In 2012, when Paula Reed worked as fashion director at Harvey Nichols in London, she noticed curious things taking place on the menswear floor. “Our buy of Givenchy, Kenzo, Raf Simons and (Alexander) McQueen sweatshirts, T-shirts and bomber jackets were being snapped up as eagerly by the girls as they were by the boys,” she recalls. Her team took the obvious next step: they shifted a selection of the menswear stock to the fourth floor where contemporary women’s wear lived. “And it has gathered momentum every season,” says Reed, who now works at luxury e-commerce retailer Boutique 1. She affirms, “I guarantee that this decade will be defined by athleisure.”
Equated with sporty casuals, ‘athleisure’ is the coming together of activewear and leisure clothing, and is predicted to be one of the most pervasive and longest lasting trends our generation will see. It’s everywhere—from the catwalks, with couture and ready-to- wear collections blending sophisticated tailoring with sportswear detailing; to million-dollar popstar collaborations with sports brands; and down to our daily lives.
Half the time, it has nothing to do with sport: the Indian working woman with leggings replacing the churidaar; the bachelor preferring track pants to jeans while stepping out to buy bread and eggs; the college student in gold-glazed keds; the wannabe socialite who picks up her kids from school in a Juicy Couture bomber jacket and tracks; the fashion editor in a little black dress worn with sneakers instead of high heels at the front row of fashion week; the young executive in a chic polo with formal trousers. Like falling in love, the coupling of sport and fashion is a result of various forces at work, from chemistry to biology to social aspirations. Athleisure is irresistible.
Unlike other mainstream fashion trends that start from the silver screen or the most prestigious catwalks in the world, this movement is defined by street cred and an emphasis on individual comfort over obligatory social codes. Driven by selfies on social media and paparazzi- shot images of film stars in their casual avatars, its icons range from Instagram sensations like Kylie Jenner—the youngest of the Kardashian clan is usually seen in a sports bra and leggings accessorised with a designer bag and sunglasses—to Bollywood stars like Kangana Ranaut who pairs sneakers with cocktail dresses, and Ranveer Singh who made printed trackpants legit daywear.
Even Russian strongman Vladimir Putin isn’t immune— he was photographed in a cashmere- and-silk sweatsuit by Loro Piana estimated to cost around $3,200, having post-workout tea with his prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev.
This year, athleisure even finds place in the Merriam-Webster dictionary with the definition ‘casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use’. “The top searched fashion item last year was ‘jogging pants’,” says Reed, who was one of the panelists at P&G Future Fabrics 2015 in Barcelona, where the world’s authorities on fashion, textiles and fabric care came together to discuss how athleisure was changing the dynamics in their fields. Reed refers to surveys that say roughly half of the buyers of activewear buy it for non-active use.“Today, entire wardrobes are built around upscale sportswear for day and knockout cocktail wear for the evening. Wearing high-end sports clothes is the new status symbol,” she says.