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WHEN: Today, Monday, August 20, 2018
WHERE: CNBC's "Closing Bell "
The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with tennis superstar Serena Williams, Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh and CNBC's Sara Eisen on CNBC's "Closing Bell" (M-F 3PM-5PM) today Monday, August 20th. The following is a link to video from the interview on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/08/20/serena-williams-nike-clothing-virgil-abloh-us-open-queen-collection-athleisure.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
SARA EISEN: WHEN TENNIS SUPERSTAR SERENA WILLIAMS HITS THE COURT AT NEXT WEEK'S U.S. OPEN IN NEW YORK SHE WILL BE DONNING A BRAND NEW NIKE OUTFIT CREATED BY FASHION DESIGNER VIRGIL ABLOH. THE QUEEN COLLECTION, INCLUDING DRESSES FOR DAY AND NIGHTTIME PLAY, A BOMBER JACKET, A BAG, AND OF COURSE LIMITED SNEAKERS. JOINING ME NOW IN A CNBC EXCLUSIVE TO TALK ABOUT THE COLLECTION AND THE UPCOMING TOURNAMENT SERENA WILLIAMS AND VIRGIL ABLOH. GOOD TO SEE YOU BOTH. THANKS FOR JOINING US.
SERENA WILLIAMS: THANK YOU.
VIRGIL ABLOH: THANK YOU.
WILLIAMS: GOOD TO BE HERE.
EISEN: SO -- SO SERENA, I WANTED TO ASK YOU: YOU'VE BEEN A LONG TIME NIKE ATHLETE. YOU EVEN HAVE A BUILDING AT THE CORPORATE CAMPUS IN YOUR NAME. WHAT MAKES THIS COLLABORATION WITH VIRGIL DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU'VE DONE WITH NIKE IN THE PAST?
WILLIAMS: YEAH, I'VE BEEN WORKING WITH NIKE FOR, GOSH, OVER 14 YEARS. AND IT'S JUST BEEN A BRAND THAT HAS REALLY BEEN ABLE TO SUPPORT MY CAREER AND TO BE ABLE TO BACK ME AND TO ALSO MAKE ME LOOK GOOD ON THE COURT AS WELL. SO THIS YEAR THEY HAD THIS AMAZING IDEA TO PARTNER WITH VIRGIL. AND I CAN'T EVEN SAY I CAME UP WITH IT. BUT THEY DID AT NIKE AND THEY'RE LIKE, "THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT," AND I SAID, "ALRIGHT, YOU KNOW, LET'S GO FOR IT." AND NOW -- WE KIND OF MADE MAGIC -- WELL, HE MADE MAGIC I SHOULD SAY. AND IT WORKED OUT.
ABLOH: YEAH, IT WORKED OUT GREAT.
EISEN: NOT THE FIRST TIME, VIRGIL. YOU'RE ABOUT THE BUSIEST MAN IN FASHION THESE DAYS. WHY SERENA? AND HOW DID THIS COME TOGETHER FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE?
ABLOH: WELL, FOR ME IT WAS A NO-BRAINER. YOU KNOW, MY INTEREST IN FASHION ISN'T SORT OF ABOUT CLOTHING, IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE. AND I THINK SHE'S BEYOND, YOU KNOW, AN AMAZING ATHLETE. SHE'S A MUSE OF A GENERATION. SO THE CLOTHES IN A WAY DESIGN THEMSELVES. I WAS HAPPY TO HAVE THE SUPPORT OF NIKE AND THE SUPPORT OF SERENA HERSELF TO COME UP WITH THIS CONCEPT AND DEBUT IT FOR THE U.S. OPEN.
EISEN: SERENA, I COVER ALL OF THE BRANDS, NIKE, ADIDAS, UNDER ARMOUR, PUMA. HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE BALANCE BETWEEN PERFORMANCE AND FASHION AND WHAT'S GOING TO SELL WELL WHEN IT COMES TO THE ATHLEISURE MARKET?
WILLIAMS: WELL I THINK IN ATHLEISURE IT'S IMPORTANT TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT'S WEARABLE. AND FOR CONSUMERS TO NOT ONLY BE ABLE TO WEAR WITH WHAT THEY'RE DOING WHEN THEY'RE WORKING OUT OR HANGING OUT AT THEIR OFFICE OR YOU KNOW, IN OTHER VARIOUS PLACES. I THINK IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO BE ABLE TO KIND OF HAVE THAT CROSS BRAND. I FEEL LIKE NIKE DOES AN UNBELIEVABLE JOB WITH THAT TO HAVING THEIR FABRICS BE BREATHABLE AND INCREDIBLY FUNCTIONAL AND USEFUL. AND THAT'S ONE THING I DID – WHEN I FIRST SIGNED WITH NIKE I SAID, "I JUST WANT TO LOOK GOOD," AND THEY SAID, "WE CAN DO THAT AND WE CAN MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD AND FEEL GOOD AT THE SAME TIME." AND THAT WAS SOMETHING I WASN'T USED TO. AND IT WORKED OUT GREAT. TOTALLY FUNCTIONAL.
EISEN: VIRGIL, I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR BROADER OFF-WHITE COLLABORATION WITH NIKE. AS I MENTIONED IT'S BEEN A BIG SUCCESS. WHAT'S YOUR VISION FOR THIS? HOW MUCH BIGGER DO YOU WANT TO SEE IT GET?
ABLOH: WELL, IT'S KIND OF PICKING OFF FROM WHAT SERENA SAID, IT'S LIKE WORK OUT CLOTHES, THE IDEA OF LIKE GYM SHOES, OBVIOUSLY IN OUR CULTURE HAVE EXPANDED TO LIFESTYLE. SO ME AS A DESIGNER WITH THE SUPPORT OF NIKE I JUST KIND OF WANT TO PUSH THAT NEEDLE FORWARD TO SEE THE BRAND SEAMLESSLY TRANSITION BETWEEN YOU KNOW, ON THE COURT, OFF THE COURT. AND I THINK WE ARE ALIVE AT AN AMAZING TIME WHERE THE PUBLIC IS OPEN TO THESE IDEAS. SO YOU KNOW, PUSHING FASHION OUTSIDE THE BOUNDARIES OF THE PARIS RUNWAYS OR THE NEW YORK FASHION WEEK RUNWAYS ONTO YOU KNOW, A TENNIS CENTER LIKE THIS OR YOU KNOW, AT YOUR LOCAL GROCERY STORE ALL DAY LONG, LIKE BEING COMFORTABLE WHILE SORT OF LIKE BEING IN A STYLE OF THE TIMES IS MY GOAL AS A FASHION DESIGNER.
EISEN: GOT TO ASK YOU, VIRGIL, ABOUT KANYE WEST, WHO IS ALSO DOING THIS IN THE ATHLEISURE SPACE, WITH COMPETITOR ADIDAS. I KNOW YOU GUYS GO WAY BACK AND ARE GREAT FRIENDS. WOULD YOU EVER COLLABORATE ON PERFORMANCE ATHLETIC WEAR OR FOOTWEAR EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE AT DIRECT COMPETITORS?
ABLOH: WELL, YOU KNOW, IT'S FUNNY THAT YOU MENTION THAT. YOU KNOW, I THINK COMPETITORS ARE FOR ON COURTS JUST BEHIND US. US AS DESIGNERS, WE'RE ALL DESIGNING THE WORLD AT ONE TIME. SO, YOU KNOW, I THINK IN THE DESIGN SPACE IT'S ABOUT THE BEST CREATIVITY. AND KANYE AND I ARE -- WE'VE BEEN BEST FRIENDS, WE'LL BE BEST FRIENDS UNTIL THE END OF TIME. YOU KNOW, WE'RE BOTH EXCITED TO HAVE PLATFORMS TO CREATE AND, YEAH, WE SUPPORT CREATIVES COMPETING. CREATIVES JUST CREATE.
EISEN: CREATIVE COMPETING. YOU KNOW -- SERENA, I DON'T KNOW HOW VIRGIL MANAGES IT ALL BETWEEN LOUIS VUITTON AND OFF-WHITE AND DJING AROUND THE WORLD. BUT I WANTED TO ASK YOU SPECIFICALLY, BECAUSE WE'VE ALL FOLLOWED YOUR PATH, WE FOLLOW IT ON HBO – I LIKE YOU AM A NEW MOTHER AND I FOUND IT REALLY DIFFERENT TO COME BACK TO THE SAME JOB. AND I'M JUST WONDERING HOW YOU APPROACH COLLABORATIONS LIKE THIS WITH NIKE AND ALSO YOU'RE ABOUT TO COMPETE IN THE U.S. OPEN AND HOW IT'S ALL DIFFERENT SINCE MOTHERHOOD?
WILLIAMS: IT'S ALL DIFFERENT. THE LAST TIME I WAS IN NEW YORK, I WAS -- I DIDN'T HAVE A KID AND I WAS JUST LIVING MY BEST LIFE. AND NOW I'M HERE AND I'M WITH NIKE AGAIN AND I'M WITH VIRGIL AND CREATING THIS LITERALLY AMAZING COLLABORATION AND I'M LIVING A BETTER LIFE, YOU KNOW? SO FOR ME IT'S REALLY AWESOME. AND HAVING MY DAUGHTER AROUND FOR BASICALLY EVERYTHING IS REALLY COOL. I MEAN SHE'S SUPER YOUNG RIGHT NOW, BUT IT'S STILL REALLY AWESOME TO JUST HAVE HER HERE AND CREATE NEW MEMORIES. I'VE CREATED TONS AND TONS OF MEMORIES FOR DECADES LITERALLY HERE IN NEW YORK, AND NOW I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO CREATING NEW ONES.
EISEN: YEAH, HOPEFULLY THE QUEEN TUTU COMES IN HER SIZE. SERENA WILLIAMS, VIRGIL ABLOH, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING ME.
ABLOH: YEAH, WE APPRECIATE IT.
WILLIAMS: THANK YOU.
ABLOH: THANK YOU.
EISEN: GOOD LUCK, SERENA.
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