Venus Williams is getting back into the fashion game.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 31-year-old tennis star will relaunch her collection, EleVen by Venus Williams, featuring tops and bottoms that can be worn both on and off the court, at the Bath Club in Miami today.

“EleVen is really about being better than a 10,” said Williams. “It’s bringing your personal best which makes you an 11, and not accepting the standards of what is considered the best….It’s overcoming defeats and being a champion in life.” Williams said the line is also intended to make women and men look good. “If you don’t look good, you won’t play well.”

Williams, the winner of seven Grand Slam singles tournaments who is currently ranked No. 136 in the world, will try out her new line when she returns to tennis this week to play in the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Miami. Williams has been sidelined for six months with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease, and had to withdraw from the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.

Williams originally launched EleVen exclusively for Steve & Barry’s, the apparel chain that went into liquidation in 2008. She went on to do a partnership with Ralph Lauren and designed some tennis pieces for Gilt. Having received a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Williams said she always wanted to design ready-to-wear and sports apparel, and this line reflects her personality.

“EleVen is about being yourself. I don’t like to be told what to wear and how to look,” she said. She said she brings her love of art and watercolor to the collection, and even incorporates her own original prints, including one called the “Oh and Oh” design, a play on tennis scores. Some styles have secret, handwritten messages from Williams such as “Bring It,” and “Oh & Oh, Beat ’Em,” which are hidden in each piece of the collection. The messages will vary with each collection, incorporating seasonal themes, motivational words and her own personal philosophies.

For women, EleVen offers a tournament dress, classic flutter skirt, tanks and sports bras in polyester and spandex jersey, as well as graphic V-necked T-shirts in 100 percent cotton jersey. For men, there are fashion polos, V-necks and crewnecks in nylon and spandex, as well as 100 percent cotton. The line wholesales from $17 to $48.

For summer, she will offer a collection inspired by the French Open, Wimbledon and the Summer Olympics. For fall, she plans a U.S. Open-inspired line. Williams is working with a manufacturing partner and producing the line in California. Distribution is aimed at department and specialty stores, as well as country clubs and pro shops around the country. She declined to reveal first-year sales expectations. The launch will be supported by social media, including behind-the-scenes videos showing her designing the line.

Asked whether she expects her 30-year-old sister, Serena, to wear EleVen on the tennis circuit, she said, “No, she’s got to wear Nike.” But Venus would love to see other tennis stars sporting her collection. “That would be amazing. That’s definitely our goal going forward. Our next step is to show other players wearing it.”

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