Tennis pro Venus Williams is a game changer both on and off the courts. Within days of capturing her fourth Olympic gold medal in London, she was in Southampton, New York unveiling the second round of her EleVen by Venus Williams fashion designs at a private event. Inspired by her experience as an athlete, the new color-filled collection comprises form-fitting dresses, polo shirts, tanks, tennis skirts, crop-top style bras, and Capri pants in bold geometric patterns. A new men’s line features T-shirts and shorts.
Known for her flashy on-court style, Williams relaunched the fashion label after a four-year hiatus. She has been slowly rolling out various pieces of the collection, priced from $17 to $48, which was first unveiled a few months ago at the Sony Ericsson Open Tennis Tournament in Miami. The line is available at Elevenbyvenus.com and special boutiques. The full collection will be reveled in September, just in time for New York Fashion Week.
“EleVen is about expressing yourself and being you,” says Williams, who wore a new floral-patterned dress that she plans to wear at the 2012 U.S. Open Tennis Championship, which begins Aug. 27. “I have always wanted to do floral … coming up is watercolors.” A children’s line may also be in the works, given recent requests.
Originally created in 2007 for the clothing chain Steve & Barry’s., the fashion label was taken off store shelves after the retailer filed bankruptcy in 2008. Williams also took a break for six months for the treatment of an autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome. “It is a ton of work because I head up all of the designs. What I try to do is stay true to who I am as a designer, Williams says. “I like to challenge myself. I like to come up with different ideas. That’s not easy.”
What’s different about the 2012 EleVen line? “With the collection I was doing before, I was just having fun and doing pieces that weren’t available to the public like lace and fringe. It was about playing great tennis and not worrying about what you were wearing,” explains Williams who earned a fashion design degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. “But now EleVen is about people wearing clothing that makes them feel good and makes them feel special.”
Williams wanted to create clothes that are wearable with cross appeal—from those who want to be fashion forward to those who want a more classic look. She cites the women’s “Oh & Oh” graphic T-shirt as an example of a piece that can be worn on the court or off, paired with a blazer, heels, and jeans. The 32-year-old athlete is regarded as a style icon in her own right and is often credited for changing the look of women’s tennis both on- and off-court. Named one the best-dressed by Vogue magazine, she is heralded for starting trends rather than following them.
Williams, who has 22 Grand Slam titles, has also incorporated into her clothing personal inspirational messages. Customers will find handwritten notes featuring her favorite phrases such as “Bring It” and “You Got ’Em.”
Apart from the world of fashion, Williams owns the interior design firm V Starr Interiors, is a co-owner of the Miami Dolphins with her sister Serena, and the author of the New York Times best-seller Come to Win. She also has collaborated with designer Ralph Lauren and has worked on a project with designer Diane Von Furstenberg for Reebok, which earned Williams the largest endorsement figure ever for a female athlete. An invaluable lesson she has learned about business is that “slow and steady wins the race.” “It is not important to try to come out and conquer everything the first day,” she adds. “It is about doing things the right way.”