They are a far cry from the eyebrow-raising ensembles that tennis star Venus Williams once wore to the French Open and Wimbledon. Fashion and sports enthusiasts were floored by Williams’s steady stream of colorful and design-forward (or risque, depending on whom you ask) outfits. Who could forget the Tina Turner fringe or the near-nudie shorts?
But with her fashion line EleVen, Williams is scaling back her previous attempts to turn the tennis court into a runway.
“For me, those were just fun,” she says of her court couture. “I was really just trying to push the envelope. It was colors and textures that caught my eye. But with EleVen, I’m trying to make things that look good on everyone.”
Williams, who recently took home a gold medal at the London Olympics in women’s doubles with her sister Serena, is not simply lending her name to the line of active wear. She has a fashion degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and is working on her MBA. She has also worked with Diane von Furstenberg on a line for Reebok, and collaborated with her design idol, Ralph Lauren.
“I love Ralph Lauren,” she says on the phone from the Hamptons at a launch party for her collection. “He’s such an amazing designer. Everything he does is so classical and beautiful, but still inventive.”
Williams is striving for something similar. Her line of activewear is a combination of geometric prints, watercolor art, and classic solids. She is designing menswear as well. As expected, the line is heavy on tennis skirts and athletic wear. She even designed a Wonder Woman-inspired Olympic outfit to match her sister’s tennis garb. A version of that outfit is being sold on her website.
“What I try to make is something that’s fun and colorful,” she says. “There’s been a lot of white in tennis clothes, and that’s not what I want. But I also want to be making clothes that can be in my closet for 10 years and still be in style. It’s a combination of both styles — classic and cool.”
This is a smaller and more restrained line than the collection she introduced in 2007 with the now defunct Steve & Barry’s stores. That line came and went when the store went bankrupt. The current incarnation of EleVen is what Williams describes as the blurring between sports and style.
“You see it happening more and more.” Williams says. “Trends are universal. They’re not restricted to fashion.”
Williams will be showing her capsule collection, which is priced generally under $100, at New York Fashion Week next month. She plans a more expansive line in the future but makes it clear that she is sticking to active wear.
“I love clothes,” she says. “But I won’t be designing evening wear. That’s not my thing. But never in a million years did I imagine that I’d be showing in New York.”
She is carefully involved in the creation of the clothes, sketching each design, and then trying on samples when they arrive from the factory. Even though these are clothes that she designs and reflect her aesthetic, they are meant for a wider audience. Not just athletes who want to wear a fringed tennis skirt or a skin-baring yellow lattice top.
“Yes, I want it to be innovative,” she says. “But people also need to feel comfortable in it.”