just do it! how sportswear innovation has created fashion staples

Off the back of the Nike Women's Summit in New York City, Lou Stoppard explores fashion’s fascination with sportswear

by Adam Fletcher and Lou Stoppard
|
29 October 2014, 6:20pm

Harry Carr

There's a romance to running. It's so much more than sweaty City boys jogging home with ugly commuter backpacks and draconian cross country competitions at school. Remember Jenny crying 'Run, Forrest, Run,' to spur on a bullied Forrest Gump? Remember Paula Radcliffe relieving herself in the street just to keep her pace? Remember Mo Farah!? Hey, remember every time you've run so fast, either from some ill advised circumstance or, even better, towards some ill advised circumstance - be it a cute boy or a last train home - that you could feel your heart in your chest and your legs were like flailing bits of jelly? Moving fast feels good. It makes you feel alive.

Who could forget Karl Lagerfeld's bejeweled Chanel couture trainers, the catalyst for more discussion surrounding the modernity and relevance of couture than any recent new designer appointments or technical innovations?

 

It's understandable then that the fashion world has fallen in love with running. There's Cara and Binx leaping high mid-sprint in the Chanel autumn/winter 14 campaign. There's Raf Simons showing beaded couture footwear that resembles ultra-soft free-run shoes. Who could forget Karl Lagerfeld's bejeweled Chanel couture trainers, the catalyst for more discussion surrounding the modernity and relevance of couture than any recent new designer appointments or technical innovations? And then there's Alexander Wang whose spring/summer 15 collection featured clothing inspired by the finishes and fabrications of key trainers - so bodycon knitted dresses riffed on Nike's famous Flyknit, while a cute leather white dress with a preppy green collar referenced adidas' Stan Smiths, the current top shoe choice of the fashion pack if the reams of street style images of moneyed, honeyed editors wearing them with cocktail frocks or slouchy suits are anything to go by. Off the catwalks Phoebe Philo's made a big splash for wearing Air Max with her Celine trews, but in reality pretty much every designer worth his or her salt wears trainers on day to day basis, whether battered converse (J.W Anderson) or the aforementioned Stan Smiths (Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons, Marques Almedia, everyone).

Ironically, despite the fashion industry's boasts about innovation it's the sports brands that are leading the way, while fashion doyens simply follow their lead.

 

It's Wang we should look at when assessing fashion's relationship with sport. His spring/summer 15 appropriation of Nike and adidas design says a lot about the way designers approach the vogue for all things athletic. Ironically, despite the fashion industry's boasts about innovation it's the sports brands that are leading the way, while fashion doyens simply follow their lead. Designers are not only cashing in on the popularity of sportswear (sweatshirts, baggy shorts, trainers) and trying to pull punters out of Nike Town and into their stores, they're also directly aping sport designs, selling people £50 trainers for £500 because sadly enough they'll always be someone willing to spend more to feel cool. Evidence - Isabel Marant's ode to the Stan Smith, identical bar some overt branding on the back, or Givenchy and Celine's now ubiquitous Vans.

But then when you look at the reach and popularity of a brands like adidas or Nike it's little surprise high fashion labels want to take some pointers. Last week, Nike hosted a Women's Summit in New York City both to debut some of their exciting upcoming products - including collaborative collections by Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço, which drops in November, and German upcoming star Joanna Schneider, coming next year - and discuss their successes, which include 16 million downloads of their Nike Training Club app and 9 million downloads of the Nike+ Running App. That's not just passive follows on Twitter or mindless likes on Instagram, but millions of women actively engaging with Nike and using their guidance to improve their health and fitness. Beats a retweet. That said, purely on social media Nike engage 65 million women. That's the kind of reach a high fashion brand could only dream of.

But is the fad for trainers and the general obsession with sportswear - Wang's new H&M collab is a case in point - pushing sportswear brands to operate more like fashion labels?

 

Is the issue utility? While I'm never one to denigrate fashion and suggest it's frivolous, an industry that peddles and pushes new wares every six months, or even every three what with pre-collection and all that, at extortionate prices can hardly argue that it's offering up essentials. By contrast sport brands come from a starting place where they need to innovate effectively and meaningfully as they're providing equipment to athletes. Their shoes need to have better balance, support and flexibility so people like Laura Robson can smash it at Wimbledon or Skylar Diggins can move effectively on the basketball court. That sporting prowess is Nike's advert (aptly, that's why Robson and Diggins, plus 25 other of the world's top female athletes were on hand in NYC to model Nike's Spring/Summer 2015 collection). Designer shoes just need to be shocking enough to make an impact on a few metres of runway and sturdy enough to survive cab to cocktail bar totters.

But is the fad for trainers and the general obsession with sportswear - Wang's new H&M collab is a case in point - pushing sportswear brands to operate more like fashion labels? Are they feeling the pressure to drop more and more product in the face of such eager shoppers? You couldn't blame them, sneaker heads are just a competitive as street style princesses and wannabe bloggers, and it's a well-known fact fashion fans love anything new and shiny. Isn't it tempting to change the colour-ways and finishes of the Flyknits every week or so to keep people buying regularly rather than create a shoe that will last? For Nike the appeal of churning out stuff driven by aesthetics rather than athletics will never sit comfortably. 'Everything for us starts with performance and with the athletes. We talk about the athletes within everyone. Nike is true and authentic every day and connected to something real - how to perform better,' says Amy Montagne, Vice President of Global Nike Women's.

Nike wants women to sweat, move, dance, and jump; in other words, live. That's a notion that's been reflected in a less obviously athletic way in many of the trends we've been seeing in recent seasons.

 

Sports brands are certainly making the most of their new links with fashion; see the newly released Mary Katrantzou for adidas range which followed up sell-out collabs with Jeremy Scott and Riccardo Tisci. Isn't 'get it now', 'buy quick', 'limited edition' merchandising a contradiction to the principals of function over form that Nike values so much. Hannah Jones, Vice President of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike, doesn't think so. 'There's a number of different approaches to sustainability. There's the option to produce less and tell people to go for longevity. We're not very convinced that that's a viable, scalable model. So what we're really focused on is thinking about innovation in terms of how you get to a point of completely closing the loop. In our future, really disruptive view, we have this idea that you'd be able to bring in a t-shirt or sneakers and have those materials be able to be reused and rebirthed so you create a closed loop model. I think trying to tell a consumer in China not to consume is not very viable, and trying to tell a young teenager that you have to keep something forever and just make one decision is not very realistic. Lots of the work we're doing to lead up to that big closed loop model is about reducing the waste and our impact in the products, which is the huge footprint for us.' It's that ethos that gave birth to the Flyknit, which, apart from sole and laces, is constructed using one piece of knitted fabric, thus cutting down on off-cuts and excess.

As sport gets more fashion-conscious, you can help but wonder how sport became so in fashion in the first place? Perhaps it's about the notion of women being active rather than passive. Nike wants women to sweat, move, dance, and jump; in other words, live. That's a notion that's been reflected in a less obviously athletic way in many of the trends we've been seeing in recent seasons, flat shoes, so women can actually move around at speed without breaking an ankle, 'normcore' staples like oversized sweaters and roomy tailored trousers so we can work in comfort, cosy boxy coats, replacing boobs-out cocktail frocks, so women can be snug. These are all clothes built for living not posing and posturing, clothes for women who have stuff to do; 'Just do it' - that's not just Nike's motto anymore it seems.

Credits


Text Lou Stoppard
Photography Harry Carr

Tagged:
Alexander Wang
nike
Think Pieces
Forrest Gump
sportswear
Mo Farah
Lou Stoppard
laura robson
raf simmons