Designer gives trainers a makeover

The Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto announced a long-term collaboration with adidas in Paris this week that could become the biggest alliance between fashion and sportswear.

Yamamoto already designs a range of trainers for the company and this will now be expanded to include clothing. The line has a logo – a dark circle with a triple adidas stripe – but no name as yet. Adidas has high hopes for its future, however, with the collection tipped to add about 5 per cent to total sales over the next five to 10 years. Given that the company's 2001 sales reached £3.8bn and the designer's business had sales of about £58m last year, this is quite a leap.

"In the 1980s, we missed the running trend and the aerobics trend," said Erich Stamminger, head of global marketing for adidas. "I told myself, 'now we have this chance, we are going to make the most of it'."

Adidas's competitor Nike has tapped into the trainer market successfully. They were the first to produce trainers at inflated prices which, by the end of the Nineties, people literally killed for. But while this might be taken as a positive, it has also tarnished the brand with a veneer of style over substance. Nike's World Cup advertisement campaign, shot for £10m and directed by Terry Gilliam, only served to add grist to the mill. It featured the former Manchester United captain Eric Cantona as a football pimp organising a "secret tournament" with Thierry Henry and Luis Figo in the hold of a cargo ship. Somewhere, according to Andrew Cowen of Campaign magazine, "the need for the audience to engage with the 24-strong superstar cast had been forgotten".

The "adidas Institute for the Study of Fooballitis" campaign, featuring David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Raul, while not so stylish, was more accessible by comparison, relating more directly to hard-core football fans.

Now adidas is aiming at the fashion market. When Yamamoto launched his trainer designs in autumn last year, the triple stripe quickly gained fashion credibility. "I wanted to work against the ugly technological sneaker," he said. "Young kids all over the world are wearing trainers – I couldn't ignore it."

Yamamoto, 59, said that he first identified a gap in the market for sportswear when he himself started exercising. "It's difficult to find nice sportswear for everyday life," he said. "What I see right now, the cut, the mix of colours, is awful... I've always worn Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang T-shirts. But now I can make my own."

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