how palace and adidas are making tennis cool again
The Palace Wimbledon collection is probably the most relevant thing to happen to on-court style since Andre Agassi.
Palace x adidas campaign, photography Alasdair McLellan
“The Most Gangster Tennis Tournament in The History of the World” is the Palace take on Wimbledon. And they’re right: while other Grand Slams all have their appeal, Wimbledon is the real dondada: there’s the sickeningly good purple/racing green colourway, the sober court backdrops, the giant Rolex clocks and the fact that it’s the only tournament in the world that can still get away with imposing an all-white clothing rule. Crisp against the green green grass, it is the perfect palette cleanser after all the loud colours and earthy clay of Roland Garros.
But great though it is, Wimbledon and its whites needed reclaiming for a new generation, and it’s fallen to Palace and their new adidas collection to do just that. Like most Great British institutions, SW19 always risks being hijacked by the sentimental Blighty Brigade. But thanks to Palace we can forget about Henman Hill, Murray Mound and petty jingoism, because their new line brings legit streetwear cool to the tournament. The campaign is shot by i-D family Alasdair McLellan and it stars the gorgeous and gifted Alexander Zverev and Garbiñe Muguruza alongside new skate royalty Blondey McCoy and Lucien Clarke (we would kill to know what chat went on between these four).
What Palace have done best of all with this collection is seemingly do very little at all. Tennis fashion is always at its worst when it tries to be too “fashion” (see Venus Williams’ lace look, Maria Sharapova’s tuxedo dress and Roger Federer’s military jacket), so thankfully Palace have gone light on the details. Of course, they had to stick with the tournament’s prescriptive white, but that’s only served to create a nice, fresh contrast to their own largely colourful collections. The fact that players can only wear white at Wimbledon always poses brands questions about how to make their kit stand out. Palace have done it with smart use of retro terry towelling, perfect logo placements (I admire the discretion on most product, as well as the sweet subordination to adidas) and neat accessories, from a cheeky umbrella (Wimbledon was once famous for its showers, but is currently enjoying a scorcher) to a bucket hat (“Doubt anyone is G enough to wear this on centre court,” they say, although we like to hope Zverev will do just that).
"There’s a perverse joy in seeing the women’s world number three and the men’s world number four kitted out in Palace garms. It’s a thrilling dot-connector between mass sports entertainment and niche streetwear that you rarely see on the international stage."
There’s a perverse joy in seeing the women’s world number three and the men’s world number four kitted out in Palace garms. It’s a thrilling dot-connector between mass sports entertainment and niche streetwear that you rarely see on the international stage. Supreme might have created NBA collections but they’re yet to kit out an actual playing team, whereas Palace are dressing the sport’s very elite for their fiercest gladiatorial battles on the world’s most prestigious stage. Seeing the Palace logo on all of the adidas-sponsored players helps create a big shift in how tennis gear is perceived. It’s a reminder that tennis doesn’t have to be boringly gentlemanly or excessively girly. In the pictures, Zverev looks perfectly at home next to the Palace boys, his signature gold chains dangling outside his T-shirt. Muguruza might have a less convincing connection to youth culture, but seeing her in a roomy, more masculine T-shirt and shorts is a nice antidote to the overly tight, tiny dresses that most women still wear on court. Not only does it make her look more like the 24-year-old she is, but it nicely recalls early noughties Anna Kournikova’s cool training kits (cycling shorts and baggy T-shirts) as well as late-career Martina Navratilova’s perfectly lesbian looks (her on-court shorts are a class example of high-butch).
Palace x adidas is a reminder that tennis gear can be relevant to the wider world of style. After all, it’s the sport responsible for Bjorn Borg looking like a stone-cold fox in Fila, Gabriela Sabatini sending every 80s Dad crazy with her sweaty, see-through Sergio Tacchini sexiness and McEnroe wearing his hair big and headband. It’s brought us Anne White in a Pony unitard, Yannick Noah in a David Bowie T-shirt and the Williams sisters’ beaded hair. It’s brought innovations like the Lacoste polo shirt, the Stan Smith shoe and even the Ivan Lendl neck-protecting hat.
Arguably though, tennis’s most seismic shift of a style period came with the legendary Nike-Andre Agassi partnership, which transformed tennis fashion with its loud neons, blown-up prints and high-top trainers, and whose early 90s adverts tried to rework tennis’s stuffy reputation with provocative statements like “For Years We’ve Been Waking Up The Country Club. Now We’re Ready To Rule It” and calling tennis “A Ruthless, Savage, Twisted, Ball-Crushing, Liver-Stomping Game. Played In Very Nice Shoes.” This Palace collection -- not just the clothes, but the spirit of it -- is probably the most relevant thing to happen to on-court style since.
With Nike resting on its laurels with big name in-house brands like Roger Federer’s RF and Rafael Nadal’s bull horns (they’ll be forced to rethink things now that Federer has defected to Uniqlo and Nadal is in his twilight years), it’s adidas who are pushing the envelope. Through their Pharrell collection for the US Open and Palace for Wimbledon they are creating a new link between tennis and a sense of underground cool that it so urgently needs. Seeing Palace on primetime TV gives you a weird kinky kick, because while Sue Barker, Chris Evert and even badman Boris Becker might not have clocked it, those in the know have spotted streetwear’s upstart logo on England’s most hallowed turf.