The Olympics of Style

Unless you’ve been living in a proverbial cave, you’re surely aware that the Beijing Olympics have just begun and run through August 24. And you’ve most likely been paying attention to the press coverage of cool new athletic gear that will be shown off at the event. Perhaps you’ve even noticed our own cover package, hitting newsstands today, focusing on the Olympics as a showcase for R & D projects and new products. But have you been paying attention to how fashion designers are taking part in this year’s Olympic mania?

Hong Kong retailer Lane Crawford, for instance, has asked 12 forward-thinking fashion houses — 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alberta Ferretti, Alexander McQueen, Burberry Prorsum, Costume National, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Maison Martin Margiela, Neil Barrett, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney (who designs real athletic-wear for Adidas, of course) and Yves Saint Laurent — to create fantasy uniforms for a dozen Olympic sports, from archery to sailing. The outfits, on view at Beijing’s Today Art Museum, will eventually be auctioned to benefit UNICEF.

While athletes themselves might not be wearing these dramatic designs, creating sportswear that fashionistas might wear outside of an Olympic arena is a huge trend. A new report from market researcher NPD Group found that “more than a third of the overall global revenue in the sports market is being generated by sport-inspired sneakers and garments vs. sneakers and garments actually used for sports. If we take out equipment and bikes, the ratio goes beyond 50% of the business done on ‘sport- style’ rather than ‘sport- use,” as Renaud Vaschalde of NPD, author of the report, said in a statement. “So, it comes as no surprise that manufacturers are jumping on the lifestyle wave in the hopes that their businesses can ride it into profits,” Vaschalde continued.

No doubt Nike, Speedo, and other makers of increasingly stylish sports gear will be paying attention to what these high-end designers are creating, if not to lure in their own audience of athletes, then to attract other consumers looking for stylish, yet sporty clothing and accessories.

It will be interesting to see how fashion continues to influence sportwear in seasons to come, and how athletes will influence fashion as well, especially in the light of the NPD report.

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