The 2014 Winter Olympics: February 12, 2014
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The 2014 Winter Olympics: February 12, 2014

The Winter Olympics may have less variety than the Summer Olympics, as Kevin McFarland noted in his coverage of Monday’s Olympic broadcast, but fashion-wise, it offers a wide range of looks. The figure skating events are the Winter Games’ most obvious source of sartorial splendor, but the other sports have plenty to offer. Each game has its own way of protecting its players from the elements, from the barely-there lycra of downhill skiing to the baggy pants of the freestyle snowboarding events.

Halfpipe snowboarding kicked off the coverage tonight, and American boarder Kelly Clark’s uniform provided a counterpoint to the uniforms that U.S. athletes sported during the opening ceremonies. The Ralph Lauren-designed first-night duds took an already tired anti-fashion trend, ugly holiday sweaters, and amplified it with a mess of stars, flags, and Olympic rings. It was if an American elementary-school kid was asked to create a collage that answered the question, “What does the Olympics mean to you?” And that child would not have received a very good grade. (In fairness, the uniforms did look better on the full delegation, en masse, than they do out of context.)

The U.S. snowboarding uniforms, designed by Burton, are a more compelling take on Olympic thrift-shop chic. The jacket uses a patchwork effect that coincidentally echoes the opening-ceremony sweaters, but this one doesn’t sacrifice all taste. Not that I’d describe this top as “tasteful,” but it uses the national colors in a way that meshes well with the laid-back energy of snowboarding style. A muted, weathered-looking flag on the left arm sums up this look, a casual patriotism that feels more heartfelt than Ralph Lauren’s kitsch.

The bagginess of the snowboarders’ clothes is deceptive. Once the athletes are flying off the halfpipe, the hidden elegance of the uniforms comes to life. The American team’s ersatz khakis, which are flattering but unremarkable at rest, become something else in motion, gently flexing to hug the athletes as they contort themselves in air.

Not every uniform improves on the halfpipe. In theory, it was smart for Australia’s designers to accommodate the competitors’ bib, yet in practice, when Torah Bright bent down to grab her board, it looked like she had her nation tattooed across her butt. 

I don’t know where to begin with Under Armour’s design for the American speed-skating team. I’m guessing this was a collaboration between a PC case designer and Macon County’s most accomplished pickup-truck airbrush artist. Granted, the primary colors of the American flag present a challenge for any designer looking to create a sleek, nuanced look, but defaulting to flat black is not a solution. The “USA” typeface seems to have been lifted from a Chinese bootleg Spider-Man DVD—not that it matters, since the letters are about to be slapped by a tangle of patriotic outer-space seaweed anyway. The bright yellow Under Armour logo—slapped on Shani Davis’ clavicle because sure, that seems like as good a place as any—is a nice parting “fuck you” to anybody who likes to see U.S. athletes looking their best.

Contrast the desultory American uniform with this gorgeous Russian design (seen here on Dmitry Lobkov), which is simultaneously clean and full of character. Most of the host country’s delegation is wearing some variation on this design, and why shouldn’t they? It’s artful, it’s tasteful, it invites the eye to look closer, and it accomplishes all of that amid a burst of national pride.

The white base goes a long way to make the Russian design pop, but it’s less effective on American downhill skier Julia Mancuso. World-class female skiers have such gorgeous silhouettes that it’s a waste to obscure their body lines with a white uniform against a white backdrop. And there are other questionable choices on the American skiers’ uni, like the web of red and blue lines along the lower leg, which make Mancuso look like she has an especially high-tech case of varicose veins. The stars along the arms are nice, though. Stars are fun.

Italy’s Daniela Marighetti, conversely, has clearly defined curves. She looks like a person instead of a ghost. This design is almost boring, but its single aesthetic signature—the wide stripe along the legs, echoed on the arms—gives a strong impression of the skier’s frame. This is what an Olympic uniform ought to do: accentuate, but not overpower, the natural lines of an athlete. The “ITA” lettering could stand to be more lively, but I do like its size. And that gorgeous helmet is the best element of all. Its gloss and that shade of blue evoke an earlier heyday of Italian car design, lending Marighetti the aura of a high-performance machine.

American pairs skaters Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir opened the next portion of NBC’s broadcast, the pairs figure skating finals. I suspect that Castelli and Shnapir’s long programs in Sochi mark the first time that an Olympic figure skater has taken the ice wearing a gun holster.

I’m of two minds here. At first blush, the holster looked brutish and out of place. Even though Castelli and Shnapir skated a James Bond-themed routine, there’s something ugly about guns in the Olympics (at least outside the context of cross-country skiing, where it obviously makes complete sense to have an event with guns). But in performance, the holster worked, giving a novel definition to Shnapir’s upper body as he skated. It’s hard to argue with a uniform element that gives me something to look at during those dreadful stretches when the skaters just flail their arms around for a while instead of performing perilous tricks for my amusement.

Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov not only skated the cleanest routine of the night—an Addams Family-themed, silver medal-clinching performance—they also had the most fun with their outfits. Yes, even Gomez Addams might find Klimov’s pinstripes a bit over-the-top, but the silliness of the jacket matched up well with a giddy routine, and they made Klimov look fast as an added bonus. And while the thick black lines around Stolbova’s chest threatened to give her a schoolgirl air, I think that bold stroke of darkness gave her the Morticia Addams touch she was looking for. Plus, it’s hard to look like a schoolgirl when you’re hanging upside down from a man who is hurtling you both across a stretch of frigid ice.

The outfits on the Russian gold medal pair, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, had a Christmas-pageant feel—which figures, given that they skated to a Jesus Christ Superstar medley. I always find the faux-tattered look to be hokey, especially since it’s always paired with the usual figure-skating bedazzlement and sparkles, as Volosozhar sported tonight. Trankov’s faux-dirty pants, though, had a down-to-earth feel that made their rise to triumph all the more dramatic. Those tassels hanging from Trankov’s waist made for a nice effect as he twirled around the ice, too. But my favorite thing about these outfits is the ballsy color choice: gold. That’s one hell of a statement, and it was a pleasure to watch the two skaters back up their unspoken promise.

Stray observations:

  • Let’s not forget about Matt Lauer, gamely filling in for Bob “Conjunctivitis” Costas for the second night. At the end of the broadcast, Lauer pleaded with Costas to return, saying, “I’m running out of clothes!” Even if it’s almost laundry day, Lauer looked good tonight, wearing a suit and tie with just enough warmth and texture to make him seem right at home in NBC’s Ski Lodge Of The Gods. (Not so sure about that facial hair, though.)
  • Thanks for reading this fashion-oriented review of tonight’s Olympic broadcast; a less clothing-obsessed reviewer will be back with you tomorrow night.  

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