From Old-School Tracksuits to Futuristic Techwear We Explore Sportswear’s Paradigm Shift

A look at activewear’s seminal impact.
sportswear Y-3
Angelo Pennetta

No longer in the fulcrum of fashion’s avant-garde heyday, clothing is much more casual now than in recent years gone by. While brands such as ACRONYM and Stone Island look to steer traditional activewear into the far-off future, a handful of labels, including Reebok, FILA, Nike and adidas are championing wistful memories from yesteryear as a way to disrupt conventional menswear codes. The former have made a living transforming traditional sportswear staples into tech-infused masterpieces. Let’s now take an explorative look at two key players.

Stone Island’s place on the sportswear spectrum is one that carries a substantial amount of weight. Although first hitting the scene in the early ‘80s under Massimo Osti, it was Carlo Rivetti who positioned the brand to sit at the forefront of research and design. In the years that followed, Stone Island steadily outgrew its rank as a one dimensional outerwear brand into a full-fledged technical case study. And as such, pieces that once drew attention for its stylistic sensitivities eventually passed through Rivetti’s utilitarian-style lens. The label’s Spring/Summer 2020 Ghost Range, for instance, proved the perfect breeding ground for its newly-developed Poliestere Stretch 5L fabric. Housed within the revolutionary textile is a breathable, wind & waterproof membrane, with a PrimaLoft layer meant to curb plummeting temps. 

Errolson Hugh and his ACRONYM imprint are also of the mind to keep activewear moving in a purely progressive manner. Founded in 1994, the brand has been instrumental in aggrandizing the relationship between cutting-edge tech and sport-centric outerwear. Just this past fall, the Munich-based label fashioned a bevy of pieces using 3L GORE-TEX® PRO—an extremely durable textile designed with elevated breathability and comfort in mind. Earlier that year, ACRONYM unearthed its show-stopping 2L GORE-TEX Infinium Windstopper Cape, complete with a kinetic friction “Storm Hood” that effectively holds its protective position without the need of draw cords and/or locks.


However, on the other side of the style spectrum are a crop of vintage vanguards who are choosing to run it back 30 some-odd years, fashioning conceptual pieces augmented with an antique-style edge. Full-on ‘80s-style tracksuits have made their way back into mainstream pop-culture, popping up in seasonal lookbooks from some of the industry’s most influential tastemakers. Gosha Rubchinskiy was instrumental in reviving such reverential classics. For the Fall/Winter 2017 season, the Russian designer unveiled his guest collection amongst an antsy crowd at Pitti Uomo unleashing a swarm of models clad in age-old activewear pieces. For the newer generations previously unfamiliar with such names as FILA, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini, it was Rubchinskiy who helped bridge the gap between the industry insiders of yesterday with the influential brand builders of today. 

Giovanni Giannoni

As we reflect and pivot even further back in time, it’s hard to overlook the cultural impact Champion has had and continues to hold on contemporary sportswear. Since its inception back in the early 1900s, the brand has been offering sport-tinged staples to everyday consumers and professional sporting organizations alike, including those that represent the NBA, NFL and Premier League. Today, the U.S-based brand is looked upon by those in the streetwear community as somewhat of a sentimental revelation. Earlier this year, Champion unveiled its Reverse Weave lineup, which includes a slew of branded tracksuits, underscored by the same punchy colors and bold typography as the ones making noise all those years ago.

Teddy Santis and his Aimé Leon Dore imprint, too, have found ways to reinvent heritage sportswear by unlocking its charms for any and all willing to pay attention. Revered industry-wide for crafting high-quality hoodies, ALD takes pride in elevating other such essentials, namely, varsity jackets, half-zip pullovers and snapback caps, amongst a whole host of others. Rowing Blazers, on the other hand, carved out its own niche via customary menswear classics, like blazers, rugby shirts and polo tops. An intriguing study that sees British heritage and collegiate Americana mix in with Japan’s subversive take on traditional workwear materializes almost immediately in an array of ’80s-style tropes that preach hip-hop prepster.

Jay Gullion

Aimé Leon Dore

How did sportswear arrive at such a unique crossroads? Well, as with all other artistic disciplines, finding an answer definitively able to satisfy such a curiosity is impossible to accurately identify. However, a journey back in time to the very beginning may be enough to shed some light on the matter at hand.

Around since the late 1800s, sportswear began picking up steam in the mid ’60s, thanks largely to the media circus coverage baseball, tennis and basketball were receiving at the time. Wide-eyed boys the world over gawked at Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, dreaming one day of parlaying their own driveway jump shots into game-clinching buzzer beaters. Such widespread exposure set off shockwaves of curiosity on what these superstar athletes were wearing. No longer about helping competitors attain lofty performance metrics, such wares began speaking to the stylistic nature of those watching. As if in an instant, concerns of how to juxtapose a pair of high-top Chuck Taylor’s against a pair of tattered denims became a real and ever-present reality.

Let’s not forget about adidas’s place in this evolutionary timeline. The sportswear giant helped romanticize the relationship between the sportswear space and lifestyle market, simply by placing what are now perceived to be “everyday essentials” in commonplace pop-culture settings. As the story goes, Angelo Anastasio—a former adidas executive—was invited to check out pioneering rap trio, Run-D.M.C., at Madison Square Garden. Just prior to performing their hit smash “My Adidas,” Run turned to the thousands in attendance and asked each and everyone of them to hold their runners high up in the air for all to see. A quick look at the sea of Three Stripes sneakers provided a glimpse into the brand’s foreseeable footwear future. Anastasio left the arena awestruck, and headed home pondering how adidas can lean into what he had just witnessed. His next move helped pull sportswear from out under its pre-determined activewear plane and into thick of mainstream society. adidas immediately saw the importance of such community engagement, and in turn, inked Run-D.M.C. to a lucrative $1M USD deal. Their newfound role as brand ambassadors did well to place adidas apparel directly into urban areas, be it on the street, radio stations and music videos.

Getty Images

With that in mind, the activewear genre appears to be firing on all cylinders, with both, vintage and forward-thinking tech sensitivities ascending at the same time. Ronnie Fieg’s KITH PARK showcase echoed this exact sentiment with its New York Fashion Week presentation. An assemblage of fashion houses were brought together under Fieg’s creative prism, each of whom defer to their own distinct platforms. Together on one stage, pieces that sit on opposing sides of the sportswear spectrum walked hand-in-hand to the tune of sartorial progression. Greg Lauren, for instance, is a cut-and-sew maestro whose designs often take on forceful vintage overtones. Heritage tennis-style cardigans lined up next to dirt-blotched rugby tops and color-blocked joggers, while names like Columbia offered up an assortment of tech-infused winter wares. More so than just a conflux of creative ideologies, KITH did well to gather a kaleidoscope of styles under one roof, including the larger-than-life sportswear umbrella.


Elsewhere, an exploratory look at Nike’s collaborative footprint also helps characterize the genre’s current intersection. Not only does it provide a platform for Jun Takahashi’s GYAKUSOU label to shine bright, the big-name conglomerate mirrors that same respect for others, such as Pigalle. Although vastly different from the other, Takahashi’s modernistic inflections on archetypal running gear juxtaposes fittingly against the old-school underpinnings of Stephane Ashpool’s Pigalle. Similar in stance to its Swoosh counterpart, much of the same can be said of adidas. Y-3—the birth child of adidas and Yohji Yamamoto—is known primarily for crafting advanced, sport-centric techwear, with the Three Stripes brand simultaneously paying reverence to the Superstar’s 50th anniversary. Both sides satisfied.

By no means a fleeting fad nor a flash-in-the-pan trend, sportswear is here to stay. Nike and adidas are the two biggest players in the activewear space today, and are continuously fleshing out ways to pay homage to their respective timelines. Some designs conform to vintage sensitivities while others respect innovative considerations. Needless to say, both are redefining the relationship between sport and fashion; in essence, formulating a blueprint of how future generations will consume sportswear.



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