From VOGUE: Glamour, defined
Before the Williamses, siblings had never dominated a sport. And writes Andre Leon Talley, tennis had never witnessed such grace.
Who do I think is glamorous? Venus and Serena Williams. I met them when they came up to Vogue’s offices for a feature story. Bruce Weber was going to photograph them, and it was up to me to show them around, to take them into the accessories closet and pull out stilettos for the shoot. “Let’s go up to Manolo for personal shopping,” I proposed. “No, thank you,” said Venus. They were in New York for only 48 hours, running from appointment to appointment at a crazy pace, and the were exhausted. But even in saying no, the Williams sisters are polite.
Venus and Serena have beautiful manners—which is important in an icon. And of course they love fashion. Back at school in Florida, Venus had a paper due on the African-American designer Patrick Kelly. When someone mentioned that I had been a friend of Kelly’s, Venus’s eyes sparkled. (Later, I mailed her every relevant Vogue article so she could ace her assignment.) The sisters told me they would like, ultimately, to open their own fashion-design business, following in the footsteps of their favorite designers: Carolina Herrera, Badgley Mischka, Valentino.
Venus and Serena’s glamour is partly about the way they hold themselves, the way they dress, the fashion rules they invented—Venus hitting the courts in bold color combinations, Serena wearing a little diadem in her newly blonde coiffure. Soaring towers of athletic excellence, they remain ultrafeminine—Venus in her dangling earrings, Serena with her diamond heart necklace.
It’s also, partly, about how they have reinvented women’s tennis. I know nothing about the game, but I was happy to be propped up on nine pillow in my favorite bed, at the Ritz, Paris, until 3:00 A.M., catching a Sunday rerun of their latest match at Wimbledon. Watch them as they rock steady, back and forth, that famous rock (which I trace all the way back to old African-American women swaying back and forth in their pews in any church, anywhere in the world, on a Sunday morning). Venus anchored, focused—hitting the ball and releasing strong, positive cries of aggression and relief. Watch Serena sit during a break, with her hands locked in prayer. Watch her suddenly focus, reading through her tactical notes herself.
The grace and humility with which baby sister Serena won her Wimbledon platter were glamorous, too. “It’s was now or never,” she told the cameras afterward. “It’s hard to beat a two-time Wimbledon champion.” She gave thanks to her God and her parents. She showed us, the viewing public, that the love between her and Venus allows them to accept each other’s victory—or loss—and move on.
But most of all, the Williams sisters’ glamour lies in their sheer power. Their power of will, and discipline. Coming out of the rough neighborhood of Compton, California, these two sisters rose up to become international symbols of excellence. Excellence…that’s glamour, big time.