The Rise of Bold New Olympics-Driven Designs

From sneakers to Skims, Olympian-inspired merch debuts as the summer games begin in Tokyo



Simone Biles’ tumbling passes, Megan Rapinoe’s free kicks, Katie Ledecky’s flip turns and Allyson Felix’s finishing strides drive Team USA’s Olympic hopes, but before these athletes begin their respective competitions alongside fellow international sports stars, they suit up. Each team is kitted out in gear often reflective of its national colors or the patterns of flag designs, starting with looks for the Opening Ceremony. None other than Halston drew up American ensembles for the 1976 games, followed by Levi Strauss & Co. in the 1980s. Now Ralph Lauren outfits United States athletes who are wearing stars-and-stripes-inspired navy blazers — emblazoned with his trademark Polo emblem — and navy masks for the parade around Tokyo’s Kengo Kuma-designed National Stadium at these pandemic-delayed summer games.

Indeed, design, in its various iterations, plays an outsized role in these Olympics and Paralympics. Japan, known for its age-old production of indigo dye, tapped the hue for the games’ elegant official logo and medals podiums, both created by artist Asao Tokolo and inspired by the country’s checkered ichimatsu moyo pattern. Kuma’s cross-ventilated wooden-latticed stadium built of larch and cedar includes scores of plant-lined walkways in an architectural nod to the surrounding woods. Inside the stadium, Great Britain’s uniforms, including mod Harrington jackets, are by the Mark Williams-helmed brand Ben Sherman. Telfar Clemens is launching his first foray into activewear, designing for Team Liberia. And, with Los Angeles poised to host the games in 2028, locals Felix — herself a four-time Olympian who could become the most decorated track and field athlete ever this summer — and Kim Kardashian West are each creating competition-worthy designs. Here, a first look at some of the most eye-catching merch inspired by the Tokyo games.



Polo Ralph Lauren makes it official
Polo Ralph Lauren is pairing its breathable navy coats made of U.S.-grown wool with nautical white-and-blue striped shirts and blue jeans, plus flag-inspired scarves and striped belts made of recycled plastic water bottles for the Opening Ceremony’s Parade of Nations. The New York-based official Olympic and Paralympic outfitter even devised a roomy white jacket for this year’s flag bearers (there will be both a male and female athlete hoisting each nation’s colors during this year’s parade) with an embedded fanning system to keep wearers cool amid Tokyo’s steamy summer heat. The brand partnered with American manufacturers to source yarn, dye garments and produce finished uniforms and also created off-duty gear for athletes and their supporters including Polo shirts, tie-dyed T-shirts and all manner of striped separates, with royalties from sales of the Team USA collection supporting the competitors at this year’s games and beyond.



Skims prioritizes rest with breathable athletic loungewear
Tokyo-bound female athletes on the American team each received a full collection of Skims limited-edition sleep and loungewear designed for Olympic and Paralympic athletes who depend on minutely-organized cool down, recovery and sleep routines to fuel their medal-chasing performances. Skims co-founder Kim Kardashian West, the step-daughter of a gold medal-winning decathlete, selected ultra-soft supportive fabrics for the official Olympic partnership. Size-inclusive ribbed tanks, boxers and robes, high-waisted sleep briefs and bras, jersey sleep sets, leggings and comfy crew socks in muted navy, sienna, heather grey and white, are all emblazoned with subtle Team USA logos. To tease the collection, artist Vanessa Beecroft shot Skims-clad sprinter Dalilah Muhammad, soccer player Alex Morgan, swimmer Haley Anderson, basketball player A’ja Wilson and Paralympic track and field athlete Scout Bassett as the athletes stretched, prepped and lounged.


Photo by Harrison Boyce for Saysh.

Allyson Felix dreams up a community-centered women’s lifestyle brand

Starting with reimagined modern kicks, sprinter Allyson Felix is launching Saysh, an online collective and brand conceived to support women, create change and undermine inequality. Her first shoe design, the elegant and lightweight Saysh One lifestyle sneaker — inspired equally by the drape of a wrap dress and the lines around a running track — is built and shaped to fit the female foot rather than relying on proportions sized-down from a men’s model. The L.A. native, who first competed in the Athens Olympics at age 18, is now a 35-year-old mother, healthcare advocate and founder racing in Tokyo in her fifth Olympic games and using her platform to push back against racial and gender injustice. Felix split with longtime sponsor Nike over paid maternity leave for women athletes, saying she was “told to know my place, that runners should just run.” Instead, she spoke up. Then she dreamed up Saysh with her brother Wes to create her Olympic racing spikes and is at work on the brand’s member-based online community hosting virtual workouts, conversations, recipes and access to product drops. But first, footwear — Saysh One preorders begin shipping this fall.



Dior’s on-the-go accessories worthy of a world tour
Hues of yellow, red, blue, green and black, the exact colors of the Olympic rings, comprise Dior’s World Tour capsule collection of limited-edition monochromatic accessories subtly evoking the international competition. The French fashion house’s oblique motif — rendered in corresponding technicolor — adorns card holders, clutches, a saddle belt bag and belts with interchangeable buckles and straps. Headlining the collection is Dior’s B27 sneaker reinvented in perforated leather and ready-to-pair with rectangular leather shoe cases in an identical shade.


Feature image: RALPH LAUREN’s Team USA collection.


July 23, 2021

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