It did not matter that the three-piece Virgil Abloh x Nike outfit Serena Williams posted on Instagram before the French Open looked entirely impractical to play tennis in. The athlete’s fans agreed: it was a winner.
Before earning her 800th tour-level win on May 27, Williams put on a tiered maxi skirt, long robe, and sports bra. Printed onto her zebra printed ensemble were the words “Champion,” “Queen,” “Goddess,” “Mother.”
When it came time for her match against Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko, Williams slipped into something a little more athletic—a shorter, more obviously “tennis” skirt, still toting the four printed words.
This triumphant visual of Williams, 37, came just one year after French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli criticized her decision to wear a catsuit at the Open, saying the pants “go too far.”
Williams had previously earned raves from sports fans and fashion critics for the superhero-inspired get-up, which the player said made her feel like a “warrior princess.” There was a logistical reason to opt for compression pants—after she suffered from blood clots following the birth of her daughter Alexis, the pants reportedly aided Williams on the court to help “keep the blood circulation going.”
All of that would not charm Giudicelli, the 61-year-old tennis leader, and his organization. After last year’s Open, the FTF championed a stringent dress code.
“One must respect the game and the place,” Giudicelli explained to Tennis. The public was squarely on Williams' side, and the FTF looked like stern-eyed fuddy-duddies.
This year, through her styling, Williams continued to “respect” a sport she has helped invigorate and draw massive public interest in for the past 20 years. She appeased old-timers with her traditional, flouncy hemline and even wore pops of the color white, so famously worn by players at Wimbledon.
But she would not back down. Her “Champion, queen, goddess, mother” motif paired old-fashioned athletic bravado with in-your-face femininity.
In between matches on Monday, Williams spoke with the Tennis Channel in her usual matter-of-fact, down-to-earth cadence. But she was sure to slip in some talking points about her Virgil Abloh x Nike outfit that could very well have come from a press release.
“I was really excited because [Abloh] is the hottest designer right now and he’s amazing,” Williams said. “It has words in French, talks about me being a mom and me being a queen.” She peeked into the camera and added the rah-rah, “As all women are.”
It was a point she reinforced—perhaps contractually—in a post-game press conference. The four words were, Williams said, “Reminders for me and for everyone that wants to wear it, remind everyone that they can be champions and are queens.”
Two days after debuting her Abloh uniform, an off-duty Williams shared a snapshot posing in front of the Eiffel Tower in her “limited edition Serena Paris Tee.”
The champion looked relaxed, lounging on a chaise chair and fingering the ends of her hair, but maybe she was not so off-duty after all. Williams punctuated her photo with #BeSeenBeHeard, which endorses the Serena clothing line.
That collection sells the “Limited Edition Serena Paris Tee” for $45. It comes emblazoned with the French flag, coordinates of Paris, and an initial “S.”
Williams has worked with Nike since 2004; in recent weeks, the company has come under fire for reportedly docking pay when female ambassadors get pregnant.
Earlier this month, the Olympic runner Alysia Montaño spoke to The New York Times about her relationship with the sportswear behemoth, and said that its feminist advertising remains at odds with the company's treatment of pregnant athletes.
Montaño sarcastically brought up the brand's famous Colin Kaepernick ad, sasying, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything, like maybe your contact, your pay.”
Days before the Open, representatives for the company announced they would cease the practice of penalizing partners and spokeswomen when they get pregnant.
When asked about this, Williams stood by Nike, saying the brand had “showed up for her” during her 2017 pregnancy.
“They're doing better, and that's what it's about—it's about learning from mistakes and doing better,” Williams said, while still wearing proudly wearing the words, “Champion,” “Queen,” “Goddess,” and of course, “Mother.”