Jeff Koopersmith on the US Olympic Team’s fashion faux pas. Read on…
August 9, 2008 – Geneva (apj.us) – Ralph Lauren, the emperor of hushed prep chic, shocked countless millions last night as the world watched the never-ending parade of athletes during the opening ceremonies of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium.
After two hours of staring at a panoply of polyester, ill fits, grass skirts and spears, thrilling headgear, paramilitary costumes, and sweat on other nations’ teams, out came the hundreds of Americans dressed splendidly in true summer-weigh wools, superb navy-blue sport coats, and off-white wool pants that made most every other team look like they had popped into JC Penney to buy their outfits.
Oops! My bad! Turns out Lauren has just signed with Penney to create a cheap version of his clothing line for them. You would think Ralph believes he’s the new YSL – the man who first prominently plastered his logo on anything that wasn’t alive, for a price. Ralph has paid dearly for that decision: instead of becoming a fashion emperor, Lauren and his company looked like avaricial corporate Jesters – creating the best-looking and best-fitting clothing for our top competitors and coaches yet not resisting the urge to place his logo – in massive proportion – on everything the men and women were wearing.
Of course, this is typically American: create something combining taste and quality, and then reduce it to rubble it by advertising where you bought it – and how much you paid.
In this case, however, Lauren has literally paid a high price – for the Olympic license to produce the American team’s replica togs. Olympics licenses cost a fortune.
Yet the IOC continues to portray the Olympiad as a “pure” sporting event celebrating the best athletes on earth – not a place for blundering materialism. This seems especially poignant given that the United States is closing in on its fourth quarter of recession and more family homes are being repossessed than bought.
I propose that along with drug testing labs, we have logo-testing experts who make certain the logos are hidden.
Lauren – and most likely his son David – celebrated not the spirit of athletic competition but themselves and their brand, morphing our athletes into unpaid billboards for the “Polo™” pony and rider that has helped bring the Laurens great – and well deserved – riches.
As for the United States, Ralph Lauren beat out such giants as Nike and Adidas. Both competed for the rights to design, sponsor, or license clothing or uniforms for other international teams.
Ralph Lauren, who to his great credit is also a philanthropist who has great deal of money to foundations and causes that aid the handicapped, is also providing the outfits for the Para-Olympics to be held in September.
Norm Bellingham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief operating officer, said, “Ralph Lauren was a ‘perfect fit’ for us, as, not only do they present a timeless and quintessentially American look, but they also have a great understanding of the importance of this moment in presenting these American ambassadors on a world stage in a manner that is appropriately dignified.”
I might paraphrase Bellingham this way: “Ralph Lauren is perfect for us. Not only do they represent a timeless and quintessentially colonial British look – but they have a great understanding of the importance of this moment to their bottom line and in presenting these American ambassadors on the world stage in a manner that is appropriately dignified – that of a New York Lower East Side haberdasher anxious to make a buck on something pure.”
David, the boy Lauren, sees Dad’s involvement in ‘sports marketing’ as a global effort – yes, as in globalization.
He wants to bring “fresh, new energy and elegance to the world of sports.”
Well, give junior credit: David has certainly succeeded in bringing an entirely new definition of tackiness to the American aura. The Italians were so busy clucking their tongues and shaking their heads in disapproval, you couldn’t hear the announcers.
David Lauren, by the way, worked his way up to becoming the senior vice president of advertising, marketing, and I guess corporate miscommunications at Polo Ralph Lauren, and I am sure he’s a wonderful guy – yet like all “next generation” businesschildren, he somehow forgot the very essence of elegance: looking like a million dollars, but not pimping it. David also doesn’t think athletes have much in the taste department – he actually said, “The goal was to create “something simple enough for the athletes to put together, yet stylish enough to elevate us as a country.”
He may have succeeded at the first, but was a poor showing at the second.
The irony of course is that polo (the game with horses, mallets and white balls) is not an Olympic sport – although it should be now. For some reason, polo saw its last Olympic performance at Hitler’s Olympic Games in 1936. So much for that.
What I find amazing is that Polo Ralph Lauren has already known for more than two years that upscale consumers are shying away from too-obviously logoed products. Lauren itself offers many items without the ubiquitous polo pony flashing on the fabric.
So why did Polo Ralph Lauren go and embarrass us all by not just putting their logo on the clothes but putting in on SO BIG? The white Polo logo against the dark blue navy color of the jackets, because of its tactlessness seemed to a foot high and 6 inches wide on the breast pockets. In fact, they were probably only four of five inches high, but I can vouch for this: you couldn’t miss ‘em, even in the mid-distance shots on a non-Hi-Def teevee.
Ralph Lauren’s logo will be hammered more than notably on every shirt, sweater, pair of shorts, sneakers and sunglasses our American athletes wear in China.
It’s a wonder that the Republican Party didn’t insist on tattooing each athlete’s ankles with red elephants.
Moreover, don’t think this effort wasn’t strictly business. No one would tell me all the financial details, but Lauren put out many millions, and received ONLY $10 million for the Olympics scheme which may contractually carry over to Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012!
Received $10 million? For what? That just has to be wrong.
To be honest, several other fashion purveyors did participate with other national teams, including Rio-based Oestudio for Brazil and, of course, Nike, who supply 23 of 29 Chinese teams with their swooshes.
From my viewer’s standpoint, other makers’ logos were not visible.
The collective gasp of bad taste only came when Lauren paraded his logo on the backs, front, sides, and feet of our kids.
David Lauren added that his look is “very sharp, very graphic on TV, very aspirational and very statesmanlike.”
Graphic? Yes! Statesmanlike? Is he insane? When was that last time you saw former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wearing a Horse and Rider™ on his suit pocket?
Who’s kidding who? It’ clear as daylight through the Beijing smog that Polo Ralph Lauren is marketing to the four billion people who are projected to watch the Olympics these next weeks.
Lauren said that the company was nervous but excited about last night’s parade. He claimed the Beijing procession honoring world peace through athletics was Polo Ralph Lauren’s “highest-profile moment” in its more than forty-year history.
And they wasted it.
In the end, Alex Badia of DNR said it best: “They have drawn so much from American heritage that it represents the country”.
Yes, isn’t that a shame.
David Lauren underscored his pity for tasteless athletes by providing a booklet to each athlete that instructs them:
- How to wear the Polo clothes well;
- How to button a Polo blazer;
- How to tie a Polo tie;
- How to walk in Polo clothes; and
- How to talk in Polo Clothes.
Oh brother. Time to take junior to the woodshed, Ralph!
You may think I can’t top this story.
Well, it tops itself.
Turns out Lauren also presented George Bush Jr. with his own “opening ceremony uniform”. His navy blazer, however, is embroidered with his title. Bush didn’t wear it; Laura was with him and she has a brain.
Anyway, how do you fit “George DumbBellYou Bush” on a lapel?
Postscript: Here’s a tip for all of you tasteless Neocons. You can buy a replica blazer from Lauren for only $695.00 (or 445.00 Euros) and everything else “Olympic” from Polo Ralph Lauren – but only if you beat the Rush!
Jeff Koopersmith is an internationally renowned political consultant, opinion research authority and policy analyst. He has lobbied for causes including the alternative fuel sector and women’s health, and is an expert on the international real estate market. He lives in Philadelphia, Washington and Geneva.