Quietly minding its own business in discreet e-com or brick and mortar corners, haute-athleisure lurks. You don’t have to be a fashion lover to embrace it—although once road-tested, it could convert even the staunchest dismissers. Why so newsworthy? Because its emergence is the reverse of the usual flow. How style and trends go mainstream is generally that linear trickle-down effect: what appears on the runways makes its way in an unashamedly similar guise to the high street, often before the luxury houses have even started manufacturing.
But in this case, democratization and disruption are at play; designers have all been forced to acknowledge the athleisure phenomenon and rather than lose their relevance and market share, co-opt the 'if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em' approach. Executed best recently at Valentino, the house’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli told Vogue that the inclusivity of sport for all races and genders had appealed to him. "I like it when something is so universal because then it can become very individual. Offering items like a tracksuit, a t-shirt, or a sweatshirt means you can wear them with your own personal style. It’s not a way of uniforming people, but an opportunity to diversify them."
Chanel, the bastion of high style and the world’s most sought-after luxury brand, have a ton on offer: knitwear, stirrup pants, winter down jackets. Of all the brands offering ath-luxury, theirs stays closest to the house DNA. Donatella Versace mentioned to WWD during her show that "sportswear is the future of fashion; to make it unique and luxurious is the challenge I took this season." She succeeded, as her womenswear is tongue-in-cheek, unapologetic genius, sculpting the body with a maximum dose of the stylish attitude that so many other athleisure brands, in their neon-and-power-mesh efforts, attempt, and fail. Her menswear is virtually indistinguishable from the women’s, so not for the faint hearted or discreet.
La Perla’s creative director Julia Haart, on a continual push for new ways to merge luxury and comfort and fusing decades-old lingerie techniques with ready to wear, feels the upsurge of ath-luxury is a kickback to previously impractical offerings from high fashion. Some of her fabrics (silk, cashmere) are woven with a futuristic new technique for ultimate stretch and therefore comfort, while their figure-hugging construction and jewel tone color palette walk the right side of the line distinguishing slinky unashamed glamour from brazen come-and-get-me-ness.
For the less loud/more whimsical, Etro and Missoni have beautiful and charming separates whose designs, thanks to being print and pattern focused, are more ready to wear than sportswear. For something between loud and charm, Pucci ticks the box. For men, Givenchy wins hands down for its sharp street-smart attitude. For the tomboys, Sportmax triumphs in its understated hipster vibe, although these days why not borrow from the boys anyway?
And how to wear it? Never top-to-toe if logos are involved—too fashion victim, too 1980s. Pair one or two eye catching ath-luxury piece(s) with other more affordable ethically sourced items. The luxury ones being superior quality will last longer, plus you will love them for longer too. Just be judicious when you shop that you aren’t wasting money on something so basic—i.e. Givenchy varsity jacket, Versace plain black leggings—that no one, not even you, will be able to differentiate it from its affordable counterparts. Therefore only buy understated ath-luxury if the fit and cut really radically increases your confidence/self image. Otherwise think about being strategic with your investments: get your basics from elsewhere and save your dollars for standout pieces such as a Versace bold print sweatshirt or fine gauge knit Missoni pant. That way, it's fashion week all year around, just without the need to suffer for style.