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The Challengers Ripple Effect Hits the Fashion World – SURFACE

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It’s been a big year for the tennis-fashion industrial complex: back in September, then-19-year-old phenom Coco Gauff won the women’s final at the U.S. Open. In March, Gauff went on to cinch her first Vogue cover, a radiant Annie Leibovitz portrait that captured the athlete aglow in a gold sequined Michael Kors Collection cocktail dress. Later that month, Zendaya embarked on the press tour heard ‘round the world to promote her starring role in Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers. On red carpets from Monte Carlo to Milan, the actor donned a flurry of vintage, sporty looks from On and Ralph Lauren, archival Thierry Mugler, and glittering Loewe numbers.

Last week, Zendaya walked the red carpet to end them all at the 2024 Met Gala. Amid her dizzying spring press tour, the 27-year-old dropped her latest Vogue cover for the fashion book’s May issue and was named co-host of the gala, whose “first Monday in May” timing followed Challengers’ U.S. premiere by exactly two weeks. Is it coincidental, then, that this year’s event broke its own fundraising records to the tune of $26 million? Probably not. The opportunities afforded to “cover-only” talents like Zendaya are, at their core, business decisions—even co-hosting fashion’s biggest party of the year.

Consider that in the wake of the Challengers premiere, Google searches for “tennis skirt outfit summer” skyrocketed by 138 percent according to Pinterest Trends; “adult tennis lessons,” by comparison, surged by 245 percent on Google. Not to mention that J.W. Anderson—whose founder, Jonathan, is the creative director of Loewe, which sponsored the gala—just so happened to drop its Uniqlo collab with Roger Federer this week, following the gala by only three days. Other labels have taken note, too: milliner Eugenia Kim jumped into the ready-to-wear game with her Love line of tennis wear ahead of summer, and French-Moroccan label Casablanca made the sport the focus of its 2024 resort collection.

As much as she inhabits the simmering intensity of a tennis protegé-turned-coach, Challengers transformed Zendaya into a face of the sport she merely had a passing interest in before assuming her first starring role: “Serena and Venus—that’s all I connected to,” she told Vogue. “And probably Roger Federer.”

In the eyes of some film buffs, Challengers scores closer to love than a winning four points, but even they can’t deny the “Euphoria effect” of Zendaya’s megawatt status.

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