Magazine article The New Yorker

The Athleisure Class

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Athleisure Class

Article excerpt

Seventeen years ago, in distant Canada, a sports-apparel seller named Chip Wilson had a vision. What if you made yoga clothes so stylish that you'd want to wear them all day? The result, Lululemon, ushered in a new era: the decline of jeans, the rise of spandex, and the practice--some might argue the scourge--of women going about their day dressed for an Ashtanga class. Wilson and his wife, Shannon, a designer he'd hired, became billionaires, though the past few years have presented setbacks. He resigned from Lululemon's board last year, after a disastrous episode involving unintentionally see-through yoga pants. (Attempting to explain the glitch to a television reporter, he blamed a "rubbing through the thighs.") But, in general, things are good. "It's funny," Shannon Wilson said the other day. "I walk down the street, and I see women in their tights and their running shoes and a jacket, and I think, We started that!"

The Wilsons were in town for a party to celebrate the New York launch of Shannon's newest venture, Kit and Ace. Lululemon makes yoga clothes that can be worn on the street. Kit and Ace makes street clothes--cashmere sweaters, pants--with the comfy qualities of gym wear: washability, stretchiness, underarm vents. "What I think everybody's looking for is the performance that you get in your athletic clothes," Shannon said. She has blond hair and was dressed in one of her own white tops and narrow-cut dress pants. The new Kit and Ace store, which is in Nolita, had a Zen atmosphere: bleached-pine interiors, a d.j. playing house music. A sign said "#timeisprecious."

Shannon and Chip, who has a thick neck and looks like a mountain man, were accompanied by a third Wilson: JJ, Chip's son from a previous marriage, who is Shannon's business partner. (Chip is an informal adviser.) JJ is twenty-six, but, he said, growing up in his parents' stores, he has a lifetime of experience. Chip said, "I think we're probably the family that knows more about technical retail apparel than any three people on the planet."

As employees readied the store for the party, the Wilsons talked about their lives back in Vancouver. They have three other sons: Duke, who is eleven, and identical twins, who are nine. "Sports are a theme," Shannon said. JJ teaches spin classes. Shannon is on a swim team. Chip climbs a nearby mountain trail, called Grouse Grind: "It's nature's StairMaster. …

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