Cool looks for Winter Olympics

Countries such as Canada, France and the US have started to unveil their uniforms for the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea

The closing ceremony styles by Ralph Lauren for Team USA (left) are no-fuss and low-kitsch while Lacoste has gone for aerodynamic atonal looks (below) for the French team.
The closing ceremony styles by Ralph Lauren for Team USA are no-fuss and low-kitsch while Lacoste has gone for aerodynamic atonal looks (above) for the French team.PHOTO: LACOSTE PARIS CHAMPS ELYSEES/ INSTAGRAM

SEOUL •The 100-day countdown to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, may have just begun, but the race to the fashion finish line among the various teams has flagged off.

Canada, France and Poland began to roll out their outfits last month - there was even an Olympic fashion show in Warsaw that featured Croatia, Greece, Latvia and Serbia.

Recently, the United States hopped off the starting blocks.

Ralph Lauren unveiled the closing ceremony looks for Team USA, Burton showed off the snowboarding uniform while Nike introduced the hockey jerseys for both the US and Canada.

Thus far, the leader seems to be sportswear.

Fashion has become so much a part of recent Olympics that the out-of-competition clothing that athletes wear, and even some of the in-competition stuff, has increasingly started to seem like basic runway merchandise.

A list of the designer brands that have played wardrobe coach includes Stella McCartney, Giorgio Armani, Lacoste and Prada.

But this year, sports clothing, which has been exerting its own influence in ateliers and on catwalks for the last few seasons in the form of streetwear and athleisure, has now effectively changed that game enough so that when designers move to the Olympics, their actual sportswear looks again like sportswear.

The closing ceremony styles by Ralph Lauren for Team USA (above) are no-fuss and low-kitsch while Lacoste has gone for aerodynamic atonal looks for the French team. PHOTO: POLORALPHLAUREN/ INSTAGRAM

Ralph Lauren is a prime case in point. The closing ceremony styles for 2018 (the opening ceremony looks are being held until closer to the Games) involve a simple white down jacket over streamlined navy track pants with a red stripe down the side and a red, white and blue striped sweater.

They are relatively no-fuss and low-kitsch, especially compared with the offerings for the 2014 Games: patchwork Americana grandpa cardigans for the opening ceremony and peacoats for the closing event.

There are also some brown work boots with red laces.

It is the same story with Burton, which in 2014 also produced a weird patchwork-themed snowboarding style based on an old prairie quilt, but this time around has gone with an astronaut concept that looks pretty cool.

Think white puffa onesies or glimmering jackets and pants given a metallic sheen with a micro-thin coating of aluminium, and bright orange under-layers.

"Spacesuits are like the ultimate engineered garment," said Mr Greg Dacyshyn, head of design for the Burton Olympic programme. Wearing them, athletes "can imagine blasting out of a pipe, like blasting off into the atmosphere".

There are exceptions, of course. Australia's formal uniform, worn at team functions, consists of a blue-and-white checked button-front shirt, blue suit, green crew neck, tie and brown pants, making the athletes look more like high-school biology teachers than high-level competitors ("Are these the worst Aussie Winter Olympic uniforms?" asked The Daily Telegraph).

Perhaps the actual competition gear, still to be seen, will change that.

But Canada's outfits, created by Hudson's Bay Co, include a red, white and black anorak and black pants that look like nothing so much as Supreme-lite, thanks to both the colour scheme and the white-on-black rectangular Canada logo slashed across the chest of the coat.

Given the recent success of that streetwear brand, possibly the first underground niche-cool line to become part of the billion-dollar club, it is a potent connection to draw.

There are the requisite lumberjack checked shirts and maple leaves, but they are almost incidental, as opposed to the main event.

Similarly, Lacoste, which for the 2016 Summer Games added a fancy curly rooster (the French Olympic symbol) to the tops, seems to have pared down even further for Pyeongchang and gone for aerodynamic atonal looks, including white on white for the podium.

One of the biggest challenges of designing for the Olympics is balancing national pride and technical needs - figuring out what helps athletes feel visually part of a team that represents a country, while accommodating various performance requirements.

That may be why brands start thinking about the next Olympic collection pretty much as soon as the previous Games are done.

Designers usually call it "the longest season in fashion".

Often in the past, there has been some erring on the side of symbolism, but this time, it seems to have been toned down.

Whether this holds true as the rest of the looks are unveiled over the coming months remains to be seen, but it is an interesting development, especially given the tenor of the current political conversations across the world.

And maybe it actually speaks to the mission of the Olympics, one that rarely comes up in general discussion, "to contribute to building a peaceful and better world".

Or to look like it, anyway.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Cool looks for Winter Olympics'. Subscribe