SPRINKLING A LITTLE STARDUST
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Spotlights are shining on activewear.
Three new major productions — two films and one dance project — play up athletic looks in a big way. On the silver screen, Columbia Pictures gives a nod to Everlast in “Ali,” Will Smith’s portrayal of the self-proclaimed “Champion of the World,” Muhammad Ali. Willy Bogner literally calls the shots and shoots them in “Ski to the Max,” an action sports documentary that plays up his brand of skiwear. The late Olympic track star Florence Griffith-Joyner served as the inspiration for the new ballet called “Here+Now,” complete with costumes reminiscent of her eye-catching, body-hugging styles.
For “Ali,” which bows nationwide Christmas, Everlast provided Columbia Pictures with $100,000 worth of products, including satin shorts, robes, gloves, head guards, boxing rings, ring posts and training bags, said George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer. But the return on the investment is probably worth “millions” of dollars in advertising, since that degree of exposure could not be bought, he said.
Unlike today’s pro athletes with multimillion dollar sponsorship deals, Ali trained and fought in Everlast, even though he never had an endorsement deal with the brand. He first started wearing Everlast as an amateur fighter in the Fifties and continued to do so throughout his 21-year professional career, until his retirement in 1981, Horowitz said.
“At that time, there was less thought about sponsorships,” he said. “It was more about athletes using what was proper for them to train in and improve their craft.”
Everlast employees pored over the company’s archives to find photos of Ali wearing the brand and then made replica products with the appropriate logos, colors and designs for his different bouts. The Everlast logo, for example, has changed its colors and typeface over the years. Veteran Everlast employees like Hy Witonsky were key in assuring the redesigns were authentic looking. Witonsky was among the staffers who customized product for the “Great One” during his visits to Everlast’s Brooklyn factory.
Retailers are jazzed about the movie’s release and expect the brand to get a boost, Horowitz said. On another level, there has already been a run on white satin boxer shorts, one of Ali’s favorite looks, among pro fighters, Horowitz said.
“The movie ‘Ali’ really could not be made without Everlast,” he said. “But without our heritage, we couldn’t get this kind of coverage.”
Meanwhile, out in the mountains, Willy Bogner, founder and president of the skiwear company that bears his name, has wrapped up his 36th film about snow sports. “Ski to the Max” was three years in the making and is his first IMAX movie. It is expected to bow in the next year.
Bogner, a former Olympic skier, and his crew trekked to India, Alaska, Switzerland and other remote ports of call to film the movie. The company provided 500 outfits for the 50 athletes, but styling was unnecessary.
Bogner explained: “These athletes know what they’re doing. They love their sports as much as we do. Once you know that, you can trust them to do what they will [with] the product.”
Even if that means skiing through a candy plate glass window or snowboarding off the roof of a mountainside bar. Determined not to use computer graphics to fake stunts, Bogner skied with a 60-pound IMAX camera to catch most of the action. He has seen his share of daredevils, shooting action ski scenes for four James Bond flics.
“We take it for granted that we don’t have to push our product [in the movie.] We’re just showing our competence for sports, and that we’re intricately involved in fast-forward ones with top athletes,” he said.
In one scene, an Audi-built, remote-control car paraglides off Aspen’s Snowmass Mountain. The crew first tried to launch the car with a sled and wound up with a twisted mess. Take two involved 10 people hoisting up the sail into the air, which then lifted the Audi into the sky. But the initial footage was so dramatic that it made the final cut.
To appeal to Generation X and Y, pop star “Pink” appears in the flick, as does her music. More traditional composers like Mozart are also featured.
Bogner invested about $7 million in “Ski to the Max,” but the return on the investment is tougher to define. “From the Bogner side, this is a great kickoff for winter. The objective is to give the audience the feeling of being on skis, and make them try the sport,” he said.
That is especially crucial in this difficult economic climate, where some major ski resorts expect winter bookings to be at least 10 percent off, Bogner said. Pitching his company as a lifestyle brand is also important.
“My job of managing the brand involves managing communications. The combination of filmmaking and fashion is a perfect way to coordinate,” he said. “It’s a much better use of our time. If it stands on its own, it makes economical sense.”
Back in New York, activewear plays a central role in “Here+Now,” a new ballet performed by Alvin Ailey’s Dance Project. The late Olympic star Florence Griffith-Joyner provided the inspiration and Wynton Marsalis created an original score for the production. It premiered last week at City Center in Manhattan and runs through this month. Choreographed by Judith Jamison and commissioned by the Olympics Arts Festival, the piece also will be shown during the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in February.
Costume designer Emilio Sosa reviewed videos and articles about Joyner before starting out. What struck him, he said, was how she managed to maintain her stylishness in the throes of competition. Known for her wavy hair, long colorful nails and fashion-forward activewear, she even wowed the ever-serious, talk-show host Charlie Rose with her talons, during an interview in the Eighties, Sosa recalled.
“She was such an amazing athlete, but even back in the Eighties, she never compromised her feminism for her athleticism and that was something,” Sosa said. “She understood the importance of the complete package in athletics, and that people look at what you wear and will be influenced. She was very visionary in that way.”
Hence, the one-legged unitard, leggings with reflective racing stripes and body-hugging multicolored tops featured in “Here…Now.” Sosa said he scouted Niketown, Modell’s and other athletic specialty stores to see what was being worn and what could be incorporated to the dance world. He borrowed from the category’s lightweight, technical fabrics and special finishes. His designs are also packed with unusual color combinations like coral and gold; pink, black and yellow, and orange and green — something that is lacking at retail due to the onslaught of black.
The dance’s final scene features a Flo-Jo look-alike wearing a pink leotard with oversized gold rings, reminiscent of the Olympic rings, not Chanel’s interlocking Cs, Sosa said. The most important feature is that all of his garments are designed to stretch as dancers spring across the stage, he added.
“This is my first foray into activewear, but I knew it had to perform on stage,” said Sosa, a former Alvin Ailey dancer. “I also wanted to make it realistic — something that people would identify with track and field.”
Aside from selling his “Sosa” sportswear line to M Shop on Orchard Street in New York’s Lower East Side, his design efforts have been shown strictly on the stage, suiting up Marsalis for his performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Next up, he’s working on costumes for Donald Byrd’s new ballet about Louis Armstrong, called “Burlesque.”
For now, Sosa’s crowning moment occurred when he, Jamison and Marsalis took a bow at last week’s premiere.
He said: “I’m just a regular kid from the Bronx and to be able to work with two of my heroes was just a dream.”