August 23, 2007 NEW YORK — Venus Williams wants to leave the U.S. Open crowd in stitches — her own.
When the Wimbledon winner steps onto the court, she’ll be wearing an outfit and shoes from her new EleVen label. Right now, she’s leaning toward a green dress with a white polo collar, dropped waist and pleated skirt.
Williams has become the latest celebrity to join forces with budget-minded retailer Steve & Barry’s. The company said this will be largest collection ever created by a female athlete.
This deal was announced Thursday, ahead of the tournament Williams has already won twice.
The brand name was selected for two reasons, she explained: Her childhood address in Compton, Calif., included 11, plus the number means going beyond the classic “top ten.”
“Eleven can be better than the best,” Williams said.
Williams is enjoying a career resurgence with her fourth win at Wimbledon earlier this summer, but she’s played in fewer tournaments the past few years, largely because of injuries.
What did she do in that spare time? Attend fashion classes.
She’s on track to receive a degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale at the end of the year.
That education has served her well in developing her vision of EleVen, she said.
“It’s helped me understand style, color, design history, putting seams in the right place.”
Howard Schacter, the Steve & Barry’s chief partnership officer who previously arranged deals with basketball player Stephon Marbury, golfer Bubba Watson and actress Sarah Jessica Parker, said activewear for women was one area lacking in the company’s offerings.
“When we saw the success of our previous partnerships, we looked at other sports that provided an opportunity to do exactly what we’ve been doing on the basketball courts and golf.”
Tennis, he said, seemed an ideal match because there is an off-court lifestyle associated with it.
EleVen will offer athleticwear, casualwear and footwear. Williams wore a rainbow-colored T-shirt, sparkly lavender track pants and earrings with the EleVen logo to announce the collection and she will wear the V-Court pro sneaker next week.
The initial 120-piece collection will be available in November but a couple of hundred pairs of the V-Court will be sold Friday at the Manhattan flagship store.
Even though no item at Steve & Barry’s costs more than $19.98, Schacter said enough research, development and technology went into the gear to give Williams the tools she needs during competition. Williams has tested the shoes during World Team Tennis play earlier this summer.
“These shoes are designed for the win. If I don’t win at the Open it’s not the shoes’ fault, it’s me,” Williams said.
Williams’ comeback win at Wimbledon was “icing on the cake,” Schacter said, but the fashion deal was made at the end of last year.
“We’ll still be partners with Venus long beyond her playing days — same as Marbury — this goes beyond performance on the court,” he said.
Did You Know?
Venus says the name of her line – EleVen – is taken partly from the street number of her childhood home in Compton, the Los Angeles-area ghetto where she and Serena first lived.