Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Fast and luxurious: how the fashion industry caught Formula 1 fever

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Priyanka Chopra in Y/Project’s trompe l’oeil maxi dress visiting the Ferrari garage. Lupita Nyong’o in chequered-flag Longchamp, next to the Red Bull driver Checo Perez. Marine Serre’s reconstituted race-suit dress, with armoured bustier and bustle. Not to mention, Chanel’s racetrack-inspired 2023 cruise collection, complete with Chanel No.5 helmets.

As Lewis Hamilton says, “there was [once] a sense that high fashion and high performance couldn’t exist alongside each other”, but from gridwalk to catwalk to celebrity street style, it’s clear that fashion’s motorsport moment is now in overdrive.

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Chanel’s racetrack-inspired cruise collection

preview for Highlights from the Autumn/Winter 2024 fashion weeks

Trends come and go, of course, but this sporting crossover is more than just runway referencing. Formula 1 and the fashion industry have suddenly developed an interest in each other that is as profitable as it is prevalent. According to a report by the brand-building agency Karla Otto and the insights specialists Lefty, Formula 1 is the second fastest-growing sport contributing towards the Earned Media Value (EMV) of fashion brands, surging 35 per cent in 2023. In other words, marketing budgets spent within the F1 ecosystem are currently providing enormous return on investment. A few column inches have already been dedicated to figuring out why that might be. Most land on this formula: TikTok + Netflix + Hamilton = global marketing goldmine. And they are not wrong.

“Women are finally to be found everywhere in the Formula 1 industry”

Formula 1’s fly-on-the-wall reality series Drive To Survive has attracted a viewership in excess of 7 million. And (F1 owner) Liberty Media’s recent social-media strategy – which includes encouraging drivers to have a much bigger presence on all platforms – means paddock favourites, like style-savant Hamilton, now have personal followings of up to 40M. It’s no wonder that brands are keen to capitalise on some of that exposure. But the phenomenon deserves a closer look, because while the celebrification of racing drivers is influential, it isn’t necessarily the driving force (pun intended) behind this new relationship with fashion. The real reason that luxury houses are flocking to the track is… women.

One of the biggest changes to Formula 1 over the last five years has been female interest and participation. From the introduction of exciting pundits like Naomi Schiff on Sky Sports, to the promotion of women like Hannah Schmitz as Principal Strategy Engineer, through to the young women racing in feeder series F1 Academy, women are finally to be found everywhere in the Formula 1 industry.

“I’ve always said: ‘If you can see it, you can be it’,” says F1 Academy managing director Susie Wolff, “and in a sport that’s been male-dominated, women finally see themselves represented.” This visibility on and around the track is significant for women’s involvement more broadly. “Female fans now account for 40 per cent of F1’s total fanbase,” Wolff continues, “Not only are they getting involved in F1 as fans, but they are building powerful communities within it. That’s what is now driving interest from a whole spectrum of new brands, including those in the fashion and beauty space.”

las vegas, nv november 17 mercedes driver lewis hamilton 44 of united kingdom arrives before friday practice at the f1 las vegas grand prix on thursday, november 17, 2023 on the las vegas street circuit in las vegas, nv photo by bob kupbensicon sportswire via getty images

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Lewis Hamilton in Louis Vuitton

paris, france june 23 editorial use only for non editorial use please seek approval from fashion house a model walks the runway during the louis vuitton menswear spring summer 2023 show as part of paris fashion week on june 23, 2022 in paris, france photo by pascal le segretaingetty images

Pascal Le Segretain

Louis Vuitton’s patchwork leather jacket

Formula 1 has always been synonymous with luxury; it’s a sport for the rich, with six-figure entry costs for fledgling athletes. Its most famous race takes place in Monaco, among crowds of yacht owners and tax-haven billionaires. Premium brands like Rolex, Moët & Chandon and Louis Vuitton forged an association with it a long time ago. The target demographic for these sponsoring partners, however, has historically been affluent and male.

Since then, the customer profile has dramatically changed. Vuitton’s narrative-arc within Formula 1 is beautiful evidence of this. The brand started by creating a travel trunk for the Monaco trophy, honouring the heritage and tradition of the races. Fast forward a few years and Vuitton is dressing Hamilton in cutting-edge, funnel-necked nylon from Pharrell’s SS24 collection, hosting driver Pierre Gasly at the Cannes Film festival, and sending psychedelic patchwork-leather racing jackets down the runway. Leaning harder into the opportunity and attracting the sport’s younger audience and burgeoning female fan base has made Vuitton the fashion industry’s prime beneficiary of Formula 1’s cultural influence, reportedly garnering them over $6m in EMV.

“Female fans now account for 40 per cent of F1’s total fanbase”

Sensing the gender shift’s significance, some F1 teams have been quicker than others to pivot their focus. Though Tommy Hilfiger has had a longstanding involvement in Formula 1, with sponsorships dating back to the ’90s, Mercedes-AMG made the smart move to enlist Hilfiger – one of the top ranking luxury brands among women globally – to help draw female interest. Together, they’ve produced a series of fashion-forward collections for men and women, including an upcoming capsule collaboration with the streetwear brand Awake NY. “Rising female interest and involvement in F1 is exciting,” Hilfiger tells me. “It adds a new, fundamental dimension to motorsport. The engagement we see across our social channels proves that our consumers are interested, invested and attracted.”

f1 academy series round 7austin race 1 2

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Actress Chloe Grace Moretz poses from the grid ahead of the F1 Academy Series in Austin, Texas

preview for Formula 1 Drive to Survive Season 6 - Official Teaser (Netflix)

In the second year of McLaren’s fashion partnership with Reiss, the retailer made the decision to slimline the production of straight-up replica team kit, to make way for a brand new ‘Hype’ collection of directional streetwear, leather varsity jackets and silky two-piece sets. Most of Hype is billed as unisex, but a portion of it sits purely in womenswear. “McLaren has seen a big rise in their female fan base over the years,” explains Alex Field, menswear director at Reiss. “We saw female fans customising or cropping official merch in order to represent their fashion stance, so we made Hype the answer to this. It’s been our best-selling and most in-demand collection for them.”

In 2021, Ferrari launched its own in-house fashion line of women’s ready-to-wear and recently negotiated a slot at Milan Fashion Week. “F1 is the new red carpet. We see Rihanna, Adam Driver, Naomi Campbell and many more requesting access to the Ferrari paddock and we recently dressed Alicia Keys in a custom-made Ferrari suit,” says Ferrari style creative director Rocco Iannone. Even Aston Martin has shifted from Hackett to Boss, moving from a brand that serves an exclusively male audience, to one that also makes womenswear. The lesson here is that the merch market is much stronger among women, who have more potent ‘emotional’ relationships with their purchases. The brands that are recognising female fans’ desire to display team affiliations, while also serving a look, are reaping the rewards.

Nowhere is this opportunity more compelling than in America, where women’s interest in watching sports has exploded most energetically. A record total audience of nearly 60 million women are now watching the Super Bowl, for example. In response, the US has dramatically increased its participation in Formula 1, with the biggest recent success story being the Miami Grand Prix, which launched in 2022 and now boasts viewing figures in excess of 1.2 million.

The particular opportunity of the Miami and Las Vegas races for brands lies not only in the legions of female fans and celebrities in attendance (even Michelle Obama turns up for Miami race weekends), but in the emphasis on luxury consumerism. With the global demand for luxury goods in flux, sales figures rely more and more on the whims of the uber-wealthy. With basic ticket packages ranging from $700 to $10,000 for the Miami GP, the packed-out grandstands are evidently rich.

georgia may jagger wearing ferrari

courtesy of Ferrari

Georgia May Jagger wearing Ferrari

Beyond the fact that women monopolise the luxury and merch markets, female fans are also naturally becoming more interested in a sport that is finally starting to support their own. Inside Track, a report by the women’s motorsport initiative More Than Equal, discovered that 56 per cent of female fans are more likely to purchase from brands that sponsor women. This means that labels like Tommy Hilfiger, Charlotte Tilbury and Puma, who are loudly and proudly backing the female racers of F1 Academy, are making shrewd decisions for ROI.

“[Female fans] have strong views on what they perceive as the failure of the sport to look and feel more diverse,” says Ali Donelly, More Than Equal’s CEO. “There are huge opportunities for brands who are willing to invest in women.” “I believe it is our responsibility to use our platform to spark change,” adds Hilfiger. “Our partnership [with F1 Academy] marks a huge stepping-stone towards equal access in Formula 1. And I believe the intersection of fashion and motorsport is here to stay.”

spanish driver nerea martí and susie wolff of tommy hilfiger

Jason Vian

Spanish driver Nerea Martí and F1 Academy Managing Director Susie Wolff wearing Tommy Hilfiger

In the race for relevance, Formula 1 and the fashion industry are finding a mighty ally in female fans. The success of this convergence is being propelled by women who bring both passion and purchasing power. And the alliance is not just about aesthetics, it’s about influence. Women are spending with purpose, turning their financial clout into a catalyst for change.

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