‘Challengers’ is Jonathan Anderson’s love letter to normal clothes

By José Criales-Unzueta

Photo: ©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

This is Jonathan Anderson’s first time outfitting a film, but it won’t be his last

My friends and I bought tickets to watch Challengers the minute we saw it available on IMAX (I beg you, go watch Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor be deliciously sweaty in the highest definition available). We scored tickets for a Monday screening in Manhattan, and, 20 minutes past the advertised start time, Zendaya and Faist walked into the room, much to our surprise and delight. He took a photo of us – as we did of them – while Zendaya thanked us for being present at the opening of her first studio film as a lead. I was so excited I almost missed her wearing a gray t-shirt with the words ‘I TOLD YA’ printed in black, which I soon learned figures prominently in the film. Something else I’ve learned since: Loewe is releasing a capsule of ‘I TOLD YA’ styles tomorrow as Challengers merch, which includes the tee and a couple of crewnecks.


This is Jonathan Anderson’s first time outfitting a film, but it won’t be his last. The Loewe designer is working on Guadagnino’s next film, Queer, which is based on the novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs, which happens to be one of his favourite books. This isn’t Guadagnino’s first time working with a fashion designer either – he worked with Raf Simons when he was at Jil Sander to dress Tilda Swinton for I Am Love (Fendi provided suits for the men and furs for Marisa Bereson’s character). Still, don’t go expecting Poor Things-style costumes from Anderson, or balloon shoes and asparagus bags, for that matter. This isn’t that kind of costuming, and it’s exactly why it works – its straightforwardness makes it almost invisible while still saying plenty about each character.

Zendaya in New York on April '22 wearing the T-shirt. Photo: Gotham

Josh O’connor attends the UK premiere of Challengers wearing an I TOLD YA button down. Photo: Mike Marsland

In the film, the T-shirt in question is worn by both Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) and Patrick Zweig (O’Connor) in the lead up to a pivotal moment. It would be easy to take the slogan and interpret it as literally as possible: Tashi, a tennis wunderkind turned coach, is the walking embodiment of the phrase I told you so, as is Patrick, except the former is always right and the latter never is (though he is convinced that he is). But as things go with Anderson, there’s layers to the thing.

The T-shirt is a reference to a paparazzi photo of John F. Kennedy Jr., who wore a white version many years ago. Anderson leans into the ordinariness of a slogan T-shirt while riffing on a name that has become synonymous with America: Kennedy. There’s also the fact that JFK Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy were beloved by the paparazzi and are now one of the Internet’s obsessions. Anderson speaks Internet as well as he does fashion, and his chosen slang is often normcore – the more normal, the better. The more ordinary, the easier to add meaning to.

Yes, there are certainly some Loewe Easter eggs. Among them: Tashi’s many leather handbags (most of which are current season, even though the movie takes place in 2019), the blue jacquard dress she wears in a flashback scene that is a callback to Anderson’s autumn/winter '20 collection, and the cotton shirt dress she’s wearing during the film’s key tennis match. But the most important clothes in Challengers are the most anonymous, and the way in which Anderson utilises them to round out each character.

Loewe, autumn/winter '20 ready-to-wear. Photo: Filippo Fior /

Photo: Courtesy of Loewe

Anderson has a unique understanding of everyday clothes and the nuances they can communicate, which makes him perfect to outfit a film like this one. His Loewe autumn/winter '24 men’s collection looked at Internet boyfriends and thirst traps and the culture of ‘Only Fans’ nudes on X and nodded at our extremely online lives. This informed the kinky and sexy way in which he presented the most normal of clothes, like grey sweatpants and white athletic socks (two gay sartorial kinks). The clothes in Challengers are used in a similar way, and both the pieces and their labels – when they’re displayed – speak for each character.

We wanted an element of ‘obviousness’ in the sections of the film when they were younger – Oxford shirts and the kind of typical looks these kinds of guys wore in the late 2000s, that embodied preppiness by American standards.

Jonathan Anderson

“We wanted an element of ‘obviousness’ in the sections of the film when they were younger – Oxford shirts and the kind of typical looks these kinds of guys wore in the late 2000s, that embodied preppiness by American standards,” Anderson said over email. “As the story progresses, the perspective shifts: Patrick is so confident and arrogant, even within his own weakened position in the tennis world, so his clothing takes on a softer transition, whereas Tashi becomes her ambition, so her look becomes that. And Art’s clothing becomes more of a formula for a guy like that.”

Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist in Challengers, 2024. Photo: ©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

Tashi pairs her Loewe cotton shirtdress with Chanel espadrilles when she’s older, and wears Cartier jewellery exclusively (despite her real-life Bulgari ambassadorship). She applies Augustinus Bader cream on her body and wears lots of camel cashmere. This is Tashi attempting to exert her dominance over everyone else: She is a better tennis player, she is wealthier, she is more mature, and she would like you to know it. When she is young, she’s in Adidas campaigns, which our culture has come to know as a signifier for the sports prodigy, the role model. She grows up to play the role of a coach after a career-ending injury. She officially coaches her husband, Art (Faist), and has been romantically, platonically, and erotically coaching both Art and Patrick since they first met.

What each man wants from her is different, however, and it’s easy to see that by their clothes. Art is a good boy and wants to be told so. He listens to Tashi and does what she wants. He wears good boy clothes: crisp white Uniqlo polo shirts on the court and navy quarter zips off-duty. Patrick, however, is sleazy, and what he wants from Tashi is both a challenger and someone who will put him in his place. He evokes a Peter Pan “I’ll never grow up” energy in mismatched athleisure, and drives a rundown car despite coming from money.

Zendaya in Challengers, 2024. Photo: ©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

These clothes, normal as they are, are charged with sexual tension, as is the rest of the movie. Guadagnino’s camera erotically caresses the bodies of his stars, highlighting their muscles, absorbing every drop of sweat. Tashi goes braless in her cashmere sweaters, and Art finds a fresh polo to change into and cling on to his sweaty body in between each set. As for Patrick, in his tiny athletic shorts and the workout clothes he’s always in, you can tell he… smells – as is also pointed out by a beguiled gay couple at a hotel lobby – in the kind of musky way some people are very much into, contrary to what many would like to believe. Art and Patrick wear worn-in cotton boxers as teenagers, which the former upgrades to classic briefs as a grown man (and like a grown man). Challengers is Anderson’s love letter to normal clothes, and I for one will never look at a pair of workout shorts the same way ever again.