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On my early morning jog around Hampstead Heath I get the strangest sensation; nudity. Raised eyebrows from fellow runners would seem to confirm my suspicions but, as I glance down, I’m reassured to find I am (phew) covered. In fact, I’m actually wearing something a superhero might wear.
To be specific, I am wearing a state-of-the-art sports garment by a new brand named Fervour. Besides its streamlined, body-conscious construction, the vest also involves a complex digital printing technique known as “sublimation”, whereby the dyes are first printed on coated heat-resistant transfer paper as a reverse image of the final design, which is in turn transferred on to the fabric in a heat press. Got that? There’s more: under high temperature and pressure, the dye turns into a gas which permeates the fabric and then solidifies in its fibres. The fabric in this case is a featherweight 110-grammes-per-square metre polyester with the texture and sheen of gossamer that took Fervour’s creative director, 48-year-old Teresa de Silva, three years to find.
Having worked in fashion for 20 years, Central St Martins graduate and textile designer de Silva was struck by a lack of choice in running gear when she caught the marathon bug in 2005. Given the number of globetrotting, high-earning professionals who dress head-to-toe in luxury labels when not wearing bespoke Nike trainers, she sensed someone was missing a trick. De Silva used her marathon-running friends and her husband, who also works in fashion, as guinea pigs for prototype garments before finally launching Fervour in May 2013.
Because most runners tend to wear black tights – running-speak for leggings – or shorts, de Silva focused on the top. Sleek but not too tight and with space for air to circulate, it features sci-fi-esque, linear designs developed to enhance the look of the body in motion; the runner’s equivalent of a drawn-on six pack. It comes in just four styles: two for men and two for women, in short or long sleeves.
As I am a fair-weather runner who is currently in training not for a marathon but a Missoni bikini, I asked someone with more than 50 years of experience – who made it as far as the Olympic trials in her youth – for her opinion.
My mum (yes, really) ran her last competitive race aged 68 and still thinks nothing of splashing out on trainers costing £200. When I show her my short-sleeved top (style name: “Honor” – all Fervour tops are named after virtues; the others are Ernest, Grace and Frank) with its orange and magenta curves, she starts to examine it for “wicking” properties. She nods sagely. She is impressed by the fabric, along with features such as curved, non-chafing seams and mesh underarm ventilation to avoid sweat patches.
I thought the £60 price tag might make her wince but it doesn’t. Most runners, she reminds me, spend twice as much on trainers, which only have a six-month lifespan. Meanwhile, Fervour’s print process means it doesn’t fade in the wash, and is available in many subtle colour combinations, from smoky grey and yellow to petrol blue and graphite, all on a black base.
As I race towards Camden Town, I pass trendy cyclists – and pedestrians – wearing Rapha, the small, high-end cycling brand designed for serious athletes and now adopted by most of north London (even those who don’t own a bike). I don’t know whether I actually run faster in the Fervour top, but wearing it makes me feel I am.
“You look like you escaped from a Harry Potter movie,” laughed my running partner when I showed up at our meeting spot in a new white top and black shorts from the British brand Iffley Road, instead of my usual bright pink top and matching – or clashing – leggings.
Named after the Oxfordshire track where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile 1954, and co-founded by Claire Kent, a life-long runner who worked for 22 years as a luxury goods and retail analyst, the brand promises “beautiful, functional yet pared-down gear that complements the timeless values of running”. My mission? To test that claim.
The white track top (£70) features a zip-up collar and modest short sleeves; the black shorts (£60) have an elegant flat front, unlike the bunched-up elastic waistband typical of athletic shorts. Both include discreet and useful pockets for stashing keys, cash or a credit card. But together they look – to my American eye – like nothing so much as a British boarding-school athletic uniform. When I posted a picture of myself wearing the outfit on Instagram, I got 16 likes; a couple of friends said I looked ready for the tennis court.
So much for the image. When I actually wore the Iffley Road gear – on short three-mile loops and longer 10-mile stretches – I decided the shorts were great: the fabric, from an Italian mill, wicked away sweat and kept me cool, and there was no chafing, even on the longer runs. They provided a bit more coverage than the shorts currently in my running drawer, and the flat front was definitely more sophisticated. I wore the shorts as I did errands before a run one Saturday morning, and didn’t feel quite as embarrassingly dressed down as usual.
I didn’t like the top, though. The material was great, but the collar and sleeves felt constricting. As it happens, Iffley Road also sells a more traditional running T-shirt for £65, which I imagine will be more popular.
What took me most by surprise, however, was how much I enjoyed substituting my vibrant, splashy colours for the subdued black and white tones. Apart from the above-mentioned pink, I usually wear a favourite turquoise long-sleeve running shirt with a pink heart on the sleeve.
Before stepping out in Iffley Road, I had long subscribed to the theory that, as I roll out of bed for my morning run, the bright bursts of colour work like caffeine on my bleary eyes. Or, at least, I have said something along these lines when asked to explain my “lucky” tie-dye-patterned neon socks.
I don’t listen, however, to music. Against the steady beat of feet on the ground, I usually let my mind drift: write stories in my head, replay conversations, dream up business ideas, plot my next holiday. And gradually, as those thoughts subside, running becomes a form of meditation.
And what I discovered in my white top and black shorts is that Iffley Road, with its philosophy of drawing “the focus back to real running and the pursuit of personal growth” via basic, no-frills gear and calm, quiet hues, actually works to the same end. It may not be Hogwartian magic, but it does have its own charm.