As soon as Rihanna set foot on stage Sunday night, fans took to social media to scrutinise every detail of her performance, from her baby bump to her mid-song Fenty Beauty makeup refresh.
One unlikely highlight in Rihanna’s act: the Salomon sneakers in her monochrome ensemble, which, unlike the custom Alaïa puffer coat or Loewe jumpsuit, can be purchased today for $360.
It was a surprising win for the French outdoors and snow sports brand, which was not told in advance that Rihanna would be donning its sneakers during her performance. Overnight, Google searches for its bright orange “Cross Low” sneakers, made in collaboration with Maison Margiela’s diffusion line, MM6, spiked 4,000 percent, according to Google Trends data.
“We’d been given a heads up that Rihanna’s stylist had asked for a pair, but there’s never a guarantee that it will be worn [on stage],” said Alex Van Oostrum, a marketing executive at Salomon.
Marketing opportunities don’t get much bigger than the Super Bowl halftime show, often the most watched moment of the most watched game of America’s most popular sport. Last year’s halftime show attracted 103 million television viewers, according to the NFL. For the 2023 Super Bowl, the cost of a 30 second advertising slot during the game was over $7 million.
Salomon, until recently virtually unknown outside of outdoor hobbyists, had effectively stumbled into a million-dollar marketing opportunity without spending a single dime. But Rihanna’s endorsement cemented an already promising trajectory for the 76-year-old brand, which originated as a small family business specialising in ski edges in the French Alps.
Salomon began to emerge as a fashion favourite in the 2010s, when brands co-opted the athletic style of niche outdoor sports like hiking and skiing.
To capitalise on the trend — known as gorpcore — the company hired former Arc’teryx designer Jean-Phillipe Lalonde in 2016 to head its new Sportstyle division, which would create lifestyle products in addition to Salomon’s performance wear.
Slowly but surely, it began to build a following. Rihanna is just one of a long list of celebrity fans — including Ralph Lauren, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Pusha T. It wasn’t her first public outing in the shoes, either: she posted on Instagram wearing the brand’s now ubiquitous XT-6 trail running model in 2019.
Today, the bulk of Salomon’s sales come from hiking and trail running shoes, though its biggest driver of growth comes from fashion enthusiasts. Salomon was the fastest growing footwear label on StockX last year, with sales up over 2,200 percent between 2021 and 2022.
From Mountains to Moodboards
By the 1990s, Salomon had eventually expanded from ski edges into snowsport and trail equipment at large. In 1997, it was acquired by Adidas and again sold to Finnish holding company Amer Sports in 2005.
At the time, Amer Sports was in the process of building a roster of leading outdoors apparel and equipment brands, and that same year acquired Canadian outerwear label Arc’teryx. In 2019, Amer Sports was purchased by Chinese sportswear giant Anta in a deal that valued the company at €4.6 billion ($4.9 billion).
Salomon’s original fashion breakthrough came in 2016 when the brand released its first sneaker collaboration with The Broken Arm, a fashion-forward Parisian boutique. That same year, German designer Boris Bidjan Saberi designed a limited edition take on the brand’s Speedcross 4 trail running shoes for his brand’s runway show.
In the past two years, Salomon has become one of fashion’s most in-demand collaborators, co-designing sneakers with the likes of Comme des Garcons, Kith and Palace Skateboards, while picking up stockists such as Dover Street Market, Matchesfashion and End. As the fashion cycle came to favour preppy looks popularised by brands like Aimé Leon Dore, Salomon sneakers became a street style favourite, often paired with baggy cargo pants and cardigans.
Since then, the brand has worked with Paris-based agency Radical PR to entrench itself in the fashion community by gifting key tastemakers and style influencers, hosting events during Paris Fashion Week and partnering with niche community groups such as the newly opened Dijonns cultural centre in London.
Today, lifestyle is the fastest-growing product category for the brand in terms of sales, Van Oostrom said.
The fashion connections will also help the brand stay relevant even as interest in sneakers fades and Gorpcore — now a mainstream aesthetic — loses its buzz.
“Not many outdoors brands will outlive the gorpcore hype, but Salomon seems to transcend that specific niche,” said menswear writer and brand strategist Clayton Chambers. “With their price point and association with brands like Margiela, it seems there’s a lane for them to play specifically within high fashion long-term.”