As the impressive and unprecedentedly successful 2012 Olympics ties its last ribbon, a battle for gold took place behind the scenes. Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani showcased their creations on a new type of catwalk. Just like the best professionals in sport, fashion too is always preparing ahead of time with a goal in mind, but never before has sportswear been dissolved and revived in such a fusion of performance and style.
Traditionally, and somewhat understandably, sportswear is associated with leisure and a casual approach to dressing. However, this Olympics and last summer’s SS12 catwalks have made a conscious effort to reverse this preconceived and archaic assumption. In fact, Dirk Bikkemberg even presented his couture collection based wholly on sport outfits whilst other designers, such as Christopher Shannon and Calvin Klein, interlaced their collections with their own interpretations of luxury sportswear.
The element of luxury lay in the fabric and the cut, with garish neons being replaced with well placed zips and asymmetrical lines. Though there is no doubt the Olympic year has played a role in the resurgence of sportswear, the intensity by which established and young designers have tried to redefine its character means this trend may be only just getting into gear:
In a jubilee year, it was no surprise to see a regal theme mixed with flashes of gold, weaved into Great Britain’s opening ceremony outfits. Stella McCartney said: “The first place to start on a project like this is to look at the Union flag. For me it’s one of the most beautiful flags in the world and it was important for me to stay true to that iconic design but also to modernise it and present it in a contemporary way.”
Notably, it was the Italians and Dutch who were equally impressive in their stylish representations of their countries character. Armani chose to have his outfits permeate a fairly subdued formal aesthetic, with emphasis on hidden detail – for example, words from the national anthem were printed into the lining of the jackets.
As striking as the orange trousers were from the Dutch Olympic team, it was the cobalt trench coats layered over the simple navy blazer that completed a look which was instantly recognisable and beautiful in its vibrancy:
To fully appreciate this trend, it is necessary to appreciate the advances that have been made in attire for athletes and professional sportsmen/women alike. For example, until the turn of this century, rugby and golf players were wearing tops deliberately too big for them, as it was believed that this enabled the player more freedom of movement.
Sportswear needs to assist, and certainly not inhibit, the sportsman or woman engaging in physical activity of any sort. However, with a winning mentality comes a desire and a demand for the use of fabrics best suited to gaining a legal advantage over the competition. Fashion is equally as ambitious, as ground-breaking changes to colour palette, embellishments and production revealed some original work that looked more like modern art than clothes for you and I.
A focus on sport in fashion has slowly become more and more prevalent, as it was noted there was a gap in the market for keeping a man looking and feeling his best as he indulges in the most masculine of pastimes. The introduction of aftershave and Eau de Toilette tailored specifically to release a fresher and more invigorating scent after exercise was the start of the sporting impact on fashion.
This article however will focus on ideas for outfits that communicate a new luxury sporting edge. In these three looks, I will try to vary the intensity of the sporting vibe so as to illustrate just how easily, but more importantly, how stylishly a trend with all its casual connotations can work almost anywhere.
Before we start, take a look at how the high street and designer brands are interpreting the sports luxe trend within some of their recent collections and promotional lookbooks:
However, perhaps the best lookbook I have come across that embodies this new approach to luxury sportswear is from high street retailer Reiss, who’s recent feature on the trend hits the nail on the head. This is exactly how the look should be – effortless, stylish and comfortable:
Riviera and luxury go hand in hand, just as Henleys have been associated with sport ever since Chariots of Fire. In light cotton rather than a heavier waffle knit, a Henley will enable you to stride purposefully from the bar to the track with your mind fully on the competition.
A granddad collar shirt is a smarter alternative to the Henley, which would look great layered under a fine cotton knit that facilitates movement and breathability – necessary for it to be as much a practical outfit as a stylish one. In fact, a cricket jumper would look great thrown over the shoulders, with said piece being a consciously quiet and sophisticated nod towards sporting luxury.
White chinos always seem to have an air of vitality, so wearing them with a rolled up ankle will give the impression of confidence and panache. An all white outfit takes out the all important luxury element of this trend, so you are better served pairing off-whites, ecru’s and creams together to bring the look up a notch.
You can keep this colour palette going for a particularly suave and European outfit, or your choice of footwear could un-expectantly bring a flash of fizzy sorbets and neon’s to the look:
It is important to take inspiration from people, places and things that you admire, and to combine and compliment them with experiences and tastes that you are fond of. This is the foundation for personal style.
For me, Michael Bastian is a designer who has turned preppy dress on its head in a fresh and innovative way, as seen in his recent catwalk inspired by James Dean. It is from one of his collections (featured in the catwalk images above) that we see a striking synthesis of sporty stripes and youthful tailoring, which displays the best aspects of this trend perfectly.
An unstructured blazer in a light colour (and lightweight material) provides an underlying sports influence, reminiscent of upper class events such as Wimbledon and the Henley Regatta. A simple marl tee has long been a staple piece within men’s sporting attire, and layering it underneath your blazer provides the perfect balance of smart and casual. For those who prefer a collar, you could easily switch a t-shirt out for a cotton polo.
On the bottom, a luxury pair of traditional sweatpants provides a relaxed and comfortable silhouette – but just make sure you stick to slimmer fits, in timeless colours such as black or navy, in order to help smarten up their appearance. New designer sweats in luxury material combinations will also help move the look away from sloppy and lazy.
With such a solid base to work from, this look allows for a bit more creativity and sprezzatura in other areas of your ensemble. While a handkerchief in the breast pocket would be far too formal, a Union Jack or patterned version tied around your wrist like a sweatband will certainly elicit a nonchalant attitude, whilst also subtly reinforcing the roots of the trend.
As for footwear, a classic pair of hi-tops or grown up trainers will balance the look, so as to retain a sophisticated feel:
This last look will split opinions the most, as those who wear this amount of sweats and jerseys outside the gym or their own lounge will either be heralded for their brave take on this sporting trend, or condemned for its ugly connotations and sloppy appearance. However, most of the time, others opinions are by the by, as style is just as personal as music and art, and we can tell if you’re not confident in your clothes.
There are just a few rules to make this look work in uncharted territories – the first of which is confidence. Secondly, horizontal stripes are more acclimatised to Cannes than the court, so unless they’re minimal and on the sleeves, vertical stripes are a safer bet. On the body of a shirt or jacket, opt for stripes that are bold and imposing, showing them off with pride as if they were your teams stripes.
Shorts are normally appropriate for the gym, so why should it be any different with this luxury sports look? Perhaps it is too brave, to the point of foolhardy, to wear matching shades on the bottom and top of your sweats. Shorts in a vogue-led Aztec pattern, or with stars to match the stripes above, is an easy way to draw the attention away from the sartorially unacceptable tracksuit look.
Remember that this trend is supposed to be a luxury take on traditional sportswear – not just an excuse to stock up on sweatpants, comfortable shorts and the like. Opt for pieces which have a history or connotations within the world of sports, but make sure they are versatile enough to be integrated into your current wardrobe. You should be able to dress these pieces up just as easily as you can dress them down:
Sports luxe is a more athletic, vivacious and frankly more manly step beyond casual cool. Yet it is also a trend that gravitates towards the younger man, so it will be interesting to see your response to a trend that is just getting out of the blocks.
Let us know your thoughts on the sports luxe trend in the comments section below…