Courting Fashion at the Open

The U.S. Open gets rolling Monday in Queens, N.Y., and promises to provide a fashion pick-me-up from the understated Olympic attire.

View Slideshow

NEW YORK — Denim miniskirts, black boots, short metallic dresses and retro-inspired track suits might seem more suited for the juniors’ floor at Macy’s than the tennis court. But those are some of the looks that will be sported by tennis players next week at the U.S. Open, where the fashion quotient is kicking into ever higher gear.

The grand-slam tournament gets rolling on Monday at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows here and could provide a welcome fashion pick-me-up after the Olympics in Athens, where athletic costumes have generally been subdued and low-key. While some tennis championships such as Wimbledon have rigid dress codes, the Open has fewer restrictions, allowing competitors to flaunt their personal style on the court. Fittingly, the competition overlaps this year with New York Fashion Week, so it’s likely at least some competitors will hit a few runway shows while they’re in town and perhaps gather inspiration for upcoming court looks.

The Open competition this year is dominated by past women’s champions, including defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, who is the top-seeded player; Serena and Venus Williams; Amelie Mauresmo of France, and reigning Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova of Russia. Other competitors include Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati, as well as Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva of Russia.

A budding style icon to watch is Sharapova, the Nike-sponsored athlete who won Wimbledon and has professed a love of fashion. Sharapova is slated to wear a silver shiny tank dress featuring Nike’s Sphere technology, said Mindy Grossman, the company’s global vice president of apparel. The custom-made dress has mesh venting and panels and cooling factors.

But the biggest fashion moment in Queens will likely come from Nike endorser Serena Williams who, as reported Tuesday, plans to sport a performance stretch denim skirt and jacket with a lasered tank top with mesh and black slide-on boots she will wear over her custom-designed Shox sneakers prior to competition.

“This is an ultimate example of how you can combine style and personality for an athlete,” said Grossman, adding that the company worked closely with Williams to develop the look. “Denim is so much a part of her lifestyle and it’s also very American.”

This story first appeared in the August 26, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Nike will bring the performance denim collection that Williams is debuting to retail starting in the spring at company-owned Niketown and Nikewomen stores as well as other national chains, which are still being determined. Grossman said the company worked closely with its factories to develop the denim collection, which has special stretch features.

“This is an exciting development for Nike,” said Grossman, who has experience in the denim industry because of her former position as chief executive officer of Polo Jeans. “The denim has cooling technologies and moisture management systems and is very performance-oriented. We felt it was critical that this has the authenticity of real denim.”

She noted the company went through hundreds of washes to develop the right style. “We also think this collection can appeal to younger consumers who want to look appropriate for the court.”

Fila, the official apparel sponsor of the U.S. Open, will dress players including Capriati, said Mark Westerman, the brand’s vice president of marketing. The players will be wearing looks from the new Fila U.S. Open licensed collection, which takes its inspiration from tennis styles from the Sixties and Seventies. Most of the items are made of a spandex-blended fabric in bold and bright colors with performance attributes such as wicking, according to Westerman. The collection also includes sleeveless polo tops, a skirt and a dress, as well as a U.S. Open jacket and pants made of poly terry fleece, a cross between velour and terry. Retail prices start at $40 for the skirt, $48 for the polo and $48 for the dress, and go up to $120 for the warm-up. There is also a selection of men’s offerings and footwear. The company also designs uniforms for the ball and line people, as well as the chair umpires.

“We have increased the performance aspect of the collection,” Westerman noted. “While it still has strong designs, this is now a pure performance collection with wicking attributes.”

The licensed collection will be sold at tennis specialty stores and national retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Paragon Sports and will be offered at the tennis center in Flushing in two retail boutiques as well as a kiosk, he said. Fila will launch the collection at a reception tonight at Bloomingdale’s in SoHo, where Kim Clijsters, a Fila-sponsored athlete, is expected to attend, despite the fact that she pulled out of U.S. Open competition due to wrist injuries. Fila and Bloomingdale’s have also initiated a “Win a Trip to the U.S. Open” sweepstakes. Winners will receive two tickets to the Open, limo transportation to the National Tennis Center, dinner for two on-site and Fila U.S. Open Collection jackets.

Westerman noted Fila is working more closely with other Open sponsors this year, such as Evian water and American Express, for promotional activities and events. “It’s a way to leverage our sponsorship,” he noted.

Adidas, meanwhile, will be outfitting Henin-Hardenne in a white and turquoise outfit that’s part of the competition line from its tennis apparel, said a company spokesman. Her outfit includes Adidas’ ClimaCool technology, which has mesh panels and other cooling features and is being used in many of the brand’s offerings at the Olympics this year, including the official U.S. uniform worn by athletes on the medal stand. Henin-Hardenne will also have coordinating footwear. The spokesman noted that Henin-Hardenne prefers to not wear tank tops when she competes, so her top will have cap sleeves.

Henin-Hardenne didn’t compete in the French Open or Wimbledon due to illness, but the world’s top-ranked female player recently won gold at the Olympics in Athens, heralding her return to competition. The spokesman said all of the items she will be wearing will be available as part of Adidas’ collection at retail this fall. Other Adidas-sponsored players, such as Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova of Russia, are expected to sport the ClimaCool looks from the competition line.

Reebok’s focus for the Open this year is on Andy Roddick, who is appearing in a comprehensive marketing campaign and has helped develop an apparel collection for the company, which he unveiled in New York earlier this week. While the collection is focused on men, there are a few T-shirts for female fans. As reported, Venus Williams is no longer a Reebok-sponsored athlete, but she will likely be wearing Reebok as she has done in recent tournaments.

As one of New York’s premier sporting events, the Open is already starting to be felt around town. Ads from sponsor American Express began appearing around the city this month featuring Venus Williams and other athletes. Serena Williams will kick off her U.S. Open looks at an event Friday evening in New York, and the Tennis Channel will hold an event that night featuring her. Details magazines, SFX, Roddick’s management firm, and INC are planning an event for Roddick and other athletes at Whiskey Park here on Saturday night.

“This is a world stage for athletes to perform and since New York is a style capital, the U.S. Open is a great showcase for style,” Grossman noted.

View Slideshow