For its Paris Fashion Week debut, the Chinese sports icon Li-Ning reflects on the historic achievements of its founder and namesake, the legendary Olympic gymnast Li Ning. His personal story—a focal point of the brand’s heritage—unfolds across apparel and footwear that references the graphics and aesthetic language of Mr Li’s heyday. Yet the result is progressive and contemporary with oversize proportions, advanced fabrics, street-inspired silhouettes, and clashing colourways.
Presented last season at New York Fashion Week: Men’s, Li-Ning now unleashes its vision of future-heritage in Paris. For Spring/Summer 2019, the collection centres around the moment that Mr Li won six out of seven gold medals at the Sixth World Cup Gymnastic Competition in 1982, which instantly transformed him into a Chinese national hero and earned him the nickname, “the Prince of Gymnastics.” Two years later, in 1984, he became the most honoured athlete at the Summer Olympic Games, winning three gold medals, two silver, and one bronze. This origin tale is the foundation of the collection, which features alternative athleticwear like asymmetric tops and cropped sweats, often emblazoned with slogans like “Leaning on Li-Ning” and “The Legend Begins” in Chinese and English.
The collection melds Mr Li’s story with a deep sense of Chinese pride and contrasts it with deconstructed, off-kilter apparel in a surprising palette of olive, orchid, nuclear green, and the national colours of cardinal red and bright yellow.
In 40 looks—25 men’s, 15 women’s—Li-Ning establishes the future of sportswear. Single-sleeve sweatshirts are paired with voluminous pleated trousers that are cinched with extra-long, trailing webbed belts. Dolman-sleeve track tops and drop-shoulder jackets are patchworked from multiple colours and fabrics to heighten a sense of contrast and texture. Khaki coats and parkas are pinned with slogan cards and tied with logoed belts.
Graphics tell the season’s narrative in colourful gymnastic silhouettes and energetic abstract patterns that suggest movement and progression. Colourful all-over prints cover silken men’s button-down shirts and women’s smock dresses. Finally, nodding to the future’s potential, two crisp white pyjama tops, courtesy of Berlin-based fashion label Random Identities, are embroidered in Chinese characters.
One says “China Li-Ning” and the other “Random Identities.” In footwear, Li-Ning forges a brave path, setting new standards of shape, colour, proportion, and fabrication. Thick, oversized outsoles serve as the foundations to bold, futuristic uppers in a range of styles. Launched in 1991 as Li-Ning’s first-ever piece of footwear, the iconic 001 Retro holds a deep significance, and this season is reprised with chunky rubber outsoles and acid-bright uppers in gradient colours.
With a multi-textural composition and built-in sock liner, the Aurora 2018 updates a design launched at the 2004 Summer Olympics, held in Athens. Expanded in new colourways, the fierce Butterfly 2018 sneaker-boot, available in low-top and high-top versions, combines suede, mesh, and transparent elements for its collage-inspired uppers. Finally, three-dimensional design elements and multi-tonal gradient colours define the Furious Rider, Li-Ning’s newest runner and a legend of tomorrow.
Established in 1990, Li-Ning is driven by the unlimited potential of the human body. “Our brand carries the genes of an athlete,” he says. Its founding mission, as described by Mr Li, was, very simply, to provide Chinese athletes with national brands to wear as they took the global stage of the Olympics—historically one of the West’s rare portals into Chinese culture.
Spring/Summer 2019 signifies a momentous occasion for the brand and for Mr Li himself. As he explains: “With this collection, we dove deep into our brand heritage and the world from which Li-Ning emerged in 1990. We sought to create a tribute to this moment—our founding—yet realize it with the technologies, aesthetics, and creativity of 2018. This is a modern point of view on our timeless story.”