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BY DESIGN : Style's in Her Court : With Reebok's Help, Venus Williams Brings Teen Staples --Bra Tops and Denim--to Tennis

August 31, 1995|DENISE HAMILTON

Win or lose, Venus Williams looks pretty darn good.

Runway tall and with high cheekbones and a head full of beaded braids, the Los Angeles 15-year-old isn't the youngest tennis player ever to ink a major clothing deal--Jennifer Capriati did it at 13--but she is arguably the most interesting to watch.

Reebok had its eye on Williams for years before finally signing her last spring to endorse a line of tennis apparel targeted for girls 12 to 18. It's due out next spring.

"Young women become extremely fashion conscious around 12 and like to look smart, so it's [Reebok's] way of talking to that audience," says Brian Murphy, editor of the Westport, Conn.-based Sports Marketplace Letter.

Williams was unavailable to comment on the clothes this week. But Jane Perry, a Reebok designer, says she has worked closely with the teen-ager to come up with pieces she feels comfortable wearing.

"She loves denim shorts, so we're doing chambray denim shorts, shirts and overalls," Perry says.

Other items in the Venus Williams signature line: jersey tops with contrast denim stitching, a denim bodysuit leotard and Lyrca shorts that peek out from under a skirt.

Sort of Contempo meets active wear?

"She's a kid," Perry says. "So this is younger; it's not classic tennis wear. But it's all pretty feminine. [For instance,] she's going to wear a bra top under a denim dress."

Marketing experts say Reebok scored by signing a teen with such a positive and appealing image, crucial to moving merchandise.

Murphy is also among those who believe Williams, one of the few African Americans to excel in a sport dominated by whites, is a good bet to draw in a new audience: young black women.

"Kids see her as a role model," Murphy says.

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