Glitter, feathers and prints: the story behind artistic gymnastics leotards

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There are more than 4,000 kilometers between the Russian district of Novogorsk, on the outskirts of Moscow, and the municipality of Trujillo in Cáceres. But since the latter, they closely follow what happens in the high-performance center where the Russian national rhythmic gymnastics team trains. There many of the trends that surround this sport are marked and in Trujillo it has its headquarters Tanitex, one of the few Spanish companies in charge of manufacturing competition jerseys. The brand’s workshops have produced garments to dress several Olympic champions, but also thousands of gymnasts who practice this exercise at the national or local level. “We have a production capacity of 200 to 500 leotards per month,” explains the brand’s creator, Tanit Pérez, a former gymnast who launched herself after the 2008 crisis.

The garment is not manufactured in series and has an important artisan component. «Before, sequins were sewn and today it is used adhesive rhinestones», Pérez points out,« a jersey can be worn 1,000 to 6,000 crystals glued by hand». It is precisely this characteristic that defines the sector.

Rhythmic is the fourth most practiced discipline among children and adolescents in Spain – surpassed by swimming, basketball and football, according to the latest survey of sports habits by the Higher Sports Council -, but the market dedicated to the manufacture of their garments gala is small: it has only a handful of companies with capacity (such as Tanitex or Vinkova) and a army of freelance seamstresses working from home. With this last alternative, the four-time Olympian began to dress Almudena Cid: «When I was little my mother took me to a store of fabrics to the weight and there we chose the lycras. Later, with the help of a friend of the family, La Pili, they would make my pattern and sew it ».

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Hanging sleeves on the door handles in the living room and accumulating rolls of fabric in the room lives Mar Higuera; He works on the bench, but for years he has been reducing sleep hours to make jerseys for the Madrid team CEP Rítmica Vallecas. Some 150 each season: “A simple model, without many cuts, can take me two or three days.” It started by chance, when the coach asked her for help: “I learned molding in a dressmaking school because it was good for me to de-stress, but in my life I would have considered this.” Darning an elastic fabric like lycra is not easy and that is why many workshops reject requests that women like her collect. «I make them to measure and until I knew which ones I needed, I took them all. You start out by making mistakes, but eventually it comes out. In the first outfit I made the skirts were a little lower than they should have been, but the girls loved it. “

The rhythmic gymnastics is about making the complex look easy. Which takes a titanic effort and thousands of hours of training. Simulate with a smile that does not cost a throw from behind and pick it up with your knees. Although that lightness on the tapestry does not currently translate into the dress. The equipment with which these athletes compete is surely the most exuberant on the scene. Also the one that receives the most attention. It is the cusp of illusion of a highly visual sport in which music, exercise, jersey and apparatus should tell a story. Cid thought of them in this order: «For the last year of my sporting career I chose the Nessun dorma from the opera Turandot, but I did not think that the jersey spoke of the story that takes place in Beijing, but of the story that I wanted to tell in the prohibited city. I wanted to talk about my constant resurgence and how my grandfather inspired me to be persistent. I designed a phoenix that wrapped around my neck».

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These garments are a fundamental part of the staging, but they also have to facilitate movements, which are many. For those crystals that the founder of Tanitex spoke about, “there are industrial plates, but we opted to glue them one by one, so that they do not fall off during practice,” she acknowledges. The sports journalist Paloma del Río, a narrator of the rhythm on television since the eighties, recalls another element of the equation, the punctuation code, which marks how the designs should be: “In the eighties regulations, colors were limited, They told you what the groin armhole should be like, how high the hips should be. The colors could not be confused with the colors of the medals and they were white, black or pink». Dictates the International Gymnastics Federation, FIG, introducing modifications every four years, with each Olympic cycle. Embroidery, feathers, fringes, chains are now allowed… “They have been so overloaded that sometimes they seem like carnivals in Brazil,” adds Del Río. “The changes to the code range from difficulties to composition”, Higuera indicates, “the values ​​of the elements or a part dedicated to the jersey, which says what is allowed and what is not.” Some rules guided from Russia.

In any conversation about the discipline, the name of the Víner ends up appearing, Irina Víner, the czarina of this sport and, for many, “the capo of world rhythm”. President of the Russian Gymnastics Federation and vice-president of the FIG Technical Committee, she ensures that any reform favors her compatriots. But not only they inspire, Higuera defends: «In Spain they pay much attention to international gymnasts. Depending on the style of each one, They inspire the Russians, but also the Ukrainians, with a much more elegant personal style. They also get ideas from Pinterest, Instagram or local competitions on other sites. Cid’s jerseys, for example, “were always his own designs and also inspired by some dresses from fashion shows.”

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The last ingredients that mark the aesthetics are technical innovation and development of new materials. With increasingly complex designs, they succeed printing or sublimation printing, which makes the color stable on the lycra. Sometimes it is painted by hand, which can add an extra € 100 per piece to garments that already range between € 300 and € 600 and can easily reach four digits for more complex creations. The future? Faced with the prevailing maximalism, Cid is committed to a return to the origins: «The curious thing about the end of this Olympiad is that this year Azerbaijan recovered the style of the models of the former USSR, sober, without brightness or colors: the set of balls appeared with plain black jerseys. ‘ Surprising pieces with a high neck, without noise, which nevertheless took all the applause.

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