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U.S. Olympic uniforms honor Italian fashion

Sunday, January 8, 2006

NEW YORK -- Italy and fashion go together. So do athletes and high-performance gear.

What does that mean for team uniforms at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Turin?

It means sleeker and more subtle styles than the fleece pieces that dominated the U.S. team wardrobe at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The popular USA beret, however, returns.

Roots, the company making many of the outfits, calls the overall look "retro futurism."

The uniforms aim to blend high-technology fabrics while using the uniforms of the 1956 Games in Cortina as inspiration, explains Roots co-founder Michael Budman. The outfits for the opening and closing parades include an Alpine-style knit navy sweater with a nylon front panel in white with swaths of two lighter shades of blue and a small Olympic logo patch on one side. The zipper trim is red.

"White is very popular in Italy and the U.S. wore it in '56," Budman says. (For the U.S., the 1956 Olympics were most notable because it was the first time it dominated the figure skating competitions.)

The parade pant is nylon and the style is supposed to be a mix of a formal dress style and a snowboard pant.

Kelly Rae, fashion and grooming director at Stuff magazine, says snowboarders are among the most fickle when it comes to fashion.

"Once they're in the circuit, they're chasing snow around the world -- in Europe, in Japan. They're exposed to a lot of influences, which helps to fine-tune their own aesthetic. They become elitist in what they wear and how they're styled. They're really progressive in their style; they're fashion leaders," says Rae, who spent time with likely Olympians Shaun White and Keir Dillon and others in New Zealand for a feature in Stuff's January issue.

The Olympic athletes' base layer is a white polyester mock turtleneck inspired by Italian cycling jerseys and 1970s' American downhill racing suits.

Speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno tells the Associated Press he trains in the base layer. "No. 1 is the clothes have to be comfortable. No. 2 is what we represent and how we convey that. ... The outfits make a statement about us and the Games."

"I'm not a clotheshorse but I do like to look good," Ohno adds.

Budman says the collection's designer spent a long stretch of last winter in Turin to get a sense of the climate and the local style. It became clear that layering would be important because the weather changed day to day, location to location, he explains.

The decision to go with an uncluttered look was out of respect of the purity of the Olympics and to allow each athlete to wear the outfits in their own way.

"Originality is important," Budman says. "The athletes have worked their whole lives for this. They should shine."

He adds: "I think if they look good, they'll feel good. And if they feel good, they'll play well."

The piping font for the USA logo on the T-shirts, sweatshirts, berets and scarfs, among other pieces, is based on the lettering of vintage Ducati motorcycle paraphernalia.

Olympic enthusiasts and fashion fans of red, white and blue can sport their own versions of the Roots Team USA Olympic Wear -- part of the collection is being sold at Target.

The Olympic Village track jacket, which athletes are supposed to wear in their down time, has the same two-tone blue design as the parade sweater, this time on a navy brushed tricot polyester background with a white waistband and collar and red trim. The thermal hoodie sweatshirt has a zip front, kangaroo pouch pocket and an oversized embroidered USA logo on the back.

"The uniforms and related apparel are very fashionable and trend-right themselves," says Lena Michaud, Target spokeswoman, who notes the retro Alpine skier look is popular at the moment.

"In addition, the Olympics generate a unique kind of excitement -- people get very passionate about the teams, the athletes, and the competitions. When you combine a very special event like the Olympics with the emotion that it evokes, the fashions associated with the event can become very popular."


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