Label Playing Field


Label Playing Field

Fish fry and Black Label. Sounds like an order at the bar. Yet Fish Fry is Manish Arora’s high-end sportswear for Reebok,and Black Label is a range of shoes by Aki Narula for Puma that was launched last year. These labels are more fashionable than sportswear and more sporty than fashion. Sportswear crossing over to fashion isn’t just an amusing spiel for those who are more street fashion than D&G in their style. It is a wardrobe lesson even for those who are “fashion,fashion” as a stylist says. “Nothing like sports chic to inject instant trendiness in our stride,” he adds. But before you brandish your dull gold Nike bag,here’s why sports chic now gives “fashion,fashion” a run for its money.

Sania Mirza was sitting in the front row at a recent show in Mumbai—mascaraed lashes,red nails,a short dress and tight top with high heels—as models,sporting outfits from Moto Chic (a Shantanu-Nikhil sports collection for Adidas),walked the ramp. Adidas brand ambassador Sania looked on as Deepika Padukone strode down in sexy bubble shorts and strappy,striped tees. Sania and Deepika. One a professional tennis player,the other a diva. With their presence,the brand made two points in the same breath. “Adidas is a mix of performance technology and style,” says Tushar Goculdas,sales and marketing director with Adidas India,which has got designer duo Shantanu-Nikhil to design clothes and accessories for the “S&N line”(part of “Adidas Style Essentials”) every season for the next five years.

What is “Style Essentials” for Goculdas is “off-pitch sportswear” for Keerthana Ramakrishnan,PR leader,Nike India,which too has lifestyle lines. Both sports brands mark a clear line between lifestyle lines and regular performance-enhancing gear. All sporty clothes do not mean sportswear. Nike uniforms for the Men in Blue are professional cricket gear,not sports-inspired fashion. But what Deepika wore on the ramp was a sporty outfit. Similarly,Alcott’s polo T-shirts or Benetton’s velvet track pants are sports-inspired fashion,not pitch gear.

The idea of sports chic took shape in the US in the early 20th century when designer Coco Chanel included sports clothes in her collections. “I invented sport suits for myself. Not because other women were playing sports but because I was playing them,” she had said. Then,designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s divided tennis skirt for star player Lili de Alvarez shocked the tennis world in 1931. Soon,premium sports brands realised that reciprocating the interest would be a brilliant marketing strategy. Slowly but strategically,they launched lifestyle segments alongside performance gear,roping in some of the biggest names in fashion like the late Alexander McQueen and Sergio Rossi (for Puma) or Yohji Yammamoto and Stella McCartney (for Adidas). Those who didn’t got left behind. Like Bata.

In India,if cricket mania wasn’t enough,the new caprice for “going to the gym” has made sport chic the hot new trend. You don’t need style while playing badminton but if you are gymming or playing golf,trendiness is a must as these are also social activities. Lifestyle sports lines target the young,a reason why they have worked. The youth is not rolling in money; the best most can afford as a cross between snob value and value for money are sports brands. Mix-and-match possibilities are many: sports leggings with a kurti,a sporty bag with dhoti pants,and,if you like it haute,a tee with a chiffon sari.

Global sports brands have found the pulse of the Indian market. In 2007,Reebok commissioned designer Manish Arora’s Fish Fry range for Paris Fashion Week. Electric blue,pink,silver and parrot green funky footwear,and Swarovski-embellished shoes became a big hit in India. This year,Reebok launched a My Name is Khan lifestyle range as well as a Shiamak Davar dance line. “Sports salted with fashion and Bollywood. Aur kya chahiye?” a Reebok insider quips.

Rising sales prove the brands are on track. “Designer wear tempts the young crowd,which looks for ways to associate with glamorous people. Our sales rose after our tie-up with Shantanu and Nikhil,” says Goculdas. The designers are happy. “Getting an S&N wall in Adidas stores gives us options to be both marketable and accessible,” says Shantanu Mehra.

In this ‘all-is-well’ world,there are two shoe bites. One,will fashion lines from sports brands eventually outrun performance gear? If they do,will Sania be on the ramp and will Deepika cheer? Two,someone please rescue Saina Nehwal from the lehngas of Hyderabad fashion week and give her some sportswear to endorse.