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A SundanceTV Original Series
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Iconoclasts

Christy Turlington Burns and Tory Burch have more in common than fashion. Find out how both have used their position and influence to empower women.

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Venus Williams

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At the tender age of 14, Venus Williams had already become a professional athlete, taking the world of tennis by storm. Fiercely determined and wielding an impressive physical prowess, she spent the next decade rising to the top-ranked position and winning numerous championships, including the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and doubles at the Australian Open and French Open in addition to two Olympic Gold medals.

In July of 2008, Venus won her fifth Wimbledon Championship in a riveting match against her sister Serena Williams. Venus now joins the ranks of only a handful of legendary women’s singles tennis champions who have won 5 or more Wimbledon Championships. In true champion form, Venus has been known to break records. During the 2007 French Open, Venus served the fastest serve recorded in a women’s tour main draw match and in 2004, after an intense 2 hour 45 minute match against Lindsay Davenport, Venus took home her third Wimbledon Championship. This was the longest women’s final in Wimbledon’s 128-year history. This victory further validated her excellence and in November of 2005, Glamour magazine named her one of their "Women of The Year."

This year, Venus is the subject of a recently released coffee-table book photographed by world-renowned, avant-garde photographer, Koto Bolofo. This exquisite book, appropriately titled Venus, offers a unique perspective of the legendary tennis star. Presented in the book are rare and striking images of Venus' physical beauty, as well as her life as an international tennis star. Photographer Koto Bolofo was granted unrivalled access to Venus Williams during her private moments as well as her public tournaments to create this beautiful book.

Venus has gained a comprehensive education in the business side of the sport as well. “You have to treat it as a business,” she says, matter of-factly. “It’s my business. It’s what I do. I will prepare, I will set myself up to be the best, whether that best is best in the world or my personal best.”

It’s a mindset that has served her well as she’s reached adulthood and began looking beyond tennis. Now, at 28, she has parlayed her fine-tuned business acumen with her healthy competitive spirit to excel in several ventures. In addition to her worldwide tennis competitions, the young entrepreneur is a uniquely creative designer. Moreover, she has become a certified decorator and owner of V Starr Interiors, a successful interior design firm based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

The transformation from tennis’ force majeur to savvy businesswoman didn’t happen overnight. It had been brewing all along, instilled in her early by her parents and embraced by the bright youngster. “Tennis doesn’t define me,” she states defiantly. “My parents taught me to be really well-rounded and to be more than just an athlete.” So, while winning countless matches across the globe and becoming an icon for youth and women everywhere, she took note of changing styles for both interior and fashion.

“In my late teens, I realized that I love design and it was something that I wanted to pursue,” says Venus. True to her bold spirit, she simply enrolled in fashion design school while off-tour. She followed her dreams and recently earned a degree in Fashion Design from The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and became a Certified Interior Decorator.

Her entrepreneurial spirit and design success does not end there, Venus has a partnership with the retail store Steve and Barry’s for her sneakers, clothing and accessories line, EleVen. Venus states, “I’ve had many opportunities to move into fashion, but Steve & Barry’s is the ideal partner for me. They let me be part of every aspect of the design process as well as to be part of their mission to do whatever it takes to provide high quality clothing and sneakers to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.” “EleVen” launched in stores in November, 2007.

Prior to EleVen Venus worked with Reebok on her collaboration with famed designer Diane Von Furstenberg for her line of tennis clothes (the largest endorsement ever awarded to a woman athlete, at $40 million for five years).

With all her design interests, Venus devotes considerable energy to hands-on involvement in the design process, creating clothing that is youthful, but decidedly nontrendy. “The key to it all is coming out and giving my input. I make sure that I stay on top of things so they’re real sassy, with lots of color and more daring cuts. My personality is going into the design,” notes Venus, “so it’s also pushing the envelope because, when it comes to style or design, once things are in style, I absolutely don’t want to wear them!”

Laughing delightfully at this proud admission of self-expression, she adds, “I don’t like mainstream. I want to be ahead of the curve. I don’t like to be the same as everybody.”

There’s little chance of that happening: Even while balancing dual careers, Venus seeks out study in other interests, learning piano, guitar and bass during her rare time off. “I get bored really easily,” she admits, “so I’m constantly finding new things. I should probably slow down…but I can’t.”