When Ralph Lauren debuted its designs for the U.S. Olympic team — all popped collars, tailored slacks and boat shoes — it was met with the inevitable mix of praise and mockery.
Designers have a fraught relationship with athletic apparel, particularly when asked to dress the world’s top athletes for marquee events. This year is no different: Around the world, Olympic team uniforms have been commissioned from prominent luxury designers for both the opening and closing ceremonies.
“With athletic wear being so prevalent, [Olympic fashion] is getting a bit more attention because people are actually shopping for clothing in the realm of athleisure,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of luxury branding company RO NY. “It’s a good opportunity for brands to claim territory over the field.”
With the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro only a few days away, a look at some of the brands that have generated buzz — for better or worse — for their Olympic designs:
Ralph Lauren — USA
Ralph Lauren is no stranger to ridicule when it comes to the Olympics. This time around, eagle-eyed social media observers pointed out that the team’s t-shirts are reminiscent of the Russian flag. Users were quick to make jokes about the ongoing controversy over the Russian government allegedly hacking into the Democratic National Convention.
Politics aside, Ralph Lauren, which has designed apparel for the U.S. Olympic Team for the past five games, often receives flack for sticking to its classic, traditional aesthetic, which is often described as overly preppy. In a column for Slate, staff writer Christina Cauterucci described the look as “straight out of private-school central casting, bursting with enough moneyed leisure vibes to make Ryan Lochte — sport’s doofiest, fist pumpiest, archetypal bro, for chrissakes — look even douchier.”
Christian Louboutin and Henry Tai — Cuba
The Team Cuba designs created by Christian Louboutin and Henry Tai have been largely well-received, a particularly difficult feat given sensitivities around fashion brands infiltrating the country since the U.S. lifted the ban on travel and commerce. In May, Chanel’s elaborate fashion show in Havana drew criticism from onlookers that felt the display was exploitative and opportunistic.
The French duo, which first became interested in Olympic apparel on a photoshoot in the country in 2014, worked with the Cuban government on the design. They made sure to get feedback from the athletes and made an effort to incorporate imagery of national pride during the design process, according to Fashionista.
Stella McCartney for Adidas — U.K.
Stella McCartney was first tasked with outfitting the Brits for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. McCartney’s designs were largely praised, and so she was called back this year to update designs for both Team Great Britain and Paralympics Great Britain.
The styles incorporate a coat of arms, taking a cue from her the 2012 garments that interwove the country’s Union Jack flag.
“The coat of arms is all around us in Britain,” McCartney said in April. “It’s so much a part of us that we barely even notice it, but it is so distinctively British.”
H&M — Sweden
This is the second time that Swedish-based retailer H&M has designed uniforms for its home country, after the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. For the Rio games, H&M put an emphasis on sustainable materials, Pernillia Wohlfahrt, the company’s design and creative director, told Racked. It is also offering similar designs to the public as part of the For Every Victory campaign, promoted by Caitlyn Jenner, among others.
Lacoste — France
Like H&M, this is also Lacoste’s second time serving as an Olympic uniform designer after its debut in Sochi. France will stick with the iconic preppy brand in Rio, and the looks, which were designed with a mix of technical fabrics, have been described as minimalist.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista, Lacoste’s artistic director told Women’s Wear Daily that the goal was to stick to Lacoste’s traditional tennis aesthetic.
“The idea was to do something chic that is representative of the Lacoste spirit, founded by [tennis legend] René Lacoste — so very clean cut and very precise,” he said.