The Politics Of Olympic Fashion
By Stephen Millikin, SVP, Be Spoke, MSLGROUP New York
Throughout history, fashion has always served as a means for broadcasting a political message. The ancient Roman toga praetexta identified the ruling class; the Zhongshan suit, or “Mao suit” as it’s known in the west, was originally meant to symbolize proletarian unity in revolutionary China; and whether intended or not, this year’s Olympic fashions have suddenly become just as political, especially in the United States.
Ralph Lauren Uniforms
For the London 2012 games, Ralph Lauren, a designer who has come to epitomize an idealized vision of American style, designed the uniforms that were worn by Team USA during the opening ceremony. When his designs were originally unveiled prior to the games, the focus of conversation was whether the berets worn as part of the uniform were “American.” (For the record, they’re not, but they did add a little bit of continental flair to otherwise boring uniforms.)
Then, the revelation that the Ralph Lauren uniforms were actually made in China came to the surface.
Suddenly, a political firestorm was unleashed with members of the United States Congress calling for the outfits to be burned in protest and laws put forward to ensure that all future U.S. Olympic uniforms are made on U.S. soil.
More recently, the performance gear worn by Team USA athletes has come under scrutiny.
Following Gabby Douglas’ gold-medal win at the women’s gymnastics all-around competition, pundits pondered whether her team’s choice of uniform lacked a suitable sense of American pride, and if it wasn’t somehow a “kind of soft anti-American feeling that Americans can’t show their exceptionalism.”
What was the catalyst for this latest brouhaha?
A decision to set aside the stars-and-stripes-laden uniforms of the past, in favor of Swarovski crystal-encrusted leotards in vibrant colors like fuchsia, white, blue and red.
Fashion & Politics
I am not naïve in thinking that fashion can ever truly be separated from politics, be they the politics of gender, class, or even international diplomacy. But I do think that far too much political weight is being given to the Olympic fashions this year.
Yes, the executives at Ralph Lauren should have known that producing the uniforms in China was a potential public relations nightmare.
But aren’t the Olympics about uniting the international community and celebrating our collaborative spirit? And yes, many countries still have their national emblems emblazoned on their leotards. But doesn’t a lifetime of sacrifice in order to represent your country on the world’s stage prove your patriotism in a more significant manner than wearing a yard of red, white and blue spandex?
During all future Olympic Games, I propose a détente. Under this agreement, politics and fashion will be partitioned. As a result, spectators will be allowed to admire the beauty of traditional garb, be gob smacked that sponsorship dollars, no matter how large the amount, don’t always equate good fashion, and above all else, celebrate the athletic spirit of the Olympics.
Originally posted on MSLWorldwide.com
Stephen Millikin is SVP of BE SPOKE., a division of MSL New York that specializes in beauty, fashion and luxury goods. Stephen began his career in the world of fashion over 20 years ago at the iconic I. Magnin in San Francisco. Since that time, he has worked with well-known and prestigious brands such as Brioni, Joseph Abboud, Philip Treacy, Breitling, Swarovski, Hästens, Champagne Taittinger, Beringer Wines, Avon, Target, Banana Republic, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, and many others.
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