Within a few short years, activewear has broken free from the confines of the gym to be seen, well, just about everywhere, and on just about everyone. The marriage of fashion and functionality has transformed what was once a symbol of blood, sweat and tears into a sartorial mainstay. When the hallowed fashion houses of Chanel and Dior, amongst many others, sent models down the runway in couture kicks, the fate of sportswear as legitimate leisurewear was sealed.
‘Athleisure’ has spawned its own cult following, making this new and growing market a fighting force to be reckoned with. Brands like Lululemon, Lucas Hugh and The Upside were born out of the increased demand for sleek sports-inspired separates, and are as likely to be spotted on influencers as a Boy bag or a Fendi pom pom. Like denim before it, which was originally created for workers before transitioning into an iconic wardrobe staple, workout wear is both practical and – thanks to a new range of fabrics, prints and designs — perfectly pretty. Bazaar talks with four of the GCC’s most inspiring athletes about fitness, fashion and finding their strengths.
#Fearless | Melissa Dahlia Ghattas, 37, Australian, Instructor at Zen Yoga
“My relationship with my body had been an oscillating journey up until I reached 30. I believe, like most women, I battled with a distorted body image and countless insecurities. I remember as a teenager habitually wearing a jumper around my waist to hide my bottom. Since finding yoga I have genuinely discovered a sense of security and acceptance in my own skin,” Melissa tells Bazaar. Her discovery of yoga came after, “living a fast-paced, turbulent lifestyle as a flight attendant.” The practice helped her find her feet again. “The beauty of yoga is that it not only works the physical, but also endeavours to bring balance between your mind, body and spirit.”
Long before being named as an ambassador for Lululemon in the Middle East, Melissa was a fan of the brand. “My all-time favourite yoga top is from Lululemon and I’ve had it for about eight years. It’s quite unique and fits perfectly with both yoga pants and jeans.” Her style away from her asanas is “a mixture of different things from boho pieces to chic beachwear,” but she says her sportswear finds its way into her everyday outfits. “Yoga-wear has such a diverse range of items so it’s easily amalgamated to suit most occasions. I find that even when I’m not working I still turn to a pair of leggings for comfort, or I’ll wear one of my cool tops with jeans. It’s all incredibly versatile.”
#OnPointe | Karlee Hale, 23, American, Barre Instructor at Physique 57
A classical ballet dancer for 20 years, Karlee has seen and felt her body pushed to its limits. “Strength is not only about what your body can physically achieve, but also how you achieve it,” she says. Her greatest physical achievement to date?
“I would dance for hours on my toes every day, especially as I worked toward my Bachelor of Fine Arts in ballet.
I was never a strong turner, so I worked tirelessly to improve my pirouettes.
I would practise en pointe with a CD case on my head to find my centre of balance before adding turns. One day, I removed the CD case and did my first quadruple pirouette en pointe.”
When it comes to choosing the right workout pieces, Karlee prefers for them to be tight and bright. “I tend to choose form-fitting attire that hugs my body,” she explains. “This is so I can check my posture and alignment as I work out. Tighter outfits allow me to see individual muscle groups moving, working and changing, and that feels great. I enjoy making a statement with bright colours, like pink and red, and look for pieces with asymmetrical or unconventional necklines, too. Fashionable pieces with mesh make me feel strong and confident.” Counting Michi NY and Splits 59 as two of her brands of choice because “they have great pieces for tall women like me,” as well as Lululemon, for whom she is an ambassador, Karlee believes performance is closely linked to perception. “I firmly believe that if you feel good about how you are dressed, you will perform better.
#Unstoppable | Josefine Wallstromer, 26, Swedish, Club Manager and Coach at BARE
Growing up as a figure skater, Josefine has always had an eye for fashion in fitness. “I grew up with girls skating in skirts and dresses in matching colours and adorned with glitter. The pieces had to be comfortable and flexible for our training, but we also wanted to look and feel pretty while we were working hard. That’s still important for me.” Nowadays, Josefine says her job still impacts her choice of clothing. “The workouts at Bare are tough, and my gear is constantly put through its paces. I invest a lot of money into my training clothes as I pretty much live in them. And let’s be honest, performance and comfort are essential, but who doesn’t want to look good when working out? It makes me feel more confident.” When she does part with her beloved sportswear, Josefine’s style comfortably merges two worlds with “a mix between comfy and cool,” and says her go-to items “are ripped shorts and flip-flops.”
For Josefine, her job extends beyond the walls of Bare, and her position as an ambassador in the fitness community is one she takes seriously. “I like to think of my role as being more than just about work. It’s important to me that we drive community and contribute to our members’ success together. I try my best to inspire others outside of work too, and plant little seeds [in the minds] of my friends and people I meet, hoping that I can make an impact on someone’s health.”
#UrbanWarrior | Yasmine Saade, 29, Lebanese/Canadian, Co-founder of Urban Yoga
“I’ve been active my whole life but it was only after discovering yoga that I felt empowered to achieve anything I put my mind to,” says Yasmine. “Every few months I set myself a new challenge. This summer I did a 300km cycle across the Netherlands to raise money for Palestinian children with mental illnesses due to the traumas of war, and not being a ‘cyclist’ was never a concern. I don’t feel limited by my physical self and that is what I’m most proud of.”
Adopting a “minimalistic, with an edge” style stamp, Yasmine says that although she wears a lot of monochrome she likes her outfit to have some character. “Whether it’s an interesting cut or piece of statement jewellery, there needs to be something with more of a back-story.” She admits that her wardrobe composition is gradually changing thanks to the fluidity of fitness fashion. “I love shopping for workout clothes, and my collection seems to be slowly taking over the rest of my closet. I find myself drawn to tops with interesting back details, tops with a lot of movement, and mesh cut-out leggings. With athletic brands moving into high fashion, it’s becoming easier to find high-performance pieces that you can also wear out to dinner with the girls and I’m all about efficiency, so if a piece can be two-in-one, sign me up!”
Styling by Katie Trotter. Photography by Wendelien Daan. Fashion Assistant: Sima Maalouf. With special thanks to Zaya Nurai Island