When Beyonce concluded her 49-date “Formation” stadium tour, Billboard wrote that her career has been characterized by “challenging herself with Olympic feats of talent, skill, creative direction and endurance.” That couldn’t be summed up better in her latest tour, which saw her literally dancing on water in heels for some shows.
She’s been known to flip through the air, drop into a sickening twerk and perform otherwise strenuous dance choreography while consistently singing as close to studio perfect as possible. Hers is a brand built on athleticism, so it’s little wonder that when Beyonce made her latest bid for a fashion empire — and undoubtedly her most successful to date — it was in the athleisure category.
Let’s be clear: Beyonce hasn’t had the most seamless relationship in the fashion industry. Just this year she picked up a Fashion Icon recognition from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which itself was a decision that came with quite a bit of debate. Acceptance for her nomination of the award wasn’t as widespread as the acceptance of fashion darling Rihanna’s 2014’s win in a nearly nude dress.
But Bey ascended the stage, rocking a Givenchy suit, the oversized wide brimmed hat that has become synonymous with her Formation era, and $9 million in Lorraine Schwartz jewels and reminded us of the important role fashion played in her career.
“As long as I can remember, fashion has been a part of my life,” she began, eventually citing how her grandmother was a seamstress who used her work to fund Mama Tina’s Catholic schooling. “When we were starting out in Destiny’s Child, high end labels, they didn’t really want to dress four black country, curvy girls and we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture. My mother was rejected from every show room in New York. But like my grandmother, she used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams.”
It was quite the opening, giving a reason for the long portion of Beyonce’s career that saw the star’s red carpet looks fall short of Best Dressed success. Until recently — her 4 album if one were to pick a specific point in her discography for the change — Beyonce wasn’t thought of as a “labels” girl. Sure there was that Thierry Mugler-designed costume era but that was the exception, not the rule.
For what it’s worth, Beyonce tried to funnel whatever fashion following she had into a designer brand before her success with Ivy Park. We all remember (okay maybe some of the younger millennials won’t) her House of Dereon line breaking out as a possible Baby Phat competitor. That 2004 startup’s success was nonexistent. At that point, Bey’s name wasn’t translating to “I want to wear what she’s wearing” she wasn’t an “I want her style” kind of girl. But then there’s her body. Her drive.
Ivy Park is to Beyonce what Jordan Brand is to Michael Jordan and Yeezy is to Kanye West. Like Jordan with Nike and West with Adidas, Bey teamed up with Topshop not for a one-time endorsed line, but for a collaborative companies. Considering Jordan brand’s unprecedented success, which eventually ushered in a new wave of athlete faces, and Yeezy just getting started newest iteration but promising its own retail outlets in the future, Ivy Park is still small. But even if the brand hasn’t boasted those things, it sits nestled in the bloom of success, launched with Beyonce at the forefront of pop culture as the world at large embraces health-conscious lifestyles with new fervor.
Perhaps at first Athleisure seemed like a passing trend, but it’s now practically a lifestyle, and has wormed it’s way into every segment of the fashion market. Between leggings as pants and men’s trousers turned into a sweatpant-hybrid that we now call a jogger, it’s big business. In fact The New York Times pegged it as a $97 billion market in the U.S. alone, which is close to a third of the entire apparel, footwear, and accessories market. Ever savvy, this is where Beyonce made her play.
Though Ivy Park fell behind its first launch deadline, the initial collection of just over 100 pieces sold out shortly after release. That’s unsurprising since the price point is quite accessible — the most expensive piece from the range comes in at $265 — which makes it often cheaper than her concert tickets. Even if most celebrity collaborations sell out at launch, even before its launch Ivy Park was considered as the most popular fashion brand on Instagram in terms of engagement. The brand reportedly beat out the likes of Rolex and Victoria’s Secret Pink by two to three times in terms of engagement, although Rihanna’s FENTY line with Puma came close to Ivy Park’s 21% engagement with their 10 — 15 % numbers.
Beyonce does rep Ivy Park, but only occasionally. On the tour fans saw the star wear a few custom pieces from the line around the brand’s second drop. There was a sequined jersey as a dress, a metallic bomber and even a cap during the Philadelphia stop of the Formation tour. But she isn’t a religious wearer of it. No, the line has begun to take flight on its own.
The primary factor in Ivy Park’s success, however, is that it’s actually good stuff. Sure, there was Beyonce’s take on a basketball jersey that came in the form of one of her trademark leotards, but other than a few fan pieces like that, most items in the line are quite wearable for the day-to-day. Simple beanies were an easy buy for anyone, and while leggings were a bit more of an investment, they promised to blend seamlessly into workout or day looks.
In fact, the pieces are so good, that when the line launched athleisure mainstay Lululemon found themselves in the middle of a brouhaha with the Beyhive after tweeting that Queen Bey had copied them. Considering that brand routinely isolated curvy women and women of color, Bey’s line was probably a welcome respite for consumers. Other pieces like tanks, hoodies and sweatshirts fall into the same ready-to-wear category, while everything from reflective jackets to mesh hoodies are trendy standouts. Ivy Park is also cutting edge design-wise, incorporating industry-wide trends like the ’90s filter logo and heavy designs that are all over the sportswear market.
For most, what pushes Ivy Park beyond other brands is the story behind it. And her name means something as 40% of those who bought the line own the star’s music while 25% have Lemonade. As Beyonce tells it, Ivy Park represents an actual park. “It’s really the essence: to celebrate every woman and the body she’s in while always striving to be better,” Beyoncé told Elle. “I called it Ivy Park because a park is our commonality,” she continued. “We can all go there; we’re all welcomed. It’s anywhere we create for ourselves. For me, it’s the place that my drive comes from. I think we all have that place we go to when we need to fight through something, set our goals and accomplish them.”
This sentiment was further intertwined in the brand’s launch: “When I’m working and rehearsing, I live in my workout clothes, but I didn’t feel there was an athletic brand that spoke to me,” Beyoncé said in a press release. “My goal with Ivy Park is to push the boundaries of athletic wear and to support and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than your physical appearance.” It’s a heartening message in a world that is just beginning to recognize the importance of body positivity, intersectional feminism and inclusiveness.
For those doubting the impact of Ivy Park, not only did it do well at Topshop, where it’s still stocked as the range is a long term partnership, but it also did well at Nordstrom. Reports surfaced that when it launched in April, Ivy Park was the retailer’s top-selling brand, outpacing even Estee Lauder. The stat is a remarkable one.
Still, none of the brand’s success would be possible without the “Formation” singer herself. Beyonce is more visible than she’s ever been, fresh off of a stadium tour, album release and a slew of award show performances — some of which, (yes the Country Music Awards) were unprecedented. Combine that with the sometimes divisive nature of her latest work, and it’s all a part of a collective force that has propelled Ivy Park to become one of the most successful athleisure brands out now.