For all the emphasis placed on fitness these days, between newfangled workouts and wearable tech to help count the daily burn, the appropriate apparel hasn't become any more advanced. There's an obvious dearth of innovative, design-conscious activewear: women are still stuck with plain basics, like black leggings and loose fitting tees in a limited set of neon colors—though some brands "dare" to experiment with blue leopard print or other lively patterns. With brands focused so intently on practicality and comfort, the style aspect is often neglected.
Enter German-born, Notting Hill-based designer Stefanï Grosse, whose past experience at Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Nicole Farhi and more, have shaped her eye for elegance and modernity. A passionate tennis player (and golfer) who was continuously disappointed in the available attire choices, Grosse made the jump from sewing couture gowns for the red carpet to founding her own ideal high-end, fashion-forward sportswear line, Monreal London, that doesn't skimp on the performance capabilities. She designs for herself—her needs on-court, as well as off—which means high-tech fabrics from Italy in lieu of polyester, patent-pending special pockets, geometric patterns, colors that grab attention and hints of mesh in all the right places. While her most recent collections have focused on tennis, Grosse is in the midst of designing for golf and gym fitness, too. No matter the sport, each Monreal London piece adds a boost of confidence of looking good while working out—cinching that winning serve.
Just in time for the 2014 US Open, we spoke with Grosse about the challenges of making stylishly functional pieces, the benefits to being an independent sportswear designer and who she'll be cheering on during the two-week tournament.
What is the functional criteria or foundation that you build upon when designing each piece?
I pay a lot of attention to the quality and functionality of our garments, which is crucial when it comes to performance-wear. Using high-tech performance fabrics from Italy, with plenty of stretch and a UV 50+ filter, the collection is both supportive and feminine. I test all styles myself and experience first-hand what technically works and what doesn't. All styles have to be "easy-care’" which means that they are machine-washable and don’t need ironing.
Having been frustrated with the lack of options for tennis ball storage in existing tennis clothes for example, I designed the special ball pockets of our ball shorts and leggings, which are now even being patented. The luxury polyamide stretch performance materials we use are supportive and opaque, yet breathable and sweat-absorbent, which is rare to find in tennis whites.
Functionality is the basic requirement of a sports garment, but overall I think women have the desire to look attractive and fashionable.
What are some of the challenges of making functional pieces stylish?
If a design detail hinders performance in any way, the garment is a failure. That’s the biggest difference between fashion clothing and sportswear. Fashion does not have to be practical, functional or comfortable. Functionality is the basic requirement of a sports garment, but overall I think women have the desire to look attractive and fashionable.
What's the benefit of being an independent sportswear designer when other corporate brands can pour millions of dollars into performance fabric research and more?
As a new independent sportswear designer, I have the luxury to be able to experiment and develop quite special pieces, which reach a much smaller and more affluent group of customers, who are willing to pay a bit extra to get something different. The product is more expensive to produce and we have a smaller margin, but we also run a leaner business. We can adjust to trends much quicker—decision-making is currently still a very easy process at Monreal. The materials we use for our products are of the highest quality in the world—made in Italy and technically superior. This comes with a price tag. The challenge for corporate mass market brands (producing in Asia) is to find and develop good materials at a low price point.
What were some of the lessons you've learned as a designer at Donna Karan and Calvin Klein that you applied to Monreal London?
From Donna Karan I learned how to flatter women’s body shapes and make them look their best—especially the lessons in the art of draping and molding stretch jerseys around the body came in very handy. Calvin’s approach to focus on the essence and strip away unnecessary details has probably been most influential in my career as a fashion designer.
You've hinted that you'll be expanding into golf and fitness. What do you think those areas are lacking in that you're hoping to design?
A large portion of our current collection already crosses over into fitness and lifestyle. The multi-purpose functionality is what I am aiming for. Why shouldn’t cool leggings be worn for tennis underneath dresses or skirts during warm-up and also be popular in a spin class? The lines between activewear for different sports and daywear are blurring. Only very few styles are intended exclusively for the tennis court and if so, they are still stylish enough to show off in the clubhouse after the match. I can’t wait to get my hand on golf wear, which has all the potential to become the most stylish sportswear of all. The lifestyle and fashion crossover aspect is quite special. Golf, as well as tennis, has influenced fashion in many ways and I am intrigued to reinvent the traditional look and image of the sport in a modern and sexy way, while making the pieces fully functional.
Who will you be rooting for in the 2014 US Open?
Genie Bouchard. She’s played extremely well this year—I hope she’s up for the challenge, having been in the final at Wimbledon and the semis at Roland Garros. She’s facing stiff competition with Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and of course Maria Sharapova.
Images courtesy of Monreal