• James Chin

Simply Ace

Tennis style epitomises what is chic in sportswear right now. We examine how the fusion of fashion and sport is growing by the day and how streetwear labels and designers alike have turned their attention to on and off court chic.


This article appeared in the Edge publication April 2019

These are interesting times, especially for fashion. The athletic sportswear look is omnipresent, its universal popularity effectively making it the uniform of the streets, especially on days off and the weekends. Every other person is practically in colourful sporty attire and trainers, doing their errands, buying groceries, shopping, or sipping coffee, usually in the company of equally fabulously-fit-looking friends! It is enough to make me feel slightly guilty after a sneaky roti canai treat.


It‘s now not only acceptable but actually fashionable to wear sports attire outside of the gym, yoga shala or tennis court. Closely linked to the athleisure trend (the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines athleisure as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use.”), looking sharp in your Lycra lululemon yoga leggings or a bright Nike sports top while running about in your Adidas ultraboost trainers throughout the day has never been more popular. Many travellers and tourists have also embraced the sportswear look, rocking trackpants, sweatshirts, hoodies and colourful sneakers in planes.


SPORTSWEAR THE UNIFORM OF THE STREETS

Everyone is sporting (pun fully intended) this active look, from teenagers in hoodies, trackpants, and bold pricey sneakers, and millennials in yoga attire and high performance trainers, to stylish seniors in hoodies, track pants and bold pricey sneakers (wait, did I just repeat myself?)


How did all this come about? It has been said that fashion reflects society’s values of the day. To me, it certainly appears to reflect the overall “casual” sentiment, with people doing away with rigid dress codes, preferring a certain casualness rather than formality, living a fit and healthy lifestyle (or at least having the appearance of one on social media), and prioritising comfort in their fashion choices. It has never been cooler to be seen looking like you have been working out (keyword here is “looking”) People are also choosing functional yet versatile clothing to move seamlessly between the many roles they play in their busy and active lifestyles. It is no wonder the athleisure trend is still very popular today and shows little signs of slowing down.


TENNIS, ANYONE?

It also goes without saying that tennis sportswear or tennis-inspired sportswear is the look of the moment. In the past few years, there appears to have been a renewed interest in the sport of tennis globally. Perhaps it is due to what people call the ‘Golden Age of Tennis”, where the dominance of four male players - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray - have captivated audiences with their incredible skills and winning the lion’s share of Grand Slam trophies (this dynamic quartet have captured 51 of the last 56 titles).


Federer’s longevity (he is 37 years old) and level of play is still marvelled by many. He recently won his 100th ATP tennis title, becoming only the second man in tennis history to win 100 or more titles. Jimmy Connors amassed 109 titles. Many are also impressed with Serena Williams, also 37, who has 23 grand slam titles to her name. She is still playing high level tennis although she became a mother just over a year ago.


There is also a new crop of players – next-generation young guns who are making major strides towards ending the dominance of the Big Four (Now Big Three as Murray is recovering from a major hip surgery and may/may not come back to professional tennis). There is always some excitement and apprehension on possible changing of the guard. Social media, particularly Instagram has also contributed to the growing popularity of tennis, with many players having their own accounts, posting interesting pictures and engaging with their fans worldwide. Williams has 10.8 million followers, Nadal has 6.5 million and glamour girl tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has 1.9 million. Stephanos Tsitsipas, the 20 year-old up-and-coming Greek player, has an interesting vlog on Youtube chronicling his life on and off the courts. He has over 142,000 subscribers. He is still young, give him time.


THE EVOLUTION OF TENNIS WEAR

Tennis wear started off as very traditional - all white pants, long sleeved shirts and dresses – in Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world. Things have changed largely thanks to Rene Lacoste and his innovative tennis shirt that he debuted in the 1920s.


Back then, the top French tennis player founded fashion brand Lacoste (with the famous crocodile logo), creating a white, short sleeved shirt as a more functional alternative to the long-sleeved button-up shirts (worn with the sleeves rolled up). Lacoste also introduced the pique cotton fabric to his tennis shirts to enhance breathability. The fabric is still popular today with many polo shirt makers. British designer Louise Trotter (formerly of Joseph brand), who recently became Lacoste’s first female Creative Director, came out with her debut collection at Paris Fashion Week in early March. It was a relaxed collection, with oversized tennis sweaters, slouchy trousers, tennis shoes, baseball caps, and oversized coats and trenches – clearly displaying Lacoste’s tennis heritage and elegant style, with a focus on comfort and wearability.



Fila, the Italian clothing brand made famous by tennis legend Bjorn Borg in the mid 1970s, started the popular pinstripe polo shirt look in 1976. Today, the brand is undergoing a resurgence through the efforts of its South Korean owners. In honour of the late P.L. Rolando, its creative director in 1971, Fila is releasing four capsule collections throughout the tennis season this year, featuring very cool and retrospective tennis fashion with bold linear designs in vibrant red, white and navy blue.




Nike and its association with tennis came about in the late 1970s and it gravitated towards the Rebel spirit with John McEnroe, famous for his fiery temper and outbursts like "You cannot be serious!" to the umpires. Nike also courted another American Andre Agassi. With his explosive tennis strokes and the "image is everything" tagline in the early 1990s, Agassi also created waves wearing denim shorts at his tennis matches. He even once wore neon-pink Lycra under his regular tennis shorts.

REMEMBER, SPORTSWEAR IS BIG BUSINESS

According to reports by Brand Finance, an independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy, the most valuable apparel brand in the world in 2018 was sports titan Nike, with a brand value of US$28 billion. Second place went to H&M (US$19 billion), followed by Zara (US$17 billion) and Adidas (US$14 billion).


Sneakers, according to a recent Bain Luxury study, was one of the fastest growing categories. The Study also highlighted the influence of younger consumers. Generations Y and Z accounted for 47% of luxury consumers in 2018 and for 33% of luxury purchases. It is no surprise that businesses are clamouring to meet the demands of these younger consumers, adapting to their diverse preferences in terms of product offerings, communication, engagement strategies and distribution channel (read: mobile and online). Designer du jour Virgil Abloh said “It’s the vibe of the times.” And that pretty much sums up today’s sentiment for me.


Sportswear style and active wear continues its popularity in the market today. And as long as there is strong demand, fashion labels will ensure there is adequate supply. The preference of casual dressing is the popular theme these days and being comfortable has become the priority. Being fit or looking fit is a key lifestyle trend. Streetwear labels, celebrities, and designers will continue to think of new and innovative ways to collaborate with sportswear brands to better engage and connect with their fans and followers worldwide.

Tennis chic is having its fashion moment in the sun. And the style police’s verdict? Smashing!


High-profile collaborations are hot right now

Rich in nostalgia and retro appeal, tennis sports brands are collaborating with streetwear labels and designers to put out highly desirable apparel, sneakers, and accessories, often creating an exciting buzz or hype that is Instagrammed the world over.


Palace x Adidas

Palace, the UK-skateboard brand that has become one of the world’s most hyped and popular streetwear labels, raised quite a few eyebrows when they introduced a special collaboration with Adidas for tennis apparel that was worn at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships.



Wimbledon is famous for its traditions and strict predominantly all-white dress code for players. To mix a label heavily influenced by skateboard and popular culture with the most traditional Grand Slam tennis tournament in the world marked a great crossover moment – Palace was representing tennis style to its skating fan base and on the flipside, streetwear vibe was being introduced to Wimbledon tennis fans. And to top off all those servings of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, top German player Angelique Kerber won the ladies’ trophy that year wearing Palace x Adidas.

Uniqlo and Federer

Another interesting partnership also surfaced at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships. Federer surprised everyone by walking onto Centre Court for his first match wearing Uniqlo sports attire (he had been with Nike for over 20 years). In an official statement on the partnership, Uniqlo stated that it was not a sports company and that it is a “life company that creates LifeWear, thoughtful everyday apparel…”. Reportedly paying Federer US$300 million over 10 years, it is clear Uniqlo is seeking greater international appeal and sees Federer as its fashion ambassador even after he retires from the sport which could happen within the next few years.



Nike x Riccardo Tisci, Virgil Abloh

Nike, one of the leading brands for tennis apparel and footwear, have had its Swoosh worn by the game’s biggest past and current players such as John McEnroe, Agassi, Pete Sampras, Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. In 2017, the Riccardo Tisci x Nike Collab came up with a Swarovski-studded little black tennis dress for Sharapova for the US Open championships, evoking Audrey Hepburn’s classic Givenchy dress. Tisci is a designer with Givenchy.


In 2018, Nike collaborated with hot designer of the moment, Virgil Abloh (Off-White and LVMH) to design tennis dresses for Williams in the “Queen” collection. Abloh used his magic touch to design two tennis dresses (for day and night games) for Williams to wear it at the US Open championships. His signature use of quotations could be seen on William’s dresses and shoes, and the collection generated some newsworthy buzz on the merging of tennis and pop culture.


Stella McCartney x Adidas

Adidas has been an early player in the designer/celebrity collab game, working together with designer Stella McCartney since 2005 to create stylish, high performance sportswear for Adidas tennis stars such as Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza. McCartney, known for her commitment to sustainability, uses sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled yarn and innovations like the Adidas DryDye technology which uses no water at all to dye clothing.




Continuing to lead the way in sustainability, Adidas has teamed up with Parley (an environmental organization) to use the power of sports to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Adidas x Parley recycles plastic waste from the ocean to make an innovative thread used for tennis shoes and apparel that was showcased at this year’s Australian Open in January.



Pharrell Williams x Adidas

Singer, songwriter, and multiple Grammy award winner Pharrell Williams and Adidas introduced retro-inspired tennis outfits for the 2017 US Open, referencing the colourful styles of the 1970s. Young tennis stars Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem could be seen sporting combinations of the vibrant colours of blue, red, yellow with tennis whites.


Other notable collaborations

Supreme x Lacoste. Skatewear titan Supreme worked with Lacoste to create an entire line of apparel that included jackets, track pants, polos, sweatshirts, hats and bags.



Lacoste x Yazbukey. Paris-based accessories designer Yazbukey, famous for her whimsical designs and bold pop references collaborated with Lacoste to come up with a playful tenniswear collection featuring emoticon tennis balls alongside the famous Lacoste crocodile logo.



Wilson Tennis x A Bathing Ape (BAPE). Popular Japanese clothing brand BAPE worked with Wilson tennis to come up with a camo racquet and a custom co-branded tennis ball.



Z Zenga x Alexander Zverev, Z Zegna, the chic and avant-garde line within Italian luxury fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna, has chosen World No.3 Alexander Zverev, a 21-year old German, to be its first brand ambassador.




Emporio Armani x Fabio Fognini. Italian player Fabio Fognini has partnered with Emporio Armani to be its global ambassador for its sportsliine, EA7.



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