The tennis champ turned designer orbits many worlds.
Want to win Venus Williams’ heart? Don’t challenge her to a tennis match.
“When guys get nervous and they want to impress you, they say, ‘Oh, I can beat you at tennis,’” says the 36-year-old champ, who is currently ranked No. 12 worldwide in women’s singles. “It’s wild! ‘What’s your problem? I will beat you blindfolded, left-handed with a crutch and cane.’ That’s kind of the first thing that makes me not hear anything else they say,” she says.
After all, Venus doesn’t have time for delusional suitors. When she’s not collecting Olympic gold medals (four) and Grand Slam titles (23 total), she’s running two businesses: her sportswear label EleVen by Venus and her design firm, V Starr Interiors, both based in Florida, where she resides.
“I’m all bossed up,” she tells Alexa. “It’s definitely been an interesting road to be creatively free.” The hard-hitter recently bought out her partner in the clothing line and claims occasionally to pack boxes of her wares when time allows (which, you can imagine, is seldom). “I do everything,” says Venus. “I’m not beyond anything.”
Venus had that go-getter attitude instilled in her when she was a young girl. Her father, Richard Williams, famously decided he would create the next female tennis star after he watched Romanian tennis player Virginia Ruzici collect a tidy $40,000 check after winning a tournament. When Venus and her younger sister, Serena, were growing up, Richard taught them the game — still then considered an upper-crust, white sport — in gang-ridden Compton, Calif., going so far as to pay neighborhood kids to hurl racial insults at his two daughters to toughen them up.
Venus told Inc. magazine in February that her father used to play tapes about purchasing foreclosure properties during drives to tournaments to make sure his elementary-school-age daughters were as business savvy as they were athletically blessed.
The tough-love approach appears to have worked. Venus battled back from the debilitating autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome, diagnosed in 2011, and isn’t about to retire atop her pile of prize money ($36 million and counting) any time soon. “It’s about living life to an 11. Whether professionally, physically or personally, it’s about living life without limits,” says the center-court star.
Venus first launched EleVen — with this mantra in mind — in 2007 as an exclusive line for Steve & Barry’s, which carried clothing by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker. Two years later, the chain shuttered, and Venus paired up with a manufacturing company in Los Angeles.
But it wasn’t until 2015, when she bought out her manufacturing partner and became the sole owner of the company, that the clothing line began to thrive, with sales tripling in the last year, according to Venus. Prices for her togs range from about $50 to $110.
“If I wouldn’t wear it, it’s not making it off the cutting-room floor,” says the sports heroine, who has churned out apropos Wonder Woman-inspired wares. “The second question, once you get past your own ego, is, ‘OK, would someone else wear it?’ And then, it’s got to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, then there’s no reason to wear it, because you’d feel self-conscious.”
When Venus isn’t making over the once-stale tennis uniform, she’s revamping her own wardrobe.
“My style is always changing. I evolve, which I think is important,” she says. “My style used to be very colorful, and late last year, I went monochromatic and color-coordinated my closet.
Everything is black, white, blue, gray, beige, brown, with a little orange, a little red and a little green. I had absolutely no time to do it, and I’d be up at 2 a.m., organizing the closet,” she says. “It makes my head feel clear and I like to have my house a certain way, so it needed to happen.”
(For Serena’s upcoming wedding to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Venus says she’ll follow her little sister’s lead: “I’ll wear whatever she wants me to. It will be nice. I’ll be dressed like Serena Williams,” she says with a laugh.)
Venus, the fashion chameleon, admits she’s itching to add more pop to her repertoire. “I’m dying for more colors,” she says — which means, more shopping.
“Recently, I went to Vivienne Westwood in Los Angeles. I was like, ‘Dear Lord, there is a god!’” she says. “I got this asymmetrical jacket that was very Joan Crawford, but updated. There were some things there, where you’re ready to kill just to get it in your size.”
Venus has always had an eye for aesthetics — and a plan for moguldom. She earned an associate degree in fashion design in 2007 from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. In 2015, she obtained a business degree from Indiana University East. And now she’s taking online courses to get her master’s in interior design.
Her seven-employee design firm, V Starr Interiors, has worked with Florida properties, including the InterContinental Miami, and Venus says she’d love to give the US Open facilities a makeover, too.
While she gravitates toward a mid-century-modern aesthetic, nothing is off the table for the self-professed Pinterest fanatic. “I think there’s a time and place for everything. Especially if you can take something that’s hard to use and make it beautiful — this is winning. And I like a victory,” she says.
That’s an understatement. With two thriving businesses, the French Open a month away, then Wimbledon and the US Open, all before summer’s end, Venus runs at a rate that would sideline most millennials.
But for her, it’s pure bliss. “I’m happy doing everything I love,” she says. “It’s everything to live your dreams on and off the court.”