For a sector that has suddenly discovered its love of all things “athleisure” (Tory Sport, anyone? Stella McCartney for Adidas? Kering’s Sport & Lifestyle division?) — not to mention its love of all things celebrity — fashion has been extraordinarily slow to embrace female sports stars.
You’d think designers would be lining up to dress Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, et al., yet I can’t think of a female athlete who is an ambassador for a major ready-to-wear brand. Designer names were pretty absent from the red carpet for the ESPY Awards in July — apart from Versace with Caitlyn Jenner, and Prabal Gurung with the United States women’s soccer team. When Ms. Williams did her well-publicized victory dance with Novak Djokovic after their Wimbledon wins last month, it was in a dress she already had in her closet, and no designer stepped forward to take credit. It seems like such a missed opportunity.
The same could be said for the rise and rise of Ronda Rousey, the Ultimate Fighting Championship star who won her last title bout in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday in 34 seconds. She was named female athlete of the year at the ESPYs, beating Ms. Williams, Lindsey Vonn and Breanna Stewart; she has an Olympic gold medal; and she recently appeared in “Entourage.”
Oh, and she has 1.5 million Twitter followers, and 3.9 million Instagram followers (as of Monday morning). And a fan base that includes Will Smith and Anthony Bourdain. Over the weekend, social media was alive with the sound of fans’ cheering her success in Rio. Or tweeting. Those things are normally the ingredients of a marketer’s dream.
Yet she’s done one ad shoot — for the holiday campaign of the denim brand Buffalo David Bitton last year — and that’s it.
Admittedly, mixed martial arts is probably a complicated image sell for high fashion, which may be about power, but is generally not of the wrestle-’em-to-the-ground kind. And athletes have body types that don’t lend themselves to the coat-hanger look that designers favor.
But brands love nothing more than the good fortune of finding stars in unexpected places, be it Victoria Beckham’s post-Spice Girls stint in the Marc Jacobs ads (and Miley Cyrus thereafter), or Kendall Jenner’s anointment as model-of-the-moment after “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” A makeover of Ms. Rousey would be right in line with this tradition: counterintuitive in a smart way.
It would also do something for the industry’s image to work with women who value strength and health over skinniness and youth; to demonstrate that their clothes make everyone look good, regardless of biceps size. And it would give real integrity to any foray into activewear, or sport-to-lunch wear, to have an actual athlete wearing the clothes.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ronda Rousey appeared in the movie “Trainwreck.”