Decoding China’s Dior x Air Jordan Love Affair

AUTHOR
Julienna Law
PUBLISHED
2022-04-06T04:55:15

How soon can something be called a modern collectible? While the Supreme x Louis Vuitton capsule has proven its staying power since it was released in 2017 — now reselling for up to triple its retail price — Dior x Air Jordan’s story is still being written.

Dropped in 2020, the Dior and Jordan brand tie-up is arguably one of the most hyped sneaker collaborations in recent history. Blending streetwear culture and high fashion, “Air Dior” was first unveiled at the Dior Pre-Fall 2020 Collection in Miami, then teased by rapper Travis Scott and various leak accounts online. With just 13,000 pairs available (and 5,000 of those reserved for VIP clients), anticipation was high.

As such, 5 million people registered for a chance to snag the coveted kicks on a first-come-first-serve basis. In China, a separate online experience was held on WeChat. And when many expectedly left empty-handed, resale prices skyrocketed: in 2020, the Dior x Air Jordan 1 High was the most expensive shoe on the secondary market, hitting as much as $13,000, according to a StockX economist. Although prices later fell to an average of $7,000, that’s still more than three times its original value of $2,200 for the high-top version.

Now, as rumors swirl that Dior and Jordan will join forces again on three new colorways, the next chapter of hype begins. But what exactly makes this pairing so iconic and collectible in China and around the world?

Two titans on the same team

It’s hard to lose with two kings on the court. Besides being one of the most recognizable high-end brands in the world, Dior is also a leader in localization. Since 2015, the 75-year-old French house has tested various digital strategies in China and, in the process, racked up several firsts for luxury: first to promote on WeChat Moments; first to livestream on WeChat; and first to open official accounts on Douyin and Bilibili. It’s no surprise then that Dior was among the top 10 most valuable luxury brands in 2020 and later named Chinese consumers’ second favorite luxury brand in 2021.

Photo: Nike.

Meanwhile, the Jordan brand has been credited as the catalyst for modern sneaker culture. This clout extends to China, where Jordan has heavily invested since 1997 by popularizing basketball, partnering with local athletes, and opening the largest Jordan-only store in Chengdu. In fact, when Nike sales were plummeting in fiscal 2020 due to the pandemic, it was the Jordan brand that continued to shine, with revenue growing more than 50 percent in China to almost $1 billion.

Together, the two were a slam dunk. As Humphrey Ho, Managing Partner at Hylink Digital Solutions USA, explained: “For Dior, the collaboration was a bid to remain relevant in the new streetwear-obsessed fashion world and continue to appeal to a more youthful audience. For Air Jordan, it only amped up the exclusivity factor for the already high-demand shoes.”

Unmatched craftsmanship

While big reputations can generate buzz, the product still has to live up to the hype. Combining the best elements of both brands, the sneakers are based on the famous 1985 Jordan 1 silhouette — a shoe so famous that it sold on Sotheby’s in 2020 for a staggering $560,000 — and Dior’s iconic white and gray coloring. Standout features include the Dior monogram inside the Swoosh, a remix of the Jumpman Wings logo with the words “AIR DIOR,” and a translucent outsole for a fresh, yet timeless look.

High barriers to purchase

That said, these shoes were extremely hard to obtain. For one, only a few thousand pairs were available for sale, with each individually numbered. Because of the low quantity, a raffle system was created so interested parties could indicate their desired size, style, and pickup location. Those who managed to win the lottery then had to pay the hefty price tag: $2,200 for the high tops or $2,000 for the low tops.

“Maintaining an illusion of uniqueness or exclusivity over one’s peers — ‘keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome’ — has always been vital to the appeal of foreign brands in China.”

Yet these scarcity tactics only heighten consumers’ excitement and urgency, said Adam Knight, co-founder of the cross-cultural agency TONG. Additionally, they tap into Gen Z’s desire to stand out. “Maintaining an illusion of uniqueness or exclusivity over one’s peers — ‘keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome’ — has always been vital to the appeal of foreign brands in China. Gone are the days when owning a classic Chanel or LV bag is enough.”

Scoring with China’s basketball fans

Early on, Nike knew that the success of its shoes rested on the rise of basketball. That’s why Terry Rhoads, a former director of sports marketing for Nike in China, went as far as to donate equipment to Shanghai schools and organize the city’s first high school basketball league in the 1990s. At the same time, the NBA had struck a deal with CCTV to broadcast its games, helping to entrench the popular American sport in the local culture. Now, there are upwards of 625 million basketball fans in China, and NBA China’s operation is valued at $5 billion.

As basketball has boomed, so too has sneaker culture. The most athlete-endorsed brand of all time, some Air Jordans have flipped for as much as 6,600 percent their original price in China. Driven by local trading platforms like Poizon, which had an average of 40 million monthly active users at the time the Dior x Air Jordan collection dropped, the country’s athletic footwear market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2025.

Photo: Nike.

“Basketball has always resonated with the Chinese demographic,” Ho told Jing Daily. “Massive star-power and American culture paired with immense respect for hard work and dedication has sustained Chinese love for basketball and has driven Air Jordans to become massively trendy status symbols going beyond simply admiration of the sport to embodying all the star power, style, and charisma of the players.”

Harnessing celebrity power

And finally, the collaboration had big names in its corner. High-profile stars like Daniel Arsham, Ashanti, and Kylie Jenner were among the first to get their hands on the haul, posting about the shoes ahead of their official launch. Likewise in China, Air Dior also got a boost from Chinese brand ambassador Wang Junkai, who was seen rocking the full capsule head-to-toe in a video that generated over 16 million views. Esports player Jackey Love, business tycoon Wang Sicong, and fashion icons Jay Chou and Edison Chen were also seen sporting the goods, drumming up their desirability.

As Jing Daily’s latest report found, it is KOLs, rather than the brand’s own social media accounts, that drive engagement. Knight echoes this: “KOLs should be seen not as an opportunity to generate endless impressions, but to tap into specific communities in an authentic manner,” he said. “This tastemaker approach is at the heart of many of the most successful Gen Z focused campaigns.” Sitting at the crossroads of couture and sneakerhead culture, Dior x Air Jordan sneakers have all the hallmarks of a successful collaboration.

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