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June 1, 2012updated Feb 11, 2013


By Chris Boyle

Haute couture and athletics don’t tend to go hand in hand, but Olympics fever hit early this year, decking catwalks with sporty chic ensembles for both day and night.

The time has come to dress like a winner. With the summer Olympics just around the corner, the fashion world has been inspired to get into shape. Or rather, shape up sportswear and give it the fashionable edge of designer direction. This has pumped up the style from its practical starting position and transformed it into a look that can hold its own both on the street and at a sit-down gala dinner.

The athletic air of sportswear naturally lends itself to daytime attire, but the key to pulling off the high fashion/high performance style is to make sure the cut and color are just right. Who wants to spend designer prices on pieces that look like they could have been bought at your local Foot Locker?

In their first collection for Kenzo the design team of Humberto Leon and Carol Lim (who are also the minds behind the trendsetting Opening Ceremony stores) nailed a perfect ten on the sportswear score sheet. They sent out a dynamic collection filled with primary color pieces like anoraks and jumpsuits, textured wave pattern knits and prints that resembled, from a distance, the chain-link fences used to enclose city schoolyards.

The French designer Isabel Marant came up with an idealized interpretation of American sportswear in her show. She flooded her catwalk with block letter football jerseys and track pants with wide stripes zipping down the sides. Giving her sportswear a colorful arts and crafts slant, she also used shredded sweatshirts knitted together to create tank dresses and hoodies. At Akris, designer Albert Kriemler was inspired by motor racing and cleverly used graphic prints of Formula 1 cars speeding across ensembles to create a stripe effect. An A-line hoodie in a “green light” color outfitted with diagonal zipper openings down the front was another sporty showstopper.

American designers know sportswear like the back of their hand. The undisputed leader of this movement is Alexander Wang, a designer who, in a very short time, has built a fashion empire on street savvy sportswear that has a cool attitude and employs innovative, high-tech fabrics. His spring/summer show was a perfect example of a designer in his element. Inspired by motocross, NASCAR and competitive BMX bikers, the collection showcases the iconic sportswear style of perforated fabrics in intriguing new ways. Mesh overlays on everything from jackets to pants pockets and jumpsuits let the underlying brightly colored fabrics pixilate through to the foreground. The designer, who used fabrics from a sneaker factory in his clothing, also interspersed chevrons and stripes on tops to give the sheer fabrics a sense of urgency. Even the abstract motif imprinted on the final few exits should resonate with sports fans, as they are replications of stadium seating plans.

As much as sportswear is generally regarded as a daytime option, a few designers took on the task of giving the sporty style a sophisticated after hours vibe. The two designers who pulled this off best were Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham. It’s no surprise that McCartney, who has a long-standing partnership with Adidas, would be adept at giving eveningwear an athletic edge. Her lightly layered asymmetrical dresses that mixed bold prints, mesh and 3D embroidered fabric swirls were designed with a toned body in mind. Victoria Beckham tapped into the oh-so-sporty concept of stretch fabrics for her bodyhugging collection. Her sexy show featured dresses outfitted with nylon straps, D-rings and mesh inserts, and the use of double-faced satin on outerwear cut in boxy shapes with sporty zipper and press button embellishments made for a decidedly luxurious take on sportswear.

So suit up ladies, and let the sartorial games begin.

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