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Can Puma Strike Gold Twice With Rihanna?

The first Fenty x Puma tie-up wrote the textbook for successful celebrity-brand collaborations. The pair will have to work harder to get the same reception in a market that’s now saturated with sneaker launches, and where elegance is elbowing out streetwear on the runway.
Rihanna, Puma, Fenty, Paris Fashion Week, Puma x Fenty, runway show
During her first stint at Puma, Rihanna helped the brand revive its cultural relevance under former chief executive Bjørn Gulden. (Getty Images)

Puma and Rihanna are getting back together.

This week, the German sportswear giant announced a new collaboration with Rihanna via a one-line press release from Puma chief executive Arne Freundt simply stating: “She’s back.”

The reunion with her Fenty label comes five years after the end of their previous partnership in 2018. (A spokesperson for Puma said more information would be released soon and Fenty did not immediately respond to BoF’s request comment.)

Last time around, Rihanna’s appointment proved to be a masterstroke. The Barbadian singer-songwriter helped the brand revive its cultural relevance under former chief executive Bjørn Gulden, who orchestrated a turnaround in the company’s fortunes after inheriting a struggling business which had lost its reputation for both performance and lifestyle products when he began his role in 2013.

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It also marked a new template for how brands could leverage celebrity partnerships. These deals suddenly allowed megabrands to develop cultural cachet by aligning with a star with a global following, and giving their collaborators a degree of creative control over a bespoke product line helped them reach new consumers in different categories without diluting the brand’s overall identity.

Today, this playbook is everywhere: just look at the influence of Adidas’ now-dissolved Yeezy partnership; Drake’s basketball and streetwear-focussed Nike sub-label, Nocta; Roger Federer’s unique shareholder-collaborator role at Swiss running brand On; or Pharrell Williams’ recent appointment as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.

But what was daring and new in 2014 risks coming off as a tired marketing play nearly 10 years later if it isn’t executed flawlessly. A high-profile collaboration can still get consumers lining up outside stores or joining raffles online on launch day, but most are quickly forgotten. These projects can quickly attract criticism for being opportunistic or just ugly (see Nike and Tiffany’s recent tie-up, which upset some in the sneaker community for what they deemed a lazy take on the Air Force 1 silhouette). The controversial sneakers will hit the shelves at stores next week and it will become clear whether the collaboration’s online critics represent the views of mainstream consumers.

As brands increasingly take a scatter-gun approach to celebrity collaborations, consumers are becoming increasingly desensitised, said Jojo Vandalkidd, a brand strategist. Having a star-name collaborator doesn’t guarantee sales. As Adidas found out last year, a botched celebrity deal can be a costly mistake. Compounding the loss of its Yeezy business, sales of its Ivy Park line with Beyoncé fell by more than 50 percent to $40 million in 2022 — far below Adidas’ projections of $250 million in sales that year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Nike was also forced to end its partnership with NBA star Kyrie Irving and terminated production of his sneaker line last year, after he shared a link to a film with antisemitic views and initially refused to apologise for his actions.

Rihanna is unlikely to give Puma headaches on either the commercial or political fronts. She isn’t particularly controversial — she wouldn’t have been tapped to headline the Super Bowl halftime show if she was. And she has proven her mogul chops with Savage X Fenty and Fenty Beauty (though she closed her LVMH-backed fashion line after less than two years).

But her commercial acumen isn’t necessarily enough. Sneaker culture is in a different place these days. Many believe the market has peaked. In Milan and Paris this season, brands noticeably returned to prioritising elegance over the casual streetwear aesthetic which took hold in luxury throughout the later 2010s. Streetwear items like hoodies, puffer jackets and sneakers were nowhere to be seen.

“So many sneakerheads have moved on or grown up. Now people care about limited-edition loafers more than they do what sneakers are dropping this week,” said Vandalkidd.

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Still, the next sportswear brand to strike gold with a celebrity sub-label could be looking at billions of dollars in sales, and the race is on. Gulden, who was so instrumental in the original Fenty X Puma collaboration, recently left the brand for Adidas, where he’s tasked with finding a replacement for the billions of dollars in future revenue the company has lost out on from its Yeezy breakup.

Adidas has been slow to roll out its collaboration with Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God, but it recently launched a Gen-Z-focused lifestyle line with a star-studded campaign headed by “Wednesday” actress Jenna Ortega and other brand ambassadors such as South Korean football star Son Heung-min and NBA player Trae Young. At Puma, one of Gulden’s final moves before departing for Adidas in December was to sign a partnership with British rapper Skepta, paving the way for a co-designed sub-label focused on menswear and sneakers.

Nike’s status as the world’s largest activewear company is thanks in part to the success of its celebrity collaborations, such as its streetwear sub-label Nocta, co-designed with Drake, as well as the $5 billion Jordan sub-brand run in collaboration with basketball legend Michael Jordan.

Puma and Rihanna have a head start. Fenty x Puma’s first iteration was such an enormous success that, five years after their last sneaker dropped, the news of the collaboration’s revival has sparked widespread excitement online. Fenty x Puma “Suede Creepers” sneakers and fur slides still trade hands on resale platforms like StockX and Goat for as much as $310 and $215 respectively.

But it will take more than that to convince consumers to buy in.

“They need to deliver a product that actually excites sneakerheads,” Vandalkidd said. “Just because the Suede Creepers worked ten years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to translate in 2023.”

THE NEWS IN BRIEF

FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY

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First quarter sales at Italian fashion group Moncler jumped by 60 percent.
Sales at Italian luxury group Moncler rose 25 percent at constant exchange rates last year to come in ahead of forecasts. (Shutterstock)

Moncler annual sales climb 25 percent, beat forecasts. Full-year consolidated revenues totalled €2.6 billion ($2.76 billion), beating a company-provided consensus of €2.5 billion for the group, known for its warm puffer jackets.

Ferragamo flags “encouraging” start to 2023 after yearly profit drop. Italian luxury goods group Salvatore Ferragamo on Thursday said 2023 had started well after posting a smaller-than-expected 10.8 percent drop in operating profit for 2022, as it shouldered higher costs in a push to relaunch the brand.

L Catterton to take majority stake in A.P.C. The French brand, founded and run by Jean Touitou since 1987, is looking to the LVMH-backed private equity firm to help it scale internationally.

Warby Parker beats revenue estimates, narrows losses. The eyewear maker on Tuesday reported a 10 percent increase in revenue to $147 million in the final quarter of 2022, coming in above company and analysts’ estimates.

Arezzo & Co acquires Italian footwear brand Paris Texas. The Brazilian footwear and accessories conglomerate has paid 130 million Brazilian reais ($25 million) to acquire a 65 percent share in the Milan-based shoe brand, signalling the company’s plans to continue expanding its global footprint.

Primark owner raises outlook on consumer resilience. Primark owner Associated British Foods on Monday said Primark had traded “well ahead” of expectations, with sales in the first half to Mar. 4 expected to be £4.2 billion ($5 billion).

SMCP shares rise as bondholders begin stake sale. Shares in contemporary French fashion group SMCP rose in early morning trading after bondholders launched a sale process for a 37 percent stake in the company, potentially clearing the way for a full takeover.

Nordstrom expects weak annual revenue, to wind down Canadian business. Nordstrom Inc forecast full-year revenue below Wall Street estimates on Thursday, signaling high inflation levels were dampening consumer spending on discretionary items while the retailer decided to discontinue its Canadian business operations to drive profitability.

Macy’s forecasts full-year profit above estimates. The company said it expects adjusted full-year profit per share between $3.67 and $4.11, while analysts on an average had estimated $3.84, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Parade inks Target partnership. The direct-to-consumer underwear brand will now be sold in 400 of the chain’s big-box stores nationwide — its second wholesale deal after Urban Outfitters.

The Restory faces uncertain future as co-founders resign. Vanessa Jacobs, Thaís Cipolletta Ferreira Alves and Emily Rea announced their departure from the luxury repairs and aftercare start-up, which Jacobs said had been put into “proposed” liquidation, with all staff members terminated effective immediately.

Worker unions take Nike to task with OECD complaint. A group of 20 garment-worker unions and two labour-rights groups filed a complaint Monday alleging the sportswear giant’s treatment of workers and unpaid wages violated OECD guidelines for responsible business conduct.

EU’s used textile exports tripled over the last two decades. Nearly 1.7 million tonnes of used fabric were exported to other countries — primarily in Asia and Africa — in 2019, but whether they are destined for recycling, re-use or landfill is “highly uncertain,” according to a report published Monday by the European Environment Agency.

Textile-to-textile recycling company Circ closes $25 million investment. European retail giant Zalando, material science and digital labels maker Avery Dennison and outdoor and sportswear manufacturer Youngone participated in the funding round announced Wednesday.

THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY

Olaplex is known as the prestige hair category creator.
In an earnings call on Tuesday, Olaplex announced it expects full year 2023 revenue between $563 million and $634 million, an anticipated drop of 15 percent from 2022. (Olaplex)

Olaplex expects net sales to fall 15 percent in 2023. CEO JuE Wong called 2023 a “reset” year for the company, after fourth-quarter sales fell 21 percent year-over-year to $130 million.

Charlotte Tilbury names Bella Hadid face of the brand. As part of the partnership, Hadid and the brand will work together on ad campaigns and other digital content.

Compiled by Darcey Sergison.

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