Art of Style

Laura Bailey’s Love Letter To Tennis

As she showcases Varley’s new tennis collection, the model and photographer pays homage to the sport that has captured her heart

Fashion
Clothing throughout, Varley; jewelry and accessories, Bailey’s own

As I write my tennis love story, I realize I’d rather be playing. I’d pretty much always rather be playing. Obsessively weaving matches and training into the already complex tapestry of life and travels, I know that tennis has simultaneously become my anchor and my adrenaline hit, plus provided me with a whole new world of community and sporting solidarité.

Sport has long kept me out of trouble. As a child, I admired tennis from an awe-struck distance, idolizing heroes like Chrissie Evert and Gabriela Sabatini for their grace and power – and style. It never occurred to me that one day I would take my kids to a Wimbledon final or get to have tea with Billie Jean King.

From the Williams sisters to Emma Raducanu, I have watched the game evolve and its appeal broaden. I love watching the kids play in parks all over London, and adore that today’s stars are smashing up the stereotypes and snobbery of the past.

Tennis style at all levels, in all worlds, inspires me. And now, out of necessity (quick changes), it affects how I dress every day. I’ve always loved the idea of riffing on a uniform. Off court, it’s denim and vintage treasures, but always with an element of sportswear or menswear. Even now that I play in a league, the rules on whites are relatively relaxed. But still, I lean towards the classics, mixed up with a little vintage and even my son’s skater layers for the bike ride to and from. Tennis makes one superstitious, and I stick to my lucky sweatbands, stripe socks and reassuring rituals.

For me, Varley epitomizes the sweet spot where design meets performance, and its ethos on sustainability and wellness matches my own

I was already a Varley girl, donning its super-chic, chilled activewear for everything from Pilates to cross-country running. Varley founder Lara Mead was a gifted young athlete, and we first connected over our love of running before the brand approached me for its tennis campaign. For me, Varley epitomizes the sweet spot where design meets performance, and its ethos on sustainability and wellness matches my own. It’s all so mood- and match-dependent for me, but the ‘Amar’ dress is an instant classic, and I’ll be layering up the ‘Calva’ knit and ‘Melody’ skirt over leggings come winter games. I relish the slow undress: warming up in the ‘Diego’ windbreaker and oversized tomboy layers, often ending up in just a sports bra or crop top and pleated skirt once my heart rate is high.

As for the rest of my kit, I love a creamy kick-pleat skirt (though sometimes it’s a navy Lacoste, or scarlet Nike) and a fleecy hoodie, a swishy ponytail and a lick of sunblock, plus cat-eye shades – even in winter – and the broad ballerina headbands I buy in Paris. I also tuck a little black dress, just in case, into my oversized racquet bag (although my friends are used to me showing up in a tracksuit to supper by now); and finally, the Nike Air Max sneakers that dismay my coaches but work for me.

Both my kids play, too, and these days I try to act relatively cool and nonchalant, even if a game with them makes my week. After first picking up a racquet because, mainly, I wanted to be able to give my little boy a game (he’s 17 now, and 6ft 2in), and overcoming beginners’ nerves to pass the play-in at my local club, tennis gradually became the only constant in my week. It steadies and focuses me in a way I didn’t know I needed. I am simply present, point to point. Learning to win and learning by losing.

Tennis has stretched my body and mind, gifted me community spirit at home and abroad: match-making via a secret court in the Cotswolds in a village with no streetlamps, or the one in Amalfi that could have been dreamt up by Fellini. I play with teenagers and extremely athletic pensioners, movie stars and moguls, models and mamas; with beautiful boys and some of the most extraordinary women I have ever met. I joined a club when I could have just gone to the pub, made friends when I officially wanted no more, and discovered elastic magical time when I thought I had none to spare. And I also found extraordinary coaches who not only toughened me up, but made me laugh and stopped me saying sorry.

Even on darker days, when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, tennis is my fastest path to letting go and lightening up. I play almost every day now, even if it’s just an early hour before work or a twilight hit (I love the new nightlife). It’s still a relatively new discipline, but I’m definitely more focused and strangely more carefree – and there’s apparently scientific evidence that tennis makes you live longer and happier. And still, I’m just beginning, really.

Maybe tennis changed my life, brought me home and set me free.

LB x

I play with teenagers and extremely athletic pensioners, movie stars and moguls, models and mamas; with beautiful boys and some of the most extraordinary women I have ever met