I remember a time when the words "Olympics" and "style watch" used in the same sentence amounted to little more than counting the sequins on the tiny tumbling leotards of gymnasts, preppy lusting over the equestrian britches and giggling at the swimmers' Speedos before they elongated to those little shorts Ryan Lochte sports oh so well. But that was in the yesteryear of the pre-digital era when if you missed a match or a meet, there was no replaying via livestream and empty seats and other faux pas were kept on the quiet in the non-existence of Twitter.
The 2012 Games are, one could argue, the first truly social media savvy installation of the world's greatest sporting event, which in turn means that with the increase in the number of eyes fixated on moments both on and off the courts, and infinitely more channels on which to discuss infinitely more topics than say, the score, the fields of play have now become fields of fashion.
Consider: "Since Beijing hosted the summer Olympics in 2008, smartphone ownership has skyrocketed to 107 million, a 456 percent increase in four years. Facebook accounts have increased 900 percent and the number of Twitter accounts has gone from just under 1 million to 300 million in 2012" (NJ Times).
Now consider: "The athletes' parade during Friday's opening ceremony might as well have been a catwalk show, with some of fashion's biggest names - Armani, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney - designing the team uniforms" (ESPN).
You can always count on the fashion industry not to count themselves out of a multi-media friendly spectacle. The 2012 Games cements it: from here on out, every global media event-sporting, political or otherwise - is now fair game for a fashion event. In terms of marketing, it doesn't get any better than this spur-of-the moment real-time engagement, positioning Prada pool-side and Hermes against the hurdle.
Who cares what the athletes are doing so long as they look chic doing it (in 140 characters or less)? Double up on national pride, free models and large-scale social media exposure. For brands, Olympic visibility means accessing a market via social media that is not limited to runway related interests, that is to say, a broader demographic that may or may not find such fashion week hi-jinx and luxury fashion in general a touch elitist, inaccessible and generally inapplicable to their lives, and therefore, uninteresting. It's a (back)stroke of genius for designer brands looking for ways to engage newer and bigger audiences via their viral channels all the year long, particularly in the fashion slow-down months of July and August.
Giorgio Armani's duds for the Opening Ceremony included a navy blue suit with soft two buttoned jacket in cotton jersey teamed with classic trousers, a light blue cotton shirt and a regimental tie for him and a softer version of the same for her. Stella McCartney tapped her longstanding association with Adidas to create the on and off duty gear for team UK (Union Jacks all around) and herself caused quite the stir Instagramming away from the Opening Ceremonies as she cheered on a "Hey Jude" crooning Papa Paul clad head to toe in a delightfully chic shimmery gold number.
The Jamaican team had its duds designed by Cedella Marley (daughter of Bob) for Puma and Ralph Lauren took some good old fashioned American flack for outsourcing (or was it off-shoring?) the manufacture of Team USA's kit to China. Hermes neatly arranged riding jackets for France's equestrian team (some saddles would be nice too guys, mais pas?) and Salvatore Ferragamo designed the official uniform for the tiny Republic of San Marino. Karl, in true Lagerfeld style, left the German team to their own unchic devices and cashed in for himself launching, ahem, the Team Karl collection at Selfridge's. The Kaiser accordingly told press in London that he would not be watching the Games as he likes the "idea" of it better than the actual event. Team Karl obviously plays in its own thinner, much less sweaty league.
The British Fashion Council also announced that a consortium of emerging British talent had a hand in designing costumes for key segments of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Over the course of the last year Suttirat Larlab, Creative Director for Danny Boyle (who orchestrated the Opening Ceremony), toured the studios of the best of British based new young designer talent in the run up to the big event and selected three to partake in it all. Christopher Shannon, Michael Van Der Ham and Nasir Mazhar were the qualifying finalists gleaned from the East End for Britain's homegrown sartorial team, creating the looks for 350 out of the 1200 dancers that performed on opening night.
The style spectacle also spills, just like fashion week, off the pitch and into the sidelines: Michelle wore Mendel and Kate sported Kane, as presses releases lining my inbox over the weekend informed me. And as I keep my eye to Instagram, you can bet there will be some street style scouts on the loose and round-ups of the "best Olympic outfits" coming to a slideshow near you.
While the impetus behind fashion's social media sanctified Olympic love affair undoubtedly circles back to a commercial/marketing objective, the implications are rather positive ones. An industry that is normally associated with all sorts of unhealthy practices and substances slipping out of its lofty stilettos and into a pair of sneakers so as to celebrate the human body in all its properly nourished and psychically honed glory seems like a positive enough move to me. Athletes, on account of perpetual training rather than perpetual hunger, make great models that send strong, healthy messages and it's great to give these inspirational individuals a chance to shine in an arena other than their own. Who's to disapprove of the likes of Michael Phelps soaking in a Louis Vuitton bath as opposed to smiling up wholesomely from a Wheaties box? So long as we still pay attention to the actual sports, a little side serving of style never hurt anyone.
I suppose the only question left is WHEN will one of our stylish fashion friends lend a helping hand to those poor scrunchied gymnasts still straggling in the mid-nineties? Gabby Douglas would look great springing across that floor in a little Pam Hogg number, don't you think?
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