NEW YORK, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Remember those buff, mid-riff baring bodies on the beach volleyball court in Athens?
Never mind that gym membership doesn't seem to have gone up markedly post-Olympics. Olympians have become celebrities, at least for now, and their fashion sense and needs might just trigger off a new look for the season.
New York kicked off Wednesday its semi-annual Fashion Week, for seven straight days of international names and up-and-coming designers to show off their latest styles to a few thousand industry insiders. At first blush, it seems the overall look for Spring 2005 is pretty and preppy with panash, with palette of pastels to draw from for inspiration.
But buyers for major department stores and glossy fashion magazines aren't just looking for couture skirts and shoes these days. They're also intrigued by designer sportswear, but not the gaudy type that might look at home on the French Riviera coupled with a pair of oversized shades, yet be completely useless as clothing for a kick-boxing class. Instead, buyers are keeping an eye out for gymwear that could be worn not just for workouts, but look hip enough for doing errands around the house or even hanging out at the neighborhood Starbucks.
Or at least that's what athletic wear manufacturer Speedo is hoping for, and it recruited Olympiads rather than rake-thin models to do the promoting at its latest show, including swimming's golden boy Michael Phelps.
The swimsuit giant launched Wednesday its latest line of sportswear in a bid to become more than a household name for making itsy-bitsy Speedo trunks for men and aesthetically unremarkable one-piece swimwear for women. The company boasts that one-third of U.S. Olympic medalists wore its clothing in one shape or form; that may well be, but certainly, few would have regarded the company as stylish, unlike some other sportswear makers such as Nike and Reebok.
Speedo's new Axcelerate collection is designed to overcome that prevailing staid image, but the company has made a point of promoting the science behind its clothing, namely the specially patented fabric that supposedly keeps moisture out, in addition to being more fashion-forward.
"It's a lifestyle approach" that's practical for a workout but also stylish enough to wear outside the gym, said Kathy Van Ness, president of the swim brands of Warnaco, the company that owns the distribution rights for Australia's Speedo in North America.
Of course, the true fashionista would sneer at the sweatpant-suit look that some Hollywood celebrities like Jennifer Lopez embraced a year or two ago, since high fashion ultimately requires poise and self-sacrifice, as any owner of a pair of $800 Jimmy Choo stilettos will attest.
To be fair, the sportsbra-and-shorts look was stunning on the three doe-eyed waifs who first strutted before the cameras, but then again, it's likely that they would have looked amazing whatever they wore. However, the clothes were particularly flattering on Phelps as well as fellow swimmers and Olympic medalists Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin, who shyly joined the models on the diminutive catwalk to show off the clothes.
According to Phelps, who won eight medals at the Athens Olympic, the high-tech fibers give even world-class athletes "an extra edge" over the competition, allowing them to swim a fraction of a second faster than the competition.
For those who were hoping to see their swimming heroes in swimming pool attire, however, the show would have been a bit of a disappointment. For the Axcelerate collection is geared towards land-locked workouts consisting largely of sweatpants, bra tops, t-shirts, and zip-up jackets in polyester microfiber. Ranging from around $13 to $46, the garments are certainly affordable, especially compared to some other clothing that are showcased during Fashion Week. Moreover, funky color coordinations such as light grey with hot pink, or desert green with bright orange, with matching shoes made even couch potatoes think of buying a set for just lying about the house.
For female Olympiads, the collection apparently appealed to their feminine side.
"It's girlie and pinkie...girls want to look good" even when sweating copiously for hours on end, Beard told reporters after her brief stint as a fashion model.
Still, professional athletes who spend the larger part of their waking hours in exercise clothing appeared to find it difficult to gush about their corporate sponsor for more than 10 minutes.
"Clothes are clothes...I just wear what's comfortable," Phelps said when questioned what fashion look he strived for. And while Beard eagerly said that she would be attending Sunday's Luca Luca/Luca Orlandi show at Bryant Park, Phelps made no comment on whether he would take advantage of being in the city during one of the fashion industry's busiest weeks.
But as more women gush about how bodilicious Phelps is, and men dream of having his six-pack abs, the swimmer might just end up being a fashion icon instead of an inspiration for all to hit the gym more often. After all, it's less painful to buy the clothes and be attired like an Olympian, rather than go through the rigorous training and attain the physique. So the sweatpant look he endorses may indeed become de rigeur for both men and women on Main Street.