After four days of New York Fashion Week it’s fair to say the intersection of sportswear and high-end fashion has superseded everyone’s expectations. But herein lies the problem. There are still are handful of terms being thrown around to describe this emerging shift in fashion - think athleisure, streetwear, and sportswear – but none that really do it justice. The enigmatic, all-embracing trend invaded the fashion world many moons ago, but now it’s reached a level of mass-acceptance that is further fueling consumer demand.
The Baja East ready-to-wear Fall/Winter 2016 show, New-York
This blurring of style and comfort was evident in collections such as Baja East who paraded an unlikely pairing of velvet tracksuit pants with open-toe Fila slides, or at Kanye West’s third season with adidas showing compression leggings with Yeezy boots. The examples are becoming more and more prevalent as each season rolls around, and even sportswear brands want a part of the action. Puma decided to return to their roots, acknowledging that they were once very successful with the female consumer, so tapped Rihanna to help reconnect with girls around the globe for their Fall/Winter 2016 Fenty collaboration. “I came to the brand two years ago and we sat down and agreed that the roots of Puma, if you go back 10 or 15 years ago, were very successful with the female consumer; shoes like Speed Cat, Future Cat, and Mostro,” says Björn Gulden, CEO of Puma. “And, for whatever reason, we lost the female consumer. When we talked about how to get her back again, we brainstormed about what we could do and it was pretty obvious that we needed both the creative help and the symbol that connects with the young female consumer. All the research we did came up with Rihanna as number one.”
Rihanna at the Fenty X Puma ready to wear Fall/Winter 2016 show, New-York
There’s no denying the sportswear industry has been very male dominant, tapping into athletic superstars to spread awareness and build hype, but Puma is strategically filling a gap of potential female hypebeasts. “I think that creatively you can play around a lot more on the female side than you can on the men’s side, and for us, when we launched the creeper with Rihanna, we had girls lining up in front of the store at five or six o’clock in the morning to buy them,” adds Gulden. “I’ve never seen that before with females. It shows how strongly that group is looking for something that is special. We needed someone like Rihanna to open those doors; both of course to open the door to the consumer because she’s known, but more importantly to open the door creatively.”
Fenty X Puma ready to wear Fall/Winter 2016 show, New-York
For Puma, this convergence of design and functionality is right where they want to be, ultimately creating a collection where the customer dictates whether it’s sportswear, streetwear, or athleisure. “That’s why for us this is spot on,” says Gulden. “We can take the direction of Rihanna and she can lead us from a fashion point of view. Then we can come behind that with technology and performance and merge them together. From there the consumer decides if she’s wearing it for performance or if she’s wearing it for leisure.”
Felipe Oliveira Baptista at the Lacoste ready to wear Fall/Winter 2016 show, New-York
Designers such as Lacoste’s Creative Director, Felipe Oliveira Baptista have been challenged with forever fusing active elements into an elevated aesthetic, for a customer who is firmly focused on both comfort and style. “We are a sportswear brand, not luxury, but definitely not a high street brand,” says Baptista. “We’ve been working on stretching the sport and weekend aspects into a daily experience. They (consumers) want a strong look, and they still love fashion, but they want clothes that are easy to live in.”
Lacoste ready to wear Fall/Winter 2016 show, New-York
The future success of sportswear in the women’s high fashion arena will require a focused lens that truly mirrors the consumers’ aspirations – and commerciality is a big part of that. “I think the female customer wants more for herself,” adds Gulden. “If you look at concepts like Lululemon, that didn’t exist years ago but was very successful because they took the female consumer seriously. I think brands like our self need to focus on the female as the female consumer and not only do a collection that is unisex. You’ll see that this (collection) is very directional and not all of these pieces are saleable, but they will be inspirational for designs that trickle down in the more commercial collection.”
Fenty X Puma ready to wear Fall/Winter 2016, New-York
Sarah Owen is an Editor at trend forecasting agency WGSN reporting on youth trends from a runway, retail, street, and cultural point of view.