Olympic Uniforms and the Designers that Made Them

The Winter Olympics are in full swing. With 2,920 athletes from 92 countries from all over the world competing in this year’s games, it’s definitely a time to remember and is a momentous occasion for the world. That’s why every Olympic season, each country choose their best fashion designers to create uniforms to represent their nation at the game’s opening ceremony. Below are some of the best Olympic outfits that have been made by fashion designers since 2008.

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Ralph Lauren has been designing Team USA’s Olympic uniforms since 2008 but who are the famous designers behind the other countries’ uniform designs? From Stella McCartney representing the United Kingdom to Christian Louboutin for Cuba, we were surprised at the number of big names behind some of the most iconic Olympic fashion statements

Collaborating with Invaluable, we asked Emma, who is a part of the Community Outreach team at Invaluable: Is there a specific element to each design that you think is particularly interesting? Keep reading to find out what her answers were!

USA: 2008

The 2008 Olympics presented the first United States uniform designed by American fashion icon Ralph Lauren and included a definite preppy, American flair. This look, consisting of a fitted navy blazer decorated with the Olympic rings and the polo logo, started a firestorm of criticism. Many thought the brand logo upstaged the Olympic rings and questioned the designer’s intentions. However, the uniforms were ultimately a seen as a success, by the USA, as the partnership between the designer and the Olympic team will last until 2020.

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Emma: Ralph Lauren’s Olympic designs consistently have a preppy yet casual flair to them which I think makes the USA team stand out amongst the crowd.

Credit: Invaluable

Great Britain: 2012

The UK Olympic committee called upon British designer, Stella McCartney to create a collection that would be remembered; collaborating with Adidas to create a winning style strategy for the UK team kit. The range, which was modelled by many athletes including Jessica Ennis, was themed around the traditional Union Jack colours: navy blue leggings, white jumpers, and hints of red in all pieces. However, it was believed that McCartney had taken too many liberties with her adaption of the Union Jack in blue tones, which she justified as an attempt to make the uniforms feel contemporary.

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Emma: The UK’s Olympic outfits were unique because Designer Stella McCartney recreated the Union Jack in blue tones in order to make the overall look more modern.

Italy: 2012 

Italian designer Armani unveiled a 50-piece Olympic collection which did stimulate various reactions. Some preferred the minimalist, muted palette and design; others questioned why the vibrant green and red of the Italian flag were left out.

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The designer’s Emporio Armani EA7 label produced the outfits, which were not used in competition. And the collection—which included a warm-up suit, shoes, shirts, and Bermuda shorts—did not feature the colours of the Italian flag; Armani designed the clothes in midnight blue, or azzuro, because Italy’s sports teams have long been known as the Azzuri. There was also a very special tough; the first sentences of Italy’s national anthem were embroidered in gold on the inside lining of the jackets and on the back of polo shirt collars. The shoes were also plain. They came in white or navy with just a hint of gold in homage to the medal the athletes were to bring home.

Following the designs Armani created in 2012, the brand consequently supplied the official sports uniforms at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Emma: Although Armani’s design may have been criticized at first for being too minimal and plain, there were patriotic elements included that might not have seemed obvious at first. For example, the first few lines from the Italian anthem were sewn in gold thread in the lining of the jackets.  

Jamaica: 2012

Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob Marley, designed the 2012 Summer Olympic uniforms for Team Jamaica in collaboration with Puma. The collection was a fashionable reflection of the Caribbean nation’s culture, history and style — vibrant, upbeat and hopefully unbeatable as the Jamaican team competed for the gold.

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The sleek uniforms were created with optimal performance and comfort in mind, they were super stylish, featuring bright, patterned skirts with accompanying fitted navy jackets for the ladies and yellow track pants and green short-sleeved button-down shirts for the men. The flashy prints, flattering silhouettes and saturated Jamaican flag colours were represented in every piece. The look was both contemporary and patriotic. Jamaicans were proud to wear uniforms that were created by Marley and inspired by her father.

Emma: These outfits were unique because the bright yellow and green colours on these uniforms evoke the vibrant and upbeat spirit of Jamaica. The uniforms were also designed by Cedella Marley, daughter of one of the most famous Jamaicans, Bob Marley.

Cuba: 2016

After a transformative year for the island nation, Cuba’s finest athletes headed to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro sporting some elegant ensembles specially designed by the shoe king Christian Louboutin. The famous designer worked with the French concept store Sporty Henri to create the Cuban National Team’s celebratory outfits — typically worn at formal occasions throughout the games, as well as the closing ceremony.

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Following a diplomatic relation between Cuba and the United States, the island experienced an explosion of high fashion Each outfit is centred around a sharp military jacket in red or khaki, with the female athletes in patriotic kitten heels and the sportsmen in cool sneakers. The designers worked with the athletes to ensure the designs met their needs and accurately represented Cuba. The finished look showcased modern Cuban culture rather than the iconic, pre-revolutionary Cuba commonly shown in popular culture.

Emma: These uniforms are by far my favourite! They were designed by legendary shoe-designer Christian Louboutin, whose mark is evident in the uniform’s featured bright red colour.

Sweden: 2016

Sweden’s H&M-designed uniforms for the 2016 Olympic Games featured light blue and yellow gold combo that never looked better. The Swedish fast-fashion retailer designed a wide-range of uniforms for their home country’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes that include outfits for the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, and athletic competitions in between.

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This wasn’t the first time H&M has taken one for the home team. They also designed Sweden’s uniforms for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Emma: The most striking element about Sweden’s 2016 Rio Olympics uniforms are the modern and form-fitting sleek lines.

Russia: 2018

The Russian athletes competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ Team’ should be called one of the most stylish athletes in PyeongChang, U.S. daily Wall Street Journal (WSJ) wrote. Being known for their dazzling sportswear, Moscow-brand Anastasia Zadorina replaced Bosco, a sports brand that has served as Russia’s lead designer for previous Olympic games, and created neutral outfits. The athletes are kitted out in predominantly grey, red and blue uniforms with no national markings, in keeping with their status as neutral athletes after the national team was barred over doping allegations. Despite these allegations, clean athletes are allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, provided they comply with uniform restrictions created and enforced by the International Olympic Committee.

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Emma: This year is special as it is Russian designer, Anastasia Zadorina first year designing for the Olympic team.

What did you think of the Olympic costumes this year? Go have a look at Invaluable’s article here.

Text: Ella Buxton

Images: Invaluable, NY Daily News, Pinterest, ETV-sport, National Post, Racked, Vogue.it.

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