Team USA's opening ceremony uniforms for the Sochi Olympics are a patchwork of American iconography — of oversized stars and stripes and multicolored rings and names and numbers.
They're also a patchwork of American craftsmanship — of wool carted from Oregon, spun in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and knit in California.
After 2012's rough PR pilling — members of Congress and the media railed against uniforms that were mostly made in China — Ralph Lauren is making sure that the made-in-the-USA message is emblazoned on and woven into every piece outfitting the more than 400 athletes and 250 officials.
"We've learned a lot," concedes David Lauren, Ralph's son and the company's executive vice president of global advertising, marketing and communications. "This is an important issue for many Americans and one we have fully embraced, and we want to continue to lead the way and find all kinds of vendors who can produce amazing products made in America."
Sourcing the more than 40 domestic partners who helped manufacture the uniforms was "a lot more complicated than people imagine," Lauren says, considering the quality, consistency and quantity desired. "It's harder to do in America just because so many vendors no longer exist."
As a result, the cost for consumers looking to parade their patriotic pride alongside Team USA is steeper than in Olympics past, from $75 for a belt to $598 for a symbol-showered sweater. Completing the ensemble are white fleece pants ($165), a cream cotton turtleneck ($245), red-laced, alpine-ready black leather boots ($395) and an earflapped wool reindeer hat ($95). The collection is available at RalphLauren.com and TeamUSAShop.org.
Most of the pieces are limited-edition, including the cardigan, whose "design philosophy," Lauren says, was to hark back to that most American of crafts, the patchwork quilt. The opening, vs. closing, ceremony outfit is always "maybe a little bit more festive," he says, but "especially this year."
At least one of the initial wearers agrees. "What I really enjoy when look at it is I can see the patriotic spirit," says women's hockey forward Julie Chu, 31. "When everyone's wearing it together, it makes a bold statement."