|Alexander Wang for H&M|
Lycra, latex and neoprene...this trio may have replaced cotton as the fabrics of our lives. Throw in a little nylon, a shot of polyester and perhaps some rayon, and voila! You've got the current craze of "athletic streetwear" for lack of a better name (more about the moniker in a bit). The latest iteration on this phenomenon is the November 6 sale of Alexander Wang x H&M collection, a quasi "bondage meets logoed frogman-inspired effort" which failed to deliver the goods on its endless pre-nascent hype. Refinery 29 is one website that couldn't contain enthusiasm: referring to Wang they wrote "The designer took his nighttime-sports inspiration to heart; crafting an après-gym array just right for the Saturday-night circuit." Of course, a few items such as backpacks, boxer gloves, over-the-knee socks, a jacket and a pullover sold out, however the bulk of the collection was still available in a wide range of sizes on the H&M website (I did a peremptory check) a full day after the mass frenzy; unheard of in some of the Swedish retailer's past collaborations.
|Alexander Wang for H&M|
We already have myriad incarnations of this "beyond-the-gym-wear" as just about every high-end designer from Marc Jacobs to Karl Lagerfeld, from DKNY, (someone's got to give that poor out-of-work destitute model Cara Delevingne a job... HA) to Adidas by Stella McCartney has tried their hand at it. There are plenty more including Pharrell x Adidas, Nike x Pedro Lourenco, Net- A -Sporter, Cynthia Rowley, Betsey Johnson, Norma Kamali...the list is fairly exhaustive not to mention brands like Athleta, Lululemon and the UK's Sweaty Betty. Topshop has recently announced that Beyonce will debut a line of activewear or "whatever you want to call it" for them, just to round out the mix. I was recently at a grand opening party for a townhouse boutique next to Lord & Taylor known as Bene Rialto ("Good marketplace" in Italian) which featured a line of working out/ hanging out attire with the name Alala.
|Rihanna in Alexander Wang for H&M|
Am I the only one who thinks that this is getting ridiculous? Are we really a nation of women who go to the gym (or want to look like we go) and never make it back to our closets to change? Can we really tweak a little here and a little there as Kamali Active would have us believe; a quick change from leggings to a lycra skirt and presto! chango! ready for the office-o? Is this just the next evolution on a wardrobe of sweats or a not-quite-ready-for-the-jet-pack uniform a la Jetsons 2.0? I don't expect to see anyone at a board meeting "sporting" the "just came from the gym and didn't have time to change but it's alright" attire anytime soon, or at least, I hope not. I thought that the Wang/H&M collection was downright silly and I'm glad to be mostly proven right by less than stellar sales.
|Oscar de la Renta rubberized skirt for Spring 2013|
There's another aspect of this type of attire which I had not really thought about; the close relationship to what a "rubber friendly" website terms: "fetishwear." I had definitely not had that "lifestyle" in mind when I ordered a piece of the Spring 2013 Oscar de la Renta collection from The Outnet. A red pencil skirt which was termed "rubberized" turned out to be a full-on latex bathing cap of an item--no lining or anything, which static clings unattractively to the thighs, even on the runway models. Anna Wintour's expression is priceless in a still shot from the show as the skanky skirt retreats, albeit teamed with an uber conservative black peplumed "Ladies who lunch" jacket and flowered brooch. She was later quoted as saying that she loved the collection which was replete with several other latex pieces (a top, a dress) as well as pink streaked beehived models.. I know the late great de la Renta can do no wrong; which is basically why I even ordered the skirt in the first place; but upon seeing it "in the flesh" I got the strong vibe that this is what the "discerning rubberist, fetishist or alternative clubwear afficionado" would clad themselves in for reasons that have nothing to do with Ebola protection.
|Latex skirt from The Baroness website|
Back to the problem of an appropriate sounding name for the activewear category in general. Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times recently wrote about just this very subject (she must have read my mind!) and offered readers a chance to sound off with some suggestions. (click here to read column) Thinking it might be fun, I offered a few, some of which were not deemed Times-worthy. The ones that made it into the mix were: AthTechLeisure or ATL( with apologies to Hotlanta), then I got really "acronym happy." I proposed the following: NOGO (Not Only Gym Outfit), TOGO (Town or Country Outfit), GOTO (Gym Outfit Today Only) or, my personal fave TETSI (Too Expensive To Sweat In). My dual suggestion of NFGO (Not For Gym Only)was coupled with the cheeky NFGW (Not F...ing Gym Wear),which was apparently censored; totally understandable for the Grey Lady. Other readers made suggestions like Pret-A-Jogger (cute) or Ready-To-Run (sounds like stockings) as well as Everywear which I had thought of and discarded for being too pedantic. No final ruling was made, to my knowledge, on what name was finally chosen so we are left to wonder.
|Kate Bosworth in BR coat|
In a parallel mass retailer universe, I've been eagle eying Banana Republic and what impact their new designer Marissa Webb will have. What I've noticed so far besides a subtle "J. Crew-ification," is the advance celebrity hoopla over a particularly covetable item: a faux shearling or sherpa-type jacket which has appeared with alarming perpetuity around the inter web. Kate Bosworth was photographed wearing the white with black piping 3/4 length coat last month and since then there have been umpteen permutations of "Get Kate's Style" or even her actual outerwear. In a "celebs are just like us" twist, many websites are touting the fact that this jacket is an affordable $225 at Banana Republic--before showing off other "dupes," some at escalating price points. I called and visited my neighborhood BR last week which was when the coat was supposedly available. Not only did no one in customer service online have a clue but they mostly suggested that this was just a one-off made for the actress and probably wouldn't be produced at all. When I indicated to a store associate that it was part of the holiday collection they told me to expect it "the Monday before Thanksgiving." Meanwhile another of the "chatty" websites said it would be in stores only, further heightening the suspense. Just like in "The Sopranos," the disinformation works like virtual catnip to our cyber feline.
There's nothing like the pre-exposure of an impending item or collection to make customers scramble; the manufactured exclusivity, rarity and celebrity cachet make it the object of desire, whether one really has use for it or not. I would say that the AW/HM collection perhaps fell short of this goal. After all, it's a good deal harder to create a demand for, say a "scuba-inspired" rubber-like outfit even one emblazoned in WANG, than it is for a soft, cozy jacket, especially with the cold winds of winter beginning to make their presence felt.
- Laurel Marcus
Better Bets "Mad for Plaid" by Rhonda Erb
Dooney & Bourke Highland Lexington Satchel
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Hanes Plaid Tights
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