Grrrr! Machismo Maker Under Armour Pumps Pop-Up in Old eBay Space
Tom Acitelli Dec. 14, 2009, 5:10 p.m.
3 West 57th Street
At the new Under Armour pop-up store on West 57th Street, before perusing displays of performance activewear, shoppers enter beneath a giant sign emblazoned with words that have all but become the brand’s official credo: “Protect this house.”
First used in an advertising campaign featuring Dallas Cowboy Eric Ogbogu, it is a phrase that has garnered cultural cachet with football teams, teenage boys and members of the military (all demographics that have aided Under Armour in its swift rise to glory), and says a lot about the aggressively heterosexual male fantasy that has defined the brand. It’s a brand that tapped into the fact that a large swath of male self-images and aspirations had been molded more by the “Army of One” campaigns than by Calvin Klein models. But if Under Armour has embodied traditional tropes of machismo, it is equally dependent on a generation of brand-savvy male shoppers, as much a child of the Queer Eye decade as of ESPN.
A central feature of the 3,300-square-foot store is the display of Under Armour’s bobsled and ski uniforms for the 2010 U.S. Olympic teams. More than a display, like just about everything Under Armour does, it doubles as a marketing device, injecting the zenith of highly technical, state-of-the-art athletica into the everyman’s workout fantasy—transforming an activity entailing little more than an old T-shirt and cross trainers into a vision of streamlined, sweat-wicking sheen.
Founded in 1994 by 23-year-old entrepreneur Kevin Plank, the company has paid scrupulous attention to brand image, sending Dick’s stores custom mannequins that looked like they’d been pumped full of steroids and cultivating close alliances with professional sports teams and the military (now the brand’s largest wholesale buyer). The blurred line between sales and brand development has only enhanced Under Armour’s aura of authenticity: Web shoppers can’t help but scroll past the flame-retardant tee (part of the “Tactical” military line) on their way to the cold-weather socks.
An Under Armour women’s line was introduced in 2005, but it has yet to see the sort of fanatical devotion the brand’s male products have inspired. Lululemon, the yoga-inspired athletic retailer that inspires a fanatical, Lycra-fueled devotion of its own, is perhaps better in touch with women’s psyches, which—shock—are not the same as men’s.
The pop-up store, which opened last week at 3 West 57th Street in the space recently used by eBay to pop up into the non-virtual, will remain open through mid-January. New Year’s resolutions, anyone?