Photo: The Last Magazine
VPL, the sporty lingerie and womenswear label, prefers to establish trends rather than follow them.
Once the leader of the urban underwear-as-outerwear movement, the New York label has undergone a dramatic reboot and today finds itself out in front of a different trend: the rapidly evolving designer gymwear market.
It’s a top-to-bottom reinvention of one of America’s most admired fashion brands, one that will see VPL carry its bold design aesthetic and refined corporate values into the high-end gyms, spin classes, Pilates studios and boot camps where more women are spending more time these days.
But that’s not all. VPL’s new spring collection, the first in what it’s calling a ‘Fashion Active Movement’, is intended to work as daily streetwear, too. There’s a lot of stylish activewear in the new line, but you’ll also find an impressive collection of coordinates like maxi and midi dresses or hip jackets like the $400 Capulete Neo-Tux sweatjacket.
Yes, the company that once dared women to show off their bra straps in public is now doing the same with gym clothes.
VPL‘s makeover has been the subject of considerable buzz in NYC fashion circles since last September, when the company staged its Fashion Week runway show in the New School gym in Chelsea, with models cavorting on gymnastic rings and parallel bars. (Coincidentally, a week later Stella McCartney — who may be VPL‘s closest peer in this emerging market — held her London Fashion Week show in a gym and swimming pool to show off her latest collaboration with adidas.)
VPL‘s sudden change in direction was ecstatically received — Fashionista said the Spring 2014 line “might just be the answer to our prayers” — but longtime fans will likely see it as a logical transformation, more evolutionary than revolutionary. It might also have been necessary to keep the brand relevant.
Founder Victoria Bartlett launched VPL (which stands for “visible panty line”) in 2003 with the idea of creating fashion-centric, functional underwear that would help women shed their inhibitions about undergarments and, ultimately, show them off with pride. VPL‘s bold designs helped usher in the underwear-as-outerwear movement that saw women everywhere teasing onlookers with fashionable flashes of bra straps and other undies once intended for private viewing only.
In recent years, though, the market caught up with VPL and the trendsetting brand found itself smack in the middle of a style revolution that it helped create. Their signature looks — wide elastic bands and geometric color-blocked patterns — were widely imitated, often in cheap knockoffs aimed at young urbanites. VPL stayed ahead of the pack by plunging into the womenswear mainstream and applying its aesthetic to new categories: stylish knitwear, dresses, jewelry, bags and even shoes.
But one thing stayed the same: VPL‘s sporty aesthetic always looked a bit like futuristic gym outfits.
Flash forward to 2014 and that future has arrived (after being hinted at in the 2013 spring line, which VPL called ‘Game Changer’.)
What made VPL‘s new focus possible was the ongoing revolution in technical fabrics that is transforming the underwear, swimwear and activewear markets. VPL has always been an eager innovator in working with elastane, but today’s breathable, wicking and odor-repelling fabrications introduced a broad new set of possibilities.
Its spring collection, which offers innovative new looks in running shorts, leggings, tanks and sports bras, blends technical and ecological materials in some surprising ways. There’s a lot of cotton spandex and cotton modal, along with fabric formulations that provide UV protection and even seaweed-infused knits that release vitamins that nourish the skin.
“I feel as though today’s VPL is transforming its already fashion athletic look, and boosting it into a wear that is technical conscious and functional,” Bartlett says on her website. The company, which previously has collaborated with ballet companies, consulted with sports experts in yoga, spin, Pilates and barre in developing its new line of hybrid separates “for before, during, and after your workout.”
Last month, VPL offered a variation on its runway shows by presenting its Fall 2014 collection, called Pro Action, in an 11-minute video (above) of athletic performers modeling VPL while doing yoga, skateboarding, running, cycling and other sports.
The fall RTW collection, which is not yet available, takes the “fashion active” concept to a new level with a range of bulky-but-design-conscious wraps, coverups and what we used to call track suits, alongside an expanded range of activewear separates.
VPL‘s reinvented self is probably not as far ahead of the sportswear market as the company’s original designs were when it entered the lingerie field more than a decade ago. But in its proactive determination to expand the boundaries of contemporary women’s fashion, VPL has revealed another key facet of its corporate identity: like the women it serves, this is a brand that is never, ever satisfied standing still.
You can learn more about the fall Pro Action line at a special website here. VPL’s spring line is now on sale at its webshop and its New York boutique.
VPL SPRING 2014
VPL F/W 2014, ‘PRO ACTIVE’