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A perfect match

Nike

The athleisure trend is bringing the worlds of tennis and fashion ever closer, with truly eye-catching results

There has been a recent upheaval in the genteel world of tennis, which has inspired many of the top fashion designers to create bold and stylish collections that tap into the current ‘athleisure’ trend that embraces technical innovation and active lifestyles.

It should come as no surprise. From its Victorian-era roots and all-white dress code – as much a statement of upward mobility as of style – tennis has a long tradition of sartorial style. And today it is providing a rich source of influences for couture collections and collaborations between the worlds of fashion and tennis, both on and off the court.

Setting trends
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is etched into tennis folklore, since it built the first indoor tennis hall in 1913, offering year-round playing facilities for guests and attracting the best professional players. When St Moritz hosted the International Lawn Tennis Federation’s world championships in 1922, it further established the area’s reputation as a destination for those seeking elite tennis facilities.

In the same decade, tennis apparel become more relaxed in design, particularly for women, partly influenced by the 1920s Jazz Age. French tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen caused quite a stir at Wimbledon when she played with bare arms and a knee-length hemline.

Then, in the 1930s, the Frenchman René Lacoste adapted the existing long-sleeve polo shirt into a softer, more breathable short-sleeved version. In the 1950s, England’s ex-Wimbledon champ Fred Perry launched the iconic ‘Laurel Wreath’ polo shirt. Both companies are still thriving on and off the court today.

And, who could forget the epic battles between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in the 1980s? The tennis players went head-to-head for style supremacy too, via Italian sports brands Fila and Sergio Tacchini respectively.

Raising the game
Today, there is plenty of evidence that fashion designers are fighting for prominence on the tennis court. Multi-disciplinary artist and Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh joined forces with Nike last year to create the Queen Collection for women’s tennis champion Serena Williams. It included an asymmetric dress with a tutu-like skirt, bomber jacket, bag and sneakers.

“What I love about tennis is the gracefulness, it’s an aggressive and powerful game, but it takes touch and finesse,” explained Virgil when launching the clothing. “With Serena, we have one of our generation’s most powerful, inspiring athletes as the muse. I was trying to embody her spirit and bring something compelling and fresh to tennis. So the dress is feminine but combines her aggression.”

“I was trying to embody her spirit and bring something compelling and fresh to tennis. So the dress is feminine but combines her aggression.”

EA7 Emporio Armani recently announced a partnership with Italian tennis star Federico Fognini, who will wear the brand’s technical clothing on the international circuit. 

Taking a more radical approach on the court is luxury Italian label Hydrogen. Its tennis range is notable for its skull logo and bold designs, which include lighting bolts, slogans and camouflage patterns. In 2019, Hydrogen is sponsoring two high-profile players, namely the Czech Tomáš Berdych and the Spaniard Feliciano López.

And, at this year's Wimbledon, Stella McCartney in collaboration with Adidas will be dressing some of the world's best tennis players, including Caroline Wozniacki, Agelique Kerber, Garbiñe Muguruza and Stefanos Tsitsipas. They will be wearing all-white pieces from the environmentally-friendly Adidas line that incorporates innovative technology and materials, including one made from plastic bottles and discarded clothing.

Tennis wins over fashion
Not to be outdone by what is happening out on court, high-end luxury brands are also creating inspired athleisure collections influenced by the game. Burberry's  limited-edition all-white collection, inspired by a heritage that has seen it dress players and spectators since 1895, was complemented earlier this year by the release of matching neon logo-print sneakers and socks as part of its B Series, a line available to buy exclusively on social media.

Givenchy has also launched a range of tennis shoes that go back to basics with its elegant simplicity, while Gucci’s vintage-inspired pieces are influenced by the designer’s 1987 pieces made for a country club.

Other designers have been captivated by the past, reinterpreting iconic styles with their own contemporary, sometimes whimsical twist.

Parisian menswear label Casablanca’s Spring/Summer 2019 debut collection features terry-cloth tracksuits in dusty pink and button-down silk shirt and short sets. Its creative director Charaf Tajer describes his loose but structured garments in the Casablanca Tennis Club line as ‘après-sport’. His 17-piece capsule collection was recently showcased at a pop-up at the Maxfield boutique in Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue, where the car park was transformed into an immersive tennis court.

On the street
The young streetwear-savvy generation are also being drawn to the game through collaborations with hip labels, such as skate brand Supreme. It has ventured into the tennis world by working in partnership with the likes of Lacoste and Nike to produce contemporary clothing and footwear that delivers street-style credibility to fashion-conscious millennials.

And recently streetwear retailer UNKNWN partnered with the Prince tennis label to create a limited-edition clothing capsule of T-shirts, hoodies and bottoms with a signature racquet, which made its debut at the 2019 Miami Open in March.

Some designers are also creating versatile garments that are engineered to perform on the court but also be stylish enough to wear in the office or for socialising with friends and family. Ivincia London’s limited-edition range of outfits for on-and-off court feature hand-drawn floral prints, while the handcrafted pieces from New York-based F.WORDS aim to take you seamlessly from the tennis club to a nightclub.

With tennis players, fashion designers and streetwear labels taking the relationship between fashion and tennis to the next level, the sport is enjoying a very stylish moment in the spotlight, both on and off the court.

Published July 2019

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