I’m thinking of Beyoncé’s song COZY as I ponder one of fashion’s most enduring trends — athleisure. How could I not? The pop superstar’s Ivy Park adidas collaboration is perhaps one of the most successful lines in a category buoyed by its comfort factor, catapulted into a fashion mainstay due to a pandemic that forced us to shelter in place and gravitate towards clothing that is suited to that.
Defined as a blend of athletic and loungewear, growth in the athleisure market is expected to reach over $80bn dollars by 2024, if projections by market researchers Technavio are anything to go by. adidas, American Eagle and Columbia Sportswear are expected to emerge as the major players.
As the category continues to grow from strength to strength — no doubt due to its hybrid nature, begetting convenience — high fashion brands have been taking note. They want in on the action!
Enter sport couture or athluxury, as some have called it. The sporty aesthetic is fast transforming into runway-ready fashion, taking trackpants, dresses and even knitwear in a new “sporty-chic” direction. Some items and brands to add to your asernal? Think Victoria Beckham, Simone Rocha, Tory Burch, Proenza Schouler, Saint Laurent, Off-White ... any luxury brand, really. They are all in on it with some, like Victoria Beckham, having already had acclaimed collaborations with the likes of Reebok before incorporating the aesthetic into their main lines.
Earlier this year, adidas and Gucci merged codes, delivering a collection that includes the former’s gazelle shoes reworked through Gucci creative director Alessandro Michelle’s vision with versions that include velvet, snake print and GG monogram variations. The range also features jacquard tops, cotton polos, tennis skirts and the like.
A little over two years ago, Dior mashed up its expert tailoring with Jordan’s sportswear feel, the core line including a suit with Air Dior logo buttons, silk shorts in a graphic motif, bomber jackets and suede hoodies. Dior x Air Jordan 1 was only produced in small quantities, but it certainly provided a sneak peak into an immediate future where luxury and sportswear would become more aligned than ever before.
But way before the luxury brands stepped into the athleisure ring, and before Covid-19 consolidated its staying power, the global fashion industry had been making strides towards this over decades of democratising style and design. As far back as 1926, Vogue was reporting on sporty undertones in Parisian fashion with the likes of designer Jean Patou (known for lengthening the flapper look and credited for creating the tennis skirt and inventing knitted swimwear).
There’s also, of course, the famous green alligator logo-bearing Lacoste, founded in 1933 by tennis player René Lacoste and André Gillier, the president of a knitwear manufacturer. They began producing the tennis shirt and the brand has remained popular to this day.
it is worth noting that athleisure, as we now call it, had already been commonplace in hip-hop decades prior
However, as history has it, the functionality and utilitarian fabrication that has come to define fashion at large is something that became a norm as American designers emerged from the shadow of their French counterparts mid-century and by the end of last century, most of what we wore could be considered sportswear. But let’s not forget the influence of Black music on fashion. Think brands like FUBU, popularised by hip-hop artists, and how Nike, adidas and sneaker culture were basically the hip-hop style uniform, leaving a lasting influence on streetwear that has continued to reverberate as the culture has evolved from the fringes to popular culture dominance.
So, when the likes of Beyoncé become “cozy”, coining it with adidas collaborations, it is worth noting that athleisure, as we now call it, had already been commonplace in hip-hop decades prior with B-boys and B-girls sporting adidas tracksuits, Kangol bucket hats and the like, layering those looks with jewellery, basically upgrading a streetwear-level aesthetic that took its cues from sportswear to the heights of fashion. You can’t tell me there isn’t any part of that influencing “sport couture”, the new luxury fashion battlefield as the line between everyday fashion and sportswear continues to blur.