As the coronavirus pandemic threatened to cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, David Lauren couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if indeed the Summer Games never took place.
The opening and closing ceremony wardrobes designed by Ralph Lauren for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes had already been designed and manufactured. Would the threads ever see the light of day?
“We had all this product ready to go into the stores and for the athletes, and we held it for a year,” David Lauren, the company’s chief innovation and branding officer, told USA TODAY Sports Friday.
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Had the Games been canceled, Lauren later added, “we were debating whether we were going to sell them. Are people going to buy them if they’re no longer commemorative, or are they even (moreso) collector’s items?”
Thankfully, the company never had to confront that fear. And on Wednesday, the closing ceremony outfit was at long-last introduced to the world with 100 days before the Games begin.
The white jackets with blue hoods and collars are adorned with an American flag patch on the left arm, the U.S. Olympic logo on the right breast, and the classic Ralph Lauren polo logo on the opposite side.
“We didn’t have a chance to rethink it (after the postponement),” Lauren said. “The direction going into the Olympics was to create the most sustainable (clothes) the athlete ever had. To make the athletes look like ambassadors on a global stage. To create products that look fresh, modern and clean. And in the middle of hot, humid, Tokyo, give them white, light and clean.”
Katie Ledecky, the five-time gold medalist, is entering her first Olympics as a professional as she was swimming for Stanford leading up to the 2016 Rio Games, meaning now that she’s partnering with Ralph Lauren, she got an early preview for the first time.
“It’s always an honor to put those outfits on,” she told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. “It gives you goosebumps.”
Ledecky will wear items from previous wardrobes — the blazer from one set is a versatile matching piece — and said she holds the 2012 garments in special regard, and not just because she took a lot of pictures beforehand. As a 15-year-old who had just finished her freshman year of high school, she was the youngest member of Team USA, for those Summer Games in London.
“When you put that outfit on, it feels real and feels like you’re really a part of the team and representing Team USA,” she said. “I think that was the moment where it really became real for me, that I was an Olympian.”
Not only is the wardrobe slick, it’s also made with the environment in mind. The patches, for example, are made in coordination with a leather alternative made from renewable plant-based materials. The coloring processes utilized an advanced pre-treatment solution for more sustainable cotton dyeing that significantly reduces the amount of water, chemicals and energy used compared to traditional dye processes, the company says.
“In the two years since we started designing this, the world has changed,” Lauren said. “People want to see products that are made with a level of ingenuity and innovation and sustainability because we’re now witnessing just how fragile the planet is. COVID exposed that on many levels.”
The closing ceremony wardrobe is made entirely in the USA. Ralph Lauren has been Team USA’s official outfitter/sponsor since 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
“That’s very important to us. We work with mills and craftsman all across the country,” Lauren said, although he added, “there are elements of the (bigger) package that are made in different parts of the world.”
One accessory noticeably missing from the previews and sketches are a piece of clothing everybody has become more accustomed to wearing over the past year: masks.
Ralph Lauren designed masks for the U.S. Open tennis championships using excess materials and N95 technology, but Lauren wasn’t sure if the company had specifically designed ones for the Olympics.
“If they’re mandated to wear masks (during the ceremonies), they’ll be our masks,” he said.
Lauren says athletes walking in uniform – a year after the Tokyo Games were originally planned to be held – will be an important visual for the world’s citizens.
“Seeing the vitality of our athletes is going to be very life-affirming for us,” he said. “The symbolism of that moment, and to be a symbol in that historic moment of a company that represents America is an honor.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.