Venus Williams Is Not About This Fashion Habit (Let Us Explain)

Venus Williams is best known for her prowess on the tennis court (rightfully so!), but she's also been cultivating a career in the fashion biz over the past few years, too. Williams launched her own activewear line, EleVen by Venus Williams, in 2012, with watercolor-esque prints in silhouettes made for serving with aplomb on the asphalt. (Last year, Williams got to work seriously revamping the brand's business strategy: besides being a celebrated athlete, Williams holds a business degree and also has her own interior design firm, oh, and she's taken fashion courses , too.) Her latest spate of designs for spring 2017, dubbed "Intrepid," is apparently Williams' favorite drop since the line's inaugural collection: It consists of a swirly black-and-white pattern, trimmed with "Limelight" yellow and a shade of fuchsia named "EleVen Berry."
We rang up the tennis superstar shorty after the line's latest drop to discuss the fashion design process and her personal style M.O. Williams is fully here for athleisure, FYI (she's already been living that life before it had its own dictionary-official moniker, after all). But when she's off-duty, she has such a blast devising looks, there's one fashion habit — some might call it a style faux pas, others would consider it merely necessity — that you'll never catch Williams doing.
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Has EleVen changed much over the years?
“Oh my gosh, the collection is always evolving — it has to! Part of being ‘an 11’ is being better than your best; it’s about looking forward, and figuring out how that translates into being ’an 11; evolution is constant for me as an athlete, too. You’re better one day than you were the day before.”
How do you approach design?
“It’s really organic. I sit down and sketch what I’d like to make happen, and then I sit down with the EleVen team to figure out how it’ll actually get produced; then, we go through the color process. One of the biggest challenges of the design process is actually color: you’ve already used all the colors you want to use, or the ones you want to use might not work for that season. It seems like I’m always in the process to find another color on the spectrum of the rainbow.”
Photo: Courtesy of EleVen.
Williams in EleVen's Intrepid collection.
Do your own activewear pet peeves help direct the creative process?
"Definitely; when you’re wearing something, you want it to perform, to be comfortable. The fit has to be there, every single time, so you aren’t distracted by your clothing when you’re playing or doing sprints. The fit process is ongoing, especially because we’re creating new SKUs [styles] all the time. It’s a lot of work."
Do you imagine yourself wearing every piece in the collection, as a sort of filter?
"Obviously, the first part of the process is deciding whether I would wear it. If I wouldn’t wear it, it’s not not making the cut! [Laughs] Then, I think about whether other people would wear it; if they wouldn’t it Of course, the most important question is, ‘Is it an EleVen?’ All three of those barriers have to be surpassed before a piece gets into a collection.
“The EleVen garments are designed upwards of a year in advance, so there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. So when a collection actually comes out, it’s new for everyone else, but I’ve been living with it for a long time, so it’s old news already; it’s like, I’ve seen this, I’ve lived this already.”
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Tell me about your approach to personal style — how does your on-court style differ from what you wear when you’re not playing?
“My style is really about my mood that day; sometimes, my mood is that I want to be comfortable: I’ll wear tall boots with sheepskin lining and something from our EleVen Epitome collection, which is made of French terry, so that I’m warm and happy. Other times, I want to look and feel powerful, so I’ll wear formfitting leggings with mesh insets. It’s about all the ways I want to express myself, basically, and it changes all the time."
In terms of those sheepskin boots, are we talking about Uggs?
"Yeah, definitely!"
Beyond your workout wares, what’s the one piece of clothing you’re wearing constantly nowadays?
“Oh, man! There isn’t really anything. How I operate is: Once I’ve created a look, I’m done with it, so I have to create a new combination. So, a lot of things don’t get worn often in my closet. It’s all about being as creative as I can be.”
So you’re not an outfit repeater, we take it?
“No! The same exact combination of clothes never, never happens again once I’ve worn it!”
You’ve got quite a rep for your style choices, which are all EleVen designs, while competing. What do you think of people talking about your outfits in addition to your athletic performance?
"It’s a good thing; it’s fun. Dressing myself is very important.”
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Have you ever had any regrets about what you’ve worn during games?
"Of course! Who hasn’t? I try not to live like that anymore. I try not to focus on my style faux pas. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were a lot of faux pas, so that means we all have regrets: I love the ‘80s, but it didn’t always look great."
Do you work with a stylist for your off-the-court appearances?
"I have in the past, sometimes; I think it just depends on where you’re going in terms of if you need one or not. If you’re gong to the Oscars, then maybe you do. [Laughs] Anything other than that, and you may not need one.”
How do you feel about athleisure?
"Being fit, moving our bodies, and being comfortable has just transcended every part of our lives — that’s amazing for me, because all I’ve ever done is move my body, promote wellness, and do my best to be fit. I love that athleisure is crossing into everything.”
Are you down with leggings in lieu of pants?
"Hey, if somebody’s comfortable wearing leggings, you’ve got to give them your vote. If they feel powerful and confident, you can’t hate on that.”
You’ve collaborated with designers like Diane von Furstenberg in the past. Would you ever want to pair up with a designer for EleVen?
"It’s definitely something I should be working on, ha! Sometimes, I’m just focused on what I’m doing for the brand, so I'll forget about collaborations. That can be one of the most fun parts of design — being able to have someone push you and for you to push them, so you can try to create something you haven’t done before.”
Who’s your dream fashion collaborator?
“I think it’d be really cool to do a men’s collection with Tom Ford: I eventually want to move beyond the women’s arena and bring men’s designs to EleVen — there’s no limit!”
Do you want to add kids clothing to the EleVen roster, too?
“Yes, I think we’ll do that down the road as well. It’s important for young people to be well and healthy; if you do that when you’re young, it translates to [being active] the rest of your life.”
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