Few sports have influenced style like tennis and few brands have impacted tennis style like ellesse. While many brands have dabbled in the sport’s style and aesthetic recently, few have the historical credibility possessed by ellesse.
Tired of the way sports clothing, in general, lacked any sense of style, Leonardo Servadio founded ellesse in 1959 with the intention of reinvigorating performance-oriented design to be more stylish using his background in tailoring. In the beginning, he set out to design fashion-forward clothing principally for two sports: tennis and ski (now represented in the semi-palla logo).
Designing for sports with different requirements meant Servadio could tackle this task on two fronts, producing totally unique garments for each. Of the two, tennis provided Servadio the most style potential because the technical requirements of the sport’s uniforms aren’t as complex as those of skiers flying down snowy mountains at over 100 mph in minus degree temperatures.
Still, tennis players must be agile and illustrious tournaments have strict dress codes for players the minute they step onto the court — Servadio and his brand had to juggle these needs with his desire to develop stylish clothing.
Of course, ellesse rose to the challenge. Early court jackets, tennis t-shirts, and polos introduced some of the brand’s now-signature design tropes for the first time such as sleeve and leg taping, chevron patterning, and color blocking. All of which have become integral to ellesse’s design language and continue to feature in the brand’s collections to this day.
Perhaps the biggest innovation came in the form of a sneaker. Dubbed by some the first collaboration between a sportswear brand and an industrial designer, Leonardo Servadio partnered with Marc Sadler and in 1982, the Tanker was born. Sadler had experienced sportswear design and developed a ski boot made from fully recyclable thermoplastic in the early ‘70s — his approach to sportswear was to bring his knowledge of alternative materials and production processes to typically aesthetically-driven products. The partnership with Servadio then was a match made in heaven with Servadio wanting to bring style and grace to sportswear and Sadler introducing a totally new perspective to the performance aspects.
The Tanker, therefore, is the best of both worlds. The sole features stylistic details but is equally hard-wearing and built for pounding different court surfaces. The branding is subtle and elegant — as required by tennis tournaments — but very clearly ellesse. And the upper panels lend themselves to players’ movements. As a testament to the brilliance of Servadio and Sadler’s design, the sneaker lives on in ellesse’s collections and will be honored once again for Spring/Summer 2020. If any single design represents ellesse’s tennis history, it’s arguably the Tanker court shoe.
Great product design is one thing but getting people to wear it is another. Fortunately, ellesse has attracted tennis legends such as Tommy Haas, Chris Evert, Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Arantxa Sánchez, and Anna Kournikova as brand ambassadors over the years (and that’s just in the tennis realm). ellesse sponsored Becker early in his career and at just 17-years old wore the brand when winning his first major world title in 1985. During the same decade, another of the most successful tennis players of all time, Chris Evert, also wore ellesse, helping it gain traction in the US as well as Europe.
Today, Britain’s number one ranked Johanna Konta waves the ellesse flag as the brand continues to evolve its on-court apparel offering and honor its tennis legacy with tennis-inspired lifestyle clothing. For SS19, this manifested as the Vilas Track Top inspired by legendary Argentinian tennis star Guillermo Vilas and the Vinitziana 2.0 court shoe. Furthermore, the influence of the tennis-style developed by Servadio is immediately noticeable in items such as the Lapaccio Track Top as well as court shoes like the Piazza.
Little remains undisturbed in today’s culture of references. Brands vie for attention with allusions to both popular and esoteric culture and tennis certainly hasn’t been exempt from this trend. But for ellesse, tennis isn’t simply a few images pinned to a mood board, it’s foundational to the brand’s DNA structure. And for those whom it is just a point of reference, they’re likely looking to images of ellesse from the last four decades for inspiration. ellesse has truely impacted tennis style like no other.
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