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Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh: a crazy sale at Sotheby’s

These are truly crazy times. How else can you explain that 200 pairs of Nike Air Force 1 Virgil sneakers sold for an average of over $100,000 each? That’s what happened at the online sale that Sotheby’s organized from 26 January to 9 February 2022. The sale result, proudly announced on the Sotheby’s page (see screenshot below), leaves one breathless: $25,332,300.

Sneakers Nike Air Force 1 x Vuitton by Virgil Abloh sale Sotheby's

The starting estimate was already generous for a pair of sneakers: $5000 to $15000. From a marketing point of view, several conditions were indeed met to arouse interest:

  • 2 iconic brands: Vuitton and Nike
  • a global product: the “Air Force 1” which made the Nike brand what it is today
  • a star designer who died prematurely (Virgil Abloh)
  • an ultra-limited edition (200 pairs) never before put on the market
  • a good cause (the proceeds of the sale were donated to the Abloh foundation)

You will probably find me cynical, but the death of Virgil Abloh did not cause the same shock wave as that of Karl Lagerfeld. So, despite all the marketing aspects I mentioned above, where does the value come from for these “Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh”? It’s a matter of marketing first and the reflection of a tremendous economic fever second.

This pair of sneakers was not created to be worn. It is an object made to be exposed, which changes the perception of value.

Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh: the perfect marketing

As a marketer, I have to admit, the sale at Sotheby’s as much as the product itself is a stroke of marketing genius.

The desirability of a pair of sneakers co-signed by Vuitton and Nike is stratospheric, as is the packaging. This Vuitton case with the famous monogram is a pure wonder. In the end, this pair of sneakers was not created to be worn. It is an object made to be displayed, which changes the perception of value.

Let’s also take our hats off to Sotheby’s for their ability to pull each sale up. The sale description and photos are incredibly appealing and the timing perfect (shortly after Virgil Abloh’s death, when his memory and emotion are still vivid).

Lot 1 Sotheby's Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Virgin Abloh

The most expensive pair of Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh sneakers at Sotheby’s was Lot 1 (screenshot from Sotheby’s website)

Speculation-driven results?

The second element that explains the success of this sale is more debatable. Lot 1 went for $352800 according to the results available on the website (see screenshot above), and lot 11, the cheapest, went for $75600. The results are so uncorrelated with reality (a pair of sneakers and a briefcase) that they raise questions. How can we explain that 200 buyers can attach such a high price? The answer can be found in one word: speculation.

The Covid crisis has caused a shock wave that goes far beyond the health aspects. Behavior has been permanently altered, the confidence of billions of people has been shaken, and their points of reference have changed. The formation of the financial bubble has fueled speculation (look at the price of crypto-currencies and the delirium around NFTs). The proceeds of the “Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh” sale reflect this.

To conclude

The Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 by Virgil Abloh sale is a perfect marketing operation. The craze of buyers was fueled by the prestige of the associated brands, the fame of a recently deceased Virgil Abloh, and a speculative madness. The latter does not only affect the art market but all parts of a society whose loss of reference points is increasingly apparent.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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