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A Question of Sport

Ian Wright

The pairing of fashion and function makes a winning combination for performance sportswear – and its legacy should last well beyond the Olympic year.

The pairing of fashion and function makes a winning combination for performance sportswear – and its legacy should last well beyond the Olympic year.

With the London Olympics looming larger on the horizon than your average Greco-Roman wrestler, the role sports and performance clothing play in a wider fashion context has come into sharp focus. Technical fabrics, innovative closures and ergonomically designed footwear all have their functions, but where once this sector was just about doing a job well, now it’s holding a torch for performancewear that also looks the part.

This merging of form and function is something the likes of designers Aitor Throup and Christopher Raeburn have been championing for some time. Throup’s intelligent work on the England football team kit with Umbro and with Stone Island and CP Company explores the intricate motion of the body and uses that knowledge to shape garments for ease of movement. Similarly, Raeburn takes classically technical fabrics and hardware and successfully recontextualises them in a distinctly fashion-led way, with unusual silhouettes making his collections as much about aesthetics as they are about the great outdoors.

Raeburn himself says: “The hybrid is something I’m very interested in. I’m keen to build on and push the technical elements of what we do, essentially to future-proof our collections. We have a natural cross-over between function and fashion, but I’m looking to strive for greater performance, through more technical fabrics and high-quality construction.”

This high end meets high performance sentiment unsurprisingly came to a head on the spring 12 catwalks, with the season’s sporty trend timed to drop handily just before the Olympics. And yes, collaborations between sports brands and fashion designers and labels are hardly new, but the sheer omnipresence of performance brands and projects at the moment suggests a bigger shift towards sports rather than just isolated link-ups or individual collections.

The most successful products are those on which technical detailing, cut and finishing are employed with care, considering performance as the primary concern without neglecting the look.

New luxury sports brand UVU’s use of incredibly complex textiles and detailing intended for limit-pushing situations also happens to look good. As the brand’s consultant creative director Bob Sheard notes: “The biggest trend we see is for ‘extreme craftsmanship’. That is to say performance product design that is motivated by solving problems rather than creating trends. However,  we must never lose sight of the fact that aesthetics can have a tangible and positive affect on a runner’s performance.”

This form and function combination is something performance brands have developed over the past couple of seasons but now it seems this hunger for high-tech is influencing more mainstream fashion labels – for example, Japanese directional denim brand Visvim used a technical zip and weld on a classic Western denim shirt for spring 12. But in truth it’s when both elements are considered equally that the real magic happens, a synergy you’ll find evident throughout our guide to the podium-topping styles for autumn 12 over the next 16 pages.

This feels like more than just a Dunlop Green Flash in the pan for sports and performance wear but we’ll probably only know how long its popularity will endure once London’s Olympic flame has gone out.

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