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Vans Brings Skatepark to Paris’ Sacré-Coeur For Men’s Fashion Week

Vans is in a Paris state of mind.

One year after launching its OTW by Vans initiative with a plexiglas skate ramp by the Seine, the shoe brand is returning to Paris Men’s Fashion Week with a series of events at the crossroads of skateboarding and culture — and this time, it’s taking the Sacré-Coeur.

Traffic restrictions in the run-up to the Olympics notwithstanding, Vans is building a skateable installation in front of the basilica which dominates the hillside Montmartre district.

On Friday, which marks both the Fête de la Musique and Go Skateboarding Day, it will host a live skate demonstration and performances by leading French and international acts.

It’s an ambitious statement by the brand, which is in the midst of a turnaround effort after two quarters of sharp sales declines — even as its Classic Slip-On style is being touted by some as the summer shoe of 2024.

“Using this moment in time to build these unique experiences, storytelling that is meaningfully disruptive, is really what makes the difference, and it’s really what is transforming our brand into the future,” said Drieke Leenknegt, global chief marketing officer of Vans.

The Paris activation is three-pronged.

On Tuesday, its “Commitment to Progression” gallery tour, showcasing the work of industry legend and longtime collaborator Anthony Van Engelen, landed in the French capital after stops in Los Angeles, Shanghai and Seoul. It included a public skate jam on Place de la Bastille, a rallying point for riders in Paris.

On Wednesday, Vans was due to host a party for “Atiba Jefferson: Skate Photography,” an exhibition curated by Architecture, the creative studio founded by the late Virgil Abloh, documenting 30 years of Jefferson’s work. This marks the show’s second stop after its debut in Miami last December.

The brand is building its skateable installation for OTW (Off the Wall) by Vans with L.A.-based creative studio Playlab, Inc. and California Skateparks, which also constructed the facility for the Street League Skateboarding championship in Paris in February.

A teaser on the dedicated OTW by Vans Instagram account showed a truck in a quarry, and the event details being chiselled on a marble slab, but the brand said the skatepark would be made from a mix of concrete, wood and foam. 

“They took the inspiration of the marble that is inside and then used it to build the skateable art form that will be front and center in front of the Sacré-Coeur,” Leenknegt said, without elaborating.

She admitted the logistics were challenging, with portions of the city barred to traffic as local authorities begin construction on key competition sites in the run-up to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

“It’s always hard to create new space but at the same time, it’s also the most exciting to do that,” she said, comparing the brand’s resolve to the mindset of a rider.

“When you do an ‘off the wall,’ when you’re up in the air, you don’t know if you’re going to land safely. So the attitude, which is also the attitude of young people, is pretty determined,” she added.

In tandem with the event, Vans is dropping a sneaker designed with Dutch artist Piet Parra, known for his surreal bird-like characters, that will be available exclusively in Paris to friends of the brand.

Vans was keen to have a presence in the French capital ahead of the Olympics, which will mark only the second time that skateboarding has been included as an official competition.

“We serve riders around the world and to celebrate that moment, at scale, is always a win for us as a brand,” said Leenknegt.

She’s particularly excited about the new generation of riders such as Arisa Trew, who recently hit a milestone in skateboarding history becoming the first woman to land a 900, a two-and-a-half-revolution aerial spin performed on a ramp.

“The future of female riders is amazing and I am so passionate about this, because they are going to redefine skateboarding, and they are redefining it right now for the future,” she said.

After posting a 26 percent drop in sales in the fiscal fourth quarter, Leenknegt said the VF Corp.-owned brand is seeing good response to new styles including the Vans AVE 2.0, billed as its “most advanced skateboarding shoe ever,” and the latest iteration of the Knu Skool.

“We are seeing amazing, positive pockets of progress,” said the executive, who joined Vans last year from Timberland. “There’s a great appetite for the innovation product and for the new designs that we’re putting into the market. The AVE 2.0 with knitted upper is resonating across the world.”

However, she declined to share any specific sales data or to comment on when the brand expects revenues to improve.

Meanwhile, Vans’ cult slip-on style, originally released in 1977, is trending on TikTok after being worn by celebrities including Emily Ratajkowski and Sofia Richie, as well as influential Renggli designer Morgan Stewart McGraw. Likewise, Leenknegt did not share any insights on whether that has translated into sales.

“It’s an honor that people from across the world are celebrating our brand and celebrating our iconic products,” she said.

While Vans is burnishing its fashion credentials with partnerships such as its recent collaboration with Proenza Schouler, it is putting skateboarding front and center as it seeks to regain its footing.

“We are reminding ourselves and the world that skateboarding and the culture of skateboarding is at the center of this brand,” said Leenknegt. “Sometimes, we lose sight of that.”

She said further initiatives would be shared in July as part of the brand’s wider “Always Pushing” campaign. “It’s just the beginning,” she promised.

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