The racecar: it’s spelled the same way backwards and it’s back, baby! For some of us, F1 is little more than that brightness key at the top left of our Macs. For others, it’s the highlight of Sundays and a chance to watch really, really fast cars drive around really fast with the fastest fast car winning. And this weekend, it’s Silverstone, the British Grand Prix.
More people than ever will be watching. If you needed proof that F1 is in vogue right now, it’s been the fastest-growing sport on the planet for two years running, with Nielsen Sports predicting that its global 16 – 35 audience will soon reach one billion people. Which, by our bashed-up Casio, seems to be pretty much everyone in that category.
As we know, when something’s in fashion, the world of fashion is in. Even if you’re more sneakerhead than petrolhead, more tracksuit than racetrack, you’re likely to have come across F1 recently. Why? Well, pretty much every major brand is dipping a racing shoe in, aiming to cash in big.
While France might not have many big-name drivers, French fashion brands have been in poll position. Just last month, Chanel’s Cruise 2023 show in Monte Carlo went full Formula 1, seeing models pace down the runway in F1 jumpsuits and chequered-flag print dresses, clutching bespoke safety helmets. On a similar Monaco-inspired tip, last year Casablanca’s “Grand Prix” collection featured more chequered-flag motifs and overprint silk shirts, and even kitted out a branded F1 car. Then, there’s Louis Vuitton’s sponsorship of the F1 trophy travel case, which is covered in the house’s monogram. Elsewhere, Martine Rose drew on the aesthetic for SS22, switching lanes from football to racing with a co-ord – squint and you’ll swear it’s an actual team’s kit.
This trend has been gathering speed for a little while. Whizz back into the recent-ish past and you’ll remember Moschino’s 2016 show, with a circuit set design and visors, team kits and signage galore. Tommy Hilfiger, similarly, took to the track for 2018, with pit stops featuring buyable items and more chequered flags than you could, well, shake a chequered flag at. Two years later, they were riding shotgun with Mercedes.
While these brands were playing with the idea of having their own team, United Colors of Benetton famously did the real thing, operating as a F1 constructor from 1986 to 2001. This wasn’t all for show – the team had big-name drivers on board, including Michael Schumacher, Jos Verstappen (father of Max) and Jenson Button – bagging Benetton the 1995 Constructors’ Championship. Although they faced a sharp decline in success soon after, you’ll still find a load of the original promotional clobber on Depop and the like, featuring its rainbow logo and Camel Cigarettes co-sponsor.
AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s fashion brand and now a dedicated racing team since 2019, has taken a similar path in the last few years. “Alphatauri’s mission is a unique one, as is the brands positioning in fashion,” its CMO Oliver Oppermann tells THE FACE. “We’re more than a fashion brand: technology and pioneering innovation are central to everything we do.” Unlike Benetton, their team is owned rather than sponsored and they’ve got an all-encompassing deal. “Our situation is also unique as we are the namesake for the F1 team, rather than just sponsoring an existing one. We have also just signed a multi-year collaboration deal with Formula 1 to become the official premium fashion apparel supplier,” Oppermann says.
Fashion’s relationship with F1 is also shifting into reverse, seeing the racetrack hit the runway rather than the other way around. See Ferrari, who made their debut at Milan Fashion Week last year with fifty-two looks (one for each lap of Silverstone, by chance). Designed by Armani alumnus Rocco Iannone, it saw a venomous snake palette of red, yellows and blacks applied to racing jackets, asymmetric suiting and intarsia knits. “Fashion is a great way to reach a bigger audience and make the brand relevant to people’s lifestyles,” Iannone said in a statement after the show. “But the quality of the products has to align with our values.”
This quality is also seen in the sport’s ambassadors. Here lies part of the reason for the trend’s breakneck growth: F1 drivers have never been so fashionable. Enter Sir Lewis Hamilton, the kind of hypebeast who struggles when asked for just three favourite designers (“Virgil, Isabel Marant, Martine Rose”) and is regularly pitted against others in ‘fit comparisons. He’s been an ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger since 2018 and last month became a poster boy for Valentino, starring in the fashion house’s “DI.VAs” campaign and writing his reflections on ”love” in the windows of their flagship stores. Hamilton also led a recent campaign to overrule the F1’s ban on jewellery, which is so intrinsic to his performance he risked being banned from races by defying the new restrictions.
Others might not have sponsorships yet, but they’re being clocked: Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Lando Norris all featured in a Vanity Fair editorial backing Netflix smash Drive to Survive, pushing their current fashion sensibilities to new levels with hot pink jumpsuits and Hermès scarves. And if we’re putting our money on who’ll land a deal next, it’s Chinese superstar Zhou Guanyu, who boasts an enviable collection of shoes and discerning taste.
There’s a reason it’s high – not high street – fashion that interests F1 drivers and vice versa: Formula 1 is pure luxury. If cult US novelist Tom Wolfe was right that cars represent “freedom, style, sex, power, motion, colour… everything”, then really fast, flash ones elevate this further. Single-day tickets for F1 cost $100 at a minimum, with Paddock Club packages going well beyond $3,000 for multiple days; F1 cars themselves cost $12m and the UK will be forking out £19m on the weekend just for rights to host the race. If you want to watch F1 or even drive yourself (for a cool $8m), you have to have a lot of money. That’s unsurprisingly the kind of consumer high fashion likes.
While we never wave our flag for this kind of excessive exclusivity, it’s hard not to be a little intrigued by F1’s foray into fashion. There is something irresistibly, almost gaudily sexy about F1, from its appearances on runways to its new team of red-hot ambassadors.
And, hey, it’s not the worst kind of fast fashion out there.