AP Fashion Writer, New York
The U.S. Olympic Team’s new uniforms will be designed to mark them not only as American athletes in Beijing this summer, but also as diplomats of sorts.
Polo Ralph Lauren is the official outfitter to the Olympic and Paralympic teams this year, replacing the Canadian brand Roots, which had done the athletes’ looks for the 2006 Games.
"They (The USOC) came to us looking for something distinctly Ralph Lauren _ they had seen what we’d done with the U.S. Open and Wimbledon," said David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and communications for Ralph Lauren.
"Their vision was do something elegant, refined and appropriate _ very `Chariots of Fire.’ We saw the Olympics as a chance to put America out as statesmen, the athletes as representatives of our country and our way of being," said Lauren, also the designer’s son.
With all the planning that has gone into the Beijing Olympics, the apparel deal wasn’t done until December. It started with former NBC newsman Tom Brokaw, a friend of Ralph Lauren’s, approaching the designer about an "opportunity" with the Olympics, Lauren recalled.
The challenge, he said, was in the volume: There are more than 1,000 athletes who need outfits for the highly visible opening and closing ceremonies as well as the rest of the 22 days.
The inspiration for the new styles came from the days of Jesse Owens, in an era before track suits became essentially the uniform for Olympians around the world, Lauren said.
"We wanted to reference the glory days of the Olympics and then bring it to a very modern silhouette," he said. "It’s a combination of looking back and looking to the future."
The looks range from classic polo shirts with graphic Chinese lettering that read "Beijing," to tennis and cricket sweaters paired with ties. Sketches of the designs also have a very dignified vibe.
"It’s a full array _ it’s like putting together an entire collection. It’s not just a funky hat or shirt," Lauren said.
He added: "When an athlete wears them, the clothes truly come alive."
Fans can have their turn in most of the styles. For example, the white walking shorts and sweater vests tipped with red and blue that the male athletes will wear around the Olympic Village or the white polo shirt with both a red and blue stripe on the collar and armbands that is part of the closing ceremony outfit for the female Olympians will be available to the public beginning in June.
The opening ceremony styles, however, won’t be revealed until Aug. 8.
Designers kept in mind swimmers and basketball players and everyone in between, Lauren said. "It’s their heroics, spirit, energy and commitment that inspired us."
That said, some adjustments had to be made since Ralph Lauren is more accustomed to dressing models and country clubbers than wrestlers.
"There was a fantastic list of scenarios," Lauren said with a laugh. "There were men who are taller than the Statue of Liberty."