Fitness continues its hold on the American imagination, as seen in recent pop culture.
Have we hit the peak of the athleisure trend? The question has been posed repeatedly in publications like Bloomberg and W Magazine, which have noted sluggish sales growth for the category and falling stock prices for industry stalwart Lululemon.
But recent pop culture tells a different story. In Kanye West’s latest music video for the track “Fade,” performer Teyana Taylor shows off a fitness-inspired dance routine. Set in a bare-bones gym, Taylor’s workout gear and impressive physicality are both on display. Rather than a sanitized ideal of fitness, Taylor is allowed to be both sweaty and muscular, pushing a new idea of female beauty that’s tied to athleticism.
Fitness in music videos is nothing new; in fact, the director of “Fade” cited Flashdance as one of the video’s key inspirations. But West’s video is the latest in a recent wave of more-realistic depictions of women’s fitness, in pop culture and in campaigns like “This Girl Can.”
It’s also worth noting that “Fade” is among the first major fitness-inspired music videos to feature an African-American model. This push into diversity is echoed by Beyoncé’s athleisure-inspired Ivy Park label, which recently tapped a diverse slate of celebrities as its unofficial ambassadors, including Shay Mitchell and Black-ish star Yara Shahidi.
Elsewhere, fitness is busy cementing its status as the aspirational lifestyle of the moment. Ariana Grande’s music video for “Side to Side”, released at the end of August, features a Grande-led SoulCycle class. For the video, Grande also teamed up with Guess to release a line of shoppable athleisure looks featured in the video.
Fitness continues to make inroads into fashion, as well. At New York Fashion Week, several designers debuted high-end activewear collections. Alexander Wang announced a new line in collaboration with Adidas, while Prabal Gurung will sell its new activewear through luxury fitness retailer Bandier. Meanwhile, fitness brand Under Armour made its Fashion Week debut with a line created by renowned designer Tim Coppens, who was recently named creative director for the brand.
As the Innovation Group noted in June, high-end athleisure lines are a way for designers to differentiate themselves in an increasingly saturated market. But as the evidence from pop culture shows, fitness is only becoming more central to lifestyle across consumer verticals. Today, women can use sweat-proof makeup, attend yoga festivals or immersive fitness festivals sponsored by Nike.
Will we ever reach peak athleisure? For now, at least, it looks as though major cultural tastemakers will continue to draw inspiration from fitness, casting it as aspirational at both the high-end and the mainstream.