n a not-so-past life, my waking moments were almost entirely punctuated by plyometric pushups and tuck jumps, backbends and pretzel poses of yoga, and isolated polyrhythmic gyrations in African dance class. I lived a life synonymous with activity, a “somatic practitioner,” as pronounced by my first yoga and dance teacher, Anna Leo. But all of that changed when I moved to New York.
The opportunity cost of my tumultuous transition from Atlanta to New York was that, between bouts of sleeping on the sofas of friends and “rooming” with my octogenarian uncle while I put together the pieces of the new life puzzle, downward dog became more like sleeping dog. My athletic routine fell by the wayside so much so that one day I woke up 30 pounds heavier, with a noticeably rounder face and even more domed quads.
And while I suffer no shame at any iteration of my flesh and bones, the changes in my body heralded to me a certain dissipation of my former self’s physical discipline, a discipline that I recalled seeped into other aspects of my being, a certain physical empowerment that bolstered my sense of mental limitlessness as though threading connective tissue in the mind-body. This feeling! It was this feeling that I missed more so than being able to fit into my skirts of yore. And now, having found a semblance of stability in other aspects of my new life, I knew it was time for me to afford myself the luxury of working out (and the necessity of a well-trained mind) again.
And make no mistake, in a city like New York, where fitness classes usually set you back about $40 dollars a session, staying active can be a luxury. (Yes, running outside and dancing to Angélique Kidjo in my birthday suit are free, but I like to mix in group fitness for a multiplicity of reasons.) Besides the fiscal deterrent, there was one other hurdle to overcome: inertia. How does one suddenly disrupt a cycle of lassitude when, even though the mind is willing, the flesh is, in accordance with the laws of physics, simply too weak to break the current state of inactivity? I found two ways.
The first was finding someone to answer to. After I put out an SOS, a friend introduced me to Jahkeen Washington, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Harlem High Intensity Fitness (HIIT) studio JTW FIT. Jah shifted from a nine-year career in the finance industry to become a certified personal trainer after losing a friend to a heart condition. Dedicated to bringing affordable fitness to the Harlem community, his studio offers classes as low as $15 dollars a class. As I find immeasurable value in being able to turn off my brain, so to speak, and have a professional craft an effective routine for me, I reached out to Jah. I knew my partnership with him was the right move from the moment I met him and experienced his easy air of confidence, deep devotion to his cause and a sense of humor that matched mine to a T.
So with that box ticked, the second inertia-busting strategy is why I come to you today on this rather prolix journey: apparel! When I realized that my workout wardrobe had not been updated in some seven or so years, I found myself scouring the web for what was new and exciting in the athletic wear market. All I had to do was perform one search and then sit back and let the oracular algorithms of the internet speak to me. And speak to me they did when an ad for a two-toned unitard flew into my field of vision. I immediately texted my friend Grant. “Need this!” I wrote, not realizing how expensive it was. “This Athluxury, Sis!” he replied. And so the term was born (at least in our little corner of the world; little did we know it was brewing in the Nike-verse as well) and its afterbirth was the idea for this story.
Sticker shock aside, I have always felt strongly about investing in my active gear (which probably explains why seven years on, the same cycling shorts are still making the rounds in my closet): Why shouldn’t the clothes I spend hours shaping my body in aspire as much to form as they do to function? Why should I not search for the same beauty I do in other aspects of my life, in the suits in which I will sweat as I attempt to shape the inner beauty of determination and self-discipline? “Wilt thou deny me the sheer joy of expanding my Spandex repertoire?” I asked my shoulder angel (or devil, depending on one’s vantage point). “I didn’t think so!” I scoffed, quieting and the supernatural being perched atop my medial deltoid.
To my imagination, Athluxury is the kind of athletic gear that espouses a thoughtfulness in design and brand ethos. And, yes, since luxury is a function of time, and time, they say, is money, the pieces I found in my “research” often came with a price tag to match. But they also came with an understanding that they were built to last. And while it is sacrilegious in my personal religion to wear more than 10% Spandex outside the church of the gym, if am spending this much money on athletic wear, I require the clothes to do a few extra things, including water my Meyer lemon tree monthly, take my future Jack Russell Terrier out for walks (twice a day, please) and not least of all, be able to hold their own when styled for everyday life. So here you have it, four Athluxury brands that rekindle my commitment to the active life every time I put them on, also styled for life beyond the sweat.
A gateway drug, if you will, this cerise and aubergine bodysuit by French startup brand Ernest Leoty was my first foray into the Athluxury world. The brand, which takes its name from a legendary French corset maker who invented the first modern corset in the 1800s, is designed in a sensibility très Parisien. Employing traditional French tailoring and technical activewear seaming, its high performance fabrics are sourced from Italian mills, and take my word for it, these details are apparent from the moment one slips on one of their butter-soft sheaths. Truly a second skin, Ernest Leoty felt like a natural choice for returning to the dance studio where the suppleness of their offerings meant melting, unencumbered, into the movement itself. For life outside the studio, the palette of the bodysuit led me to pair it with a magenta vintage kimono sourced for Harajuku for me by my personal shopper (just kidding, I can’t afford a personal shopper, but I do take advantage of my dear friend, @junebugshpr, a lawyer who moonlights as one). In the folly of my youth, many moons ago, I spent an entire paycheck on the Dior heels you see here, and as for the Tara Jarmon belt, it is my styling “golux” (aka mythical creature that comes to the rescue in all times of need).
The entirety of British brand VAARA’s offerings exist in simple yet striking color dualities. Wrought from thick stretch fabric with a swimwear-like smoothness in quality, I found this brand offered a nice intersection between strong support and flexibility for the demands of HIIT training. The unofficial general consensus in the training world is that the Nike Metcon 4, seen here in white, is THE training shoe. You will find no objections on my part. The light blue of the stripe of these leggings is picked up almost exactly in the varying sized polka dots of this wrap-dress-worn-as-a-top from Second Sight. I find a nice interplay between the linearity of the stripe and the circular Kusamaësque dots of the dress. And to finish off the look, I added another pair of “investment” shoes, a well-aged pair of Nicholas Kirkwoods from my closet.
Outdoor Voices is no longer a secret by any stretch of the imagination, and the brand’s popularity is well merited. Its mission statement is to foster people “doing things,” and I appreciate this uncomplicated, sensible approach to the active life. Their design team stems from both fitness and fashion realms so there’s as high an emphasis on aesthetic as there is on performance. Easily recognizable for their color-blocked, mutli-seamed styles, I was pleasantly surprised to find this solid, sanguine color among their offerings, which I tested out for running along with Nike’s Air Zoom Pegasus 35. The real MVP though is this OV men’s sweatshirt, rendered in a knit so cloud-soft I did not wish to ever take it off. Ever the fan of mixing unexpected fabrics, I paired the sweatshirt with an elaborate sequined dress from Erdem (worn as a skirt) and even more scintillation is brought to the mix by the Sophia Webster heels.
No Ka Oi’
According to its website, No Ka Oi’ means “the best” in Hawaiian, but the yoga-focused brand is actually made in Bologna, Italy. Strong color, eclectic fabrics and a plenitude of geometric design is the brand’s calling card. I was all too excited to roll up and strap tight this textured mat from the brand. While I’ve owned the leather mat strap here for about eight years, it has never come in handier than here in New York, where mat rental fees at studios are a real thing and schlepping a mat to class is about more than posturing. The vegetable-tanned leather strap is fashioned by Andrew McAteer who makes everything in his Queens studio, always aiming at as little waste as possible. He based the design of the strap on an antique example he found in France, adapting it for usability.
McAteer’s work, to me, is a paragon of the essence of luxury: While it may (or may not) be reflected in price point, luxury’s real signifier is that it is a labor of love, that thoughtfulness in design is equally reflected in the ethical production. The beauty of the resulting product is then but a little bonus with a great impact. After all, as professor and novelist Muriel Barbery asked, “Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that inspire nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?” Finding my way back into the luxury of the gym or dance studio may be a small victory, but no price tag can be placed on how boundless the active life makes me feel.