When Kanye West presented his first collection for Adidas Originals at New York fashion week in February, it was what you would call a moment. The presentation was thoroughly unexpected in that it was completely devoid of, well, flashiness. There were worn-in sloppy joes over dance tights, basic sweats, sporty backpacks and bomber jackets so utilitarian they would just about render their wearer invisible, designed to blend into the urban landscape like a scrap of soggy newspaper on the sidewalk. How thought-provoking. How democratic. How … pretentious? Oh yes, this was a Kanye West production.
According to West, the range was designed foremost for practicality because he is so busy being a father and a husband, he can’t be wearing fussy clothes (he’s a realist now, don’t you know?).
With the exception of the coveted $350 Yeezy Boost sneaker, the collection is yet to be released in stores (there will be “injections”). When it does drop, it will go fast – practicality is on trend.
Specifically, I’m talking to the “athleisure” movement, a new fashion sub-genre (or, in Sydney, a primary genre) combining the functionality of sportswear with everyday casual wear. When you get down to it, it’s gym gear you can wear to the shops.
And yet the look is not lazy – quite the opposite. It’s not like you went to hot yoga and you haven’t showered. It’s just that you’re so time poor, and your life is so active, you simply don’t have the time to be shopping for superfluous fashion to wear when you’re not working out. And there are more important things to worry about, like the price of chia.
Far from the gaudy look-at-me fitness fashion of decades past, athleisure acolytes favour stealth-chic activewear that is “technical”. That means your hoodie has breathable mesh bits under the arms or your tights have something called “moisture wicking” and a zip in them for your keys (oh, brave new world). And like when you buy a car, the special features add up. These aren’t your base model Kmart leggings – when you spot a woman in these pants she has paid upwards of $90 for the deluxe model.
In certain upmarket areas, wearing expensive sportswear by day is so de rigueur that jeans are practically a faux pas. You can’t go to brunch in Bondi at a paleo cafe without a big hearty serving of body shame – everywhere you look there are trim, taut and terrific figures on show.
Are we really so busy that we need to veto getting properly dressed in – oh, I don’t know – tailored items like jeans and a shirt? Wasn’t it not so long ago that wearing leggings out of the house was frowned upon? And remember how Karl Lagerfeld declared the sweatpant a “sign of defeat” and we all hung our heads in shame and vowed to never wear them again?
The tables have turned. Last year Nike CEO Mike Parker called leggings the new denim, and it’s like at that very moment, in silent unison, fashion people the world over nodded. Kanye definitely took notes. Now the damn things are inescapable – at trendy cafés, boutique grocers and dog walking tracks. They’re so haute right now, they’re practically a status symbol.
I have a particularly stylish friend who is so committed to showing off (sorry, sharing) her healthy lifestyle, she has an Instagram page for her exercise outfits. There are 12,500 people following her. She falls into the popular category of #fitspo bloggers whose collective abs of steel are meant to motivate us into hitting the cross-trainer (all the while endorsing the latest fashionable workout label).
Indeed, smart brands are cashing in on the opportunity. Luxury e-tailer Net-a-Porter launched its Net-a-Sporter division in 2014 (“for sportswear as chic as anything else in your wardrobe”) and local labels are wising up too, expanding their ranges with active diffusion lines.
Do we need these clothes because they fit with our fast-paced lifestyles, as the marketing (and Kanye) would have us believe? Or do we like the way they make us feel, the way they make us look? Perhaps athleisure is just the sartorial equivalent of wearing a sandwich board inscribed with the words “I go to the gym”, because otherwise how would everyone know?
I go to the gym too. Just wanted you to know that.