Serena Williams needed only an 11-minute conversational Q&A with Condé Nast’s Anna Wintour Wednesday morning to discuss new business pursuits, fashion design, everyday heroes and the power of motherhood.
Pyer Moss’ Kerby-Jean Raymond and André Leon Talley were among the guests who listened in, while seated comfortably at tables at Spring Place. Before 13 physically and ethnically diverse models strode into the sunlit room for a brief presentation of the S by Serena spring 2020 line, Williams said, “I wanted to do this different format so that you guys can hear about the designer [and] a little bit about my mind, and how I may or may not work upstairs.”
Lighthearted as she was at times, the 23-time Grand Slam winner mentioned more than once her long-term commitment to fashion. “I have been doing fashion since 2000 — that’s when I went to school. I’ve been doing this a long time. More than people actually realize, which is why it was important for me to sit down and have his different format for a fashion show. Although some things and some companies may pop overnight, that’s such a small percentage. It takes a lot of work, and nothing can replace hard work.”
Describing Williams as one of the world’s greatest and most successful athletes, Wintour asked, “What on earth makes you want to take on fashion?” The Nike-sponsored tennis star joked, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I went to fashion school — I like to say, in between winning Wimbledons and U.S. Opens. It was fun and it was a lot of work, it was really hectic…”
Williams’ other business pursuits include Serena Ventures, which was launched in 2014. (As of mid-December she had invested in 34 start-ups, amassing a portfolio of more than $10 million, according to Forbes. Her numerous endorsement deals reportedly raked in $25 million last year.) Williams said she found her calling in 2016 after learning that less than 2 percent of companies were women-led venture-backed ones (“and minorities [were] even less”). “I thought, ‘This is crazy.’” Along with loving the product, she and her team “really have to love the founder” of any company that gets venture capital. Serena Ventures’ portfolio has men, women and minorities, she noted. “My dad is one of the most important people in my life so I wouldn’t want to exclude men. It’s all about creating that message of inclusivity and inclusivity is everyone.”
As a mother, wife, professional athlete, entrepreneur, investor and a designer, Williams was asked which of those roles have the most influence. “That’s a tough one. I really feel that being a mom is super important. But also being a leader so that my daughter can look at me [and say], ‘This is what my mom did and I aspire to do. I want to be better and I want to be something and I want to be able to help people. I want to be inspirational.’ So that means a lot to me. We’re taking on jewelry now. All of the models are wearing Serena Williams jewelry, which is really cool. That is our latest venture,” Williams said.
Asked whether she watched the Oscars Sunday night and heard Renée Zellweger reference her and her sister Venus as among the actress’ heroes, Williams said, “I was so moved by what Renée said. First of all, I was shocked. I was like, ‘Wait, did I just hear that?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God. I am kind of at the Oscars right now.’ I’m wearing something really nice, too. But I was in my pj’s.”
Williams’ heroes have changed since she had her daughter. “My heroes are moms because women are superheroes. To have a baby and to have to go to work two or three weeks later, or even to go to work from 9 to 5. I don’t do that. I’m really fortunate where I’ll wake up early at 7 and work until 10 or 11, and then I will have the rest of the day with my daughter. I’m so literally lost for words when I think of these women who spend day-in and day-out, helping and providing for their families, when I know how hard it is to leave my daughter. I think women need to be recognized,” she said.