- Paul Lukas
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Ralph Lauren has gotten the message.
The American clothing label, known for its rugged-classic apparel style, found itself embroiled in controversy during the 2012 London Olympics, when much of the company's clothing for the American athletes to wear at the opening and closing ceremonies turned out to have been made in China -- not the most patriotic message to be sending when representing one's country at the world's most prestigious international sporting event.
Consider it a lesson learned for Lauren executives, who this week proudly unveiled the outfits that American athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies of February's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Ralph Lauren trumpets that every last bit of the gear was made in America.
Of course, the American athletes won't be wearing Lauren-made uniforms in competition. Those uniforms will be made by Nike, adidas, and all the other sportswear manufacturers we're used to seeing. But the closing ceremonies are a glamour showcase, so the Lauren gear has been getting lots of media attention this week (unlike, say, the new freeskiing and luge uniforms, which were also unveiled this week).
And how does the Lauren gear look? It's hard to argue with a classic peacoat or a classic ski sweater, although just about any competent clothier could create and execute those designs. (Imagine it: The American Olympic team outfitted by Old Navy!) The thing that stands out here is the big Lauren logo on the peacoat and the "Polo" chest insignia on the sweater. Kind of makes you wonder if we're talking about the American Olympic team or the Ralph Lauren Olympic team, doesn't it?
Lauren's aggressive branding on the Sochi designs is similar to the Lauren-made ball boy/girl uniforms for the US Open tennis tournament in recent years. Those designs haven't exactly been shy about broadcasting who made them.
Nike, adidas, and all the other sportswear companies have been criticized -- and rightly so -- for plastering their logos over every available surface of team uniforms. But you'll rarely if ever see a swoosh as big as those Lauren logos. It's all a bit disappointing, especially since Ralph Lauren supposedly stands for a set of cultural values that add up to -- what was it again? Oh, yes: class.