Where fashion meets the field
The boundaries between fashion and fitness have never been more blurred, writes Gemma Soames
Time was when woman had two wardrobe lives: her fashion life and her sportswear life - and the two were kept apart. These days, however, things have changed. As women become increasingly health conscious and the cool of collective exercise takes hold, our sporting and social lives are merging and fashion is catching up.
Check out the spring collections in the shops and you will see sporty references everywhere. At Rag & Bone, lightweight parkas, racing stripes and zips all give a vibe that feels activity friendly. At DKNY, mesh fabrics, stretchy dresses and even baseball caps, rucksacks and hi-top trainers make an appearance.
Alexander Wang, a man who has channelled sportswear since the start, has delivered a flurry of sweatshirt-inspired dresses for the season. And according to Phillip Lim, the item we shall most covet for spring will be the humble sweatshirt - albeit covered in sequins.
But as fashion creeps towards sportswear for inspiration, sportswear is also shifting its focus. It's not enough for your workout gear to be functional - it needs to pass the style test, too. It's a need that designers are identifying, not least Jaclyn Jhin, who launched her sportswear label Hu-nu in Hong Kong last year with just that consumer desire in mind.
"I wanted to design activewear that was not only stylish but also very comfortable - something you can wear all day long, to your kids' school, in the MTR, to the office," she says. "I called it Hu-nu for the play on words, as in 'who knew' you were going to the gym? We think of ourselves as a fashion house that makes activewear, not the other way around."
She is not alone. All over the world of sport, flatteringly cut and properly fitted running gear, fashion forward trainers, runway-inspired colours and cuts and the latest in pioneering fabrications are all being blended together by brands to deliver a world of workout wear possibilities.
The designer at the forefront of this merger is Stella McCartney. Long known as a woman who designs for real women's lives, her focus on clothes that do their job properly have seen her give sporty basics a star turn in her collections season after season.
Shown in the slipstream of her success designing Team GB's outfits for last year's Olympics, her spring-summer 2013 show had more than a small element of the sporty about it (see her oversized sweatshirts and racerback dresses as proof). It is in her activewear for Adidas, however, that McCartney focuses her fashion sensibility on sportswear.
Using performance fabrics such as ClimaLite (designed to enhance breathability by drawing heat and moisture away from the skin) and strategically placed ventilation zones, McCartney delivers proper performance wear - just ask tennis stars Caroline Wozniacki and Andrea Petkovic, who debuted her new Adidas Barricade range at last month's Australian Open. This being McCartney, those items come this spring in summery pastels, floral prints and metallics. Your running leggings may be ClimaCool, but courtesy of McCartney, they can also come in pink leopard print.
Long at the forefront of pioneering fabrications, Nike has also upped both its technology and fashionability of late.
The Nike Sphere range features fabrics that provide warmth and breathability without weight. Better still, they come in stylish shapes. A case in point is this season's bomber jacket.
A key item from the spring runways, courtesy of Nike it comes with a Dri-Fit mesh lining to keep your body at optimum temperature.
The most fashionable offering from the sportswear giant will be its Dunk Sky Hi sneakers. Set to launch next month in Hong Kong and around the world to coincide with fashion weeks, these on-trend trainers will come with a concealed wedge heel à la Isabel Marant, but with the added extra of Nike's cushioning, support and court-inspired traction.
Another brand at the forefront of desirable sportswear is Canada's Lululemon. Founded in 1998, the brand has dedicated followers who flock to its flattering shapes, fashionable colours and perfect fit.
For many women, the sort of Lululemon track pants they go for is as much of a fashion statement as their Lanvin. Are you a loose, dance studio pants person or a fan of denim finished Wunder Unders? Either way, the label's use of Luon, a four-way-stretch fabric, is guaranteed to provide the best fit no matter how energetic your downward dog, while its Silverescent fabrics are designed to deodorise. So far, so functional.
But it isn't just the big guns getting in on this trend. Newcomers to the scene have the same focus - brands are being launched with the task of fusing functionality and fashion.
One example is Lucas Hugh, a London-based hi-tech performance sportswear brand available on Net-a-porter and designed by Anjhe Mules, a former swimwear designer and one-time intern at Alexander McQueen. Making use of pioneering glued seam technology, her brand's leggings, bra tops and fitted T-shirts look like the latest fashion items, but come in fabrics designed both to support and shape the body.
Closer to home, the aforementioned Hu-nu uses Supplex, a cotton substitute with better stretch and breathability, Tencel, a fibre that's brilliant at moisture absorption, and Revolutional Slim, a fabric that contains caffeine, aloe vera and vitamin E and is designed to reduce cellulite and water retention before you even start your workout. The brand also uses soya fabric, which is often called "vegetable cashmere" for its soft feel. It has excellent absorption and even contains natural UV protection.
If it's hard-working fashion you're looking for, you can't ask for more than a dose of sporty chic. It works for your wardrobe by delivering wearable basics that don't scrimp on comfort or cool and activewear that promotes fitness, looks great and does the job properly.
Clearly, in the race to develop sportswear, consumers are the big winners.