The smallest of questions can impel the most vociferous judgements and debates: in grammar, in philosophy, in sociology, but most of all in matters of aesthetics. We do not believe that our eyes can lie to us. ‘Who wore it best?’ implicates a primal dual as much as it does centuries of human refinement. It is a question we are bound to ask ourselves anytime we see two similar or dissimilar people wearing somewhat similar items of dress.
This series will succeed in capturing not only the fashion zeitgeist, and emerging trends or brazen singularities, but also frozen moments in the history of time. For some of the pieces in this series will be archival, delving into a long and rich past of people wearing clothes, and their clothes vaguely or less vaguely resembling the clothes worn by others. At issue are fashion’s broadest strokes and most minute details: sweeping concepts may be compared as often as certain designers and specific items of clothing. A vivid and sympathetic visual imagination may be required to navigate apparently disparate garments, and to discover the hidden connections which lie between.
The first piece in this series features 400 metres runner Christine Ohuruogu, an Olympic and twice World champion in her chosen event; and Serena Williams, multiple-time Grand Slam tennis victor, and one of the greatest players ever to have adorned her exterior with racket and fuzzy balls.
Christine Ohuruogu raced on Saturday in the Great North CityGames. A concept devised by the ever-innovative Brendan Foster and his Nova International, the Great CityGames see elite athletes competing on specially designed track and field structures, in the hustle of city centres and with spectators afforded the opportunity to stop by and watch free of charge. The Great North CityGames is located on the Quayside between Gateshead and Newcastle, and has been held annually since 2009 on the day before the Great North Run. With the stretch of track running between the Sage Gateshead concert venue and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, this is an eminently suitable place for fashion as well as athletics.
Ohuruogu was one of many athletes who had competed the previous evening in Brussels – the last Diamond League meeting of the season, but one which produced a number of world-leading performances. In the men’s high-jump, Mutaz Essa Barshim recorded the second-best jump of all time at 2.43 metres, beating Bohdan Bondarenko into second place after he managed a still-impressive 2.40-metre leap. The two men jumped 2.42 metres in New York earlier this year, and appear ready to break Javier Sotomayor’s twenty-one-year-old world record of 2.45 metres sometime in 2015. Justin Gatlin achieved the best ever combined time for an athlete running a 100 and 200 metres on the same night: his 100 metres time of 9.77 seconds was the fastest in the world this year, while his 200 metres time was 19.71, combining to better a mark set previously by Ato Boldon.
Renaud Lavillenie established a new world-leading height in the men’s pole vault of 5.93 metres. Barbora Spotakova threw a world-best of 67.99 metres in the women’s javelin. Allyson Felix’s time of 22.02 in the women’s 200 metres saw her take the world lead in the event ahead of Daffne Schippers, who ran a seemingly unbeatable 22.03 in the process of taking gold at last month’s European Athletics Championships. And Mercy Cherono impressed in the women’s 5,000 metres to take the overall victory in the event – and $40,000 in prize money – ahead of Genzebe Dibaba.
On one bank of the Tyne on Saturday, Ohuruogu proved victorious in the women’s 500 metres – a unique event which pitted her against 400 metres hurdler Eilidh Child, and 800 metres competitors Lynsey Sharp, Jenny Meadows, and Alison Leonard. Child won a gold medal at the European Championships in Zurich after taking silver at the Commonwealth Games; and Sharp has bolstered two silver medals with some exceptional performances across recent Diamond League meets. But Ohuruogu has had a relaxed season, and easily possessed the strength to win out over this unusual distance, which saw the five ladies hurtling and jostling down an incline before reaching the track.
As the athletics in Brussels wound down on Friday evening, Serena Williams took to Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York and was soon busily dispatching with Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova’s journey to the semi-finals was exceptional: she progressed against Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round and Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals, and hadn’t lost a set all tournament. Yet Serena beat the twenty-six-year-old Russian 6-1, 6-3 in precisely one hour. So she found her way through to to the 2014 US Open women’s singles final. There on Sunday she faced Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki was participating in only her second Grand Slam final – having reached the same stage of the US Open in 2009, only to fall to defeat against a then-returning Kim Clijsters.
Williams reached this year’s final without dropping a set, while Wozniacki had to endure tough battles against Magdalena Rybarikova and Maria Sharapova in the early rounds. And in the final, Williams proved typically too strong and too accurate for her opponent, winning in two sets – 6-3, 6-3 – to claim her sixth US Open crown, and her eighteenth Grand Slam in total. Tying her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, in the open era she is behind only Steffi Graf, who reigns supreme with twenty-two titles to her name.
If New York trumps even the Quayside as a centre of world fashion, still by virtue of performing over the weekend on Saturday rather than Sunday, Christine Ohuruogu managed to display her outfit first. She wore a vest with prominent black splotches and spots over a white background; with black side panels and the Adidas stripes running down the sides in white. Her shorts were black with pink trim. And she wore bright pink running trainers. Serena Williams wore an animal print dress in black and white, with a pink Nike logo; and with a ruby headband and ruby print wristband. Her trainers were black with a pink Nike swoosh.
The similarities between the outfits worn by the two ladies rest upon their bold black and white prints, offset by highlights in shades of pink. To call the prints worn by these women merely ‘animal’ would be to resort to the inexact. Animal prints differ from one another. Cheetahs have a fur which is covered with relatively small black spots. Unlike cheetahs, leopards and jaguars possess not spots but rosettes. Rosettes are rose-like markings, comprised of a dark outer line and a lighter inner shading. Jaguar rosettes are larger than leopard rosettes, have thicker lines, and their inner shadings are marked by lines and dots. The image immediately below shows, from left to right, the coats typical of cheetahs, leopards, and jaguars:
So it is clear that Serena Williams wore a leopard print dress. Indeed, she varied during the two weeks of the US Open between the black and white leopard print and a version in pink. On the other hand, it is debatable whether Christine Ohuruogu wore an animal print at all. If it is determined that she did, her animal must surely be some sort of hybrid – showing the solid black of a cheetah’s spots, but with the patternation somewhere between a leopard and a giraffe, and the intensity of the blacks also calling to mind the zebra. Perhaps her wardrobe simply cannot be defined in animal terms. Regardless, of these two highly accomplished and endearing sporting outfits, my modest preference is for Ohuruogu’s.