Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

What We Saw: Wilson’s Flagship Chicago Storefront Opens

Group of people in front of wilson store
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Wkwesi Williams tells me to keep my arms straight, body upright, and to step forward when hitting a tennis volley. “Good things happen when you engage the core,” he says from the other side of the net. We’re in Chicago near the lakefront on a muggy, overcast day in mid-July, the diamond façade of the Crain Communications building looming overhead, and despite the fact that our respective flights will depart in opposite directions in a few hours, we’re here, just outside of the service boxes, working on the fundamentals.

Related Guides

Williams, a former tennis pro who now teaches out of Los Angeles, was brought to Chicago by Wilson, the Chicago-based sporting equipment maker, to celebrate the opening of its first brick-and-mortar location. The new store showcases the company’s recently released Sportswear line, a lifestyle-slash-activewear collection it developed through the feedback of athletes and influencers, including Williams himself. And it’s what we wear for this tennis lesson: Slim mid-thigh shorts and three-button polos that, while made from modern materials, draw their inspiration from the company’s hundred-year-plus history of sports manufacturing. Granted, Wilson may be better-known for its hard-good innovations — the ubiquitous neon yellow tennis ball, which made the sport visible to the TV viewer, and the valve-inflated football, which revolutionized the passing game and essentially made Tom Brady possible, just to name a few — but athletes have to wear something, and the company dutifully obliged. More than a century after its founding, Wilson is drawing inspiration from its own deep well.

The day before, Williams, myself, and a host of VIPs met to christen the new shop. Located on the glitzy Rush Street in the Gold Coast, the Wilson store is next to a Lululemon and across from a Versace storefront. The context seems significant: Its Sportswear combines refined silhouettes and elevated performance, building off the function that led to the prestige of the athlete culture. Sure, you could work out in Sportswear pieces (as I do the following day), but it’s more for the sports lifestyle than the sportsman on the field.

Inside Wilson store opening.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There, surrounded by her creations, Wilson Sportswear Head of Design Joelle Michaeloff walked me through one piece after another. With long, sandy-blonde hair and a penchant for tying her newly designed jackets over vintage Wilson t-shirts she buys on eBay, she pinched this piece and that, identifying features that were once common on company products from as far back as the 1930s. Details like the adjustable fitting tabs on a pair of shorts or the crossed rackets embroidered on the chest of a polo must be appreciated in close quarters. Even something as basic as a crewneck sweatshirt, when examined, reveals its history through minutia: A three-patterned woven cuff predates elastic, when designers had to engineer something that would both flex and stay put without the aid of synthetics. “I replicated the pattern,” she told me, almost conspiratorially, over Wu-Tang Clan’s “Gravel Pit” blasting from the DJ booth while influencers mingled.

But even when my eyes blurred in the store and I took in the capsule as a whole, there was plenty to admire from the 10,000-foot view. Standing in the center as a throng of VIPs draped various pieces over themselves or queued for the changing rooms, macro themes popped out: Colorblocked sweatshirts in sun-faded reds and blues, the pinwheel of colors from a display of A2K baseball gloves, chartreuse tennis balls and softballs punctuating throughout. Even the wood floors suggest heritage gymnasiums of bygone eras. When viewed from a distance, there’s little separating sport and Sportswear. And that was the intention.

But after an hour, the barrage of close-pressed bodies and pumping bass was too much. We walked to lunch, the city streets much quieter, and en route, I wondered about the glitz and flash of social media, the nonstop hype with which the past days had been filled. The sport was somewhere, but I felt like I hadn’t seen it firsthand. Where was the substance that inspired the selfies? Where was the cake under all that frosting?

Inside wilson store opening 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder

And so that’s how myself and Williams found ourselves on the courts. Most of the event’s guests had said their goodbyes and departed for the airport, but he and I walked through Millennium Park to play through a few baskets of balls, him feeding and critiquing. Step through the shot. Watch the contact point. Start the swing through the hips. We met on the Chicago hardcourt to go back to the basics.

The night before, as Gordon Devin, president of Wilson Sportswear, addressed a literal boatload of media and friends floating on Lake Michigan, he said something in the common theme of important men: “We believe we can make a better world through sport.” Wilson was founded on sport, outfitting and equipping the athletes who revolutionized their games. Arnold Palmer, John McEnroe, Derek Jeter, and more. So many more. Swept up in the excitement of a new apparel line, it’s easy to forget the bedrock that built it. But it’s nearly as easy to rediscover. Just cadge a tennis pro into an hour lesson as the last thing you do before boarding your return flight. The foundation is there. It’s been solid for more than a hundred years.

Jon Gugala
Features Writer
Jon Gugala is a freelance writer and photographer based in Nashville, Tenn. A former gear editor for Outside Magazine, his…
The Story of Two Roads Hat Co. Tracks the Evolution of Western Cool
two roads hats co feature 0

Jon Parrish was wading through the crush of the crowd on the way back to his booth when he saw her: Long and slender, with dark, curly hair, trying on one of his hats. It was 2018, Waco, Tex., and he was set up at the Magnolia Market at the Silos, a Chip and Joanna Gaines brainchild which draws 100,000 people over a typical weekend. Likely Parrish had seen thousands of women trying on the women’s-specific Gigi Pip hats, produced by a company he’d founded with his wife in 2015, but this woman was distinct. Something about her, her shape, the way she wore the Dahlia, a flat-brim felt number. And as he drew closer, she turned, and all was made clear: “She” was very much a very stylish “he” modeling what Parrish believed was a very “her” hat. But he caught himself thinking, That guy looks dope. “This is a hat that you wouldn’t find in Westernwear,” he says. “It was for men who don’t find that identity with traditional cowboy hats but they’re still hat-wearers.” Thus began his path to Two Roads Hat Co.
, which launched on Black Friday 2020.
Related Guides

Best Clothing Brands for Men
Best Online Clothing Stores for Men
Best Cowboy Boots

Read more
Why KROST, a Mission-Driven Streetwear Brand, Is the Future of Fashion
brands giving back krost new york nyc support your friends

While a lot of fashion brands are struggling to get involved and give back to their communities, mission-driven label KROST was born with it in their DNA. After graduating from the business program at NYU, founder Samuel Krost started his career in fashion at Helmut Lang before launching his eponymous brand in December 2018.

Cool factor? Check. Everyone from Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Jarvis Landry, Noah Schapp, to Dylan Jordan has been seen in their clothes.

Read more
Why United By Blue, An Outdoor Clothing Brand, Wants Your Local Waterway’s Trash
United by Blue cleanup

As you read this, two continent-sized expanses of plastic float placidly in the Pacific Ocean. Trash moves between them on an interstate-like current, and every day 38 million more pounds make its way into the saltwater. Fisheries are nosediving, beaches look more and more like garage sales instead of postcards, and Flipper was harpooned by a Japanese whaler. And yet against this seemingly hopeless situation, United By Blue
, a Philadelphia-based outdoor clothing brand, is baling water from a figurative sinking ship with a bigger and bigger bucket while simultaneously trying to recruit others to do the same before the whole thing goes down.
Meet The Founders of United Blue

Mike Cangi, with fellow cofounder Brian Linton, uses that far-looking, aspirational rhetoric that usually precedes a sex scandal. But the company’s moves have always been hyper local when examined with a close-enough lens. Linton spent his childhood in Southeast Asia, seeing firsthand the effect of polluted oceans and trash-strewn beaches, and Cangi grew up surfing Philadelphia's nearby Jersey Shore. With their first business, which preceded UBB, the pair donated five percent of the company’s profits to ocean conservancy, which vanished like a drop of water in, well, the ocean. “It was really hard to measure, to feel like we were making a difference,” Cangi says. “We wanted to get our hands dirty, literally and figuratively, and do our own good work.”
“We are all connected by the world’s water,” says cofounder and United By Blue brand director Mike Cangi, sounding very much like an aquatic version of a yoga instructor. “Every body of water is within our scope.”
So in 2010, the pair founded United By Blue. While the company’s desired effect of ocean conservancy may have been similar to the first business's iteration, its model was radically different. Rather than writing a check and adding a blurb to its website, the company instead adopted the cause in-house, internalizing waterway cleanup and preservation by hiring the personnel themselves. Of course, volunteers have been critical to its core mission — over 13,000 have given time in 300 events across the 48 lower States — and the company also funds large-scale cleanups executed by professionals with specialized equipment in remote and sometimes dangerous locations. (To date, its collective efforts have netted more than 3.5 million pounds of trash, and it continues to pledge that for every product sold, one pound of trash will be removed from local waterways.) But UBB’s initiatives start in its Philly office by employees whose job descriptions read more like Greenpeace than green space.
How Does Trash Get Into Our Water?

Read more