In the 21st century, Italian fashion remains a leading source for sportswear design outside the United States. Narciso Rodriguez, who is known for streamlined and pared down clothing, launched in Milan in 1997, but moved to New York in 2001. Miuccia Prada revived the fortunes of her family company Prada with her top-quality sportswear designs in the 1990s, and continues designing for the firm.
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Sportswear originally described activewear - clothing made specifically for sport. Part of the evolution of sportswear was triggered by 19th-century developments in female activewear, such as early bathing or cycling costumes, which demanded shorter skirts, bloomers, and other specific garments to enable mobility, whilst sports such as tennis or croquet could be played in barely-modified conventional dress. One of the first couturiers to specialise in sports-specific clothing was the British John Redfern who in the 1870s began designing tailored garments for increasingly active women who rode, played tennis, went yachting, and did archery. Redfern's clothes, although intended for specific sporting pursuits, were adopted as everyday wear by his clients, making him probably the first sportswear designer. Also in the late nineteenth century, garments associated with activewear and/or modified from menswear, such as the shirtwaist began to form part of the working woman's wardrobe. Prior to 1920, men and women could both demonstrate their being at leisure simply by removing a jacket, either literally in the case of menswear, or metaphorically by a woman wearing a shirtwaist blouse that resembled a man's shirt worn without a jacket.
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In the late 1940s and 1950s non-American designers began to pay attention to sportswear, and attempted to produce collections following its principle. French couturiers including Dior and Fath simplified their designs for ready-to-wear production, but at first only the Italian designers understood the sportswear principle. Italy already had a reputation for fine fabrics and excellent workmanship, and the emergence of high quality Italian ready-to-wear that combined this luxury with the casual quality of American sportswear ensured the worldwide success of Italian fashion by the mid-1970s. Italian designers, including Emilio Pucci and Simonetta Visconti, grasped that there was a market for clothing that combined sophistication and comfort. This was a challenge to the American industry. John Fairchild, the outspoken publisher of Women's Wear Daily opined that Krizia, Missoni, and other Italian designers were "the first to make refined sportswear."