NEW YORK — Rabbit fur and leather don’t exactly seem like they belong in functional skiwear, but these are some of the elements in a new performance jacket from designer Johan Lindeberg.
“This jacket makes quite a statement on the slopes,” said the London-based designer, who helms the fast-growing J. Lindeberg line.
Lindeberg, who recently began a division called Future Sports, is one of a crop of designers who are increasing the style quotient in activewear and outdoor apparel this season.
After a stellar start at retail this spring, Stella McCartney is expanding her collection with Adidas for fall and holiday with stylish products for trekking and trail running, while Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere is making a line of technical jackets for Moncler. Burton Snowboards is working with Paul Smith and fashion house Emilio Pucci is creating skiwear for Rossignol featuring the house’s signature swirling, technicolor prints.
Prada Sport is expanding its technical offerings for sports such as skiing, snowboarding, sailing, and fitness training, and is differentiating those offerings with a separate logo this season, said a company spokeswoman. Other firms stepping up their activewear presence include Eley Kishimoto, the London design duo making funky skiwear for fall under a partnership with Ellesse, and Escada Sport, offering ski suits, parkas and sweaters incorporating felted mohair and leather. Burberry also has a selection of golf offerings and technical skiwear for fall, including a technical nylon style with a fur collar, and waterproof trousers with taped seams.
In the U.S., Polo Ralph Lauren is making major moves in the active market. The apparel giant recently signed on as a multimillion-dollar sponsor of the U.S Open — marking its first tennis sponsorship — and its six-year-old technical RLX division is offering a wide selection of functional ski and outdoor pieces. All of the RLX garments are designed for performance fit and for sport-specific use and mountain living, said a company spokeswoman. Polo Ralph Lauren also sells yoga products and activewear under its new Lauren Active line which made its debut at retail this spring.
Sports clothes are nothing new for big-name design houses. After all, Coco Chanel designed clothes for skiing and tennis in the Twenties and Emilio Pucci, a member of the Italian Olympic ski team in the Thirties, got his start making women’s skiwear. Norma Kamali made activewear fashionable in the Seventies, and Donna Karan has long incorporated sporty elements into her collections.
What’s different is that designers are marrying new generations of high-tech fabrics and materials with the styling they bring to their ready-to-wear offerings to create functional and stylish clothes that will withstand wear and tear incurred on the slopes and the courts — and often at lower prices than their signature collections.
“The fashion market has been increasingly influenced by activewear as consumers take a more relaxed approach to their lifestyles and, subsequently, their wardrobes,” said Maria Stefan, president of Ellesse USA, which began its collaboration with Eley Kishimoto with upscale tenniswear this spring. “This gives larger fashion houses the opportunity to appeal to a wider consumer group, who are still discerning in brand and product choices but prefer to take a more casual approach to their apparel.”
While some firms such as Prada and Escada have separate sport divisions, many of the activewear offerings from top design houses are merchandised and sold as part of the larger rtw offerings. Christian Dior, for example, has a selection of technical ski and outerwear offerings for fall and holiday that will be sold in Bergdorf Goodman and in company-owned stores.
Chanel doesn’t have a specific activewear line, but the venerable house always incorporates a few sporty offerings into its core collection, said a company spokeswoman. For fall, Chanel has a selection of apparel for skiing and horseback riding, and in the past it has made clothes and accessories for activities such as surfing and scuba diving.
Prada, which introduced Prada Sport in 1997 featuring lifestyle and performance styles, is segmenting its technical pieces for fall, said a company spokeswoman. The Prada Sport technical offerings now have their own logo and are sold in stores such as Paragon Sports in Manhattan and Performance Ski in Aspen, Colo. For most of these designers, the technical activewear offerings are not planned to be a big sales driver. The Adidas Stella McCartney collection has limited distribution and was only sold in about 100 stores in the U.S. Sources said the line could generate first-year sales of about $15 million, compared with Adidas’ overall sales of $8.3 billion.
Nonetheless, the line has generated buzz throughout the activewear field. Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, said the McCartney line sold out within a week of hitting floors in March and was a departure for Bloomingdale’s because it is a true performance line, and the company doesn’t offer much other designer activewear.
Tonja Kuntz, merchandise manager for women’s activewear at Nordstrom, said the company carried the McCartney collection for Adidas in 14 stores for spring and will be expanding it to 25 for fall.
“I do think there is an opportunity for designer active brands,” she said. “It is important that they really understand the active consumer and not overprice their product. Stella is successful because it is a designer label, offering unique designs for the active customers, but is still priced only 20 to 30 percent higher than the regular Adidas line.”
Nordstrom carries performance brands such as Nike, Adidas, Fila and Columbia Sportswear and is adding Under Armour for holiday, and also carries a selection of designer activewear such as Burberry Golf.
“I think there is some resistance on how much a customer will pay for their workout wear,” Kuntz said. “She wants great quality and function, but she does not want to pay $500 for a workout or casual outfit.”
Some designers have gone in the opposite direction. DKNY Active, for example, was launched in 1999, and has now become more of a lifestyle collection with less of an emphasis on performance pieces, said Lydia Gollner, president of DKNY Jeans and DKNY Active.
“This line is about comfort now,” she said.
Missoni Sport, introduced in 1984, also now features lifestyle offerings that are designed for everyday wear.
But some designers delving into activewear have big plans for their sports offerings.
Lindeberg said the new Future Sports division could account for about 35 percent of overall sales. The company had sales of about $36 million last year and is on track to reach about $47 million this year. The initial styles in Future Sport include golfwear and the new ski looks, and Lindeberg also plans to open stand-alone Future Sports stores in the U.S. and Europe, with the first American store planned for this fall in Denver.
“I want a modern person to feel as cool on the slopes as anywhere else,” Lindeberg added.
— With contributions from Emilie Marsh, Paris, and Luisa Zargani, Milan