One of the up-and-coming stars of the fashion world these days happens to be one of the reigning stars on the tennis court. Rita Braver drops in on Venus Williams:
She's been a force in women's tennis since she played her first pro match at age 14, and she's credited with bringing a new level of power and athleticism to the game.
But now, Venus Williams is gaining a foothold in a different kind of arena: the world of fashion.
Working in her Jupiter, Fla., studio with veteran designer Barbara Clarke Ruiz, Williams has created a line of active wear with (no surprise) plenty of tennis outfits:
Do she have any rules for what she think looks good in an athletic outfit? One, she said: "If I wouldn't wear it, I can't expect anyone else to. So if I don't like it, I can't expect someone else to like it!"
Williams has been known for her sense of style since the days she sported beads in her braids -- and she managed to earn a college degree in fashion even as she pursued her tennis career.
As the name of her apparel company, Eleven, underscores, Venus Williams has never taken a hit-or-miss approach to anything.
"Eleven stands for being better than a ten," Williams said. "So it just represents bringing your absolute best, no matter what the circumstances are."
It was a lesson she learned early in life. She grew up in a drug- and crime-plagued area of Compton, Calif. Her parents saw tennis as a way out for their children.
"My parents never told us we had to win," Williams said. "They would say, 'If you don't like it, come on off the court.' But we wanted to play. Of course, I think they wanted us to play, but you get the drift -- there was never pressure."
"When you were just a child, your father predicted that you and your sister would become number one and two in the world," said Braver. "Were you aware that he'd said that?"
"Yeah," Venus laughed.
"Did you think, 'Yeah, well, if he said it, we're gonna do it'?"
"It was like the most positive brainwash you could ever meet in your life," she replied. "Honestly, it's a perfect storm, because you can't imagine that two sisters could play at such a high level, that would actually happen."
In fact, Venus and her younger sister, Serena, have both been ranked #1 in the world. They often played against each other in title matches, like the 2001 U.S. Open.
But Venus says she never minded if Serena beat her: "I think at the end of the day, I would rather -- I don't want to lose, I'd rather not say that! -- but I will say that I would rather see her go to glory than perhaps another player!"
Her own career has been one for the books. Seven Grand Slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals -- one in singles, and three in doubles with her sister.
But in recent years, Venus Williams has been plagued with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome, which (among other things) can lead to fatigue.
Has it affected her play? "Yes, unfortunately," She said. "Sjorgen's has affected my whole life. I think it's taken a lot away from me that I would have had. But I don't feel bad for that, because it's something I've had to go through, and I can't change it."
And yet, in addition to her clothing business, Williams also has an interior design company. She and her team have created sleek and polished looks for hotels, condos, even the "Tavis Smiley Show" set. The company is called V Starr Interiors, because her full name is Venus Ebony Starr Williams.
She told Braver she didn't want it to be named Venus Williams Design: "No, not really, because I think it's important that it stands on its own. And even long after there's someone a thousand times better than I ever could have been, it'll still be a design company and not that old tennis player, you know what I mean? So that was important to me."
Today, at age 33, Venus Williams is ranked 32nd in the world. And despite her two design companies, and her physical struggles, she's says she's still not ready to give up the game she loves so much.
"How much longer do you expect to play?" Braver asked.
"That's up in the air, how long I'm going to play," Williams replied. "Obviously the 2016 Olympics is on my radar, and then evaluate after that. If I'm terrible, you can just call me and say, "V, it's over!'
"As long as I'm good, and as long as it's fun, and as long as I can, I will."
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