Sunday 21 August 2016

Olympic Alphabet : W is for ...

Among all the highly anticipated pre-Olympic announcements one seems to generate more argument, and derision, than any other – the uniform and kits that the national teams will wear. Quite often some teams have marched into the opening ceremony and have made me think “what ARE they wearing?” and I’m not referring to the traditional and ethnic costumes (I wish there could be more of these).
Between 1912 and 1948 the Olympics had medal-winning competitions in music, art, poetry, sculpture, architecture and town planning. The first four of these are still part of the Olympic programme though they are part of cultural festivals and not competitions. Perhaps a new Olympic event could be introduced – fashion and clothes design, with a select group of top designers acting as judges?
All of this made me think about what other people wear at the Olympics, whether it’s in the sporting arena of in the ceremonies. With fashion and clothing design having such a big lgbt contingent I thought it might be fun to have a look at the huge variety of clothes that have been produced for the Olympics by lgbt designers.
We’ll begin with the official team uniforms and kit. Most leading fashion designers have designed team uniforms. Not all of them have been without criticism.
When Ralph Lauren unveiled his London 2012 uniform for Team USA came in for a bit of criticism for being too preppy. What Lauren tried to do was produce a uniform inspired by the one worn by Team USA at the previous London Olympics in 1948. But the biggest criticism he received came in 2008 when it was revealed that the uniforms he designed for Team USA were made in China.
The gay Canadian twins Dean and Dan Caten – Dsquared2 – came in for some criticism on the very first day that they were announced as the designers of Team Canada’s Rio 2016 uniform. In 2015 they had produced a fashion line which offended a lot of First Nation and Inuit people, for which they apologised. Some Canadian Olympians (none who are competing in Rio as far as I’m aware) said that they would feel uncomfortable wearing any Olympic uniform designed by DSquared 2. There was little complaint about their previous Olympic uniform for Canada at the Vancouver 2010 winter games.
Which brings me on to opening and closing ceremonies because DSquared2 designed the outfits worn by the volunteers and major performers (with the exception of lgbt performers k d lang and Ashley McIsaacs) at all four ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic games. From the outfits worn by Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams, to the voluminous gold dress of Measha Brueggergosman who sang the Olympic anthem, the Caten twins displayed their skill at designing clothes suitable for the intimate catwalk and the massive stadium.
Fashion catwalks may not seem to have much in common with sporting ceremonies, but there have been several segments specifically devoted to fashion catwalks. The most recent was just this month in the opening ceremony of Rio 2016 with supermodel Gisele Bündchen walking the entire length of the stadium in a glittering dress designed by the openly gay Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch. A similar, shorter, walk was made by Alessandra Ambrósio at the London 2012 closing ceremony Rio handover segment. Herchcovitch himself is no stranger to the Olympics as he designed Brazil’s team uniform for Athens 2004.
In fact, it seems that if you need to make an impact in a frock (as we say in Yorkshire) it has to it glitter! The London 2012 closing ceremony, you may remember, had seven supermodels in shimmering gold dresses and a suit designed by some of the UK’s leading openly gay fashion designers, including Christopher Kane, Erdem and Jonathan Saunders.
Perhaps my personal favourite has to be the Armani dress worn by Carla Bruni at the Turin 2006 opening ceremony. In another glittering, flowing gown that looked like it was made out of ice crystals, Carla carried the Italian flag into the stadium. No photograph can ever capture the visual impact of this fantastic dress.
There were also catwalk segments in other Olympic ceremonies. Italian designers Dolce and Gabana, Valentino and Versace produced dresses worn in the handover segment at the Salt Lake City 2002 closing ceremony, and Spanish designers were featured in the opening ceremony of Barcelona 1992. In Sydney 2000 supermodel Elle McPherson appeared on a giant camera at the closing ceremony. She was, however, upstaged by the “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” bus, fifty drag queens and Kylie Minogue.
The ceremonies, of course, involve costumes for thousands of performers. While no one lgbt designer has personally designed all of those needed for entire four ceremonies there are several who have produced a major part of the visual impact of the Olympic ceremonies.
One who probably had the most involvement was award-winning film and stage costume designer Ray Aghayan who designed most of the costumes for the ceremonies of Los Angeles 1984. The Caten twins and Vancouver 2010 has already been mentioned. Harrison McEldowney and carnival designer Peter Minshall produced costumes for Barcelona 1992. Elements of Minshall’s ideas were used in Salt Lake City 2002 and Atlanta 1996. Among the Sydney 2000 costumes were the blue costumes designed by Peter Morrisey for the Oceana group in the “Arrivals” segment.
I could go on. However, one last name. Some athletes don’t compete in the official kit, they wear specially designed clothes by someone else. This is especially so in figure skating. So today’s final lgbt designer is the man who designed the costume worn by Yuzuru Hanyu in his gold medal-winning routine at Sochi 2014. That designer was no stranger to the ice and fancy costumes himself. He was none other than former Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir.
The montage above shows (from left to right)

Top row : Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado in DSquared2, Vancouver 2010; cast member of the Olympic Centennial marching band in a uniform by Ray Aghayan, Atlanta 1996; Team USA uniform by Ralph Lauren, London 2012.

Bottom row : cast member as a ray of the sun, designed by Peter Minshall, Barcelona 1992; Carla Bruni in Armani, Turin 2006; Yuzuru Hanyu on the medal podium in his Johnny Weir costume, Sochi 2014.

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