How sports inspired the world’s biggest names in luxury fashion

As the world embraces the comforts of athleisurewear, luxury design houses have increasingly been turning to sports brands for inspiration and collaborations that are redefining the notion of fashion and breaking down formalwear boundaries. 

High-end fashion designs are heavily influenced by intricate craftsmanship and handcrafted details with elements of tailored options. The most exclusive and exquisite of haute couture, or one-off bespoke garments, can at times look more like costumes than clothes. 

So it might be surprising to learn that the likes of Prada, Hermès and Gucci, among some of the most storied luxury fashion houses in the world, all have a history deeply rooted in utilitarian wear. 

Though collaborations like those between Gucci and The North Face seem to challenge conventions of luxury fashion, athleisurewear is, in fact, a trend that dates as far back as the founding of these luxury powerhouses. 

The equestrian lifestyle is a key pillar of French fashion house Hermès’ designs today. Horse motifs and heavy use of saddle-inspired details in its leather goods are much more than mere design details. The house found its start as a harness workshop in Paris in 1837, creating high-end bespoke saddles and other equestrian accessories for European noblemen. 

By 1914, the house began expanding into equestrian attire when it acquired the right to use zippers in clothes, the first to do so in France at the time.

The brand’s original horse-drawn carriage logo continues to feature in today’s designs and packaging. 

Photo: Gucci

Close to a century later, Gucci followed a similar trajectory and began to take what was once a saddle and luggage workshop into an internationally renowned fashion house empire. Its founder Guccio Gucci was an expert leathersmith who made horse riding gear for wealthy Italians out of his workshop in Florence.

Leather riding boots bearing horse bite motifs soon evolved into a fashion statement when the brand incorporated the detail into leather loafers and high heels.

Different terrain also inspired fashion that transcends the setting they were created for. The likes of Prada and Moncler continue to be heavily driven by their deeply planted roots in sports. 

Among the first to wear Moncler’s lightweight quilted jackets were Italian explorers who trekked up K2. The French brand was born in a mountain village in Grenoble, France, in 1952 and went on to outfit the French downhill ski team when the town hosted the 1968 Winter Olympics. 

Moncler’s down jackets are no longer spotted only on snowy slopes; it’s become an urban status symbol, often spotted on busy city streets throughout winter.  The brand has since expanded its lineup to include fashion activewear for all four seasons.

Know-how in leathermaking drove Prada’s designs during the early days of the Milanese brand. The house’s aesthetics took a turn in the 1970s; nylon was used in place of leather to make bags and travel accessories. In 1997, shortly after its official sponsorship of Italian sailing team Luna Rossa at America’s Cup, Prada created a new sub-brand dedicated to the sport. 

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Prada Sport was one of the first luxury names in the world to elevate materials such as polar fleece, rubber, and of course, nylon into its creations. Hoodies, track pants and sneakers were no longer deemed sloppy casual wear but instead seen as leisurely attire stylish enough for a stroll down the fashionable avenues of Milan or New York. 

Brands take more creative liberties with their designs thanks to a broader acceptance of casual sportswear. But fashion history reveals the sporting lifestyle had inspired functional fashion for centuries– long before Nike decided to make sneakers with Louis Vuitton or Dior launched its version of Air Jordans.

Also see: How Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Chopard take inspiration and technology from auto racing to create iconic timepieces

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