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NikeLab X Sacai Collection: Functional Fashion?

Nike collaborated with a top designer to bring a unique twist to the market of functional fashion.

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Courtesy of Nike

Much like painters, sculptors and musicians, fashion designers are artists. With fabric and the human form as their mediums, they incorporate self-expression, innovation, traditions and trends into their designs. In fact, a good portion of what high-end designers create is meant as art, instead of something to actually be worn to lunch or the office. Consider what’s shown on catwalks during New York and Paris fashion weeks, or on the glossy pages of fashion magazines. Those highly stylized looks are the designers’ ideal aesthetics. The apparel that eventually makes it to stores maintains the essence of the ideal but in more functional and wearable designs.

Fitness apparel has long been approached from a purely functional standpoint. Comfortable, durable, non-chafing and stay-put are some of the key high notes when it comes to describing favorite workout wear. Cute clothes were always a bonus, but they weren’t necessary, because exercise clothes were only for exercising. Times have changed. Fit is the new thin. Sweat is the new black. Being active is now a way of life, and we expect clothes to serve multiple purposes, like being tough enough for our run but also looking stylish when we enjoy a post-run Americano with friends.

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Consumers are on the winning end, with more choices, fabrics, styles, colors and patterns than ever before. Traditional fitness brands approach the trend with edgy functional pieces. Fashion houses incorporate technical fabrics into designs with more of a bespoke feel. And collaborations that at first seem incongruous often produce new ways of thinking and addressing the concept of fitness fashion.

Nike’s recent partnership with Chitnose Abe, the designer for sacai, resulted in the NikeLab x sacai collection, eight pieces incorporating technical and lux fabrics, masculine and feminine elements and traditional lines re-imagined with Abe’s nod to disruptive forms. Knee length-skirts, pleats, lace, peplum drops and capes certainly aren’t what most people would normally reach for before a 10-mile run—but that’s not the point here.

For those saying this collection is an insult to women, that’s one opinion to have; consumers will their choice. But for those who might view the line as a failure, consider this: This collaboration was a creative project between Nike and a high-fashion designer. Is it over the top? That depends on whom you ask. Like all art, it’s meant to make us think and make us talk. For that reason, I would argue the collaboration a success.

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Some of the elements aren’t that far fetched if you consider what’s on the market. Running skirts are already popular. Athleta and Lululemon, among others, even offer skirts with pleats. Plenty of runners sport tutus or capes for themed races. The drop-tail on my favorite Saucony running jacket could be considered a distant cousin to a peplum jacket. And the cut-outs that are currently in vogue for both fashion and fitness have been an element in the fashion-heavy Canadian fitness brand Mondetta Performance Gear’s (MPG) collections for several seasons.

As much as fashion and function have merged, they might always be at odds to some extent. Perhaps the next conversation will revolve around wedge running sneakers.