Competing on the Catwalk

October 28, 2011

From the Populous Magazine archive: Issue 05, 2011

For the last century or so, high fashion has increasingly used sport as a source of inspiration. Today this relationship is stronger than ever, as Stephen Doig, fashion writer for British publications Harper’s Bazaar, The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times, discovers.

In 1967 an ambitious young man named Ralph Lifshitz launched a range of ties, selling them from a hotel boutique in New York. Hailing from the notorious Bronx projects, he had grown up watching the posh Hamptons set migrate from the city each season and return fresh from country clubs, polo matches and clam bakes. An idea was born and, in the early 1970s, the freshly renamed Ralph Lauren launched Polo Ralph Lauren, his aim to sell the preppy lifestyle of the East Coast elite to the rest of the world. Creating the now iconic emblem of a polo player astride his horse immediately plunged his line into the fresh, Ivy League world that this kid from the Bronx had sought so hard to be a part of.

Of course, in the 1970s, the marriage of sport and fashion was not a new concept. It’s one that had proved fruitful throughout the 20th Century, and continues today. When Coco Chanel became the love interest of the glamorous socialite and polo player Boy Capel, he not only propelled the young designer into a social strata she could only dream of, but he introduced her to something that has become integral to the Chanel DNA: horse riding.

At Capel’s country chateau, Chanel became fascinated by the gentlemanly attire required for the upper-class pursuit. Mannish silhouettes, heavy tweeds and riding trousers all found their way into her collections, continuing today at the house under Karl Lagerfeld’s stewardship.

Around the same time, René Lacoste, a top French tennis player, was growing weary of the stiff, formal shirts required on court. His solution?

To take out the scissors himself and get cutting. He fashioned a soft cotton, short-sleeved sweater with a collar. The design, which proved a hit with all levels of player, was swiftly adopted by those in the polo profession. The polo shirt, later monopolised by Ralph Lauren, was born.

This season the collections are as sporty as ever. Look at Chanel’s mannish, heavy tweeds, Lanvin’s striped football shirts and Givenchy’s fur-collared and hooded ski-style jackets.

Today, the world’s most highly regarded designers have embraced sport as a way to strengthen their brand, reach new audiences and expand their design repertoire. One of the most successful in recent years has been Stella McCartney’s collaboration with adidas – a collection of body-conscious, sleek pieces. Then there’s Alexander McQueen. While the late designer’s dark Victoriana and theatrical gowns might not seem to have a place in the sporting arena, in 2009 he teamed with trainer brand Puma, creating shoes emblazoned with intricate print, rubber webbing, scales and fangs. Ski wear has long been a source of inspiration to designers, too, from Dolce & Gabbana to Chanel and Prada.

This season the collections are as sporty as ever. Look at Chanel’s mannish, heavy tweeds, Lanvin’s striped football shirts and Givenchy’s fur-collared and hooded ski-style jackets.

But perhaps the most humorous and striking take on sport in recent catwalk collections is Prada’s nod to the putting green. For her spring/summer 2012 men’s show, Prada sent out golfer attire reworked for the 21st century, with boldly printed trousers and diamond patterns dominating. All of which proves that sport and fashion’s yin and yang is still very much in force.

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