In August 2020, she refused to play in the semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open to spotlight police brutality against Black people—an issue she believes is more important than sports. This makes her a powerful voice in both the sports and fashion communities.

Recently, Osaka showed her commitment to both her sport and fashion when she attended Louis Vuitton’s cruise 2025 show in Barcelona just before the French Open. Despite her busy training schedule, Osaka took a brief 24-hour break to witness Nicolas Ghesquière’s latest collection at Park Güell, overlooking the city. This quick trip, filled with fashion and glamour, highlights her ability to balance her professional tennis career with her role as a fashion ambassador.

 

Carlos Alcaraz and Louis Vuitton

In August 2023, tennis star Carlos Alcaraz launched his first campaign for Louis Vuitton, becoming one of the brand’s latest ambassadors. He showcased tailored eveningwear looks from Pharrell Williams’ first collection, striking various tennis poses. Building on this relationship, Louis Vuitton collaborated with Alcaraz to create a new Malle Vestiaire.

To honour his tennis achievements, including the 2022 US Open and 2023 Wimbledon victories, Louis Vuitton crafted a personalised bespoke trunk for Alcaraz's equipment. Reflecting Louis Vuitton’s expertise in luggage, the trunk is made from wood and the brand’s iconic Monogram canvas. Its quilted microfiber interior and leather-handled drawers are designed to store Alcaraz’s racket, trophies, clothes, and even a custom Speedy bag. The trunk is adorned with a hand-painted logo inspired by Alcaraz’s career.

 

Basketball Field

LeBron James and Thom Browne

Basketball legend LeBron James has impacted the fashion world through his partnership with designer Thom Browne. Known for his impeccable style, James has worked with Browne to create tailored suits and high-end sportswear that showcase his sophisticated taste.

Although this partnership might seem unlikely at first—given James's imposing size and Browne's signature shrunken, mid-century modern suits—James has become the ultimate Thom Browne muse. He has introduced the label to a broader audience beyond the fashion set, making him an unexpectedly effective brand ambassador.

James had been a loyal customer for years before he enlisted Browne in 2018 to design bespoke clothes for him and his Cavaliers teammates, increasing the brand’s visibility. Their collaboration deepened with a nine-piece capsule collection for James’s Miami boutique, UNKNWN.

The Impact of Athlete-Endorsed Fashion

First, it helps luxury brands connect with younger, diverse audiences who admire athletes' achievements and styles. This keeps luxury brands relevant and helps them reach new markets. For example, collaborations such as those between Nike and Supreme, or the partnerships Louis Vuitton has formed with athletes like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, create a strong appeal among Millennials and Gen Z consumers.

Second, these partnerships show that athletes have diverse interests and talents. This can inspire fans to pursue their passions beyond sports. A notable example is Olympic medalist Allyson Felix, who partnered with Fendi for the Met Gala 2021 and arrived at the event in a Fendi Couture ballgown from the Fall/Winter 2021 collection, showcasing her as both an athlete and a style icon. Similarly, footballer Marcus Rashford’s collaboration with Burberry highlights his involvement in social causes and fashion. 

Lastly, the fusion of sports and fashion promotes a lifestyle that values both performance and style. It allows individuals to excel in their careers while expressing their identities through fashion. For instance, when model Bella Hadid wore a football-style shirt in Balenciaga’s collaboration with Adidas, showcasing the marriage of athletic inspiration with high fashion.