But this year, it’s as if, in the weird circular way of fashion, 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. Roll your eyes if you want to. It’s true.
Ralph Lauren being the prime case in point. The closing ceremony styles for 2018 (the opening ceremony looks are being held until closer to the Games just to, you know, keep the anticipation going), involved 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 to the offerings for the 2014 Games: patchwork Americana grandpa cardigans for the opening ceremony, and pea coats for the closing event. There are also some brown work boots with red laces.
It’s the same story with Burton, which in 2014 also produced a weird patchwork-themed snowboarding style based on an old prairie quilt (Really: The print was faded squares of flags and plaids, and it was paired with khaki pants) but this time around has gone with an astronaut concept that actually looks pretty cool. Think white puffa onesies or glimmering jackets and pants given a metallic sheen with a micro-thin coating of aluminum, and bright orange under-layers.
“Spacesuits are like the ultimate engineered garment,” said Greg Dacyshyn, head of design for the Burton Olympic program. 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 crewneck, 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 The Hudson’s Bay Company, include a red, white and black anorak and black pants that look like nothing so much as Supreme-lite, thanks to both the color 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 (and yes, that may be an oxymoron), it’s a potent connection to draw.
There are the requisite lumberjack checked shirts and maple leafs, but they are almost incidental, as opposed to the main event. That is a good thing.
Similarly, Lacoste, which for the 2016 Summer Games added a fancy curly rooster (the French Olympic symbol) to their 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 year (or next year, to be precise), it seems to be being toned down.
Whether this holds true as the rest of the looks are unveiled over the coming months remains to be seen, but it’s 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, as “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world.”
Or to look like it, anyway.