“Marie Antoinette at the gym”: Rihanna’s new Puma collection is non-athletic athleisure at its finest

Rihanna puts the emphasis on “leisure.”
Rihanna puts the emphasis on “leisure.”
Image: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
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What would Marie Antoinette’s life be like if she were alive now? She was a teen idol after becoming queen of France in 1770, at the age of 14. Today, she would likely document her life—and partying—on Instagram and Snapchat. Rather than the ineffably lavish gowns that became a target of the French people’s hatred for the monarchy, she’d probably wear lots of athleisure. Whether she’d work out in it, is another question.

For Rihanna’s second collection in her popular and profitable collaboration with Puma, the pop star blended the teen queen’s regal dress and sport. “I imagined Marie Antoinette at the gym,” she told a New York Times reporter before her Paris Fashion Week show, which took place at the fancy Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild yesterday (Sep. 28). The result included corsets, sweatshirts with the long hand-covering sleeves currently adored by fashion, and clothes that read more “boudoir” than “bench press.” That is, items not ideal for an actual work out.

There were sporty pieces, too, such as track jackets and sweatpants—it is, after all, a line for Puma. But even accessories such as a gym bag were as much about fashion as function, reiterating a well-known point about activewear today: The lines between gym clothes and everyday clothing continue to blur, which is part of what makes a collaboration like this one lucrative. (Rihanna’s celebrity also doesn’t hurt.)

According to a new report by research firm NPD Group, use of activewear for working out has dipped this year in the US. It noted that “less than one-third of dollar sales went toward using these types of products for athletic activities—the lowest percentage in four years.” Instead, people are spending money on activewear for casual use and even for work, NPD said. The report also noted sales of activewear through August increased in department stores and clothing chains, but fell in sporting goods and athletic specialty stores. (Though those are still where the bulk of activewear sales happen.)

It may be a running joke that people do everything but work out in their gym clothes, but it’s grounded in some truth. In the US at least, athleisure isn’t so much a trend as part of the shift toward increasingly casual, comfortable, flexible clothes that’s been going on for at least a century.

Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma line—Fenty is the singer’s surname—is just right for the times, even with an 18th century monarch as its muse.