Li Ning presents collaboration with designer Stefano Pilati
The world of sportswear will have to reckon with Li Ning in the next few years. The Chinese brand, founded in 1990 by gymnast and Olympic medallist Li Ning, is now available at 8,000 retailers worldwide, and last February it showed in New York, presenting its premium line.
The New York launch was followed on Saturday by an off-calendar Parisian show (the second since 2018), staged under the Lycée Turgot’s imposing skylight, within a giant dome decorated with geometric motifs - an event which attracted a sizeable crowd. Among the celebrity guests, Mick Jagger’s son Lucas and Chinese pop stars Cai Chengyu and Ayunga, all keen to see Li Ning’s table tennis-inspired premium sportswear line, bursting with colour and graphic patterns.
Stepping on the runway at military pace and waving a black flag, the models heralded a major collaboration: the first shoes designed for Li Ning by Stefano Pilati, former creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, via his Random Identities label.
The latter had been discreetly presented on Instagram in 2017, and is based in Berlin where Pilati lives. Random Identities is available on fashion e-tailer Ssense, and its logo is a black label, as though to wipe the slate of the past clean.
“A first collaboration that will be commercialised next October,” said Liad Krispin, consultant and marketing supremo for Li Ning since 2017, a former marketing director at Adidas and the link between Pilati and the Chinese brand. The collaboration consists of a lo-top running shoe in triple black derived from Li Ning’s 2019 Aurora model, fitted with an LED illumination system.
“I took my time to study and connect with [Li Ning], and I’ve discovered its different styles, unknown on the Western market, which I’d love to adapt through the Random Identities angle,” said Pilati, adding “I’m proud of the results we achieved with the Aurora model, and of the dialogue we’ve started, the beginning of a collaboration” which could also extend to ready-to-wear.
Li Ning’s association with a major designer like Pilati is likely to boost its popularity in Europe, where the brand has ambitious plans. Li Ning has a broad footprint in Asia - it is reportedly available at 8,000 stores and is one of China’s three top brands alongside Anta and Peak - but it struggles to break through in the West.
Could designer sportswear be its open sesame?
“We are taking it steadily,” said Krispin. “[Li Ning] is already available on Ssense, at Selfridges and End Clothing in London, at Kith in New York and Slam Jam in Milan, and a retail presence in France and Paris is also on the cards. Li Ning has found its slot.
We will be present at future fashion weeks in Paris, and we sincerely hope to join the official calendar,” he added.
For its European PR, Li Ning has chosen the Ritual Projects agency founded by Robin Meason.
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