Why brands are revisiting the golden age of tennis style
As you surely know already, this summer, for the first time since 1945, there will be no Championships at Wimbledon. As if to compensate those of us who watch the sport almost as much for the aesthetics as the athleticism, 2020 is proving to be a very good year for tennis-inspired, off-court fashion.
“I grew up being inspired by tennis style,” says Charaf Tajer, founder of Casablanca, a Parisian label that sauntered onto the scene a few seasons ago with its louche, painterly take on silk shirts and luxury sportswear. For SS ’20, Tajer has imagined his own Casablanca Tennis Club complete with retro logo, which is sewn and printed onto sweats, caps and T-shirts. A pair of pastel-pink silk tennis shorts is a particular highlight.
Why tennis, rather than football or basketball? “What I love about it is that it combines streetwear with a certain elegance,” says Tajer. “In Paris during the late Nineties and early Noughties, we really developed this look. We would mix a Lacoste polo with an Hermès scarf and vintage Cartier glasses and Nike sneakers. We were North African kids connecting with French luxury. Tennis played a big part in that aesthetic and inspired my tastes and Casablanca as a brand.”
Elsewhere, Gucci’s Tennis 1977 sneaker is the megabrand’s footwear staple for the summer. With its ecru canvas upper, complete with retro red and green stripes, vulcanised midsole and slim profile, it evokes memories of the days when tennis superstars expended as much effort falling out of discos as they did playing stylish serve and volley on dusty grass courts.
Lacoste, the fashion brand most closely associated with the sport (its founder, René Lacoste, won seven Grand Slams), has enjoyed a resurgence of late under a British creative director, Louise Trotter, who has fully embraced Le Crocodile’s heritage. Last year, her first catwalk show took place in the grounds of Roland-Garros, home of the French Open.
“We sell a polo shirt something like every two seconds,” Trotter told Esquire. “It appeals to everyone. I want to try and create products that can sit with the polo: clothes that are elegant and relevant.” One example is a recent, much-hyped Lacoste collaboration with Golf le Fleur, the brand owned by rapper Tyler, The Creator (top image). The clothes were a clear nod to that sophisticated, very French tennis aesthetic that Tajer grew up with: pastel-blue and white tracksuits, long-sleeved polos and white socks galore.
Roger, Rafa and Novak may be imperious on-court, their legacies long-cemented as, perhaps, the greatest men’s tennis players of all time. But style icons they are not. Federer did make an attempt with the 2007 era of cricket jumpers, umpire trousers and gold-embossed blazers, but you can’t help but feel it was a look cooked up by a Nike executive in an Oregon conference room, walls covered with motivational posters, rather than in the mind’s eye of the graceful Swiss.
To talk about tennis style that has stood the test of time, one has to mention Stan Smith, Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe. And one absolutely has to talk about Björn Borg, the angelic iceman who silently conquered all before him before strolling away from the game at the age of 26, hanging up his Fila track jacket for good.
Jack Carlson, founder of the Ivy League style specialist Rowing Blazers, is another fan of tennis style, and Fila-era Borg in particular. Carlson is in the process of collaborating with the Italian sportswear label on a range of Borg-inspired items: polos, tennis shoes and, yes, that track jacket.
“Tennis might be the most stylish of all sports,” Carlson says. “It has a lot to do with the fact it’s an individual game, so individual sartorial style can shine through a little more — even on court and during play — than in other sports. Many events having their own fairly strict dress codes only serves to make individuals more creative in how they choose to stand out.”
So while there might not be any umpires checking on wardrobe code violations in SW19 this year, that’s no excuse for the rest of us not to up our games. Even as the professional tour cools its heels until next summer, tennis style is the look of 2020.