Athletes have long been go-to ambassadors for many fashion brands, with top players across football, basketball, tennis and other sports regularly appearing in campaigns and sitting front row for design houses and luxury brands.
Over the last few years as interest in Formula 1 racing has skyrocketed across the globe, fashion brands have increasingly leveraged this mass interest by looking to F1 drivers to be ambassadors and F1 teams for multiyear partnerships. According to ESPN, F1’s 2022 season was its most-watched, up 28 percent year-over-year to an average of 1.2 million viewers per race.
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Some of today’s biggest fashion brands are spearheading this new category in sports ambassadorships, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Boss, Tumi, Puma, Reiss and others, which have embarked on long-term partnerships with F1 teams including McLaren Racing and Mercedes-AMG Petronas, and F1 drivers like Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris and others.
“It has such a growing, global audience — it’s huge,” says Christos Angelides, chief executive office of Reiss, which has been the official travel wear partner of McLaren Racing since May. “Fashion plays out all across the world, so it’s quite natural that the two go together. In addition, Formula 1 does have some fashion ambassadors such as Lewis Hamilton. So I think us in the fashion world have been watching it with interest and feel that now is a good time as any to associate ourselves with high performance, high quality and a highly innovative industry that has some similarities to what we do.”
While fashion brands already have a lengthy roster of athlete ambassadors, many are now looking to F1 drivers for their widespread and unique appeal. F1 is seen as more of a luxury sport, but the drivers have helped democratize it with their down-to-earth, relatable demeanors that have come across through their social media platforms and Netflix’s popular docuseries “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.”
“The drivers are really big celebrities. They’re icons — they’re like musicians and actors,” says Martijn Hagman, CEO of Tommy Hilfiger global and PVH Europe, which has had a long-term partnership with Hamilton and is newly working with Russell. “You’ll start to see brands engage a lot more directly with the drivers than we have seen in the past and then start to build on collaborations like you’ve seen from us with Lewis and are now starting to do with George Russell. That’s the big evolution that you will start to see in the coming years.”
Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first designers to jump on the F1 hype, establishing his partnership with Hamilton back in 2018. Hilfiger and Hamilton have worked on several collections and runway shows together and most recently teamed on the brand’s collaboration with Awake NY for the Mercedes F1 team.
Hamilton’s star power — he has 34 million followers on Instagram alone — has always extended beyond the race track thanks to his highly watched style, which made him a key ambassador for Hilfiger.
“What’s truly unique about Lewis is his creative talent,” Hagman continues. “If you look back at the collaborations and how we developed the capsule collections together with him, he really had a strong opinion and a really good opinion on how the collection should look. He really drove the creativity of that capsule and it was quite unique. It’s not something you immediately expect, but in that sense, he’s so multitalented.”
Aside from Hamilton and Russell, many of the other top F1 drivers have also been signed by brands as ambassadors. As part of Tumi’s partnership with McLaren Racing, the travel brand tapped Norris as an ambassador and the face of several of its campaigns. In January, Lululemon named Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, China’s first F1 driver, as an ambassador. Last month, Boss furthered its partnership with Aston Martin by appointing its driver Fernando Alonso as an ambassador.
“For us, he’s a perfect match,” says Nadia Kokni, senior vice president of global marketing at Hugo Boss, about the brand signing Alonso. “He’s a class act and he’s determined in his pursuit of really wanting to win and live on his own boss terms. He’s just an inspiration. The inspiring, positive energy that he has — he’s sustained that for over 20 years now. That’s something that really resonates for us and our consumer.”
While Boss went with a long-standing F1 driver, Tumi looked to a relative newcomer in Norris, choosing the McLaren racer because of his humble nature and because of how he embodies the brand’s on-the-go ethos.
“He really is that muse customer when we think about those individuals that are pursuing their passions at a very high level,” says Tumi creative director Victor Sanz. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer, a race car driver or a parent. It’s like we all have that drive to become the very best and for us, that was something that we saw in him.”
Norris’ Tumi ambassadorship is part of the travel brand’s larger partnership with McLaren Racing. The label has created several capsule collections with the racing team since 2021.
Other brands have focused on these types of overall partnerships with F1 teams rather than working with individual drivers, such as Puma, which unveiled its exclusive partnership with Formula 1 as a whole in May during the Miami Grand Prix. The partnership is an extension of the brand’s work with teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, and now makes Puma the official supplier at F1 races and allows it to produce F1 branded merchandise.
“It’s making our positioning the leading sports brand in the world of motorsports,” says Thomas Josnik, global director of motorsport at Puma. “That’s one of the opportunities. Another opportunity is driving innovation forward and integrating this into our products. Then, this entire culture of Formula 1 which has attracted a different audience with celebrities — other sports and entertainment celebrities — and bringing those two worlds together.”
Formula 1 attracts a wide range of viewers, and has only been growing among younger demographics and women. According to ESPN’s data from the 2022 season, viewers aged 18 to 34 increased viewership by 43 percent, while viewers aged 25 to 34 increased 46 percent. Female viewership increased by 34 percent, with women making up roughly 352,000 viewers a race.
“[Norris] reaches such a broad audience — these aficionados of racing, that’s a very fluid kind of audience — but then also this younger demographic that’s really resonated [with the sport],” says Jill Krizelman, Tumi’s senior vice president of global marketing and e-commerce, of the driver, who has 6.5 million Instagram followers. “To bring the brand to that broad demographic and be able to expose the brand to his audience is a great benefit to us.”
With several more upcoming races this year — including the highly anticipated Las Vegas Grand Prix taking place in November — fashion brands plan to continue their respective partnerships and grow them as they see more opportunities within Formula 1.
“You have these athletes that are truly the best of the best,” Krizelman says. “They’re really becoming icons. Similar to what you see in sports — that convergence of athleticism and fashion coming together — we’re seeing that here.”
Launch Gallery: Formula 1 Drivers Are Fashion Brands’ New Go-to Ambassadors
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