For 2012 Summer Olympics, designers are part of the team

Sure, the London Olympics, barely a month away, will ultimately be about the feats of strength, speed and endurance of the participating athletes. But long before the first brow is beaded with sweat, the first real competition will take place the moment the nations enter the Olympic Stadium.

As soon as the athletes begin parading July 27, their opening ceremony outfits will be seen by billions worldwide and judged by legions of armchair critics. Italian luxury labels such as Giorgio Armani (Team Italy) and Ermanno Scervino (Team Azerbaijan) will walk the world's runway alongside North American brands including Ralph Lauren (Team USA) and Hudson's Bay Co. (Team Canada) in an arena where a standout piece of apparel can drive sales — becoming, for a clothing company, the equivalent of taking home the gold.

For proof, one need look no further than the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, when Team USA's blue fleece berets sold so briskly to fans that maker Roots Canada had to ramp up production and airlift more into Salt Lake City. One million hats were sold.

So to honor what is perhaps the world's most-watched fashion moment, we've highlighted some of the clothes and countries worth paying attention to when the big moment arrives.


When was the last time the Republic of Azerbaijan was on the fashion map? Well, the Southwest Asian country — which on a world map borders the Caspian Sea to its east and neighbors Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran everywhere else — appears ready to make a memorable splash at the Olympics, having tapped European luxury brand Ermanno Scervino for the big event.

The Florence, Italy-based label, which routinely shows its collections during Milan Fashion Week, has created formal and casual apparel for Azerbaijan's athletes that melds the blue, red and green colors and the crescent moon and eight-point star symbols of the republic's flag with the atelier's upscale vibe.

The result is a formal uniform consisting of a strong-shouldered, notch-lapel navy blue jacket made of a heavy stretch cotton jersey, teamed with pleat-front stretch cotton dress shirts and white chino trousers for the men and a white pencil skirt for women.

The guys' outfits are finished off with silk twill neckties and matching pocket squares in a tropical-looking blue, red and green print. The same print is rendered on a silk twill neck scarf for the women's uniform, which is finished with thin red belts. An embroidered patch on the left breast of the jackets bears the eight-point star from the republic's flag.


It looks like Bogner is marching in from the cold.

After kitting out the German athletes for 17 consecutive Winter Olympic Games, the Munich-based clothing label will dress the team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Games this year.

The parade outfits consist of zippered jackets — bright pink weatherproof shells for the ladies and the same in baby blue for the men — along with white chinos and shirts and a lightweight pink or blue plaid scarf. The shoes are by German footwear brand Sioux.

With the bright colors and bold zipper accents (dark blue on the men's jackets, white on the women's), the only thing that keeps these clothes from looking like they just schussed off the slopes and into the wrong season are the summery white hipster fedoras that complete the look, each boasting a hatband in the black, red and yellow stripes of the German flag.

But there's a trick up Bogner's sleeve — the jackets are designed to be reversible, with the brightly colored nylon shells converting into navy blue blazers (complete with buttons) for evenings and more formal situations. "It is also important," the company explains in its press materials, "that athletes maintain a distinguished appearance, as they will be meeting a host of international diplomats and world class athletes and celebrities."


Giorgio Armani has something of a lock on the Italian national Olympic team which, according to the company, "will wear EA7 Emporio Armani sportswear and formal wear every day and at all official events for the duration of the competition." (A notable exception is the Italian national sailing team, whose sponsorship deal with Prada has that luxury brand supplying athletes' competition uniforms.)

Images will be made public Tuesday, an Armani representative says, but some hint at what Armani has in store for the brand's first Olympic opening ceremony wardrobe can be found in the company's description of the 50-piece kit that will be supplied to each athlete. Designed in a color palette of white and midnight blue, it includes a full wardrobe of mix-and-match pieces, a nylon jacket, Bermuda shorts, trousers, T-shirts, athletic shoes and two pieces of luggage.

To date, the standout piece is an official track suit (in midnight blue) with an asymmetrical zipper jacket that has the words to the Italian national anthem screen-printed in gold on an inside breast pocket, where they'll rest symbolically over the heart. A track suit that stylish sets the bar, so expect the Italian athletes' opening-day outfits to be nothing less than the understated elegance Giorgio Armani has made his signature.