Thursday, November 10, 2016

Workout Gear for When You’re Not Breaking a Sweat

[ed. No, not from the Onion.]

Athleisure, the high-performance sportswear originally designed for workouts but now worn everywhere, represents a populist, street-up phenomenon that got its start like this: Women loved wearing comfortable and sleek leggings to the gym. Sweat-eliminating wicking fabrics allowed them to add layers before heading to brunch. And sometimes, they didn’t even work out at all.

The athleisure spectrum now runs from workout clothes to off-duty weekend uniforms to “elevated” high fashion clothes — think Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma collection, characterized as Marie Antoinette-inspired streetwear — that is perfect for after dark. In a roundup of the recent Paris shows, decreed that the trend is now influencing all levels of fashion: “The athleisure effect can’t be denied.”

The mecca for athleisure is on lower Fifth Avenue from 17th Street to 23rd Street, in the Flatiron neighborhood. Stores there stock everything from basic black leggings to this season’s oversize bomber jackets. Bonus: Some of the stores have studios, a few offering free classes, and salespeople who are plugged in to the latest neighborhood fitness craze. It’s like finding out where the best powder is on the mountain from the cool ski locals while they are setting your bindings.

Start at the southern end of the strip with Lululemon, which helped set off the athleisure tsunami, at the brand’s flagship store at 114 Fifth Avenue at 17th Street. It’s the company’s largest store in the United States, offering an overwhelming selection of its infamous leggings, mocked by some as overhyped and overpriced ($68 to $148) yet beloved by Luluhead stalwarts as flattering essentials.

The Lululemon salespeople are like legging sommeliers, patiently explaining the various fabric types, and suggesting associated activities for each — wicking materials for hot yoga, for example, or compression fabric for cycling, and lattice sides for barre class. Be warned that Lululemon sizes are not ego-boosting: If you are usually a size 6, you may need an 8. Still, the salespeople will work with you until they can honestly say that yes, it looks good.

And although it may sound like a “Saturday Night Live” parody, the store has a concierge who will point customers to nearby workout options, like Swerve, the hot new team-inspired cycling studio, or the latest array of workouts at Flex Studios (Pilates, barre and TRX), and then help book the classes. Downstairs, there is a studio called Hub Seventeen, which has classes, some free and some that cost $10 to $20, art shows and film screenings that can be booked online.

(While it will take you away from the area, a 20-minute walk to the Lululemon Lab at 50 Bond Street is worth the detour. The design team, working in full view in the back of the store, creates clothes with New Yorkers in mind — functional and mostly in dark and neutral palettes. This is class, not mass. Prices range from $60 for tops, to up to $450 for coats. The strap leggings have a horizontal slit at the knee, a fashion-statement riff on torn jeans that also allows for freedom of movement. It is one of only two Lab stores; the other is in Vancouver, British Columbia. The clothes are available only at the store, not online.)

Gap-owned Athleta, at 126 Fifth Avenue at 18th Street, does not push the envelope, and that can be a good thing. Mannequins are dressed in laid-back and doable options, such as leggings ($65 to $98) layered with a chunky long sweater and topped with down vests. A rotating roster of A-list teachers — like Dana Trixie Flynn from Laughing Lotus yoga — teaches classes in the beautiful studio downstairs. Classes are free. It is best to book online in advance because they fill up.

To flesh out the basic look, cross the street for hoodies, graphic tees and sunglasses at Zara, 101 Fifth Avenue at 17th Street, or H&M, 111 Fifth Avenue at 18th Street.

Tory Sport, 129 Fifth Avenue at 20th Street, is the athleisure line started by the designer Tory Burch in 2015. The ’70s-infused style is right in the modern groove: color-blocked, chevron-patterned and with track stripes in cutting-edge, sports-friendly fabrics. Framed vintage Sports Illustrated covers of greats like John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova set the vibe for the collection and the store, which has the feel of a sleek, retro Scandinavian ski chalet.

On a recent visit, a Tory Sport saleswoman inquired, “What sport are you into?” before pointing to the separate golf, tennis, running and studio lines. Her own current favorite, she said, was the killer workouts at Tone House in the neighboring Murray Hill area: “The hardest workout I’ve ever had.”

However, sport distinctions quickly seem irrelevant, as even a dedicated yogi on her way to check out the seamless leggings will stop short at the golf clothes, like the cunning short-sleeve crew neck sweater ($225) that has a contrasting ring collar and is made of “performance cashmere.” That’s right: cashmere that wicks. The “Coming and Going” category is a catchall for wardrobe staples officially intended for going to and from the studio. But these pieces, made from performance fabrics, are appropriate for work or for social gatherings. A convertible blazer with zip-in nylon dickey and hoodie is a nice twist on a classic ($365).

Bandier, a few blocks north at 164 Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street, is a multibrand shop, the place to check out this season’s mesh or perforated fabrics, graphic leggings, camouflage motorcycle (camo moto) jackets, cropped tops and oversize bomber jackets. These are club-worthy, the elevated end of the spectrum. The store is the real deal, so worth braving the brisk (or overwhelmed?) salespeople, including one who handed a customer a size small bomber jacket to try on, while waving off the idea of taking a medium for comparison purposes, with a definitive, “It’s supposed to be fitted.”

Bandier has attitude. Painted on the wall in a cheeky script is the message: “Take Care of Your Girls.” Upstairs at Studio B — “Where Fashion Fitness and Music Go to Play” — you can take classes like Stoked Shred, ModelFIT sculpt and Yoga for Bad People. Sign up online; prices range from $15 to $35. (...)

It is worth the cardio schlep up four flights of stairs at 25 West 23rd Street, just around the corner toward Sixth Avenue, to Y7 Studio, the self-proclaimed home of “Original Hip-Hop Yoga,” to check out the small retail space. Score a black graphic crop top or muscle shirt (“I’m Like / Hey / What’s Up / Let’s Flow,” or “Namastizzle,” $50) and a New York Yogis snapback hat ($40) for instant street cred.

by Mary Billard, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Stefania Curto for The New York Times