A few moments later his victory at the 2012 US Open over Novak Djokovic, Britain’s Andy Murray started shouting in his players’ box. But it wasn’t for joy or gratitude or even relief after winning a grueling five-set match. It was because he couldn’t find his Rado watch for the trophy ceremony, the ultimate waste of money.
Money, which comes from sponsorships such as Murray’s £1m-a-year contract with Rado, goes hand in hand with tennis, a sport where individual triumph is often more important than team success (exceptions include the Davis Cup and the Olympics). And with that emphasis on individuality comes a natural affinity for fashion, given that so few players have to wear a uniform to compete as they do in football or even motorsport.
Sydney-based designer Bianca Spender, whose collections are inspired by tennis clothing, believes that fashion plays an important role in sports. “They have big personalities and they express that through their clothes,” she says. “And there is not much of that in professional sports. So we think we have a much better understanding of who they are.”
“They are big personalities and they express it with their clothes. And there is not much of that in professional sports.”
While luxury watches, sportswear and footwear have been part of tennis for most of the last century, haute couture is increasingly finding its way into the sport. Take for example 20-year-old Briton Emma Raducana, number 76 in the women’s rankings towards the end of 2022, who is wearing Dior to receive her BOE from King Charles in November. Or Roger Federer, who before his retirement last September raised the bar for men’s fashion on the court with his blazers, Rolex watches and, most recently, a 10-year deal with Japanese retailer Uniqlo. And of course there’s Serena Williams in, well, everything she’s worn throughout her career.
As for tennis theater, fashion commentator Kellie Hush can’t get past Russia’s Anna Kournikova, who retired from the sport in 2003. While Williams will undoubtedly be seen as a bigger influence on high fashion, thanks in part to her collaboration with the late American designer Virgil Abloh, Hush says that Kournikova was one of the first players who “moved away from the conservatism of the game [with] color, big jewelry and that long braid”.
While Williams kept pushing the envelope – remember her Nike catsuit in 2018? Or the one-shoulder tutu that Abloh designed the same year? – Kournikova’s clothes, especially the belted shorts she loved, have a retro charm that still influences fashion today. And let’s not forget the male players with their own tailoring flair, from American Bill Tilden’s 1920s white jumpers and trousers to Nick Kyrgios’ oversized shirts and Andre Agassi’s fluorescent outfits and his three-year boycott of Wimbledon because of its strict rules. all white dress code.
Even moments of so-called “anti-fashion” have enriched the game, like when Australian player Casey Dellacqua famously bought her playing shirts from Target when she didn’t have an apparel sponsor (she was later endorsed by Lululemon).
“Tennis is a vehicle for change, especially for women. It is not restrictive; tennis wear is performance wear that also looks amazing.”
Menswear designer Christian Kimber says that tennis has always been synonymous with style, especially considering that it is one of the few sports that men and women play together. “So naturally there’s always been an interest in looking good on the field,” he says. “Now, I think tennis is a vehicle for change, especially for women. It is not restrictive; tennis wear is performance wear that also looks amazing.”
Kimber says that Wimbledon in particular has long been a source of inspiration for him: “Striped linen shirts, retro knits, polo shirts… When I design today, I definitely turn to icons on and off the court like John McEnroe from the 1970s. That approach to style was the forerunner of sportswear, and you can see its influence everywhere.”
This summer, as the Australian Open looks to improve its lifestyle and luxury appeal, several fashion brands, from local Aja Athletica to Prada’s Miu Miu branch, have taken center stage. Ralph Lauren, the grandfather of the American sportswear movement, is once again the official outfitter of the tournament officials. And it doesn’t hurt that tennis is the favorite sport of one of the most powerful women in fashion, the USA Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who attended the 2019 Australian Open.
Vera Yan, co-founder of Sydney-based Nimble Active-wear, says tennis offers designers an opportunity to pay homage to tradition while incorporating the latest fabric technology and what she calls “lifestyle possibilities”; that is, people who don’t necessarily play tennis but dig the vibe. Libby Page, market director at retailer Net-a-Porter, says the latest iteration of the tennis trend started with the label Sporty & Rich, which produces vintage-inspired tracksuits, pleated skirts and even tennis-inspired socks. Think Lacoste for the Instagram set.
From the box pleats to the buckles and tabs that were a feature of sportswear in the 1920s and 30s before stretch fabric, tennis’ influence on fashion will continue long into the future. The game begins.