How Tennis Star Emma Raducanu Stole the Fashion World’s Heart

·6 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty Images
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty Images

There are cool teens, and then there is Emma Raducanu. The 18 year-old is tennis’ new darling, having won the US Open women’s singles championship this summer. But her work doesn’t end off of the court—the champ has quickly become a rising fashion star, too, having walked the red carpet at the Met Gala and attended London Fashion Week parties.

Raducanu declined to comment on her personal style to The Daily Beast, and so did her stylist Nicky Yates. She was a guest of Chanel at the Met Gala, wearing a white crop top and logomania skirt. The appearance came just two days after Raducanu became the first British woman to win at the US Open since 1968. Say what you want about Anna Wintour’s impossible to penetrate guest list, but it appears that the Vogue team worked fast on this invite.‌

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“Emma fit right in alongside [Chanel] ambassadors Kristen Stewart, Lily-Rose Depp, and Whitney Peak, and wore a beautiful look from their resort collection that felt sporty but in an elevated way,” Janelle Okwodu, senior fashion and culture editor at Vogue, told The Daily Beast. “She wore one of their beautiful pearl belts but also had that incredible flowing silk crepe coat with a great graphic print. Overall a very unexpected outfit but one that worked; she was radiant.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a tennis star, white seems to be Raducanu’s color. She wore a glittery Erdem two piece for a London Fashion Week party hosted by British Vogue and Tiffany and Co. The bottom was a long pleated skirt, which was a cute nod to tennis skirts.

<div class="inline-image__title">1235386747</div> <div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Raducanu attends an intimate dinner and party hosted by British <em>Vogue</em> and Tiffany & Co. during London Fashion Week, Sept. 20, 2021, London, England.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">David M. Benett/Getty</div>
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Raducanu attends an intimate dinner and party hosted by British Vogue and Tiffany & Co. during London Fashion Week, Sept. 20, 2021, London, England.

David M. Benett/Getty

“Fashion is as much about relevance as clothes, so it makes sense that fashion has embraced Emma,” Okwodu said. “Even if you don’t know anything about her Grand Slams, she stands out, and there’s a warmth to her presence. Anyone can wear expensive clothing, that doesn’t mean they can carry it off or make it seem effortless, and Emma can do both.”

Raducanu has projected a homespun charm in interviews, frequently crediting her parents and upbringing. “From a young age I’ve always been brought up to have mental strength,” she told ABC News. “My parents played a huge part in my upbringing. They were pretty tough on me when I was young and it kind of shaped the way. I think now it is helping on the biggest stages in the world when you really need it.

“It’s telling to see Raducanu speak of “mental strength,” when so many athletes like Osaka, Michael Phelps, and Sha’Carri Richardson have been open about the toll the public eye has taken on their mental health. The BBC has described her as “chatty, friendly, and exceedingly polite,” and a “sponge” ready to soak up knowledge regarding the business of sports.

“When I was younger, it was definitely an absolute no-go if I had any sort of bad attitude,” Raducanu told the BBC. “So from a young age, I definitely learned that and it's followed me until now.” It’s a smart quote that serves to dispel any notion that she’s a diva with a racket, and it will certainly woo sponsors looking for someone who’s ready and willing to work.

Okwodu noted that fashion has had a “long love affair with sports,” and tennis seems to hold a special place in the glitterati’s heart. It’s long been synonymous with wealth, of course, but 2010 superstars like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have also attempted to democratize the game and our perspective on it. Osaka covered Vogue Japan in July, and is a new face of Louis Vuitton. She wore a gown by the house to the Met Gala that was designed to pay homage to her Japanese heritage.

“We’re in a moment where athletes are almost expected to engage with fashion, and designers value their perspectives,” Okwodu added. Just note Serena Williams’ ongoing domination of sponsorship deals that go well beyond the traditional sports apparel. She launched her own clothing line in 2018, and has been a Nike athlete since 2003. This year Williams launched the Serena Williams Design Crew with Nike, a group of emerging designers from underrepresented backgrounds selected to apprentice at the company’s Oregon headquarters.

Williams and Osaka, who famously quit the French Open this summer in protest of press conferences, both stay true to themselves when building their fashion “brand.” Okwodu sees Raducanu following in their footsteps.

“As much as she is becoming a red carpet star, what I enjoy most is that she’s retained her sense of self,” the editor said. “Runway fashion can be overwhelming. We’ve all seen instances where the clothes can overwhelm a person or seem entirely disconnected from who they are. Emma can bring her personality to each look she wears and add a bit of that youthful, upbeat energy.”

Like Osaka, Raducanu posses a bit of that quiet, introspective grace many athletes have. She is not entirely show-y, which makes her a somewhat realistic muse for a generation crushed by COVID, and still trying to figure the world out.

<div class="inline-image__title">1339843435</div> <div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Raducanu hits a forehand in the first set against Leylah Fernandez of Canada, during the women’s finals match in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, New York, on Sept. 11, 2021.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images</div>
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Raducanu hits a forehand in the first set against Leylah Fernandez of Canada, during the women’s finals match in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, New York, on Sept. 11, 2021.

J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

While she takes her victory lap Raducanu, admittedly, is still growing up. It might be too early for any definitive fashion analysis, other than that she appears to be having a lot of fun with her wardrobe and it shows. She can still reel it back in when need be, as she did while playing tennis with Kate Middleton in a preppy polo and athletic shorts on Friday.

When she posted a photo on Instagram next to her Times Square Nike ad in a white cardigan and jeans, she looked like any other teenager.

A Vogue spread from September showed Raducanu in couture—Valentino, Alexander McQueen—paired with sneakers and ponytails. In fashion parlance, she can nail the “high-low mix.” Her athleticism comes out in editorial photoshoots, which often demand their models to trounce around sets.

Though Raducanu described herself as shy and quiet in school, earning relatability points, she did admit to having a solid “self-belief.”

“I think the confidence comes from just inner belief,” Raducanu told Vogue. “My mum comes from a Chinese background, they have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture.”

“Emma’s undoubtedly got a leg up on the average 18-year-old when it comes to access, but you don’t see her dressing up 24/7,” Okwodu said. “She still enjoys wearing just jeans and a sweater, which is refreshing considering how calculated celebrity fashion can be.”

And as for the speed of her crossover fashion stardom? Okwodu isn’t surprised: “Well, when you’ve got it you’ve got it.”

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