July 27, 2012 9:09 pm

Game changers

While designers have long created separate sportswear lines, few have come up with pieces that truly mix work and play
From left, outfits by Victoria Beckham; Y-3; Rag & Bone; Alexander Wang; Versus©Catwalking

From left, outfits by Victoria Beckham; Y-3; Rag & Bone; Alexander Wang; Versus

Sport is on everyone’s minds right now but the fashion industry has been ahead of the game when it comes to embracing fitness fever and turning it into trends.

Since late 2010, the runways have been packed with sporting inspiration, with the “sports luxe” aesthetic gradually evolving into two distinct camps. In one corner, a youth-fuelled New York-based design elite led by Alexander Wang, Rag & Bone and Y-3 has pioneered an urban uniform of slouchy streetwear – think low-slung silk or jersey track pants teamed with sheer fabric hoodies, visors, high tops and motocross leathers.

Recently, however, a sleeker, more streamlined and feminine silhouette has taken shape in the spring/summer 2012 catwalk collections of Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane for Versus and Lacoste: minimalist-leaning Lycra or body-con dresses that came out on the catwalk dripping with racing stripes, racer backs, straps, pleats, zippers and buckles.

So what lies behind fashion’s renewed appreciation of sports chic?

Olivier Theyskens, artistic director of US label Theory, says: “The details and characteristics of sports garments are often aesthetically interesting to designers. They are numerous, cleverly thought out and allow us to improve and adjust the style of any particular look.” Theory has unveiled a range of modish yet functional sporty basics such as leggings, tube tops and anorak zip-ups, all created to complement “high-fashion” pieces.

“We admire athletes,” says Theyskens – “they are almost like gods. They become synonymous with accomplishments and well-being in our memory; and sometimes, their outfits do too. People today are increasingly focused on the benefits of sports, as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, so the sportswear trend is in tune with the way people’s attitudes are evolving.”

Christophe Chenut, chief executive of Lacoste, agrees. The French brand has a strong sportswear heritage, its clothes having originally been designed by René Lacoste, the 1920s tennis player behind the invention of the now ubiquitous polo shirt. Today, with two womenswear shows a year in New York plus numerous sportswear lines, Lacoste defines itself as the ultimate “lifestyle brand”, with clothes that can be worn during leisure time, at work, or when going out.

Chenut says: “Life is less formal than a decade ago – and, in part, that’s to do with the impact of sportswear on fashion. People don’t think twice about wearing sneakers with a suit today, hence the popularity of collections that are primarily designed around the premise of relaxed elegance.”

Yet despite their dynamic DNA, how many of these catwalk collections can actually be put to practical purpose? While luxury labels have long created separate ski or sportswear lines, few have come up with truly transitional pieces that don’t require a pit stop in the locker room en route from a sporting to a social event.

Tennis range by L’Etoile Sport

Tennis range by L’Etoile Sport

Yesim Philip and Hannah Griswold, two avid tennis players and busy stay-at-home mothers, think their new line, L’Etoile Sport, will fill that gap in the market for athletic wear that successfully straddles fashion-infused fantasy with functionality.

“We wanted stylish clothes in which we could work and play all day, taking us from the court to lunch to picking up our children, but we couldn’t find anything suitable,” says Griswold, a former ballerina.

Philip, who used to play professional basketball in Turkey, says: “Skirts were far too short, the cuts unforgiving and the styles uninspired. Then we realised that our Azzedine Alaïa numbers could also make the perfect tennis dresses.”

The Hamptons-based duo set about creating 12 elegant multipurpose dresses and separates in breathable piqué and jersey knits, echoing the original fabrics and designs worn by early female tennis players, such as Suzanne Lenglen, almost 100 years ago. The pieces, which range in price between $200 and $400, can be bought online and the pair plan to add a range of golf clothes in 2013.

“There really should be no need to compromise between workout and fashion wear any more, particularly given the current prevalence of the athletics trend,” says Philip. “There’s a huge opportunity out there both for established brands and first-time designers.”

Let the games begin.

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