MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have hooked up with a boxing team in a first sponsorship deal as they look to pack more punch in the outdoor and lifestyle markets.
The glamorous duo, whose sexy clothes and clean-cut suits are worn by pop icon Madonna and soccer player Lionel Messi, are among several fashion brands tapping into the mass-market sports segment to lift sales knocked by the financial crisis.
"Sport is mainly about discipline and sacrifice and it constantly inspires our collections," Dolce and Gabbana told Reuters in an emailed interview.
Fashion doyen Giorgio Armani, who sponsors Milan's basketball team with his youthful Armani Jeans brand, has announced that he will fund a seven million euro ($9.7 million) overhaul of a sports facility in the city.
Dolce and Gabbana, who already dress the AC Milan and Chelsea soccer sides as well as Italy's national team, are now sponsoring the Milano Thunder team with boxers such as Italian Olympic medallist Clemente Russo.
The team will debut in the World Series of Boxing, a new international tournament, from November. The two designers also have a sportswear line called Dolce&Gabbana Gym.
"Luxury brands do tie in with sports frequently -- one of the reasons PPR, owners of Gucci Group, bought Puma," said James Lawson, director of international luxury market research specialists Ledbury Research.
France's PPR is looking to expand in the lifestyle and outdoor sector through a new division, which it predicts will generate higher turnover than its luxury unit Gucci Group.
"However, the crossover tends to be with a more aspirational luxury buyer hence second lines from, for example, Prada and Escada being called Sport," Lawson told Reuters.
Nonetheless, a sports lifestyle is not attractive for all cultures, Lawson said.
"Our research frequently shows that the concept doesn't work well for many Japanese luxury consumers, for example."
Dolce & Gabbana reported a 13.5 percent drop to 1.379 billion euros in wholesale sales in the year ended in March 31, as the crisis sapped demand for high-end clothes.
The fashion house announced the boxing venture at a glitzy gym in Milan, just a week after teaming up with Barcelona and Argentina forward Messi as their new brand ambassador.
Additional reporting by Mark Meadows; Editing by Steve Addison