It’s February, and a crowd has gathered in the Adidas Originals flagship store in the Dubai Mall. Cellphone cameras flash, the noise level rises and one girl even bursts into tears as pop star Rita Ora makes her appearance.
It’s not an unusual scene for this 25-year-old music sensation, who has more than 8.7 million Instagram followers and a fan base that spans the globe.
Ora is in Dubai for the United Arab Emirates’ RedFestDXB music festival and to promote her ongoing collaboration with Adidas, which began in 2014 and has produced more than a dozen capsule collections.
Since the beginning, Ora has done more than lend her name to the collection — she’s been an enthusiastic, hands-on collaborator. And in an exclusive conversation with Footwear News, she took us inside her design process and revealed she’s been keeping track of each precious moment. “I have every single sketch, every single thing we’ve made together,” she said. “This is, like, my dream.”
Watch on FN
On April 1, the 13th Adidas Originals by Rita Ora collection hit stores and created a new wave of excitement surrounding the two partners.
This latest capsule, dubbed the Artistic Lights pack, is inspired by high-flying trapeze artists and features apparel and footwear outfitted with lens-flare prints, transparent mesh and bandage taping holding together some gravity-defying cutouts. The vibe is dangerous, sexy and unpredictable — pretty much par for the course with Ora, if such a thing can be said about this enigmatic artist.
Fame & Fashion
Since catapulting to the top of the U.K. pop chart in 2012, the British-bred singer, who was born to Albanian parents in current-day Kosovo, has quickly found fame for her musical talents, as well as her unique take on fashion, which blends high with low and mixes streetwear with couture.
It’s a look that can’t really be defined but appeals to many.
“Anything goes with Rita,” explained her friend and Vanity Fair editor Derek Blasberg. “I’ve seen her in street chic, old-world glamour, subversive punk goddess, over-the-top L.A., haughty Parisian chic. Recently we were in Hong Kong at the same time, and we met for lunch. She turned up in a dominatrix sweatsuit and vintage YSL pumps she bought for herself on eBay.”
As Ora explained to FN, her fascination with fashion started early, growing up on London’s Portobello Market. “There were so many different types of things on one street: people, ethnicities, food, T-shirts, hats, jewelry — you name it,” she said. “I used to save up my wages and go buy these clothes and rip them up to make them into something where I could be the only one with it.”
She’s brought that same appreciation for diversity to her brand partnership. Over the past few years, the themes for her Adidas Originals collections ranged from the mythic allure of the Japanese geisha to lunar landings, X-ray images and Roy Lichtenstein-esque comic-book prints.
To repeat Blasberg, anything goes.
“The most important thing for me is to create something that’s relatable, something that I know my fans — or even just women of any age — won’t mind wearing,” said Ora.
“I don’t mind taking risks. For example, I did a puppy collection recently of just prints of puppies because I find that when dogs have their baths, it is so cute. So I found these incredible photos, and we tried it and it went down really well.”
To create her capsule collections, a hands-on Ora works closely with Adidas Originals designer Josefine Aberg. “My team and I create a mood board of things we like and then go into this meeting, which can last about six hours,” explained Ora.
“Then we sketch up some silhouettes and then come back two weeks later for another six-hour meeting to decide things like where the truffle symbols should be, what materials to use, the price points, etc.”
She added that the partnership is a true give-and-take. “The Adidas team is so supportive and actually listen to my ideas,” Ora said. “And I listen to them because obviously they know what sells and what’s possible. I’ve learned a lot creating this line.”
Adidas is not Ora’s first partner in the fashion world. Over the years, she has fronted campaigns for labels such as DKNY, Roberto Cavalli and Madonna’s Material Girl brand. She currently is working with lingerie line Tenezis and has a cosmetics collection with Rimmel.
But the Adidas union is near and dear to her heart. A self-described sneakerhead, Ora confessed to FN that she’s been collecting kicks since she was a teenager. “I have a garage full of sneakers that I’ve collected over the past 10 years — literally going to the ceiling. I used to be a crazy sneakerhead,” she said.
And it’s no surprise the most beloved item in her stash is an Adidas shell-toe. “It’s the simplest shoe in the world, but it’s my favorite,” she said.
In Ora, Adidas has found both a design collaborator and a committed brand ambassador. When out and about, she can often be seen sporting the three stripes, and her social feeds regularly tout the latest collections.
Explained Blasberg, “This is not just a gig for Rita; it’s a project and she takes it seriously. Sometimes, when she spots someone wearing her stuff, she gets this little twinkle in her eye. She’s happy, she’s proud, she’s loving what she’s doing.”
Nic Galway, VP of global design for Adidas Originals, who works with other high-profile partners such as Kanye West, told FN that Ora’s enthusiasm for the Adidas brand was evident from day one. “This collaboration is a unique mix of our two worlds, which feels true to both of our creative visions,” he said, adding that Adidas benefits from her design input. “Working with artists embedded in contemporary pop culture allows us to see the brand through a new lens.”
The brand also has gained important access to Ora’s fan base, which is about 66 percent female compared with Adidas’ mostly male following (62 percent), according to The NPD Group’s BrandLink database, which surveys U.S. consumers. In addition, Ora’s fans tend to be slightly younger than the average Adidas shopper: About 80 percent are between the ages of 13 and 35.
Her fame is global, particularly strongest in Europe and Asia. Take, for instance, her Dubai visit in
February. And last month she won the Best International Female award at China’s QQ Music Awards.
“Witnessing how the Adidas by Rita Ora collection has been embraced around the world has been very exciting for us, particularly its success in fashion-forward markets such as South Korea,” said Alegra O’Hare, senior director of brand communications for Adidas Originals.
She added, “The Originals female consumer loves to experiment and distinguish herself from others, which is why an individual like Rita resonates so strongly with her. Rita’s fearless approach to personal style and her personal brand is both aspirational and accessible.”
Finding Her Voice
When it comes to connecting with her fans, Ora holds nothing back. While many celebrities have a carefully groomed public image, her personally curated Instagram feed is peppered with topless and lingerie-clad selfies and pics of her partying with friends around London.
For many brands, working with such an unfiltered celebrity poses a risk. But as Adidas has proven — with West, for one — it’s not afraid of a little unpredictability. And with a loyal partner, that can even work in a brand’s favor.
If there is one weak point in the Adidas-Ora partnership, it’s in the fact that the U.S. market remains a work in progress. Industry watchers said the collab still doesn’t create the same buzz stateside as it does in other parts of the world.
Domestically, the product is sold mainly in Adidas Originals stores and with select retailers, including key partner PacSun.
Katie McKinney, an associate buyer at PacSun, said the line does contribute to an incremental spike in sales for the retailer. “Without price resistance from our customer, the collection continues to lend itself to a strong, healthy business within our core and enhanced Adidas Originals product,” she said.
Equally important, McKinney added, Ora’s persona connects with the company’s customers — specifically its young target customers — through personal appearances, online engagement and press coverage.
In the coming months, Ora will be even more in the limelight as she begins shooting this month in Vancouver to reprise her role as Mia Grey in the next installments of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise. And in addition, after a protracted battle with her former record label, Ora aims to release her much-anticipated second album later this year.
All of which should help broaden the reach of her Adidas collection.
But for the multi-talented Ora, her focus is on continuing to pursue her many passions. “I’m a 360-degree visionary, if that makes any sense,” she said. “As an artist, I feel like the more I do, the merrier — each to their own. Everyone is evolving nowadays, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”