CALLING ALL DRIVEN WOMEN
Motorsports are trending and there’s more than one formula for pulling off a winning look, discovers Phoebe Watt
Afew Sundays ago I attended the Paeroa drag races. Actually, I attended what I thought were the drag races. In the week leading up, this was the story I was pedalling, as if I had a clue what drag racing was. Thanks to a crash course in the car somewhere along State Highway 2, I now know it’s not exactly the same as motorcycle racing, the motorsport around which Paeroa’s world-famous-in-New-Zealand annual Battle of the Streets revolves. But then, could you blame me for not being particularly au fait with this sporting niche?
Until recently, probably not. But with the automotive trend that’s revving up international fashion runways showing no signs of decelerating, it occurs that I’m going to need to shift my vehicular knowledge up a gear.
Or, at the very least, my knowledge of racing attire. Lesson one: the racing suits that were the centrepiece of Marc by Marc Jacobs’ autumn 2014 menswear line. A debut for the brand's thencreative directors Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier, the technical-looking, logoemblazoned one-pieces were the most literal reference to the motorsport influence that underpinned the collection and which jumpstarted the industry’s lasting fascination with racing culture.
This isn’t fashion’s first lap around the track, after all. From ’80s checkerboard prints to Yohji Yamamoto’s 2004 collaboration with Italian motorcycle-gear company Dainese, to the quintessential motorcycle jacket itself — invented in 1928 and a mainstream fashion essential from the mid-20th century on — high-octane looks have been spinning our wheels for decades. But thanks to the sexy and sophisticated treatments at Off-White, Alexander Wang and Christian Dior, the masculine reimaginings at Yeezy, Maison Margiela and Vetements, and the playful responses at Balenciaga, Versus Versace and Moschino, we have countless exciting new iterations to work with.
Recent fashion weeks have given us more than just fullthrottle fashion. At NYFW last September, Fenty x Puma was the torque of the town with its X Games-inspired
show which featured daredevil stunts and an appearance by singer-designer Rihanna on the back of a dirt bike. Cut to Milan in February and it was Tommy Hilfiger in the driver’s seat with a racewear-heavy collection that celebrated the brand’s official partnership with four-time Formula One world champ, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport. Set to outfit over 1500 crew members as part of the multiyear contract, the iconic American casualwear label will also have its branding splashed across race cars and pit stops in the ultimate fusing of fashion and F1.
It’s not an altogether surprising mash-up. Speaking to
WWD, Hilfiger, who has previously partnered with Lotus and Ferrari, pointed to the commonalities between the Mercedes-Benz team and his own, specifically a shared “passion, spirit and drive”. The sentiment echoes that of Zambesi menswear designer Dayne Johnston who, prior to Zambesi opening New Zealand Fashion Week as 2017’s Mercedes-Benz Presents designer, told Fashion Quarterly of the “core values” he saw mirrored in both brands.
Despite this apparent connection, when fashion appropriates the aesthetics of a subculture, the consumer is put at risk of appearing to have all the gear and no idea (band tees, we’re looking at you). And indeed, nothing says ‘fashion victim’ like a Supreme motorcycle helmet that comes with a disclaimer of liability (i.e. sustain injury while wearing this unfit-for-purpose pseudo-protective garment and that’s on you, sweetie). Surprisingly though, motorcycling groups have spoken out in support of the trend, with website Motofire reporting that as the biker population ages, the endorsements of respected fashion houses and trendsetters like Rihanna “are just the kind of shot-in-the-arm the industry has been crying out for”.
It’s not just about enticing a new wave of enthusiasts. The implication is that the more designers and celebrities put motorsports in front of women, the more women will want to get behind the wheel. Certainly it would seem our time on the sidelines of this male-dominated sport is up. In January 2018, Formula One announced it was axing grid girls, acknowledging this tradition of scantily clad models being paraded through the racing pit was out of step with the organisation’s values. The counterargument centred around the personal autonomy of the models, many of whom came forward and confirmed that they were well-treated and enjoyed their jobs. Valid, but we can’t help but be more excited about — and feel more empowered by — women living life in the fast lane.
Happily, there are increasingly more of those to look up to. Like Columbian Tatiana Calderón, whose promotion to test driver on the Alfa Romeo Sauber Formula One team is a significant step towards her becoming the first woman to compete in an F1 Championship since 1992. And then there’s Danica Patrick, the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing whose accolades include the highest finish by a woman in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, and being the only female ever to win an IndyCar Series race.
Thanks to role models like these, the masculine world of motorsports is already getting a bit of a feminine rebrand. Any increased exposure on the part of the fashion industry can only help its case.
Back in Paeroa, where I wore a fairly uninventive ensemble of black ankle boots, denim cut-offs, a black camisole and bomber jacket, it also could have helped mine. Okay, amongst the other punters, a leather dress with racy cut-outs would’ve looked a bit much. And given I was more than a little out of my depth, inconspicuous was probably a safe way to play it. But then ‘safe’ isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when watching a Grand Prix. As with any elite sport, success goes hand in hand with an element of risk-taking. For world-class riders and drivers, that might mean overtaking on a hairpin corner. I’ll stick with a flame-embossed Tommy Hilfiger clutch, Christian Dior panelled leather jacket or a pair of Louis Vuitton riding gloves.
Pro racers Tatiana Calderón (above) and Danica Patrick (left) drive the trend on the track.