CALL­ING ALL DRIVEN WOMEN

Mo­tor­sports are trend­ing and there’s more than one for­mula for pulling off a win­ning look, dis­cov­ers Phoebe Watt

Fashion Quarterly - - Style -

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.

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