Story by Maggie Lange / Photography by David Vassalli / Video by Byron Spencer / Styling by Sebastian Jean
GOOGLE and PAPER came together to highlight the SMALL BUSINESSES that are LEADING the BIGGEST TRENDS of the summer based on Google’s trending search data.
A handful of years ago, long before 2020 and the great exercise equipment shortage, I saw my friend using a heavy hardcover as a weight for tricep exercises after a run. They’ve always been a finicky aesthete and dumbbells were far too utilitarian for them to ever consider using. I texted them recently, and as I suspected, they’re now the proud owner of Bala bangles and their powder blue power ring set. If five pounds is five pounds is five pounds, why shouldn’t a five-pound free-weight take the form of a tasteful little sculpture? If two pounds is two pounds is two pounds, why shouldn’t a two-pound wrist-weight look like a sleek and minimal futuristic bracelet cuff?
Fortuitously coinciding with pandemic-prompted home gyms across the globe, exercise equipment has earned its place as home decor in its own right. It’s become more beautiful, more eye-catching, more flavorful, more interesting and, frankly, more fun. In this new world of workout gear, some equipment is discrete and architectural, like the parabolic Ubarre weight or the graceful, slender Kenko walnut dumbbells. Some new gear is maximalist and conspicuous, like the wiggly, post-modern Beam; while others promise utility outside of their primary function, like the Mirror workout program, which streams from a wall mirror. There are show ponies and there are work horses, but the new generation of workout equipment is always both.
Even the equipment that’s unavoidably utilitarian comes increasingly in chic materials. Whenever I feel like considering the outer reaches of potential indulgence, I look at the all-marble dumbbell set from LVDIS, designed by Alessandro Zambelli. A kettlebell for $630? Well, it’s certainly worth its weight in creamy white marble. German exercise equipment designers NOHrD manufacture their wooden spin bikes and curvy treadmills in walnut, oak, ash and cherry. Last year, The Ness, the very cool bounce class boutique, partnered with JumpSport to design a mini-trampoline with an on-trend bronze frame, rather than boring black. Also last year, Frame Fitness issued the most attractive piece of large workout equipment I’ve ever seen: a Pilates reformer machine with the mysterious, organic wood structure of a Noguchi.
This trend in workout gear is not just pandering to our Instagrammable tendencies, but is indicative of a larger transition in exercise culture. The style of my trusty, steadfast at-home bike is streamlined and efficient, but that almost makes it seem like a relic (I use her almost every day, so we must whisper this). It’s a sleek working machine, but its seriousness reeks of utility. Meanwhile, my fun Bala bangles are weird, funny and joyful, and I went through two pairs last year alone. If the Bala bangle signals anything, it’s an effortless workout that makes your skin glisten with just the right amount of sweat, not a HIIT series that may leave you wailing on the floor.
There’s also something inherently rational (if paradoxical) about prioritizing fun and appealing aesthetics in fitness gear. In my living room, I’ve seen my shimmery gold Ubarre magnetize friends and foes alike. Three times, I’ve seen people lift it up, into a perfect bicep curl, while asking, “Is this a weight?” It is a weight and they were already using it! It’s a wonder that physical culture took so long to come around to this concept — that appealing items to look at are also more appealing to use. It just feels lucky to have gorgeous, gorgeous workout equipment for our gorgeous, gorgeous selves.
VP Production, Talent: Katie Karole / Digital Director, Talent: Justin Moran / Art, Fashion Director: Malcolm Mammone / Executive Creative Director: Jordan Bradfield / Managing Editor (SBLBT): Laia Garcia-Furtado / Managing Editor (PAPER): Eliza Weinreb / Photographer: David Vassalli / Video Director: Byron Spencer / Stylist: Sebastian Jean / Grooming: Tracy Love / Photo Assistant: River Callaway / Retoucher: Paola Badia / DP: Ben Montague / Gaffer: Paloma Criolllo / Grip: Jake Bailey / Technical Production Assistant: Keona Shimuzu / Editor: Sofia Kerpan / Music Design: DeepFaith / Stylist Assistant: Aidan Palermo / Set Design: Eric Vidmar, Skye Whitley, Marie Sommers / Producer: Amanda Kahle, Roberto Escamilla-Garduño / Market Editor: Emma Sayer / Partnerships: Caitlin Sharp, Bonnie Monk / Web Design: Composite