Venus Williams is taller than you would imagine, yet as elegant as a gazelle — but this gracefulness is what you would expect.
The Amazon of the tennis courts stood over racks of clothing in a New York City hotel space when I first saw her, adjusting garments and making selections for models, as fashion editors from various publications filed in for a champagne brunch.
At first I mistook her for a model getting ready for the exclusive preview for her EleVen by Venus Williams Spring/Summer 2014 collection. No. It was the woman in charge, making the final adjustments.
“It’s always fun,” Williams said of previewing her line during a recent mid-week gathering before the U.S. Open. “It’s always good to see it in person. Pictures look good, but when I see it in person I think, ‘I want to wear this, I want to wear that!’ So, it’s fun. That’s what we hope people think when they see it.”
An EleVen sneak peak
Her latest offering of sportswear — ranging from cute tennis dresses to colorful tops — fits an interesting niche. Much like the popular line of yoga wear, Lululemon, EleVen by Venus is gearing up to be a lifestyle brand that draws upon chic trends to develop fashionable pieces fit for tough workouts and relaxing afternoons with friends.
“I think we all wear active wear to hang out now,” Williams said of her designs. “That’s just how life is. You put on your capris, and you run to the grocery store.”
While there are items suitable for a number of activities, ranging from sports to spectatorship, Williams, of course, is partial to the tennis looks. “There are different pieces for different things. People like me, I wear tennis skirts all over. I don’t know why. I can’t get out of character!”
More than just a larger-than-life character in the world of international tennis, Williams’ roles as a clothier and business woman shone through as she spoke quietly and humbly about the new direction of her brand and the secrets to her success.
Helping people lead healthy lives
“My goal for EleVen is to help people live healthy and happy lives, and you’re a lot happier when you feel healthy,” Williams told theGrio. “You feel good about you. When you take care of yourself inside, and feel good about how you look on the outside. EleVen is, ‘Look Good, Play Well.’ That’s what we always say is our motto.”
This motto has served her well. Williams — who runs, bikes, swims, runs sprints and more to maintain her professional edge — wants women and men who wear EleVen to enjoy the journey of fitness as a process you can love even if growth is incremental.
“It’s not like you can get in shape after six weeks, and go hard, and then for the rest of your life, you’re good — or else I wouldn’t have to go to practice anymore,” she said of her fitness philosophy. “It’s about the journey of being fit throughout your life, and how to take that step. It’s not about being perfect every single day, but just being consistent.”
Venus: Fortunate, humble, humorous
As Williams chatted easily about her professional accomplishments, eyeing the perfectly-cut tennis dresses that are almost fit for a cocktail party but for the length, she marveled at the fact that she is living her dreams. She was surrounded by pretty jackets in modern, floral prints, some with a lacing detail in the back that cinches the waist. There were cute shorts and tank tops that flattered with unique silhouettes. A gaggle of reporters were there to hear her muse on the creative process that led to these looks, which were inspired in part by high fashion runways.
No small accomplishment for a 33-year-old originally from Compton. How does she do it all?
“I feel very fortunate, so fortunate,” Williams said. “That pretty much sums it up, but, obviously there’s a lot of self-belief and a ton of hard work. And you have to believe in yourself. It’s not easy. Sometimes you don’t believe in yourself. You have to fake it ’til you make it sometimes, too!” she added, laughing.
The will of a chic champion
But it’s not all work and no play, even if her work consists of playing tennis and creating clothing, very fun pursuits. In her limited spare time, Williams likes to read fantasy. She listens to energetic music to prep for big tournaments. To complement her clothing selections, she loves to wear Milani eyeliner and lip gloss, which she absolutely gushed about for its perfect tones.
These are all elements in the life of a powerful, yet surprisingly gentle woman, whose determination is evident as she sets off to make EleVen — which was previously available through a now-defunct retailer — an even bigger success.
She may have just exited the U.S. Open, losing a match to Zheng Jie of China last week, but you can tell that — for this champion — it is the small set backs that provide the opportunity to continue to push forward. This is the fighting, yet feminine, spirit of Venus Williams.
“No one’s perfect,” Williams concluded, unpretentiously. “I’ve choked matches. That’s just the way it is. I’ll be honest about that. It’s about getting up and believing in you. There’re going to be so many people who say that you can’t. You can’t believe that. Sometimes it’s hard to put out that negativity. You just have to surround yourself with people who tell you you can, and actually believe them.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb