VPL brings its “fashion active” ethos to a younger demo with a very stylish capsule collection for Urban Outfitters that will help both brands increase their profile in the booming ‘athleisure’ market.
VPL (“visible panty line”) is the trendsetting New York label that created those now-familiar color-blocked underwear co-ordinates with broad elastic straps and bands more than a decade ago.
But it made a dramatic pivot two years ago, turning its focus to upscale, fashion-centric activewear while still hanging onto its distinctive visual signature. It was an inspired move for a brand in mid-life, and not a moment too soon.
A report last winter from the NPD Group confirmed what many industry analysts had been predicting: lifestyle-oriented casual sportswear is driving overall growth in apparel spending, adding $2 billion in sales in 2014 alone.
This was the fashion niche that Lululemon once had all to itself — stylish performance wear that really didn’t fit in anywhere outside the yoga studio or dojo.
Improvements in fabric technology and a consumer focus on comfort, however, have turned the awkwardly named athleisure category into a fashion industry juggernaut.
Women, especially, have leapt at the opportunity to build all-day wardrobes that are functional and still stylish; NPD Group found women spent 8% more on clothing last year, almost entirely because of the expanding activewear market. (No wonder some analysts have predicted that today’s new generation of performance undies will make traditional bras and lingerie obsolete.)
VPL has been in the middle of these changes for years, and designer Victoria Bartlett probably sees a LOT of her brand’s DNA popping up in the sleek, color-blocked fashions coming out of sportswear heavyweights like Nike, adidas, Under Armour and others these days.
Her capsule collection for Urban Outfitters, though, shows VPL isn’t throwing in the towel. This is the company’s second collab with a youth-oriented retail partner, following a 2012 range for Anthropologie.
The UO set features a mix of new styles and VPL favorites in a 7-piece assortment that straddles the line between performance and pure fashion nicely. If you’re a longtime VPL fan you’ve seen most of these looks before; among the new styles, the duotone banded boyshort with the exposed seams is likely to fly off the shelves. And although it’s called an ‘exclusive’ collab, a couple of these pieces are also available through VPL‘s own webshop, with some bargains to be had if you’re willing to settle for last season’s color pairings.
The athleisure market sometimes gets knocked for being a phony category that sells sporty fashions to people who haven’t had a gym membership in years and who have no interest in spending their rent money on SoulCycle classes. It’s the same kind of snobbish blowback that accompanied the mid-90s boom in outdoor apparel, when trendy fashionistas prowled their urban jungles in hiking boots and Gore-Tex jackets.
But brands like VPL and Lululemon have always known that sharp gymwear is much more than just a fashion statement. After all, if you’re going to spend all this money on these memorable multi-purpose outfits, you’re going to want to be seen. And next thing you know, you’re signing up for a zumba class or an ass-blasting bootcamp.
Whether you want to look great while sweating or just look great, period, welcome to the athleisure life.