Athleta is aiming to boost its fashion cred with its first designer collaboration. The Gap Inc.-owned company is partnering with Derek Lam 10 Crosby, Lam’s contemporary collection, for a line that seeks to capitalize on the “ath-leisure” lifestyle phenomenon. It will launch in Athleta stores and Lam’s 10 Crosby Store in New York in September.

“We’ve been following how 10 Crosby developed, and Derek was interested in experimenting with athletic wear,” said Nancy Green, president of Athleta, noting that Intermix founder Khajak Keledjian, who sold his company to Gap in 2012, made the introduction between Lam and Athleta.

Asked why Athleta was interested in associating with a designer, Green said, “It’s exciting to have a designer collaboration when it’s the right one. We don’t believe we have to have one every season, but if the right opportunity to partner comes up, it’s great. It complements our collection and gives a wider variety to our customer.”

For his part, Lam said interest in getting into the athletic arena, whether through a partnership or adding it to 10 Crosby, was piqued about six months ago. “With all the awareness of how people are using that category of clothing in their everyday lives, I thought it was an interesting proposition and put feelers out there that I would love to do some kind of collaboration,” he said. He’s signed on with Athleta for three seasons.

Aesthetically, Lam said the collection is more subdued and urban than Athleta’s typically colorful, purely performance-driven range. “I kept questioning what seemed gratuitous. Like, you don’t need another sports brand, so how do I make the pieces work easily into her everyday wardrobe?” Lam said. There’s a two-in-one sweatshirt-shirt combination, washable leather pieces, a cotton poplin shirt, technical denim, leggings and a bra top, which he said was the most traditionally athletic piece, even though most of the pieces use technical fabrics. “We really challenged them on, and they challenged us too on, bringing in leather and fabrications that you would think are more sportswear-oriented versus athletic wear,” Lam said. Prices range from $58 for a tank top up to $388 for a leather jacket and are slightly higher than current Athleta items.

Athleta has been on the expansion track, taking steps to raise its fashion profile by staging its first fashion show during New York Fashion Week last September. There are 102 stores and talk of expanding internationally, though Green said there was “no news to share.” Adding a designer-driven range to its assortment is part of keeping up with a category rife with stylish competition, such as Nike and Adidas. “It’s a chance for us to put a stake in the ground and say the fashion and style element to our assortment is equally important to the performance element,” Green said.

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