There are two types of fashion people in this world: those who love merch, and those who hate it. For some it’s a form of memorabilia, a fun way to wear your leanings or experiences (sports, bands, festivals, brands, politics) with pride; for others, it’s blatant branded advertising.
But whether it’s a T-shirt or a tote bag, it’s a no brainer for many businesses and events - a relatively easy form of extra revenue and yes, a branding opportunity. Everyone has merch these days, even your favourite restaurant.
It’s an obvious extension of the big booming business of the America’s Cup 2021, from regatta to team lines. The offering is extensive, with the official store in prominent position within the race village in Auckland's Viaduct. There you’ll find an Emirates Team New Zealand windbreaker alongside Luna Rossa boating sunglasses.
Fashion, and particularly luxury fashion, have a long history with the America’s Cup, with brands wanting to be associated with the apparent glamour of the sport and high-profile regatta.
Louis Vuitton had been a passionate sponsor since 1980, ending their partnership in 2017. Prada has sponsored the Italian team since it launched in 1997, and took up the high fashion mantle from LV to be the naming sponsor for this America’s Cup series (the America’s Cup trophy is now housed in a “austere black, hand-crafted Prada case”). Italian watch brand Panerai and The Woolmark Company are also Luna Rossa sponsors, while luxury watch brand Omega is the official timekeeper for the America’s Cup races and sponsors Team NZ.
Last week the Italian Luna Rossa team won the Prada Cup, now set to challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup from March 6-15.
As the excitement builds, and the unqualifying UK and US teams pack their bases and head home, we wanted to look at their merchandise offerings - to see who combines function and fashion.
They’re Italian and they have the fashion credibility of Prada on their side, so of course they’re in the top spot (as a self-confessed Prada nerd, I may be a little biased here). But as a team they seem to respect design in all its elements, from their minimalist black boat to their grey futuristic uniforms, and the Prada Cup trophy designed by Marc Newson (who also designed the 2021 America’s Cup logo, and the buoys on the water).
The official Luna Rossa merchandise draws heavily on Prada’s famed Linea Rossa line - a high-tech, minimalist sports collection that the Italian brand launched in the late ‘90s. It made a comeback in 2018, with its distinctive red rubber strip and focus on ‘Re-Nylon’ popular with hypebeasts and fashion nerds.
The Luna Rossa merch isn’t quite as high-fashion or interesting as that, but features technical pieces and leisurewear in muted white, grey, black and blue: the waterproof and wind-resistant ‘AfterGuard’ jacket and ‘ForeDeck’ gilet, a pair of beach shorts inspired by the team’s Cagliari, Sardinia homebase.
I’d describe it as rich-Euro-trendy, but I could definitely see the more technical pieces/jackets being worn by some cool hip kid at East St Hall (the quite ugly polo shirts would make an appearance at Andiamo in Herne Bay).
The merchandise store at the Luna Rossa base on Hobson Wharf extension has the hushed ambiance of a proper Prada store, and an extensive offering - think Prada sneakers, jandals, sunglasses, water bottles and more.
Surprisingly stylish, with an extremely British and quite Sloane-y design sensibility: think a dry-waxed cotton classic all-weather jacket, Dad-core zip-up navy sweater or classic windbreaker (worn by uber-Sloane Duchess of Cambridge in a good luck video). This has very sports normcore vibes; I know ‘fashion people’ who would happily wear some of this stuff.
Like Luna Rossa, the UK team also has a fashion connection, albeit a much more surprising and random one: the chemicals company owner also owns Belstaff, a heritage brand that has been around since 1924 that’s now the team’s “official onshore outfitter”.
Savvy to the branding and business opportunities in front of them, they created a nautical inspired ‘Britannia’ collection for Sir Ben Ainslie and his team (Team UK also has a slightly less exciting, performance-based crew line with sailing brand Henri Lloyd).
But they receive an immediate penalty for this $186 Guy Ritchie-esque flat cap.
Look, I’m disappointed. I don’t expect a fashion show, but it seems a missed opportunity to do something interesting that showcases and values the design creativity that our country has to offer right now - like a collaboration with a local designer or artists (they have done a T-shirt with Insta-artist Sam Moore aka @ugly_ink aka the guy who did those People of NZ illustrations, which is cute and funny). I just feel the fear of not being seen to embrace beauty or 'design' (despite the boat itself being a feat of design and technology) is a disappointingly old-fashioned Kiwi attitude.
Team NZ’s merch is pure function over fashion; brand over innovation. It’s appealing to the sports mad masses: Kiwis who are used to their sporting merch being covered in giant brand logos that are bigger than that of the team. I am frankly offended by the slogan placement of the ‘Emirates Fly Better’ T-shirts.
I actually don’t mind some of the vintage-inspired pieces, like the rugby jerseys and fleeces which are very gorpcore. Barkers’ Made of Legends collection has similar vibes; also my mind was blown when I realised, quite belatedly I feel, that Dean Barker’s dad Raymond started the Kiwi menswear icon.
Much like their appearances in pre-America’s Cup racing, this barely even registers (sorry Dean Barker). It is made by Helly Hansen, a very outdoorsy, sailing focused manufacturer, and has everything you’d expect: polo shirts, T-shirts, a trucker cap, a sponsor branded backpack. A striped tote bag is probably a highlight. It’s fine! Just fine.