What comes to mind when you think of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships? Strawberries and cream? Pimm’s Royale? Cliff Richard in egregious summer suits?
How about a skate brand?
Wimbledon is the oldest tournament in tennis, formed in 1877, and undoubtedly the most prestigious. Its history and grandeur are unrivaled by the sport’s three other Grand Slams. For proof, see how it’s often cited as a career apogee by players. Each year, a myriad of blue-chip celebrities, and even British royalty, file into the SW19 courts, peacocking for the cameras in their best smart-casual attire as if it were a fashion parade. “I went to Wimbledon before I could walk,” Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour once said, and she can be spotted regularly in the confines of the hallowed Centre Court royal box.
Run by the private members All England Club, the competition places a number of strict rules upon participants to uphold tradition. These extend to sartorial matters, with every player adhering to the strict all-white dress code. (Spectators must dress smartly, too, although regulations have been relaxed in recent years.) Tennis enfant terrible Andre Agassi famously refused to play at the tournament because he wasn’t willing to trade in his lurid shirts and denim shorts (he would eventually appear in 1991, albeit rocking an earring and mullet), while Nike and Roger Federer were scalded when the Swiss maestro turned up wearing orange-soled Zoom Vapor 9 shoes in 2013.
The message from the Wimbledon powers that be is simple: dress down appropriately and leave your colorful clothes at home. Or else.
It goes without saying, then, that London skate upstart Palace is about as far away from Wimbledon culture as one could possibly imagine. Which makes the fact that the brand, in one of the most intriguing collaborations of the year, has joined forces with German sports powerhouse adidas once more, this time for a capsule which pays tribute to the revered tournament. Modeled by men’s world No.3 Alexander Zverev and women’s No.3 Garbine Muguruza, the collection comprises a whole gamut of tennis product, from headbands and umbrellas to court-ready jacquard polos and bucket caps.
For the subversive Palace to pay homage to tennis — a sport viewed by many as stuffy and a pursuit of the middle class — is surprising in itself, but to actually see the clothing on the backs of players at Wimbledon, the tennis equivalent of the Met Gala, is another thing entirely. It further muddies the question of where “streetwear” — a term that’s pretty much obsolete nowadays, anyway — currently is. Over the past two weeks, names such as world women’s No.10 Angelique Kerber and Stefanos Tsitsipas joined Muguruza and Zverev in flexing the wares while playing on the sacrosanct turf. Germany’s Angelique Kerber even went on to win the women’s singles tournament wearing Palace x adidas, besting America’s Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3 on Center Court last Saturday.
The idea of irony as an aesthetic driver in fashion’s post-Vetements landscape is a well-tread topic by now. And from Palace’s perspective, the opportunity of having its name at a tournament with Wimbledon’s gravitas was no doubt irresistible. When Roger Federer was storming to his sixth title at the competition in 2009, Palace founder Lev Tanju was still living in a squat in Waterloo near London’s iconic Southbank skate park.
From the get-go, Tanju’s main goal with Palace was to make enough money so that his friends could afford to spend their days skating. If you had told him back then that somewhere down the line his brand’s name — inspired by the nickname of the aforementioned squat — would be proudly emblazoned on tennis whites across London in swanky SW19, he’d probably have laughed. Or told you to fuck off.
The notion is so fanciful that it’s hard to believe, even in the context of Palace’s stratospheric rise. Some opportunities are just too good — or too ridiculous — to turn down. And going by his legendary product descriptions, Tanju hardly seems like a tennis connoisseur.
adidas’ relationship with Palace is now in its fourth year, and clearly the German giant trusts the brand enough to go arm in arm with it on one of the most distinguished athletic stages of all. Its success, with adidas now the second largest sportswear operator in North America, can be attributed largely to its revered Originals division, which boasts a deadly lineup of gold-standard collaborative partners, including Palace. From the YEEZY 350 and 750 cleats by Kanye West to Zverev’s US Open outfit designed by Pharrell Williams, it feels as if Originals is beginning to inform adidas’ sportswear output rather than the other way around.
If the blob of high fashion has already assimilated streetwear, it remains to be seen how much impact it will exert upon sportswear. At Nike, Virgil Abloh has already teased everything from football boots to goalkeeper gloves; French boy wonder Kylian Mbappe memorably wore the OFF-WHITE Mercurial 360 in a Ligue 1 match last year. In basketball, YEEZYs and sneakers from “The Ten” have been spotted on-court (despite being light years behind modern basketball shoes on a technological level), as has the infamous Supreme shooting sleeve.
Some traditionalists will interpret these crossovers as sacrilege, further proof that their cherished sports are being co-opted by the nefarious hand of capitalism (as if they weren’t already). But from a fashion perspective, it only proves that the fashion/streetwear/sportswear Venn diagram has been obfuscated beyond all recognition.
If a brand like Palace can be exhibited proudly at arguably the most sacred sports tournament of all, where do we go next? Would anyone rule out Nike roping in OFF-WHITE to design a Paris Saint-Germain away kit at this point? The London connection between Wimbledon and Palace obviously plays a big part, but the fact adidas has enough faith in the label to place it at the forefront of its tennis operation almost feels like a new direction for sports uniforms. The stadium and the street are aligning like never before.