The History of Ellesse
In the 1950s Leonardo Servadio was struggling to get excited about ski gear. Where was the flair? Where was the style?
Ellesse was founded in Perugia, Italy by ski enthusiast and tailor Leonardo Servadio in 1959. He had a dream of creating the world’s most stylish sportswear that would break the boundaries between fashion and sport. The name Ellesse derives from Servadio's initials, "L.S.".
The 1960s - Create and innovate
In the early 1960s, Leonardo was inspired by a trip to London where he realised some ladies’ trousers that were wide at the bottom. He wanted to adapt this style - and so Ellesse’s flared ski pant, the Jet Pant, was born. The trend swept across Italy and beyond.
The Jet Pant boasted a new and pioneering design: padded knees, jointed back seams, elastic yokes at the waist and gaiters to prevent snow seeping into boots. Rarely does a product revolutionise a market with the impact and speed of the Jet Pant. Leonardo applied the Ellesse penguin logo to the bottom of the Jet Pant’s legs. It was worn as a badge of honour. By placing the logo on the outside of his garments, Leonardo whetted a new consumer appetite for visible association with a prestigious name.
He had created a modern brand in its truest sense.
1970s - Design, play, compete
When Leonardo created the quilted ski jacket, it was yet another design breakthrough. Within a short time, they became a style status symbol, seen not only on the slopes of St Moritz, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Val d’Isère, but also in downtown Milan, Paris and London.
Ellesse leaped into the world of high performance by sponsoring Valanga Azzurra, the Italian national ski team. It was a milestone for Ellesse, which became one of the most successful
and visible ski brands of the 1970s and 1980s.
In the world of tennis, there was a strong desire for Italian style and fashion. In 1975 we launched our first tennis line. The collection revolutionised the fit, style, and colour of tennis wear, and was an immediate success: the brand became a reference point for the international ski and tennis community.
1980s - Succeed and grow
The 1980s marked the global expansion of Ellesse, which was now sold and distributed in more than 100 countries worldwide. Our reputation was based on an understanding of the consumer’s desire for beautiful products and an association with sports through world-class sponsorships.
In January 1980, Ellesse began sponsoring top-ranked tennis players Chris Evert and Guillermo Vilas. Evert, the ‘darling of tennis’ and the best women’s player of the time, repeatedly commented that she had the most beautiful clothes in the world.
In 1986, the 17-year-old Boris Becker made tennis history by becoming the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. He achieved this wearing what would become an iconic Ellesse outfit.
The 1980s saw Ellesse enter other sports. Sponsoring the victorious Italian football team at the FIFA World Cup in 1982. Ellesse was also at the forefront of other sports such as Formula 1, surfing, and golf.
Wearing Ellesse was a status symbol and a sign of great taste.
1990s - Develop, improve, implement
The 1990s were a decade of sporting milestones for Ellesse in both skiing and tennis. In the early 1990s, Ellesse returned to the slopes for inspiration and created a pioneering high-tech product known as the ‘Magic Air’ ski jacket, made of a material that raised the internal temperature of the garment. In 1998, Olympic skier Jean-Luc Crétier won gold at the Winter Olympics in Nagano wearing Ellesse. The iconic image of Jean-Luc sporting the Ellesse ski suit graced the cover of Time magazine.
Ellesse was also at the centre of tennis courts the world over. In the early 1990s we sponsored Anna Kournikova, an emerging star of the time. Signed at the age of nine, she won the European Championships and the Italian Open at the age of 14. Extending a long tradition of collaboration, Ellesse was also the apparel sponsor of the Italian Open in Rome three times during the 1990s.
This was the decade in which sportswear became a staple in fashion. Ellesse cemented its status as more than a stylish sports brand. Ellesse expanded into a global casual fashion brand, reaching out to new consumers in ever-increasing markets.
Ellesse expanded into a global casual fashion brand, reaching out to new consumers in ever-increasing markets.
2000s - Collaborate and unite
In the years following the millennium, Ellesse has continued to innovate, collaborate and experiment. In 2005, we partnered with design duo Eley Kishimoto to create a collection that blurred the boundaries between fashion and sport, just as we have done throughout our history of bringing style to the ski slopes. Our collaboration with Wood Wood in 2010 was about mixing it up with street culture, and for the Fab Five collections in 2011 and 2012 we teamed up with influential fashion retailers to create something more exclusive, celebrating great concept stores and designers in Europe.
2009 was a very special year. For our 50th anniversary, we created an exhibition, held a design competition and enjoyed a fabulous party in Italy, our birthplace, attended by fashion models, celebrities and sports stars.
By 2014 Ellesse was back on the courts in a big way, with Elina Svitolina and Tommy Haas wearing our kit. In 2015, the roster increased to welcome Feliciano López and Mónica Puig, while Pat Cash also returned as an Ellesse ambassador.
Designing sports-inspired clothing with style continues to be our focus, and today Ellesse still reflects our founder Leonardo’s love of life, his creativity and his commitment to great design and high quality.