Louis Vuitton and the NBA are teaming up. The companies announced a multiyear deal for Louis Vuitton to produce the travel case for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, awarded to the championship winning team each year, as well as a small annual collection of clothes and accessories based on the league.
The deal offers both organizations a chance to burnish their powerful brands. For Louis Vuitton in particular, it’s an opportunity to leverage the NBA’s cultural clout so it can connect with new shoppers—in the US and abroad—while adding a sheen of cool to its historic brand image.
The NBA is unique among US sports leagues in the marketing opportunity it offers companies because of its strong ties to music and fashion. Hip-hop is the league’s unofficial soundtrack, sneakers originally made for the basketball court are now among the most popular styles off it, and players have become known for their personal style. ”I think that’s why some of these luxury brands are looking to players, influencers, because they are the ones setting the trends and setting the culture, if you will, and these fashion brands are very much a part of that culture,” Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, told WWD (paywall). “Our players are often seen in Louis Vuitton merchandise.”
By formalizing those ties, Louis Vuitton stands to add a bit of youth and diversity to its brand image, which is important as promoting inclusivity becomes a priority for luxury companies. Not least, the NBA’s popularity isn’t just limited to the US. The league also has a huge international audience, particularly in China, a leading market for fashion and luxury.
The NBA, meanwhile, gets to it strengthen its culturally cool image and add a little luxury shine.
Tatum told WWD that while the NBA has worked with fashion companies before, none of those partnerships were on the scale of what it’s doing with Louis Vuitton. The first capsule collection, slated for release in October, is to include clothing, accessories such as branded luggage, and other products.
They’ll be designed by Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh, who himself has deep ties himself to hip-hop and basketball, or at least basketball sneakers. Abloh previously collaborated with Nike to reimagine some of its classic basketball shoes, notably Air Jordans, and has referenced popular basketball styles in his sneaker designs for Louis Vuitton. (Dior, also owned by Louis Vuitton’s parent company, LVMH, is currently collaborating with Nike’s Jordan brand on sneakers.) Abloh will design the clothes around three moments in the life of an NBA star: the game, the press conference, and travel, which of course fits Louis Vuitton’s traditional image as a luggage maker.
“Virgil is absolutely elated to be able to design a collection around the game and around the players,” Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, told WWD. “The NBA participates in that meeting of style, art, fashion, sport and music.”