‘Challengers’: Normcore Clothes on Sweaty Bodies

This week “Challengers,” Luca Guadagnino’s film about love, lust and tennis, finally hit theaters after being delayed by the actor’s strike last fall. Starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist as racket prodigies reunited by fate and tournaments, with costumes by Jonathan Anderson (designer of Loewe, his own JW Anderson line and many Uniqlo collabs), it is a romp through competitions and clothes. The Styles crew couldn’t help but have feelings.

Vanessa Friedman Aesthetics — clothes, colors, design — have always been important in Luca Guadagnino’s movies, but “Challengers” is the first time he has collaborated with a single fashion designer: Jonathan Anderson. What did you guys think?

Jessica Testa Well, it’s not often you see a major fashion designer step into a film costume designer role.

Guy Trebay JWA is to Luca what Givenchy was to Blake Edwards.

VF I loved the whole pop-art aesthetic of the movie, but I can’t say any of the clothes screamed “JWA” to me. If I hadn’t known he was the designer, I doubt I would have thought of him.

GT Never in a million years.

JT As a designer, he has a really interesting grasp on “normcore,” though usually he’s subverting or perverting it. That doesn’t happen here.

VF You don’t get more normcore than Tashi’s pink terry-cloth warm-up jacket. I would have thought fashion designers would be attracted to film work because it allowed them to express themselves creatively in new ways. But given that Jonathan works across so many brands, it’s hard to know what “Challengers” offered him. Other than a chance to dress three very attractive stars, at least two of whom (Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor) are now Loewe faces. And to hang out with Luca, of course. Is it a branding move — a sort of “these are my creative peeps” kind of thing?

JT I do think “Challengers” will be a cultural hit — if not a box office one — given the amount of chatter (and sexy screenshots) it has generated since its announcement. Not to mention Zendaya’s endless cosplay press tour. So to be affiliated with the spectacle of this film seems like a PR win for anyone.

VF I also expect that part of the, ahem, challenge, in designing the various wardrobes is that given the threesome subtext of the film, you want to see these attractive stars shed their clothes, not put on new ones.

GT And that’s part of an overall sensuality reset, inflected by our experience of Covid and the general social unease with touch.

VF Will we all be wearing dolphin shorts this summer? It’s been a real contrast with what the stars have been wearing on the promotional circuit, which in Zendaya’s case involves a lot more tennis-adjacent storytelling, which I have greatly appreciated. She and Law Roach, her “image architect,” have interpreted “tennis fashion” as broadly as I ever imagined possible.

JT It’s also interesting that Law has been calling on people to wear tenniscore to their “Challengers” screenings. Talk about someone going beyond the expected parameters of their job. Jonathan Anderson has nothing on this celebrity-stylist turned stylist-celebrity. “Barbie” screenings were full of people wearing pink. I don’t know if people will be as eager to wear tennis skirts and polos.

VF You aren’t going to participate in #TashiMadeMeWearIt?

JT Maybe as the adult Tashi. Creamy cashmere sweater, a good bob and a big scowl on my face.

GT If Law Roach brings back dolphin shorts and Izod polos, he’s good in my book. The style world could use a little more of a Bjorn Borg vibe.

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