A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with tennis's biggest hitter and budding fashionista Serena Williams. My time with the 10-time Grand Slam champ was limited to 20 minutes, but it was a total treat nonetheless. After discussing the current state of the women's game (she's overwhelmed by the number of Russian players in the Top 50), her philanthropic efforts (she opened a school in Africa in 2008), and her upcoming projects (there's a TV show and a book in the works), our talk quickly turned to fashion.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new fashion line?
Well, it's Serena's Signature Statement, which is my new line coming out for HSN, which I'm super, super excited about. Great price points. We have bags, we have clothes, and we have jewelry. I'm always wearing great jewelry on the court. I'm doing some super pieces that are really special and fun!
What made you interested in working with HSN?
Well, I always watch HSN. I think they have great products, and they're great people to work with. It just made sense to me. I thought [it would be] a great opportunity to do something totally different, totally new. I also love having an opportunity to reach a different crowd of people.
What kind of pieces can we expect? Are we talking sportswear? Runway?
First of all, the bags are cool! I love the crocodile bags, but they're like $50,000 ... I mean, I'm not buying 'em (laughs). So, I'm using some fabrics like that. Obviously they aren't real crocodile, but we're using some great fabrics that are just wearable, everyday. Leathers ... and the dresses are really fun because you can wear them more than once. They're reversible. So, each piece actually makes a statement. No one makes dresses that you can wear like this. It's really, really cool.
Can we expect you to eventually design home furnishings, pet attire, a kids line, menswear?
Oh my God! It's all in the future. I love home furnishings. I can watch that "Designers' Challenge" show all day long! I love HGTV. I actually tried to do carpentry work because I watch HGTV so much. One time, I tried to stain and repaint some furniture. It's way easier on TV (laughs)! But, I definitely want to branch out ... stuff like sheets. It just makes a lot of sense.
Who are your style icons?
Dorothy Dandridge. Marilyn Monroe. I like Old Hollywood. Classics. People that never go out of style. Lauren Bacall. I just think that no matter how many years pass, they'll always be classics.
What else inspires your look?
Old Hollywood really inspires my look, but I also like pop culture ... a little modern, but not too modern! [For instance], earlier today I had on a high-waisted skirt, which is kinda Old Hollywood, but I had on a shirt with a built-in vest, which is kinda pop. It was really cool. It was an old look, but it had a modern twist to it.
What designers or labels do you gravitate toward?
YSL. They are just so classy. They really have the Old Hollywood look down.
Do you have a stylist, or do you do everything yourself?
No, I have two stylists that I work with a lot. It works out really well.
When you're not on court or at an A-list event, what do you typically wear?
I'm a stretch pants kinda girl (laughs)! I just love to be super comfortable, but I also love to wear heels.
You've traveled the world. What's the most fashionable city?
Paris. I love Paris. I actually just bought an apartment there, and I live there part-time. I just absolutely love Paris. And, I don't speak French fluently, so today I downloaded a program on iTunes so I can [finally] learn it.
What's your favorite shopping spot? Any specific stores?
I love ... Harvey Nichols in London, and Harrods. Ugh! Love Harrods.
What article of clothing can you not live without?
I can't live without my high-waisted black skirt. I have like eight of them ... slightly different styles, different brands. Always have 'em in rotation. I absolutely love them.
What do you spend way too much money on?
Shoes. I think every girl would probably say that. I just love shoes. I have too many; I don't need 'em!
Is there a specific pair that you're obsessed with?
I love my YSLs, but I was just in Dubai, and I bought some Brian Atwood shoes. They're plain black, but in the back they have iced-out diamonds ... not diamonds, but crystals and gold. They're crazy!
Most important accessory?
I'd have to say earrings. If you have a great pair of earrings, you don't even need a necklace.
What would you never be caught dead in?
I hate organza, and I bet you're going to see me in it because I just said that, but I hate that fabric (laughs)! The wedding dress stiffness ... a lot of designers are coming out with these organza dresses and ... ugh ... I just hate it.
What's the biggest fashion mistake someone can make?
For me, wearing socks and sandals (laughs)! It's like the worst!
How does your personal style compare to Venus'?
I'm always more daring. Venus is more indie. I call myself Hollywood and call her indie. She's like one of those geeky girls who is really cool and can wear a pair of jeans and a funky shirt and look good without trying. Whereas, I have to try really hard. She's so stylish on her own. I have to have a stylist.
Serena hosted the Gatorade G2 Everyday Athlete Search at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. - Chris Weeks/WireI …
How much input do you have when it comes to your court attire?
I have a lot of input. That's how I started my whole design process, by designing tennis clothes, and I actually went to school for design as well. I was able to learn a lot about fabrics and what works and what doesn't. I design everything I wear on the court, basically.
So, you work closely with the Nike design team?
Oh, yeah. We actually had a meeting the other day. I have another meeting tonight (sighs). It's nonstop (laughs)!
Tell us about your 2009 French Open outfit.
It's Paris, so we [went] a little mod. It [was] fun.
What about Wimbledon?
Well, you still have to wear white, but all of my Wimbledon dresses have a lot of detail. It's just hard to see [the detail] because they're all-white. And, I like to glam it up with a trench coat.
'02 U.S. Open was the catsuit, '04 U.S. Open was the denim skirt and boots combo, and last year at Wimbledon you debuted the trench. Were you surprised by all the hoopla that erupted due to these fashion statements?
Yeah! I mean, I love trench coats, and the catsuit was just so much fun. I never thought it would get that much attention. I always call [the catsuit] the outfit that made me famous (laughs)! Nothing to do with my tennis! That's my claim to fame, that catsuit!
How do you juggle your fashion career and your tennis?
I rededicated myself. I now work harder than ever!
If you didn't love her before, how couldn't you love her now?! Not only is Serena the greatest force in women's tennis and an immensely talented fashion designer, she also happens to be incredibly kind and generous, and I'll always cherish the time I spent with her.
So, here's to hoping that Serena earns her 11th Grand Slam singles title and second Wimbledon championship this coming Saturday when she'll likely take on her greatest rival, big sis Venus. You won't want to miss it!
- Serena Williams