How Beyonce’s Ivy Park attained sportswear sexy

The vocalists fitness label rebrands bodycon by merging style and functionality. But can a gym-friendly version reclaim this unforgiving trend?

The hype surrounding Beyoncs new sportswear line, Ivy Park, is already off the scale. Its not even launched yet, and it has already violated the internet, or at least photo-sharing sites such as Instagram. No surprise, you might tell, she is very famous, and very zeitgeist. But that Ivy Park is, to an extent, a niche fashion genre fitnesswear as opposed to, say, shoes, suggests something is brewing in fashion. Why would the worlds most famous pop star( not to mention bellwether of style and fourth-wave feminist) undertake sportswear if it wasnt a trend sleeper, mass or otherwise? The brands manifesto has a go at answering this My goal with Ivy Park is to push the boundaries of athletic wear to subsistence and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than your physical appearance but equally, this feels at odds with what youre looking at: here is Beyonc, in the rain, outdoors rather than in the gym, appearing purposeful in a leotard, and wet. Could it be any sexier?( And: how am I meant to crosstrain in this ?)

This looks like sportswear, but sportswear that you would also wear to a gig. Its not really on the catwalk at the least not overarchingly so and while sportswear and athleisure have always included tight-fitting pieces for various ergonomic and aesthetic reasons , none of it has really been in fashion. Athleisure, a very close way has come to accepting sportswear, tends to be loose-fitting, minimal and sometimes comes in cashmere. Its also lucrative athleisure is worth 6.4 bn and looks set to increase over the next three years. Ivy Park is, arguably, more than sportswear. Its a sideways take on bodycon or bodycon 3.0 as were calling it, given that its not new sitting somewhere between sportswear and fashion-tight. And, like bodycon, its sexy as hell, even if retailers arent selling it as such.

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A Herv Lger dress, 1992. Photo: Associated/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Short for body conscious, in laymen terms bodycon is clothing usually a dress defined by its tightness. Historically, its one of the few tendencies that has leapt between catwalk and mass marketplace. Theres version one: Jean Paul Gaultiers outer-corsets; Herv Lgers bandage-style bodycon outfits which were, ostensibly, couture spanx; and king of cling Azzedine Alaas creations, which predominated the tight market in the 90 s. Version two, a slightly more formal take, was more about structure and tailoring than cling( find Roland Mourets galaxy dress and Victoria Beckhams first collections ). It was bodycon taken down a notch, but bodycon all the same.

Sitting simultaneously on the catwalk and in red-tops, bodycon has given us some memorable celebrity imagery: Liz Hurley safety-pinned into Versace at a movie premiere; Eva Herzigova vacuum-packed into a lilac dress on the 1993 Herv Lger catwalk; Victoria Beckham for the best part of the 2000 s.

So, in all regions of the 1980 s, 1990 s and early 2000 s, bodycon became the gold-standard of red-carpet fashion. This was status wear and power-dressing combined the acme of sexiness, designed to giftwrap the body.

But for whom the wearer? Unlikely. Bodycon was, arguably, womenswear designed for the male gaze. As style historian Amber Butchart explains, its a sign of the corset morphing from actual to internal, with bodies being shaped through diet and workout instead. This increased throughout the 20 th century and reached an apex with the rise of bodycon, she says.

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Eva Herzigov, Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham do bodycon. Composite: Rex Features

If you think this feels at odds with new, gym-friendly bodycon not to mention Asos bodysuits and Calvin Klein bralets( a bestseller at Selfridges) then youre right. This version is as tight as its forebears but is more focused on fitness and leisure, constructed with technical textiles and with mesh detailing, for example. Is it simply a example of bodycon sexy, tight and unforgiving being skewed and rebranded back to us as something else solely?

Instagram hasnt helped: in the past few years, tight fitnesswear worn in or, increasingly, outside the gym has become acceptable to post. Ditto the way we post it usually in the mirror, usually with the wearers iPhone camera in shot, so as to reclaim ownership of the image. It says: I am wearing this and I am photographing this and you, the spectator, are secondary. Concurrently, bikini shoots appear to be on the decline, especially ones taken by your mates which objectify the wearer by default. And yet, in terms of body coverage and flesh-flashing, they are one and the same, even if the latter focuses on celebrating women bodies rather than fetishising them. The internetification of self-image might have changed but the clothes havent.

In the past 10 years, the catwalk moved away from tight-fitting clothes, with brands such as Cline, Stella McCartney and The Row going for extreme minimalism. Kenya Hunt, fashion features director at Elle, supposes the demand shifted to more volume and a more casual stance because it was easier to wear. The wide-legged trouser. The oversized cocoon coat. Various boyfriend-adjectived blazers, jeans and shirts. Cerebral fashion if you are able to. Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab and Saint Laurent leant towards fitted rather than loose, suggesting there is also appetite for this look, but on the whole, bodycon sat in the shadows of late 2000 s minimalism. Until now, that is.

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Roland Mourets galaxy dress, 2005. Photograph: Fernanda Calfat/ Getty Images

Butchart guesses the recent resurgence of feminism might have contributed to the phasing out of bodycon. Not that there is anything unfeminist about these styles by any means, she says, but that there is much more debate now around identity politics and representation in the media, and creating spaces for previously unrepresented bodies. The change is palpable and the updated bodycon is aimed at all body kinds, with a focus on functionality and movement.

This is the thinking behind Selfridges brand-new Body Studio, a cavernous series of rooms dedicated to undergarments( swimwear, lingerie, hosiery) designed to be shopped by females. The designers, too, half of which arent household names, are predominantly females: The Upside, Michi, Lisa Marie Fernandez, Varley, Monreal are all designed by women and based on what they want to wear. Butchart tells: This underwear, sleepwear and bodywear is intended to be seen. Were insuring a shift away to a small extent from dictatorial beauty standards that the bodycon gym body of the past seemed to represent.

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Liz Hurleys famous Versace dress, 1994. Photograph: Dave Benett/ Getty Images

Aside from sportswear( for the gym or, at best, the tavern ), high fashion is wading in, from the tight-fitting negligee-style garbs at Cline, Givenchy and Balenciaga, to the knicker and bra shapes at JW Anderson, Marc Jacobs, Dries Van Noten and Saint Laurents AW16 collecting. Hedi Slimanes swansong for Saint Laurent, and the fact that Anthony Vaccarello, monarch of the tight, high hemline, has moved to the French style house, both suggest that this seem may stick around for a while. The current issue of Vogue has a whole shoot geared around super-tight underwear worn outdoors, often caveated with a Dare you? caption.

If this is bodycon( and it almost certainly is ), it smacks of the commercialisation of feminism, a savvy intersection between retailers and purchasers that endorses tight garment by not branding it overtly as sexy. Bodycon with a different narration. Cynically speaking, it could be interpreted as health and wellness being sold back to us, a rebranding of sportswear as sexy but functional. Of course you can wear it to the gym and doubtless people do but, as the Vogue shoot testifies, its also designed to be seen: Paco Rabanne heralds the return of the corseted playsuit with a new athletic spin. Do you dare to sport it alone? The answer may well be no, but, as Heather Gramston, buying manager for Body Studio explains: Who would have believed girls would so espouse the pyjama trend?

Yet fashion commentator Caryn Franklin remains unconvinced: The latest bodycon look from Beyonc is a believable offering of 21 st-century womanhood despite the unnecessary smoulder and sulk in the marketing suggesting the male gaze is still paramount. Still, she concedes, sweat, grit and healthy body ideals signal modernity. Either way, even if bodycon is back, the women who buy into it are more interested in looking good for themselves. If they look sexy, too, well thats just a bonus.

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