Pret-a-Reporter

This Is How "Athleisure" Style Took Over Hollywood

Illustration by: Kirsten Ulve

No, you're not a slob, you're wearing "athleisure" clothing — the hottest trend in fashion that has Angelenos who love to work out (or pretend they do) paying $600 for track pants and projecting one singular message: "I'm so powerful I don’t have to dress up."

"I remember, as a girl, my parents doing yoga in the bathroom," says Beyond Yoga founder Jodi Guber Brufsky. Her father, veteran producer Peter Guber, and Yogini mother, Tara Lynda, "planted the seed" of inspiration behind her collection of soft-fit pants and draped T-shirts that launched in 2006. Brufsky's mission from the beginning was to make pieces that could be worn on and off the mat: "The fit is done in a way that you can go from class to car pool to lunch."

She went from selling to yoga studios to garnering Hollywood fans, including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, producer Aleen Keshishian and jewelry designer Lisa Eisner, wife of former Geffen boss Eric Eisner. Keshishian, whose next film is Relativity's Natalie Portman fall release, Jane Got a Gun, says she wears her pieces "to the office and the gym and on weekends." Adds Sara Christensen, a managing director at investment firm Raptor Group (which has a stake in Airbnb and Uber): "It doesn't feel like performance gear. You want to wear it all the time."

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Today, Brufsky and Beyond Yoga CEO Michelle Wahler supply 1,500 stores, including Nordstrom and Anthropologie, enjoy e-commerce sales that are up 50 percent year-over-year in the 12-month period ending Presidents Day weekend and employ a full-time staff of nearly 30 who work out of the Culver City-based offices. With progenitors Juicy Couture in L.A. and Canada's Lululemon, the brand helped spawn a new fashion sector dubbed "athleisure" in 2014 that has been taken up as daywear gospel by Los Angeles and beyond. According to a recent report by Barclays, the U.S. women's activewear market, now at $30 billion (fueled by sales of items ranging from $25 for an Under Armour sleeveless crew to The Elder Statesman's $600 cashmere-linen track pants), will top $100 billion by 2020. Much of the growth stems from products meant to be worn both in and out of the gym. Says Net-a-Porter senior buyer Candice Fragis about the e-commerce site's Net-a-Sporter channel (launched in July 2014, the category's growth, spend and buy have more than doubled): "Fitness gear has become acceptable as ready-to-wear. The lines have blurred when it comes to workout gear and fashion."

British designer Stella McCartney notes to THR of her line Adidas by Stella McCartney: "Ten years ago when we started the collection, [athleisure] really didn't exist, and being able to collaborate with Adidas gave me the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies, as well." In January, the brand announced the launch of Adidas Stellasport for a younger market, to be sold at Nordstrom and Topshop, where Beyonce is slated to launch her own athleisure collection in fall 2015. "We have been looking at this category as fashion-inspired fitness develops," said Topshop chairman Philip Green. "Creating a partnership with Beyonce, who spends many hours of her life dancing and training, is a unique opportunity to develop this category."

Kate Hudson's year-old affordable Fabletics collection, a partnership with El Segundo-based e-commerce startup JustFab, has registered 4 million brand "members" who covet such affordable items as chevron-printed capris for $45. "I always [considered] getting into designer dresses, but when I thought about it, I'm in workout clothes every day of my life," Hudson tells THR.

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Of course, celebrities are a critical part of selling the look — they've been well-documented shopping, walking dogs and running errands in athleisure. Brufsky says that Beyond Yoga's marketing within the industry "has been real and natural," adding, "It wasn't just the celebrity angle so much as knowing people, building the network of fans, managers, agents, publicists, friends and mommies." London-based Sweaty Betty, which entered the U.S. market three years ago, credits some of its stateside success to such clients as Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis and Halle Berry, with sales jumping 25 percent in 2014 to $50 million; founder Tamara Hill-Norton plans to open six to eight more stores. Alala, which sells at Equinox in West Hollywood, only launched in February 2014, but its mesh-insert racer-backs and sculptural capris have developed a fast following, thanks to such fans as Naomi Watts and Ellie Goulding.

For many brands, a major presence in Los Angeles is crucial. Theory will launch its first-ever pop-up shop for Theory+, its own spin on athleisure, on Melrose Avenue near the brand's main store. Culver City-based e-commerce site Carbon38 points to L.A. as its biggest market, with 14 percent of sales generated in the county. "Carbon38 is where I discover a lot of stuff," says UTA digital-media agent Milana Rabkin. She owns 21 pairs of printed leggings; Splits59 is a favorite. Carbon38 was launched in October 2012 by Katie Warner Johnson and Caroline Gogolak, and it has gone from carry­ing 15 activewear designers to 60. Popular labels include London's Lucas Hugh, founded by an Alexander McQueen intern, and New York's Zara Terez, with a stretch-jersey hoodie by Monreal costing $470.

It all can be traced back to Juicy Couture, whose velour tracksuits blanketed Hollywood, then America, over a decade ago. "Once it hit, it was not only for people to run errands. They wore it everywhere," says co-founder Pamela Skaist-Levy, who now runs Pam & Gela, a line with athleisure elements, with partner Gela Nash-Taylor. (Lululemon, still the leader, with $1.6 billion in annual sales, stumbled recently after recalling see-through yoga pants in March 2013. Founder Chip Wilson suggested the pants "don't work for some women's bodies" and was forced to resign as chairman of the company.)

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While track pants aren't likely to make an appearance in the CAA boardroom anytime soon — everyone can't be Hollywood power lawyer Patti Felker, who has been known to don sequined sweats to premieres — they're certainly not off-limits for weekend and off-site meetings, especially in L.A.'s casual, health-conscious culture. "It's less about what you wear and more about what you can deliver," confirms Jane Buckingham, founder of Beverly Hills-based consumer-insights firm Trendera. "They're thinking, 'I'm so powerful, I don't have to dress up.' "

"A friend of mine, a top entertainment lawyer with 400 people under him, goes to all of his meetings in sweatpants and one of our T-shirts," says Spiritual Gangster founder Ian Lopatin, whose tanks and sweatshirts are screen-printed with such quotes as "Karma Made Me Do It" and "Give Love." Business has grown 300 percent year-over-year for the past three years, and the line is currently in more than 500 stores. Producer Mark Burnett wore it for much of his Son of God press junket, and American Sniper producer Sheroum Kim also is a fan. "What I love about this industry is that it really allows you to reflect your personal style," says Kim. "Heads of studios will wear sneakers with their suits. You're allowed to break the fashion rules a little."

Perhaps Nike CEO Mark Parker recently said it best when he intoned: "Leggings are the new denim."

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From left going clockwise: The Elder Statesman cashmere- and linen-blend track pants; $600, netaporter.com; Adidas by Stella McCartney Studio T-shirt in black and white color blocks, a big trend; $85, adidas.com; Alala top; $100, alalastyle.com (Naomi Watts is a fan of the brand).

From left: Norwalk top in black by Fabletics, founded by Kate Hudson; $35, fabletics.com; Fabletics Desio top in of-the-moment neon; $40, fabletics.com; Live the Process hooded stretch-jersey jacket; $215, netaporter.com.

Balmain cotton-jersey cargo sweatpants in blue; $980, mrporter.com.

This story first appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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