U.S. Open an opportunity for brands to shine (or reflect) under the lights
By Tim Newcomb
The bright lights and dark sky earn the U.S. Open a “night club atmosphere.” And players want to dress the part, readying reflective material, designer dresses and vivid colors. This is no normal New York City nightclub; this is two full weeks at Flushing Meadows.
Coming on the heels of the all-white Wimbledon, tennis shoe and apparel manufacturers gear up for a chance to showcase all things spectacle at the U.S. Open. For the first time, Nike will unveil reflective material on footwear and outerwear, and adidas will offer up Stella McCartney dresses and powerfully-clean looks designed with help from Andy Murray. Expect some international flair too, with the likes of Italy’s Lotto Sports attempting to place a colorful stamp on New York City. The personality-driven apparel at this Grand Slam won’t look anything like the others, that much is for certain.
“It’s a huge opportunity and lots of fun to play around with great colors and fresh looks for the U.S. Open,” Thomas Weege, head of adidas tennis design, tells SI.com. Expect to see players switching outfits based on the time of the match. During the day, players opt for light colors, but in “the night sessions we want our assets to look more bold and bright on court to mirror the night club atmosphere of the Great Empire.”
Stella McCartney tells SI.com the combination of day and night tennis allows her to develop colors that appear “glamorous and feminine” in both lighting.
“New York is such a great city with a really exciting energy,” McCartney says. “The U.S. Open has a modern approach with slick urban credentials that is reflected into the look and feel of the season.”
With that, McCartney has created a “modern vibe” that gives Caroline Wozniacki a multi-blue “hero ink” dress, and Maria Kirilenko and Laura Robson a soft orange tank/skort combination.
“The design is influenced by the profile of the athletes to a small extent, but generally we try and give every player the most stylish, functional, modern and feminine look on court as possible,” McCartney says. “We design apparel and shoes alongside each other holistically and take the same approach with both ... They may share textures, prints and definitely colors that enhance and complement one another.”
However, the adidas men’s line, led by the close input of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, strays from McCartney’s designs into a new “bold” aesthetic.
“The work that has been done for him is very performance-driven and at the same time very sophisticated and clean,” Weege says of a Barricade design silhouette created specifically for Murray that represents one-third of all adidas tennis sales.
With the shoe aesthetic coming first, the apparel design, though, leads the color charge. “We tie [shoes and apparel] together with color and finishing palettes,” Weege says. “Most of our key players get their own color version of the models that they are wearing.”
For Murray, that means his performance-centered black Barricade 8 shoe offers traces of white and hints of red, tying back to the look of the entire outfit that features a “band of power,” a solid black bar across on all-red shirt, for shape wrapping.
While adidas may have honed in on colors, textures and patterns, Nike’s design team focused on something altogether new for its shoes: reflective materials.
(Photo courtesy of Nike)
“We play night in a big way,” Andrew Caine, VP, Footwear Design at Nike, tells SI.com ahead of the event. “We bring the reflective concept to tennis under the floodlights for high visual impact. This is a one-of-a-kind unique material that has impact.”
Caine says the new materials -- which will also appear on warm-up jackets -- provide night energy and a “disruptive” look resulting in an all-new tennis aesthetic. No images will be available until the players walk onto the hardcourt at the start of the tournament.
The top stable of Nike’s athletes will play this one concept across all styles -- from Roger’s tailored looks to Serena’s dresses. The singular concept will fall within the same color palate, no matter the choice of footwear or apparel.
Always pushing the limits in her Nike dresses, Serena Williams will go with “fusion red” by day and dark “armory blue” by night. The two-toned dresses work both playful flow and fresh hues for the always-colorful Williams. (Photo courtesy of Nike)
Filling out the Nike female line, Victoria Azarenka shows off a high-waist gray skirt, but will stay in the same color range with her tank as Williams, similar to what we can expect from Li Na’s shirt and skirt combination.
(Photos courtesy of Nike)
On the men’s side, the Roger Federer line always screams classic, this year with white shorts and a blue polo. Rafael Nadal, however, doesn’t opt for a collar, choosing a V-neck shirt in white/gray for daytime competition. Nadal’s night outfit, also waiting for an on-court reveal, will certainly reflect Nike’s new vision.
(Photos courtesy of Nike)
With the likes of Nadal and Murray, finding your place in the apparel world alongside two shoe giants proves difficult, but Lotto Sport Italia designer Andrea Tomat tells SI.com he’ll do that with white by day and fluorescents by night.
“Well, New York is New York: young, dynamic, energetic,” he says. “It naturally prompts for slightly more aggressive and unique solutions. We tend to dare more in New York.”
He hopes his neon yellows and blues for the men’s line -- led by David Ferrer -- and mulberry and fluorescent pink for the women, featuring Agnieszka Radwanksa, appearing “feminine and seducing to let all the sensuality of our female athletes come to life to show their phenomenal talent and appeal,” will help Lotto break into the market as their top female athletes have.
This year’s crop of U.S. Open talent will certainly look the part of a nightclub partygoer. Now each will see how long they keep the beats thumping.Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, technology and design for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.