Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer Fashion Kool-Aid VIII: Mercedes-Benz "Et al"



Anna Wintour & her Mercedes in the background?

What do the U.S. Open and New York Fashion Week have in common? The answer is a lot more than you think. They both take place in late summer/early fall; boast colorful participants sporting outlandish outfits; feature plenty of theatrics and big egos; as well as frequent Anna Wintour sightings, although, surprisingly enough you’ll probably see her more courtside than tent-side as she has been known to skip fashion shows for tennis tournaments on more than one occasion. Another similarity is that both events are sponsored by luxury car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz who is also the “driving force” (pun intended) behind the Superdome, PGA of America, Ryder Cup and the James Beard Foundation as well as the USTA (U.S. Open) and MBFW in New York, Miami, Berlin, Australia and Istanbul. They became the proud sponsors of the US Open taking over for Lexus and of NYFW in 2009 (the last year in the Bryant Park tents) when most other companies were cutting sponsorship ties due to the recession. According to IEGSR in a May 27, 2014 article, Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC was the 25th largest sponsor on their Top Spenders List “peeling out” (sorry) between $50M-$55M in corporate sponsorships for the year 2013, down slightly from #22 the previous year.

It seems a slightly odd pairing although of course, luxury begets luxury.  Sports, particularly golf, make sense for a MB sponsorship. According to Lisa Holladay, national manager of experimental marketing for MB USA, and as reported by IEGSR in an April 2011 interview, “Golf is an important marketing platform and the one where we spend most of our time and energy.” According to a 2012 article in Forbes, Mercedes-Benz’s typical buyer is married (74%), male (63%), 53 years-old with a college degree (78%) and a household income of $185,000; similar statistics to golf fans but vastly different than your average young female blogger at Fashion Week. Lest there be any doubt, featured in a NY Times Thursday Styles article entitled “The Crazy Quilt of Fall” by Ruth LaFerla, are two photos of models posing with Mercedes-Benz sedans, yet no mention is made of the obvious product placement.

Serena Williams

Forgetting demographics for a minute (I was not a marketing major in college) let’s discuss, the real matter at hand: the fashion at both events. Unlike Wimbledon, its British, far from identical cousin (does anyone remember The Patty Duke Show?) the U.S. Open does not place color and logo restrictions on clothing, in fact, the wilder the fashion the better the crowd likes it apparently. Over the years, Andre Agassi and the Williams sisters especially Serena with her own clothing line, have certainly pushed the fashionable/colorful aspect of tennis and have run into trouble with the AELTCC (All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club) across the pond where even a slight flash of trim or a colorful undergarment (all white everything is the rule) is verboten. Agassi was known to appear at Wimbledon in all manner of crazy vibrant color over garments and would make a show of stripping down to his tennis whites, no doubt whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Serena is known for her love of graphic sometimes fluorescent animal prints (she wore one this past week), as well as her famous 2004 denim tennis skirt and black crop top paired with lace-up tennis “boots” which are on display on her wax figure at Madame Tussauds in New York. She also caused a stir with her black neoprene cat suit in 2002.

Alexander Peya of Austria and Brune Soares of Brasil

This year also featured Steve Johnson, Alexander Peya of Austria and Bruno Soares of Brazil in identical loud shirts featuring black and neon green in a near flame pattern which I would think would be quite distracting to their opponents. Johnson withdrew due to cramping however Peya and Soares played doubles and won suggesting that it might work when twinned. Emilio Gomez of Ecuador wore a fire engine red shirt (red is a sign of prowess and can intimidate your opponent according to this NY Post article:see it here) while 15 year-old American CiCi Bellis (the youngest to win a match since 1996) wore bright royal blue with shocking pink tennis shoes. Sloane Stephens, although she recently lost her match, favors fuchsia and bright orange on the court. Maria Sharapova likes to make a statement in stylish, form fitting outfits although she tends to favor less bright hues or wears them as accent colors. Recent winner Peng Shuai’s on-court apparel to shout as evidenced by her neon pink ensemble.

Polo tech shirt

Ralph Lauren is unveiling a biometric Polo tech shirt with sensors knitted into the fabric that detect a player’s heart rate, stress level as conveyed by perspiration (maybe they should have a deodorant company sponsor this) and other vital biological and physiological information. The data is then stored by OMsignal (the shirt’s co-creator) and transmitted to the wearer’s smartphone. The shirt is black with a bold yellow logo and was tested by No. 1 singles player Marco Giron at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during practice rounds. The second skin fit is said to enhance comfort and agility and has been supplied to the ball boys at the Open as well.

Anna Wintour with Michael Jordan and Roger federer

In the stands are also those making a fashion statement. Anna Wintour arrives everyday in another colorful designer frock and has been photographed in a seat near Michael Jordan and Roger Federer. Other celebs including Alex Baldwin and his wife Hilaria, as well as Joy and Regis Philbin, Gayle King, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, actor Josh Lucas and Model Karlie Kloss in a backless gray dress and ponytail have been in attendance and it’s only the first week. Stay tuned during Fashion Week to see how often Ms. Wintour, (a huge tennis enthusiast who is said to start her day with her own game of tennis at 5:45 AM), breaks ranks and disappears from the fashion scene to watch the volleying. I wonder if Mercedes-Benz supplies a chauffeur driven car to transport her from the Manhattan shows to the Flushing, Queens courts? With New York traffic what it is, perhaps she would be better off in a helicopter. Does Mercedes-Benz make a flying machine?





- Laurel Marcus

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