NEW YORK — Given the interest in women’s tennis, it is nothing less than fitting that the sport’s unofficial fashion show will be staged in Queens.
The U.S. Open, which gets rolling Monday in Flushing Meadows, has turned into a catwalk of sorts for the darlings of the tennis world — and there are several. With Serena Williams still sidelined from a knee injury and Anna Kournikova not making the trip, less fashion-minded tennis starlets like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne will be trying to offer some razzle-dazzle. Venus Williams will be sure to serve up some pizazz.
Clijsters, who is the number one female player going into the tournament, is expected to wear a Space Age-inspired silver Fila dress in the first round, followed by looks from Fila’s U.S. Open collection during the remainder of the tournament. Replicas of Clijsters’ nylon and spandex dress will not be offered at retail.
Another Fila-sponsored player, Jennifer Capriati, is expected to sport a denim-look tank dress covered with white stars for her first match. Replicas of her nylon, polyester and Lycra spandex dress will be sold at Paragon Sporting Goods for about $90, but fewer than 100 will be available, said Howe Birch, senior vice president of marketing for Fila.
“For whatever reason, tennis tournaments have become the platform for athletic companies to introduce statement product,” Birch said.
After checking out prototypes for the U.S. Open in March during the Indian Wells tennis tournament, Clijsters and Capriati encouraged Fila to show off an edgier side. They liked what they saw but also knew the company was about to be purchased by Sport Brands International, Birch said, adding,“They’re young and stylish. They wanted to look cool and do stuff that’s a little different.”
To that point, Fila customized each player’s footwear to coordinate with her flashy outfit.
As an official sponsor of the event, Fila will outfit ball girls and ball boys and will sell its licensed U.S. Open collection on-site. The company also has teamed up with The Sports Authority to sell its performance tennis apparel and footwear, as well as event-licensed product in the New York tri-state area, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Georgia.After her catsuit-clad younger sister Serena shook up crowds at last year’s Open, Venus Williams will be doing her share to raise the fashion quota. She has enlisted Diane Von Furstenberg to suit her up in a T-back tennis dress with a chain-link-printed skirt. The $85 dress is now being sold at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman
The elder sister plans to wear one of the designer’s more traditional dresses when she and Von Furstenberg cohost a cocktail party tonight at the designer’s town house. The event will celebrate the launch of the Rbk by Diane Von Furstenberg tennis collection.
Substituting for Kournikova’s stylishness will be other Adidas-sponsored athletes. Chanda Rubin and Meghann Shaughnessy will be wearing the brand’s ClimaCool Anna dress — a number with mesh inserts at the neck and waist for ventilation. Rubin is expected to wear red and Shaughnessy plans to wear sky blue, an Adidas spokeswoman said. The red style shipped to stores for summer and the blue will be introduced at retail in the fourth quarter.
Most of the other Adidas-sponsored players, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Alicia Molik, Martina Muller, Vera Zvonareva, Carly Gullickson and Dinara Safin will don ClimaCool competition tanks in coral and white with mesh insets and a coordinating skirt. In between matches, they will kick around the USTA National Tennis Center in coordinating warmup suits.
Win or lose, fans won’t be the only ones taking a close look at the women’s attire. Fila’s Birch said, “I wouldn’t say we’re driven by what the competition has done, but we certainly take notice.”
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