Known predominantly for being one of the world’s top tennis players, Naomi Osaka recently added a few more bragging points to her already star studded resume! We caught up with the 23-year-old to chat about her brand ambassador deals with TAG Heuer and Louis Vuitton, her recent Vogue cover, and how she uses fashion as a means of expression.
You just signed two major brand ambassador deals, with TAG Heuer and Louis Vuitton—congrats! When did you start developing an interest in fashion?
My passion for style and design is something that I’ve had since I was a kid. When I was little, my sister and I used to draw on our really long road trips. I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and the chance to learn from all the people I’ve met, they’ve really inspired me and fueled my creativity over the years.
You’ve mentioned being inspired by a certain TAG Heuer phrase when you’re on the court prior to becoming their brand ambassador. What’s it like, now, being part of their team and being the face of their brand?
TAG Heuer has always been on my radar. I remember during Grand Slams or just in commercials, I would hear the phrase “Don’t crack under pressure” and always thought that was a really powerful motto. For some reason I sometimes chant things in my head while I’m playing, and I do remember a couple matches when I was like “Don’t crack under pressure”. I’m not sure if that was a sign, but it’s a really cool full circle moment.
What do you love about TAG Heuer pieces?
We have a lot in common – high precision, high performance of course – but I really relate to being innovative and forward thinking. I’m also passionate about style and fashion, so I want my watch to match my outfit and just look really good in general. I love just looking at a watch and being inspired by it for my whole outfit. In that sense I like statement pieces but also more versatile and neutral ones, so I’m quite easy to please. At the moment I’m using the Connected Watch a lot during my workouts, I Iove the app and the interchangeable colored straps I can match to my outfits. And if I need something less sporty, I’ll wear an Aquaracer, very elegant but still assertive.
You’ve already won two U.S. Open titles! When did your tennis days begin? Who were your idols growing up in the sport?
I’m someone who grew up playing tennis and wanted to become good enough to play on a global scale and somehow, I did it. I have quite a few role models actually. Having many role models is great because you can draw traits from each of them and build your own ideal. My family will of course always be my number one influence, and I really admire Serena Williams.
You’ve said that the pandemic has allowed you to relax more and take life—and tennis—a little less seriously. What else have you done throughout quarantine? What are your biggest takeaways from all the down time?
You have to find moments of relaxation no matter what your profession is. Finding a way to decompress really helps keep balance. I love listening to music, playing video games, sketching, reading manga or watching anime and cooking. I also have a group FaceTime with my best friends almost every day. We always rip on and tease each other but there’s nothing like banter with your friends to add some levity to your life.
You’re known for your dedication to social activism. Can you talk a bit about the masks you wore to the U.S. Open, and how you use your platform to bring more awareness to injustice?
In 2020 I decided to speak up and to stress how important it is for everyone to stand up for social injustice. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating our differences because being different is what makes each of us the special people we are. For me it wasn’t something I did for my career, or something that was “planned.” It was something that had been bothering me for quite some time and it felt like the right thing to do. I always knew that I wanted to speak up, I just didn’t quite know how.
How would you describe your style?
On and off the court, fashion plays a really big role. To me it’s another way to express one’s individuality. It’s empowering that everyone can dress differently and make real statements based on what they are wearing. That’s probably why I like wearing pieces that no one else can have. I love going to boutiques and finding something completely unique and unexpected.
You now have a Vogue cover. What’s it like seeing yourself on the cover of a magazine? Did you grow up reading/admiring magazines?
Words can’t describe how honored I was. It was really a dream. Growing up looking at my idols on the cover and now being able to be in their position is crazy to me. I am super grateful.
What’s in store for the future—with tennis, fashion, brand partnerships? What are your goals for 2021?
I’m very optimistic about the future of tennis. There are a lot of new personalities on the tour, which is really good for the sport. When you think of the Wimbledon white rule for example, it’s maybe easy to see tennis as a bland sport, but it’s changing deeply. And I think it’s going to be fun. The newer generation has a strong voice and is not afraid to use it. They’re going to have a very loud off-court presence, and I count myself a part of that, because I’m constantly being inspired by things that are happening off the court.