Vogue: Exclusive: Maria Sharapova, Riccardo Tisci, and Nike Team Up on a Little Black Tennis Dress for the U.S. Open
Maria Sharapova will return to the U.S. Open next week—and when she does she’ll be wearing a Swarovski-studded tennis dress by Riccardo Tisci for Nike. The all-black look, featuring technical lace and eyelet-like perforations, will be Sharapova’s uniform for her night matches. The design is not only striking for its high fashion sensibilities—really, when was the last time you saw lace or crystals on an athlete?—but also for its all-black palette, a far cry from the preppy spirit of tennis. “It was always going to be black. It wasn’t even a question of what we were going to do for the night matches,” said Sharapova, curled up on a couch at Nike’s headquarters in New York.
The reason for the color? In 2006, Sharapova won the Open in a black dress. “When I think of anywhere that I play, I want to bring a sense of elegance to the feeling that I have when I walk onto the court. That’s what I felt with the 2006 dress, and what I really wanted to relive in this dress is the moment of elegance and thinking of Audrey Hepburn and her classic Givenchy dress,” she said. As luck would have it, Tisci, the former Givenchy creative director, has become Nike’s most prolific fashion collaborator, taking on everything from its Dunk sneakers to creating a full range of athletic apparel in psychedelic florals for the 2016 Olympics. Sharapova added, “There are so many things that really make sense in this collaboration. The inspiration was there from the first moment that we sat down together.”
“I respect Maria so much as an athlete, and she respects me so much as a designer, and both of us work for Nike, so it came up as a collaboration that we’d like to do together. To me, it was very special to design an outfit for an athlete playing on the courts,” Tisci said via phone from Ibiza. “That moment she had in 2006 was a very iconic moment, and we wanted to honor it and be inspired by it. We decided to use lace and crystal, which are very me, and black, which is my favorite color and very representative of my career but also the color that has brought a lot of luck for her. So when we started talking about this project, it just made sense.”
“We spent a few hours talking about inspiration, and actually none of it had to do with tennis,” said Sharapova. “A lot of it had to do with design and how I wanted to feel and what elements he wanted to bring to this from a completely different background than just sports, from couture, from fashion. We really wanted to blend those elements together.” The Swarovski crystals, which will be glittering in the spotlights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, came in a bit later in the process. “I did four or five drawings, she chose right away the black one, and then the crystal came in the second meeting, when I said it would be fantastic for crystal to be a part of the dress,” Tisci explained. “Crystals have never happened before on a tennis player.”
Now if this is all sounding like a look you’d see on the runways in Paris and not on the courts in Queens, you should remember that Nike has one of the most rigorous laboratories, where all athlete apparel is wear-tested. “She’s performing in it, so you have to respect the sort of things that are important for an athlete to play,” said Tisci, noting that he worked closely with Nike’s team to figure out ways to make the ensemble practical and beautiful. “I’m very happy because it is very modern and pure. Everything is very geometric. The lace looks like the classic fishnet they use on tennis outfits, and the shape, the design is very pure. It’s very elegant, very minimal but at the same time very strong.”
The look comes complete with a black bomber jacket, tailored to Sharapova’s exact specifications. “One of the things we spoke about is I love this feeling of elegance, but I love to mix it in with masculine pieces and oversize things, and so when we talked about a jacket it was like: We’re going to do a bomber and we’re going to make it nice and big and billowy in the back,” she said. “We worked with proportion a lot, because when you think of elegance and sexiness you always think of things that are streamlined and very body conscious, but I think this is more about a play of materials, textures, and shapes coming together.”
The good news for fans is that the full look will go on sale on August 26 in Nike stores, with the dress priced at $500 and the jacket at $700. More good news: Just because Tisci has parted ways with Givenchy doesn’t mean he doesn’t have more fashion projects in the works: “In 2017, I’m going to do a few projects, a few collaborations, Nike, some other stuff, and 2018 I’ll come back, for sure.”