The dust had barely settled on Emma Raducanu's US Open victory before the mainstream British media began speculating on her wealth empire that lay in wait.
"Emma Raducanu on way to becoming a £1 billion athlete as she applies for her own trademark," read a typically excitable article from The Sun, citing the very lawyer, Anthony Brierley, who had filed the request. The one snag in the story was that Brierley had withdrawn his application two days before the victory.
When he had done so initially, it was without the permission of Raducanu's team.
Even if the "scoop" was wildly inaccurate, it's only a matter of time before the 18-year-old sensation does look to protect her name by law. Not since Wayne Rooney's breakthrough as a 16-year-old in 2002 has there been a breakthrough athlete that has commanded as much attention, with some outlets going as far as to compare the fervor to Beatlemania.
Naturally, brands have taken notice.
On October 19, Raducanu was announced as a global ambassador for Dior. The announcement came as something of a surprise, given the fact she had recently appeared at this year's Met Gala in a Chanel look.
"[Raducanu] — winner of the 2021 US Open — has already shaken up the codes with her unique game style, multicultural personality, authenticity and extraordinary career," read the press release.
Raducanu's appeal is obvious. Born in Canada to parents from Romania and China, she is a world citizen who speaks fluent Mandarin in addition to English — that's handy, given the US and Asia-Pacific are two key growth markets for luxury brands. Assuming her form continues, it's a surefire thing that, in a similar vein to Naomi Osaka, her fame will transcend well beyond British shores.
One week before Raducanu's Dior announcement, Squid Game actress Jung Ho-yeon announced a similar ambassadorial position for Louis Vuitton in an Instagram post that has since racked up an astonishing 7.6 million likes.
Ho-yeon is the upstart star of Netflix's biggest series ever. Even if she is 10 years older than Raducanu and has been well-known to audiences in Korea for a minute, her overnight ascent to global fame has been even more meteoric.
Prior to the show's launch, Ho-yeon had 400,000 Instagram followers and now boasts 20 million. On a smaller, but still impressive scale, Raducanu entered the US Open with just over 400,000 Instagram followers, which grew to 1.8 million by the time the tournament had drawn to a close.
That formidable social media presence is a defining hallmark of the new guard.
Brands have always sought to snap up the best talent, but the speed at which they are now moving to do so is unprecedented. Established names haven't gone out of vogue entirely, but the battle lines have changed, and the Gen Z and Millennial dernier cri have become the real objects of obsession. It makes sense, given how quickly pop culture shifts these days.
It's almost like a game of fantasy football, with talent scouts on the lookout everywhere — sport, television, music, the arts — to snap up the hottest breakthrough talents. Simply, these wunderkinds have online Stan armies and cross-marketing potential that their predecessors don't; see the K-Pop world for proof.
Brands want to find a way into their universes early and are hoovering them up like they're building their own Avengers-style rosters.
Looking at things from the other direction, maybe the talent will be inclined towards one "team" over the other if dangled increasingly unique carrots — do you join Gucci for X amount of dollars, or sign on with Givenchy for a considerably smaller sum, albeit with your own capsule collection promised down the line?
As a quote often misattributed to Andy Warhol goes, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
Now, it seems just as likely that fleeting fame will come with a major fashion brand contract. Sticking around long-term is the challenging part.