NEW YORK — Sports have become entwined in the fabric of American life and have inspired a spate of new films, books, photography exhibitions and a dance performance.
Activewear executives said all the attention is good for their $16.2 billion business, even though there is no way to quantify how the entertainment industry and art world’s interpretation helps sales. They also said the movies and books have broad appeal beyond sports fans and athletes.
Dan Lieberman, vice president of global apparel for Fila, said, “Sports are becoming so important, whether it’s inspirational or participatory. That’s especially true in the U.S., with all the sports we have.”
Surfers are the focus in “Step Into Liquid,” a documentary with 100-plus boarders, as well as in Kelly Slater’s new book, “Pipe Dreams,” (ReganBooks $24.95). That lifestyle also is spotlighted in Michael Dweck’s forthcoming photography tome called “The End.”
Tennis is getting a boost from “Tennis Fashion,” Diane Elisabeth Poirier’s new book (Assouline, $18.95) that offers a historical look at tennis attire. Three tennis-centered films in development, including “Wimbledon,” starring Kirsten Dunst, should further interest in tennis fashion, executives said.
Momix, an athletic-infused dance project, will perform “Baseball,” a show inspired by America’s pastime at the Joyce Theater through Oct. 12. Pat Conroy’s new book, “My Losing Season” (Bantam, $14.95), revolves around basketball, and skateboarding plays a major role in “Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator,” a documentary film that has been an indie success.
Jan Sharkansky, vice president of Reebok’s women’s division, said, “It always helps when active and lifestyle fuse together. The more culturally connected we are to the consumer, the better we do. Whether it’s films, books, music or anything else, we do feel the rub in product sales.”
Dana Brown, director of “Step Into Liquid,” said he was somewhat surprised by how many nonsurfers said they liked the film. The popularity of surfwear among Americans boosted some interest in the film, Brown said.
The film’s wardrobers tried to stay true to the surf set, letting the large cast of surfers wear what they like instead of having an apparel sponsor dress them. Knowing many brands have endorsement deals with professional surfers and often control what they can and cannot do, Brown explained, “We didn’t want companies dictating who they see in the movie.”
Surfers are also well represented in photographer Dweck’s new book, “The End” (Little Bean, $50), a look at Montauk’s beach lifestyle, which will be published in December. A crowd of 400 turned up for last week’s opening reception for Dweck’s exhibition at Sotheby’s at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan. Several people told him it looks like a fashion book, even though that was not his intention, he said.
The fashion appeal is “surfers have an unfashion that’s not contrived,” Dweck said. One shot shows a surfer with a knicked-up surfboard and ripped boardshorts. Despite their relaxed style, they know “good looks are their currency,” he said.
“They don’t look like they walked out of a Quiksilver shop. That’s a wannabe look,” he said. “Surfing is for the postmodern cowboy. They live this great life, hanging out with beautiful girls or guys. It’s an endless summer.”
To convey the surfer lifestyle, Dweck used relaxed looks from FAL by Jeffrey Grub. The photographer said he loved the clothes and thought they meshed with the surfer look. For his part, Grub said, “Michael’s book paints a whole lifestyle that makes you want to be there and live it.”
Sports in films and books is good news for activewear designers, Grub said. Tennis is the major influence on his spring collection. He also noted how Marc Jacobs and Chanel have tuned into skateboarding and surfing for design inspiration.
Even Slater, one of surfing’s better-known poster boys, addresses how the sport has gone mainstream in “Pipe Dreams,” his book published last month. He talks about the “hundreds of people and paparazzi” who showed up for the opening of the Kelly Slater Quiksilver Boardriders Club store in Hollywood. Slater said he helped design the look of the store and noted, “I don’t own the store but I get royalties.”
Female athletes are among the portraits in Lauren Greenfield’s “Girl Culture” exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, running through Jan. 4.
“Lauren Greenfield reflects on the pressures of being a girl in America today,” said Skirball associate curator Tal Gozani. “Her photographs present a powerful indictment of a society in which a girl’s worth is often measured by the shape and size of her body.”
Poirier, the author of “Tennis Fashion,” said she set out to write a book about a sport that is closely related to women. Packed with photos, the book includes images of an Hermès vest, a Jeanne Lanvin boatneck dress and a Le Coq Sportif dress designed for Justine Henin-Hardenne, winner of last month’s U.S. Open. She now has an endorsement deal with Adidas.
During a phone interview last week, Poirier said tennis stars like Venus and Serena Williams are important fashion role models for teenagers. Tennis attire is featured in the new year-round Musée du Tennis, a tennis museum that opened in Paris in May.
“Tennis fashion relates to the whole 20th century,” she said. “It is linked to women personally in terms of techniques in textiles and other developments deeply related in the fashion industry.”
Sharkansky of Reebok noted three tennis-related films are in development now and Reebok is working with each one. In some cases, the company is having stylists pull from its tennis collection and with others they will help to promote the film.
An offshoot of the entertainment trend is the use of mini music videos in commercials, Sharkansky said. Reebok had a great back-to-school season with Lady Foot Locker, after Mary J. Blige appeared in a music-video-inspired Reebok spot for the chain.
In Momix’s “Baseball” performance, pinstripe bodysuits and oversized gloves accentuate the theme. Momix founder Moses Pendleton attributed the cultural interest in athletic-based themes to the fact that “young people now are running the shop.”
The media’s interest in athletes’ personal stories, people’s fondness for sports heroes and advancements in technology, especially high-definition cameras, have helped dramatize sports. Combined with women’s participation in sports and the general public’s focus on health and fitness, that is fueling interest in the arts, Pendleton said.
“As in the fashion world, there is a continued interest in the body and doing things beyond normal, as proven by the X Games and Barry Bonds. There’s still a fascination with physical achievement,” he said. “It’s at a point where it’s become great artistry and something we all identify with.”
Given that, it’s no surprise fashion designers are keeping track of the impact of sports. Pendleton has spoken with Giorgio Armani executives about teaming up for a dance project at the new Armani-commissioned theater in Milan. Meanwhile, Luca Missoni once suited up Romanian gymnasts in Momix’s “Aeros” production, which hits Europe early next year.