Christian Lacroix: "Williams, the perfect Amazon ; Nadal, elegance personified"
Never a season goes by without costumes designed by Christian Lacroix appearing in a new production of a ballet, opera or play. Roland-Garros asked the legendary designer to dream up new looks for today’s top tennis stars. Interview with Oscar Héliani.
Have you ever played tennis?
Very little, from 1963 to 1968, if I remember rightly! I never really liked sport other than swimming. I used to play tennis with my friends. My forehand was reasonable, I seem to remember, but I never played in any tournaments… But I’ve always found tennis outfits very elegant.
Do you remember what you wore?
The club in Arles had a white clothing rule, even if I do recall the first appearances of the blue polo shirt. I used to wear white shorts, a mesh top with a step collar and a pair of Spring Court shoes, with socks with three stripes. I played with the last generation of wooden racquets strung with cat-gut. The balls were still white back then.
Talk us through your sketches…
I have always admired folk costumes, so I decided to depict the players in outfits which hark back to their origins. What inspired me does not always come through in the designs, but they are motifs and embroidery that have been borrowed from the countries which the players hail from. For Serena Williams, who is the perfect Amazon, I blended Africa and the United States by inserting Apache motifs on her dress. Rafael Nadal is elegance personified, but somewhat of a tortured soul. He would make a wonderful torero, he’s got the looks for it! For him, I imagined a sort of tracksuit with embroidery from a very old costume in my possession. For Novak Djokovic, I wanted to avoid any political connotations, so instead I opted for motifs from Central Europe. And finally Roger Federer of course is Swiss.
Are there any connections between the fashion houses and sport?
Gabrielle Chanel and Jean Patou fought over who was at the origins of men’s sporting wear crossing over into fashion. Chanel was inspired by the polo outfits which her lover Boy Capel wore, and Jean Patou designed clothes which harked back to the modern dresses he had created for his friend Suzanne Lenglen. When I started at Patou, photos of Lenglen were everywhere in the offices. I just used a few references here and there without ever designing a dedicated tennis collection.
Grace, strength and power are words that are regularly used when talking about tennis. What does the sport conjure up for you?
A passionate crowd, elegant gestures, silence being maintained at crucial moments, genuine combat between two men or two women, then the winner being put on a pedestal. An idol of sorts...
What is your earliest memory of Roland-Garros?
In 1978, we were working with Jean-Jacques Picart who was an adviser for Le coq sportif. The brand organised an exhibition match with Yannick Noah. I met Charlotte Rampling that day.
Is there an image of Roland-Garros that sticks in your memory?
It has to be when Yannick Noah won, and the image of his father climbing across rows of seats to jump into his arms.
Christian Lacroix’s costumes will be features at the following productions:
Romeo and Juliet, the Comédie-Française, until 30 May
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the Opéra royal de Versailles, 3 – 5 June
For the 2016-2017 season: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Opéra de Paris. Pelléas et Mélisande at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and l’Hôtel du Libre-échange at the Comédie-Française.