Chris Evert's trademark two-handed backhand was the signature shot that helped stamp her name on 18 Grand Slam singles titles, while she wore the familiar Ellesse logo of a tennis ball balanced between two ski tips.
The seven-time French Open champ was back on her beloved clay at New York City's Town Tennis Club on Friday night to return to her roots in relaunching Ellesse in North America. Evert, a minority shareholder in Ellesse North America and TENNIS publisher, will serve as brand ambassador and design and promotion contributor for a new collection "Chris Evert for Ellesse", created for women over 30.
The Ellesse apparel Evert wore in the 1980s featured sleeveless tops and pleated skirts—and the former No. 1 nearly always wore a touch of pink in finals. Ellesse execs say the relaunched line will build on the brand's reputation for style, fit and the use of natural fabrics.
“Our product line will offer the better design, quality fabrics, and fit that discerning consumers who enjoy these activities would expect from a luxury Italian brand," Ellesse President and Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Siskovic told us today. "We will focus on tennis, fitness and lifetime sports. We have access to all of the vintage pieces from the archives in Italy, we are working with some of the original technical design people and we will bring some of the classic looks to the updated line."
Ellesse will launch a limited collection consisting of traditional, all-white tennis clothes that will arrive in select speciality shops, pro shops and resorts in time for Christmas. The initial release will include a pleated skirt and sleeveless top for women, and polo shirt and two different shorts for men. The full line of tennis apparel, including a variety of colors, will ship to shops starting in the first quarter of 2012; Evert's collection is scheduled for release sometime in 2012. with the brand's tennis shoes set for release in the fourth quarter of 2012. Price points for the apparel have not yet been finalized, but Ellesse will likely cost a bit more than tennis apparel from Lacoste and a bit less than Ralph Lauren.
The iconic Italian brand, which was founded by Italian tailor Leonardo Servadio—his initials, L & S (elle-esse) are the basis for the brand's name—in Perugia, Italy on June 19, 1959, specialized in ski clothes before manufacturing tennis apparel. Grand Slam champions Evert, Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Guillermo Vilas (who wore the brand's popular five-stripe polo) and Goran Ivanisevic were brand ambassadors. Servadio sold 90 percent of the company to the British-based Pentland Group in the 1990s. Ellesse North America purchased American licensing rights from Pentland.
Ellesse execs concede the sagging state of the American economy make this a challenging time to relaunch, but believe that revising the brand's classic style with natural fabrics, retaining the aspirational quality of its clothes and forgoing mass distribution in favor of select pro shops, an online store and an Ellesse store planned for New York City, will help it fill a niche. The first Ellesse store is scheduled to open on Manhattan's Upper East Side in late 2012, with subsequent stores planned for Palm Beach, Greenwich, Dallas, Aspen, Beverly Hills and Chicago, depending on how the Manhattan store performs.
"If you look at tennis and golf, it's kind of a flat [sales] climate at the moment: no one is losing ground and no one is really gaining ground," Siskovic says. "We will retain what's currently missing in the arena which is the beautiful design, luxurious natural fabrics technically treated for today's tennis—be it moisture-resistant cotton or wool, linen and silk—and of course the fantastic, fashionable fit that Ellesse always brings to the table."
Ellesse will serve as official apparel and footwear provider for Peter Burwash International, the resort and club management company, and may be announcing more partnerships in the coming year.