How a sportsmanship lesson helped shape Federer's new fashion line
Roger Federer wants everyone to know the story, the one about when he was playing tennis and a young Roger learned a valuable sportsmanship lesson.
“I was playing with my dad and he was fed up with my attitude,” Federer says. “He said he didn’t enjoy playing tennis with me like that so he placed a five Swiss Franc coin on the bench and left. I couldn’t believe he left me there because it would be like a 45-minute bus ride home. I waited for half an hour, and then I checked the restaurant and then the parking lot. He was really gone. I took the tram and the bus and the tram again and when I got home he was upset about my attitude. That was my wake-up call.”
That turning point in Federer’s maturity helped define part of his new apparel and footwear line, the NikeLab presents the NikeCourt x Roger Federer collection. A small, five-dot logo in the shape of a Swiss cross is tied to that moment in his life, Federer says, and adds a personal detail to the line.
“It is important to have details that tell my story,” he says. “Details that are personal.”
Federer’s interest in fashion started early in his career and he’s been working on performance design in some capacity ever since. “They called and asked what I thought about doing more,” he says about moving to an off-court line. “This is really a new expression of the sport.”
Federer says this first move into off-court looks provided a real learning opportunity for him—the competitor inside the 17-time Grand Slam champion knows fashion presents another area to conquer.
“It was not so easy,” he says about balancing the desire for high fashion with the need for function. “This will get more and more comfortable for me as we go along. It was a challenge.”
Still, Federer doesn’t have much competition in the contemporary tennis world—he says fashion doesn’t come easy to the men on tour. “History is like this in tennis,” he says. “We walk around in tracksuits. If you walk up in a suit to a tennis tournament they are like ‘What’s wrong with you?' I’ve been pushing the envelope a little bit and this collection brings all of that out.”
Federer remained involved in every step of the process, from the storytelling to the small details, such as embellishments on the zippers, buttons, materials, silhouettes and colors.
The collection includes a jacket reminiscent of formal attire with a two-way zipper inspired by cuff links Federer wore and t-shirts stamped with the five-dot print inspired by the five Swiss franc story.
While Federer notes that his enjoyment in fashion has long been tied to apparel, his growing interest in sneakers has also made its way into the collection. His Nike shoe inspired by the 1988 Air Jordan 3s, released ahead of the 2014 U.S. Open, is a highly sought-after exclusive sneaker.
“Whether picking out an Air Jordan for a night out, I’ve gotten more into shoes and love the shoes I’m wearing,” he says of the navy blue Tennis Classic Ultra Flyknit x RF, an adaption of the recently released 1970s-styled silhouette that includes the RF logo on the tongue and the five-dot print on the heel.
“I hope I have elevated the fashion sense in the tennis world a little bit,” he says. “As (collections) go on, I will have more and more to say.”
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.