top of page


January 24, 2024

Annabelle Nickoll

In the world of sports, Serena Williams has long been celebrated as a powerhouse, a tennis legend whose unmatched skill and unwavering determination have established her a true icon of the court. Yet, the sporting arena is not the only stage where she is claiming victory. In a groundbreaking moment that transcends the boundaries of athletics and style, Serena Williams achieved, yet another remarkable first. She has gracefully served her way into the world of fashion’s elite, becoming the first athlete ever to be awarded the prestigious CFDA Fashion Icon Award.


On November 6, hundreds of designers, editors, celebrities, and fashion industrialists gathered to attend the CFDA Fashion Awards hosted at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Dubbed the Oscars of Fashion, the annual award ceremony, first held in 1980, is put on by the Council of Fashion Designers of America to recognize and elevate the excellence of fashion in the United States. Award categories include women’s wear designer of the year, men’s wear designer of the year, accessories designer of the year, and emerging designer of the year. Subsequently, various honorary awards are bestowed upon other fashion visionaries, including the Fashion Icon Award.


While Williams is best known for holding the Women’s Tennis Association world number one position for 319 weeks and claiming 23 Grand Slam singles titles, she has also displayed a keen interest in fashion throughout her career. Williams studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in the early 2000s and launched her own clothing line, S by Serena, in 2018. A year later, she expanded into jewelry with the creation of Serena Williams Jewelry. 


In a statement published by the CFDA, Williams said, “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve used fashion as an outlet to express myself – fashion gave me the confidence to step on the court and own who I was, and where I knew I was going.” On then  court, Serena stands out in her full-body catsuits, cropped tops, tutus, crystals, bright colors, and large jewelry.


Using her unique match attire to push boundaries within tennis, Williams challenges the way female athletes and women of color are perceived on the court. When the Williams sisters first stepped onto the world stage, both Serena and her older sister, Venus, were known, aside from their extraordinary talent and inspirational stories, for wearing beads in their hair during tournaments. The predominantly white tennis world, at the time, tried to discriminate against the sisters claiming that the beads were a distraction to their opponents. Serena refused to let the noise impede her success and continued to claim titles while simultaneously exercising her free expression through fashion.


In 2019, Williams was invited by Vogue to serve as a co-host of the Met Gala Ball, one of the most prestigious fashion events of the year. The gala’s theme that year was “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” Upon sharing why they believed Serena was an apt host for the event, Vogue says: “One can argue that her disruptive, ultra-feminine style on the court—tutus, bodysuits, and loads of color—is a camp-ish reaction to the stiff, monochromatic, and traditionally conservative world of tennis.” 


Kim Kardashian presented Williams’ award, saying, “Her bold stance of simply always being herself not only opened doors for generations to come, it inspired and changed the entire world around her. From the moment she stepped foot on that court, Serena always made a statement, not only in the world of sport itself but also in the world of beauty and sportswear.” 


Williams accepted her award in a custom Thom Browne black sequin dress with statement puff sleeves and a train. She also wore David Yurman jewelry. In her gracious speech she shared her appreciation for style: “For as long as I can remember, fashion has always been more than just about clothing to me. I knew that when I was a little girl that I was different. So I explored fashion and style as a way to distinguish myself.” 


Williams encourages others to embrace their identities and bodies by harnessing the power of creative expression: “Through fashion we truly have the opportunity to paint our own tapestry and share our unique perspectives with the world.” Williams' remarkable journey from the tennis court to the world of fashion is a testament to her ability to inspire and empower others.

work cited

bottom of page