SPORTS CONNECTION: Bruno Danto, the editor and entrepreneur who launched French magazine Sport & Style, is back with an initiative designed to bring together sports and fashion.
The inaugural edition of Swerve Festival is due to take place from May 5 to 7 in AlUla, the ancient oasis city that Saudi Arabia is developing into a major tourist attraction. The invitation-only event will gather 200 athletes, creatives and tastemakers from the sports, fashion and wellness sectors, and will feature sporting activities, a fashion show, talks and entertainment.
The festival will act as the springboard for the first annual Swerve Awards for design at the intersection of fashion and sports. The jury, to be unveiled in June, will reward projects in six categories: innovation, social impact, women’s empowerment, education, sustainability and a competition open to Saudi designers. The winners will be announced in May 2024.
The event marks the official debut of Swerve Media Group, the company founded by Danto and his business partner Mohammed Hanzab, president of the International Centre for Sport Security in Doha, Qatar, and founder of the sports nonprofit Save the Dream.
A dedicated surfer, soccer player and marathon runner, Danto aims to leverage his industry connections to create a meeting place for sports and fashion.
In addition to launching Sport & Style in 2004, he was editor in chief of Vogue Hommes International from 2004 to 2007 and one of the founders of the sports-focused social network Sportforus, which organized mass yoga events under the White Yoga Session banner.
“There are loads of music festivals and more than 300 fashion weeks worldwide. There are trade shows for sports business and sports equipment, but there is no platform that brings together sports and fashion at the highest level,” Danto told WWD.
While specialist sites have tracked the fast-growing segment of sports fashion collaborations, with Highsnobiety launching a Sports vertical last year, Swerve wants to go further by acting as a bridge between major sporting events, like the Olympic Games in Paris next year, and audiences hungry for physical connection.
“Organizations like the Olympic Games, Roland Garros, the U.S. Open and all these global events need people who speak their language and who can provide a link with fashion,” Danto said. “The idea is to create a showcase where brands can come into contact with fans.”
The media group derives most of its income from partners.
For the Swerve Festival, the title partner is the Royal Commission for AlUla, which is charged with developing and promoting the archaeological and historic site. Local attractions include Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been compared to Petra in Jordan, and the mirrored arts building Maraya.
AlUla has also hosted events like the recent AlUla Camel Cup, where guests included Will Smith, who came to support music producer Swizz Beatz, who owns a camel racing team. And the Centre Pompidou in Paris recently signed an agreement to develop a large-scale contemporary art museum there.
The Swerve Festival is supported by the Saudi government as part of its broader mission to promote sports, both by welcoming major competitions and encouraging citizens to be more active. The country has been selected to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Neom, a $500 billion futuristic megacity in the desert that is still under construction.
Danto is conscious of the critical reaction to that decision, which some have deemed bad for the environment, as well as the negative publicity surrounding last year’s soccer World Cup in Qatar, with the host country coming under scrutiny for its record on human rights, especially toward the LGBTQ community.
Saudi Arabia has also been accused of human rights violations by organizations like the U.S. nonprofit Freedom House, which rated the country “Not Free” in its annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide.
“I’ve been given no limits and no restrictions on the type of guests or participants, or the nature of the conversations that might take place,” Danto said. “It’s true that in the past, the country’s politics would not have allowed this type of event or this conversation. But it’s changing, and my position is that I want to be part of those who encourage this change and this opening.”
He is confident in the direction taken by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and prime minister, Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, he said. “I strongly believe in the policy of MBS to change the culture, and today it’s happening so fast that I can’t imagine that these questions will still arise in 10 years’ time,” he said.
Danto noted that AlUla offers an unparalleled environment for the Swerve Festival. Participants will stay at the Habitas hotel, a resort consisting of sustainable villas offering scenic canyon views.
Each sporting activity will be hosted by a champion in the discipline, and there are discussions to hold the fashion show in the town of AlUla and make it open to the public. Panels will include a talk on music, sports and fashion featuring Panos A. Panay, president of the Recording Academy.
While the format of the festival was inspired by events like Coachella, Danto wants it to stay small once ticketing opens to the public next year, with no more than 800 attendees. “We really want it to be a luxury experience, so to offer that, it necessarily has to be a smaller format,” he said, noting that the event aims to leave the smallest possible environmental footprint.
While the first edition is designed as a showcase, Swerve aims to expand into a digital platform and an agency that will connect athletes and brands. “This platform is the first seed of a tree that will grow to encompass the universe of sports, fashion and entertainment,” he said.