Photographs courtesy of L’Etoile Sport
Yesim Philip is no dilettante when it comes to tennis. The avid player – who also once played professional basketball in Turkey – hits the court hard at least three times a week. Yet when this Manhattan mother of three first picked up the game, she was surprised to find a lack of chic, comfortable sportswear that would make her look great while serving overhead smashes.
“Tennis is a game that can be played from 7 to 70,” says the 42-year-old. “But most of the clothes are for a younger woman.”
So Philip created L’Etoile Sport, a collection of high-end tennis gear that’s both stylish and serviceable. Key items include sweet drop-waist dresses, lace-trimmed vintage-style shorts, pleated skorts (skirt-short combos), feather-light sweaters and textured tank tops. The multi-purpose separates, which range in price from $85 to $345, transition easily to other settings, too — perfect for the modern woman’s busy lifestyle.
“I find myself wearing my tennis outfits all day long,” says Philip, the brand’s CEO and creative director. “I wanted something I’d be able to wear to the grocery store or to lunch or to pick up my kids.”
Established in 2012 (with co-founder Hannah Griswold, who is no longer involved with the company’s operations), L’Etoile offers a contemporary twist on designs from a bygone era. One of Philip’s chief inspirations is 1920s French champion Suzanne Lenglen, who was as famous for her fearless fashion choices as for her six Wimbledon wins. The tennis legend revolutionized the women’s game, as the first female player to compete wearing makeup, no corset and no petticoat. She also donned outfits by Jean Patou that were considered daring for the time, with sleeveless tops and skirts that showed off her ankles.
Back then, posh designers like Patou, Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet dressed tennis superstars. These days, top seeds like Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova wear Nike and Adidas. Philip hopes her line bridges that gap, noting, “We wanted a style that reflects today’s fashion but also goes back to when tennis was more traditional and classic.”
It also means that L’Etoile’s silhouettes tend to flatter a more mature, sophisticated woman, who doesn’t think skintight tops or mini-dresses are age-appropriate. The skirts are 14 inches long, when many brands are 11 or 12. The cut of the line’s shorts and skirts is more forgiving in the midsection. All of the pieces come in fabrics imported from Brazil and Italy like cashmere, pointelle, piqué and lace. They’re stretchy, breathable and workout-ready – but still soft and luxurious.
The line’s color palette is cool and elegant, too, in muted shades of gray and pink, with an occasional dash of poppy and sunshine yellow. And every item comes in classic white, of course, the sport’s signature hue. “Each year we add a little color, but the basics are all white,” Philip says.
L’Etoile is sold primarily at exclusive clubs and posh resorts around the world, including The River Club of New York in Manhattan, The Meadow Club of Southampton, Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Fla., La Quinta Resort & Club outside Palm Springs, The Lyford Cay Club in the Bahamas and The Queen’s Club in London. Most recently, the label was included in the launch of the new activewear department on Net-a-Porter, one of the biggest names in online luxury retailing, a major fashion coup.
Right now, Philip is working on a children’s line, expected to debut in the spring. There are also plans to expand L’Etoile’s golf collection, which she launched last year for the same reason she began designing for tennis. “I started playing golf, and the clothes were terrible. A lot of friends of mine said, ‘You have to do something,’” she says. “Tennis and golf really cross over, so a lot of our styles can be worn (for both).”
But for her main customer – the tennis fashionista – Philip’s goal is simple. “I just want to go back to when women looked beautiful on the tennis court. And we all know that when you look good, you feel more confident.”
Game, set and match.