With the first balmy winds of the new season (and their promise of Easter holiday, bare legs, and other exposure), gyms everywhere see their membership lists expand. In the past, the pursuit of fitness often meant that fashion had to be sacrificed but these days women can dream of achieving a Gisele-like body in clothes they can actually wear beyond the weight room. Athletic brands are realising the potential benefits of making sports wear that is stylish as well as functional.
They are even tapping into catwalk trends. Stella McCartney’s new Swim, Run and Weekend collections for Adidas, along with a clutch of independent labels, such as Sweaty Betty, Casall, Play by Sarah Reilly and So Low, all refer back to this season’s shows, picking up on key looks such as wide stripes and boldly clashing blocks of colour (see ‘Rainbow warriors’).
This time last year ready-to-wear designers such as Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs were unveiling their take on sports, and now sports wear makers have reciprocated.
“It’s only natural that things have come full circle once more,” says Tamara Hill-Norton, founder of London-based contemporary sports wear label Sweaty Betty. Her spring line includes fashion-forward pieces inspired by the 1930s, including palazzo pants – a major shape this season, seen at Marc Jacobs and Derek Lam among other designers – and soft muted tones.
This season’s collection at Los Angeles-based brand So Low is decidedly directional. It features Breton-style yoga tops and flared leggings topped with fold-over waistbands with laser prints, such as an ornate pattern that reflects tattoo imagery at Christopher Kane and Marios Schwab.
Another collection to acknowledge that practical clothing can also look cool is the new Adidas Weekend collection. Designed as part of an ongoing collaboration with Stella McCartney, it is aimed at city dwellers with a penchant for country walking and music festivals. Waterproof capes, sleeping bags and sturdy rubber boots feature heavily.
“Active wear is a design frontier that, in the grand scheme of things, has just started to be explored,” says New York-based sports wear designer and former yoga teacher Sarah Reilly. Trend-driven sports wear is also what distinguishes her line, called Play by Sarah Reilly, and, this spring, the label keeps slim-fit tank tops with corsetry lacing on the backs as minimal as possible in contrasting tones of black and white. Reilly is also committed to environmentally conscious fabrics such as organic cotton, Lycra and a sustainable Italian bamboo jersey, which is designed to wick away moisture and let skin breathe.
And thanks to its popularity with A-list fitness fanatics, most notably Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, the yoga studio has become particularly style conscious and yoga labels are responding by producing covetable pieces that are stylish enough to flaunt after class.
“A lot of my students want to feel elevated by what they wear,” says Jennifer Schelter, founder of Yoga Schelter, a Philadelphia-based studio. “I’ve told them, ‘Don’t schlep to yoga; get ready for the occasion.’ And they always look pretty sharp.”
Schelter is her own best example. “I teach five days a week and my yoga wardrobe has definitely changed over the years,” she says. “For example, I have a merlot red-coloured top by the yoga and sports wear label Lululemon with an intricate cut neckline. When I wear it, people exclaim, “What’s that? A formal wear top? My God, you should wear that out to dinner.’”