Dress down day arrives nearly every day Venus Williams steps on the court. Clad in her favorite dress of the moment, Williams downs most opponents with the ease of model strolling down the runway with style.
The aspiring designer will arrive at Wimbledon with a new doubles partner this summer — noted fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who has designed a new line of Reebok tennis' dresses for Venus to wear at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
The reported five-year, $40 million deal Venus signed with Reebok nearly two years ago makes her one of the highest-paid female athlete endorsers in the world. Eight months ago, Venus and her mother Oracene met with Von Furstenberg where Venus provided her views on the proposed collection.
According to a published report in Women's Wear Daily written by Rosemary Feitelberg, the partnering of the world's third-ranked player and a top fashion figure "marks the first time a fashion designer has teamed up with a pro athlete and an athletic label to produce performance-orientated active wear."
The 22-year-old Williams — who owns V Starr Interiors, an interior design company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida — has a passion for fashion. Williams, who often seems more excited discussing her latest dress than her most recent victory in post-match press conferences, designs a line of women's leather apparel for Wilson's Leather, appropriately called the Venus Williams Collection.
"Partnering with Diane Von Furstenberg on this exciting collection was a dream come true," Williams told Feitelberg. "Her style is sexy, sophisticated and hip — and that's exactly how I wanted my tennis apparel to look. It was truly an honor to work with Diane on the sketches and color choices. It was amazing to see my ideas come to life — I am thrilled with the new collection."
The tennis court has long served as a sports style runway for new trends in fashion. Famed tennis dress designer Ted Tingling, affectionately nicknamed "the leaning tower of pizzazz" by Tennis Week writer Bud Collins, caused a Wimbledon scandal when he outfitted Gertrude "Gorgeous Gussy" Moran with lace panties. Tingling distinctive dresses for a series of champions including Maureen Connolly, Billie Jean King, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong.
In 1985, American Anne White created a stir by wearing an all-white skin-tight body suit at Wimbledon. Andre Agassi earned international attention when he took the court clad in blue denim shorts and more recently Anna Kournikova's midriff-baring belly shirts, Serena Williams' black spandex cat suit and Tommy Haas' sleeveless Nike t-shirt have all attracted attention.
In creating a design for Williams, who has helped usher in a new era of women's tennis, Von Furstenberg looked back to the past — to the 1930s era of tennis when the all-white rule reigned supreme and corsets were in vogue.
"We wanted to bring glamour with a twist and a wink," Von Furstenberg told Feitelberg. "Something that makes you smile."
The two all-white dresses she designed for Venus may elicit both smiles and wide-eyed wonder from fans. One dress infuses elements of the corset into its back, while the other offers a pleasing pleated skirt paired with a supportive under wire top. The irony of bringing back a modified corset on the back of the dress was a conscious decision for Von Furstenberg, who is honoring tennis tradition of the past while creating a design for the future.
"It's interesting when women started to play tennis, they were breaking through the corset and now we're making another kind of corset," Von Furstenberg told Feitelberg. "What athletic clothes need now is to come out of the eighties and become a little more glamorous."
The U.S. Open dresses Von Furstenberg designed are primarily black and according to Feitelberg range in style from V-neck tops to short tennis skirts and bicycle shorts. The U.S. Open collection also features a black-and-white link design across the front. The collection will be shipped to about 50 American retailers in July with prices ranging from $20-$43.
Don't look for a commercial campaign to accompany the collection's release. While each piece in the collection will bear an "Rbk by Diane Von Furstenberg" designer label, there is no major ad campaign planned as Reebok hopes to create interest in the collection by word of mouth.
"We want this to be coded and contagious," Reebok vice president and general manager of women's wear Jan Sharkansky told Feitelberg. "You have to be in the know to know."
According to Von Furstenberg, Venus and Serena often share each other's non-tennis clothes. While Venus and Serena's matches have not always been closely-contested, when it comes to fashion the sisters seem to maintain a healthy sense of competitive style — apparently neither sister tells the other their plans for their new tournament apparel.
"They like to impress one another with what they wear more than anyone," Von Furstenberg told Feitelberg.