Hennes and Mauritz. It sounds like a doubles tandem from the early days of the Open Era. However, it’s more commonly referred to by its abbreviation, H&M—the world’s No. 2 fashion retailer. While primarily known for inexpensive, casual clothes for the fashion conscious, the Swedish company made inroads in tennis this January when it announced a long-term partnership with sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych. (I tried to get them to disclose terms, but they won’t budge.) Berdych has been wearing H&M branded clothes on the tour and is expected to promote the line off the court as well. Here’s what the Czech had to say upon announcement of the deal:
“H&M is young, cool and easy, everything I think clothing should be. I love fashion, and it’s great to now have H&M to help me develop my tennis and off-court apparel. I’m sure we will do great things together.”
Not exactly Don Draper, but Berdych is earning his stripes as a pitchman. This deal comes after Japanese clothing company Uniqlo signed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in May 2012 to a five-year deal to be brand ambassador. Djokovic had most recently been with traditional tennis label Sergio Tacchini.
Uniqlo’s styling to this point has actually resembled much of Tacchini’s classic tennis look. Djokovic is also set to front the ad campaign for the company’s new underwear line, Airism, which appear to be sports-inspired briefs. So far all we’ve seen from the Berdych-H&M union is some understated court clothes and a company press shot of him in an old-school cardigan; there’s no talk yet of Berdych getting down to his skivvies.
Still, it begs the question: Can general apparel companies make a dent in the tennis gear marketplace? I’m an Adidas, Under Armour, and Nike wearer. It’s more out of reflex than brand loyalty. To break the habit I suppose the gear would have to be either: a) better priced or b) superior technology. The Uniqlo polos I’ve found advertised online look to be around $50. That’s on the high end of what I’m accustomed, so unless there is some new fabric that dries sweat faster or makes my serve kick higher, I probably won’t sample.
H&M has yet to release an official tennis line. Given the company’s reputation, when something does come out I would expect it to be somewhat more wallet-friendly. I would also expect sweats, sweaters, and other accessories to round out the line, and for them to be a little more fashionable than the usual labels. This could definitely appeal to the casual player. The hardcore player? I’m not so sure.
What say you? Do you need a swoosh on your chest to feel like a player?
Jon Levey is an editor-at-large for TENNIS. You can e-mail him here.