Keeping Up With Kim K, Baller

Candace Parker

I’ll fess up. I’ve always mightily resented the Kardashianization of the culture, and I’m obviously not alone in that. Everything with them is so surface, sexified, booty-fied and otherwise cosmetically inflated or altered, time and again. But the selfie-and-camera-worshiping Klan sure got rich through the many years of family display on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

And in the beginning, I got especially judge-y and prudish about Kim, because it was her graphic sex tape “leaked” to the internet in 2007 that got the entire multibillion-dollar empire rolling.

As she’s gotten older and more powerful, Kim has certainly had her share of monomaniacally tone-deaf moments. I’ll just mention one: wearing Marilyn Monroe’s enhanced-nude slip dress (the one she wore to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK) to the Met Gala. It was completely out of context for the theme of the Gala. And while the dress was shockingly revealing at the time for Marilyn, it looked way more covered up than usual -- almost like a burka for Kim. Ever the marketer, she wore layers of Skims shapewear underneath.



This act of appropriation didn’t honor Marilyn’s talent in any way.  Rather, Kim exploited Monroe as a sex bomb (and borrowed on that iconography to make the analogy to her own body) while being oblivious to the actress’s vulnerability at that time (she died only a few months later). So the stunt mostly demonstrated Kim’s own self-absorption and vapidity about U.S. history.

Yet Kim has maintained a tough-minded, pop-culturally fluent vision in business, and that, along with her undeniable expertise as an influencer, has served her well.

Those factors worked especially well in building Skims, her aforementioned shapewear/underwear brand.  Founded in 2019, Skims has already become a major player in the fashion industry, outpacing designer brands and its largest competitor Spanx with a recent valuation of over $4 billion. 

It’s a well-made product, but its focus from the start on inclusivity and body positivity came at exactly the right time for a younger market. Its runaway success is also due to Kim’s genius at strategic collaborations and social media.

So last October, when Skims announced that it was becoming the “underwear partner” to the NBA, WNBA, and USA Basketball, I wasn’t surprised. NBA stars have long endorsed fashionable sneaker and clothing brands, Kim has her own history with dating NBA stars, and the partnership made sense for the brand’s first foray into menswear. 

Those ads debuted months ago, and they were rock solid, not at all relying on sexual innuendo or imagery, or even underwear. Rather, the male hoopsters were shown in robes, sweatpants, and hoodies, and it all seemed organic.

At that point there were social media complaints like, “Where are the women?”

But the idea of becoming an “underwear partner” to the WNBA is a little more complicated. Just as female pro athletes like first WNBA pick Caitlin Clark and  All-Star Kelsey Plum are attracting record-breaking male and female crowds, commercial endorsements are important, as is the “women supporting women” message from brands.

Still, it’s tricky. The last thing these female pros need is to go full Maxim, getting objectified by posing -- or even worse, playing in their underwear.

It has received some backlash, but the campaign, created in-house, is smartly done.

Released just in time for the first game of the new WNBA season, the campaign includes a 30-second spot starring Candace Parker, number two overall draft pick Cameron Brink, Dijonai Carrington, Kelsey Plum and fellow All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith.

The women are indeed shown wearing Skims skin-colored underwear, and shown in action in their uniforms on the court, but the cuts are separate -- and the combo isn’t as awkward as it sounds.

In the Skims shots, each woman is shown fooling around with the ball, largely from the waist up, and talking about herself to the camera in a charming, confident, natural way.

“Everybody is wearing Skims,” they say at the end of the spot.

The spot will air on national TV during WNBA games on ESPN and ABC as well as on Skims and WNBA digital and social platforms. There’ll also be virtual signage on court during WNBA games through the season.

Kim’s talent for making sweet viral media was evident as she took her daughter North West to the first LA Sparks game this week. Although the Sparks lost to the Atlanta Dream, forward Cameron Brink did great, posting 11 points and four assists. After the game, Kim and North went to meet Brink in the locker room. It was North’s birthday, and Brink gave the girl a pair of sneakers that she was thrilled with, as well as giving Mom and daughter each a No. 22 Sparks jersey.

It was cool and easy, and the video showed the natural intersection of fashion, professional sports, entertainment, and celebrity, paving the way for fresh ways of communicating new customs in  this evolving and fast-growing WNBA culture.

Kudos to Kim.

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