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NEW YORK — Beyond Anna Sui’s snowboard-inspired looks and Matthew Williamson’s pastel athletic sweaters, women around the globe aren’t waiting for fashion cues about how to blend activewear with their everyday attire.
Women on the street are often a better read than runway models on emerging trends, according to apparel executives, as evidenced by athletic trends in a variety of locales.
In Florence, sophisticated women are layering T-shirts for a little flair. In Brazil, fitness fans are favoring workout pants with cummerbund-sized roll-down waistbands and in Los Angeles, gymgoers are showing up for step class in cargo pants.
Having been in Paris and Florence last month, Patricia Ratut, director of U.S. operations for Manuel Canovas, said, “The layering is being done in a sophisticated way, not so much in the jogging-trend way. Women today want to look more dynamic. Time is running very fast and working women keep a very fast pace. When you move around like we do to get to an appointment, to catch a train or a taxi, you don’t want to be frustrated by your clothes.”
She also spotted more hooded tops and other Juicy Couture-type looks, referring to the Los Angeles brand known for its velour warmups and fitted, zip-front tops.
“It’s not so much being worn by young girls as it is being worn by women between the ages of 35 and 50. She wants to look younger and she wants to feel more comfortable in her clothes,” she said.
Unlike American women who are not afraid to wear head-to-toe athletic-inspired attire, their European counterparts are mixing hooded tops, fleece cardigans and other activewear with sportswear in a more sophisticated way. In Florence for last month’s Pitti Filati show, she noticed a lot of layering, such as combining long-sleeved T-shirts with different length tops. One of her favorite outfits was a top worn over a soft jersey dress and velvet trousers.
Brazilian women are also going for a more polished look even on the beach, said swimwear designer Amahlia Stevens of Vitamin A, who vacationed recently in Rio de Janeiro.
“Women have so much more style in Rio,” Stevens said. “The weather is so warm all year long that swimwear is so much a part of their wardrobe. They won’t go on the boardwalk in just their bathing suits. They were wearing them with cute and sexy coverups and metallic or beaded sandals.”
Brazilian women are also inventive with their athletic clothing. Hip-flattering workout pants with a waistband that can roll down four or five inches are popular, Stevens said. Most women were wearing “superthin” workout clothes with thongs underneath, she noted, and earth tones and cutout shapes were also popular, Stevens said.
Fresh from a trip to last week’s Première Vision in Paris, designer Tina Lutz of Lutz & Patmos, who also freelances for Nuala, said, “One thing you see everywhere is Y3,” referring to Yohji Yamamoto’s line for Adidas.
In addition to the line’s footwear, she noticed women wearing Y3 jackets with three stripes that appear to wrap around one sleeve, including one who paired it with jeans and low heels and another who went for the head-to-toe look.
Lutz also noticed Puma footwear designed by Japanese designer Yasuhiro Mihara. The Puma Mihara collection is available in Puma stores, select specialty stores and department stores in large cities in Europe, Asia and the U.S.
She noted the irony that two well-known Japanese designers would partner with Herzogenaurach, Germany-based athletic firms for exclusive collections. Lutz attributed their appeal to the hard-to-find nature of their designs.
During a recent trip to Tokyo, industrial designer Yvés Behar, who has collaborated with Lutz & Patmos and now MINI, took note of elegant-looking convertibles — clothes that can be converted into different styles. One of his favorite reversible items was a black blazer with a water-repellent interior that doubled as a raincoat.
With the America’s Cup in its final round, sailing fans watching the races in Auckland, New Zealand, are suiting up in jackets and shorts with their favorite team’s logo, said Annarita Sini, marketing assistant for Riri, a sponsor of the favorite Team Alinghi, the Swiss challenger.
During her visit there last week, she noticed “a lot of technicalwear on very fashionable people. Most of the time they’re wearing team clothing for Alinghi or Team New Zealand, but sometimes you see Prada.”
Bruce Fetter, co-president of St. John Knits, said he got an eyeful of sailing staples — windbreakers, shorts and sweatshirts — while checking out the Louis Vuitton Cup, the qualifier for the America’s Cup in December.
Line 7, a New Zealand-based sailing label, was in stores everywhere. Louis Vuitton, no surprise, also had some prime real estate, even though designer apparel is not a big draw there, Fetter said.
In the U.S., fashion-minded gymgoers in Los Angeles and New York are turning out for exercise classes in jeans and cargo pants, but in many places that’s still against the rules in certain gyms.
“We’re seeing more street clothes in the gym,” said Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director for Crunch, a New York-based gym. She noted that Europeans are embracing kickboxing, spinning and other classes that have been going strong here for five or six years. Given that, they lag behind in their gym attire and are still wearing tight, bright-colored clothing, Cyrus said.
“We create a different line [of Crunch activewear] for the U.S. market,” she said. “[Europeans] are ahead of us in upscale fashion in every way. But in fitness fashion, it’s just the reverse.”
Maria Stefan, vice president of international global development for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association, also has heard that cargo pants are catching on. She was told military looks like cargo pants and tops with epaulets dominated the scene at last month’s Bread & Butter trade show in Berlin. Adidas, Levi’s and Diesel were among the 250 exhibitors at the show — a sure sign of the continued merger of urban streetwear and activewear.