When I went to Athleta's winter preview a few weeks ago, I was impressed with the elevated design I saw in the activewear. A rep there told me that customers had been asking for pieces that looked less like "mom-wear," and based on what the brand showed at its very first runway show today, this is definitely not your mama's Athleta...unless maybe you're Blue Ivy Carter.
The extravaganza — "show" is much too mild a word — started out with several dance/performance numbers showcasing possibly the coolest girls on earth running around, dancing with exercise balls, jumping on baby trampolines and break-dancing in Athleta-wear. Athleta enlisted Zanna Roberts Rassi, Marie Claire's senior fashion editor, to style the show, and Luam Keflezgy — choreographer to Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Britney Spears — to choreograph it, further cementing the fusion of activewear and fashion. The whole thing culminated in a dancer in a harness running through the air.
Nancy Taylor, Athleta's senior director of design, said that while historically Athleta has been about performance, the design team (who are all athletes) is focused on making lifestyle pieces that actually perform. Think t-shirts that wick but don't look like wicking t-shirts. "We're giving [our customer] something that looks like a lifestyle piece but it will function for her life," Taylor says. Her favorite trend is ripped right from the Taylor Swift book of post-gym paparazzi shots: The new silhouette consists of high-waisted workout pants and 3/4 length bras, with a sliver of tummy showing. A decidedly slouchier silhouette, with muted yet still colorful patterns, also showed up in the collection onstage.
Cool pieces aside, the vibe of the show was just plain fun. All brands should have dancing at their runway shows — it made me happy, and also made me want to wear workout clothes for the entirety of New York Fashion Week. One particularly exuberant number, set to Beyoncé's "Yoncé," elicited much hooting and hollering. I grabbed Keflezgy backstage after the show to ask her how it all gelled.
"We only had 17 girls, and all these scenes were done by the same girls. It was literally The Matrix," Keflezgy says. "Creating the script for this was rocket science. The girls were so talented that they stepped up to whatever we needed them to do." And what about the obvious Beyoncé inspiration? "I did not pull moves directly from Beyoncé, because I like to make sure that each project has its own moves, its own unique identity," she says. "It was important creating choreography for this that felt like Beyoncé, that felt like it could be right on stage with her, totally inspired by her and making sure it was true to the music and true to the spirit of that scene, but that it was totally unique for Athleta. And Athleta can take that and say, 'Hey Beyoncé, look what we did!'”