Competition on the high street is fierce these days, but River Island is one retailer that continues to up its game. Last year saw the release of its first RI Studio range, a limited-edition capsule collection of well-designed, beautifully finished pieces targeting a slightly older customer. The price point is considerably higher than standard stock, but the quality of the pieces is evident in the fabrics (silk, suede and leather), finishes (ornate lining, pockets, zip detailing) and design details (contrasting panels, eyelet detailing and asymmetric cuts). This season’s embroidered sleeveless trench coat is one of my favourites.
Tomorrow sees the launch of the brand’s first 23-piece activewear range, which I tested out on a 5k run over the weekend. When I first began running a year ago – not really knowing what I was looking for – I bought a couple of pairs of leggings from two well-known and inexpensive high street stores, only to wear each piece once and then discard them because they simply didn’t perform, ie, they’d slowly start to slide down my hips as I gathered pace – I ran my first ever Parkrun while hitching up my cheapy leggings at every half kilometer. Not a good look.
Thankfully, River Island hasn’t simply jumped on this sartorial bandwagon (H&M is also launching its For Every Victory sports collection on July 21 in advance of the Olympic Games, while Topshop recently released Beyonce’s Ivy Park collaboration) without bearing in mind that the difference between activewear and ready-to-wear is performance technology. Style is important, but substance is vital. So the RI Active leggings have a thick high-waisted band, which is both flattering and comfortable, and they have enough stretch that they look good on (no sagging) and stay properly fitted no matter how vigorously I moved or how hard I worked (I ran inclines, slopes and steep steps before finishing with a variety of stretching exercises to really find out how the pieces felt and functioned) and the bra tops are designed with a double layer for extra support, while the vests and cropped tops are made using breathable fabrics to minimise perspiration.
In line with the brand’s youthful, urban aesthetic, the pieces come in camouflage prints, with bold slogans (Work Hard Play Hard) and pops of neon colour. Having said that, there’s enough variety in the collection of shorts, vests, giblets, fleeces etc to allow for a fairly low-key, monochromatic look if you prefer. I like the camouflage print pieces. It can be difficult to find sportswear with a pattern that isn’t psychedelic, so these are a subtle alternative to the black and grey pieces I usually wear. Since my naive purchases last year, I’ve invested in two (pricey) branded sportswear looks. For me, Skins is the best in terms of appearance and performance, but River Island comes a surprisingly close second, beating the other global sportswear brand hands down on style and substance.