Fashion talk Because clothing trends mirror whatever is going on "out there", I will be one of the four billion people with their eyes glued to the Beijing Olympic games.
From the track to the catwalk
Apart from Jean Rene Lacoste's tennis shirt, Emilio Pucci's hooded parka, rugby shirts, polo shirts and Stella McCartney's recent Puma collaboration, what has sport ever done for fashion? Don't bring trainers into the argument, not even those fierce Nike Air Force 25th anniversary ones made from crocodile and anaconda skin with laces dipped in diamonds. Or Balenciaga jodhpurs - one of my personal all-time favourites. Or Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent's high-waisted track pants, Yohji's racer back vests and Prada's iconic bowling bags? oh stop, stop. What was I thinking? Sportswear has got a lot to answer for, not least in revolutionising the modern woman's wardrobe with Lycra.
Because clothing trends mirror whatever is going on "out there", I will be one of the four billion people with their eyes glued to the Beijing Olympic games. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm beside myself with excitement just anticipating the fashion moments to come. Take a mental note now and remember my words six months down the line when I guarantee you will be wearing something triggered by what goes on this month.
Somehow I don't think it will be Ralph Lauren's opening ceremony designs for the USA team: V-neck tennis sweaters and ties, polo mesh shirts with "Beijing" written in oversized Chinese characters and red, white and blue cargo pants. Has he lost his mind? Bah, what does he care he's Dh35 million richer. Ah yes, money. Will the real superstars of Beijing be great athletes? Or, will Beijing ultimately be remembered as the battle of the sports brands?
Just before the Games, as a warm up, Puma launched an Olympic-themed It-bag in China, (Puma's second largest market). Don't scoff; Puma is now 62 per cent owned by the French luxury group and fashion powerhouse PPR, whose stable of designers includes Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. Nike, the world's largest sports shoe and clothing company, meanwhile, will use the Olympics to showcase its latest trainers worn by several hundred competing Olympians including 22 Chinese teams. Ker-ching.
Their global rival, German giants, Adidas, are major sponsors in Beijing and London 2012. They currently boast Yohji Yamamoto and Stella McCartney as in-house designers and are bound to rustle up some new sporty fashion thing for the occasion. Last week an exhibition, Fashion V Sport (www.vam.ac.uk), opened at London's Victoria & Albert museum so, hot with Olympic fever, I sprinted along to take a look.
The exhibition details various collaborations between designer and sports brands and hybrids that have blossomed as a result of sportswear being distilled into mainstream clothing, as well as many tenuous and historic links. Happily, it doesn't gloss over the fact both industries owe a lot to street style. Sport inspires. And it's kids on the street whose heroes are athletes that can turn fashion and sports trends around overnight.
One gritty photo of an American street gang circa 1980 shows a group of kids who have tweaked and customised their Day-Glo tracksuits, leg warmers, towelling headbands and trainers, in the same way a fashion stylist might. They could even pass as models. How ironic that so many young urban men who wear slouchy leisure-wear today do it, not just to look streetwise or to work out in, but because nothing else will fit. If only sport inspired followers to be more like its stars.
One thing the V & A doesn't quite drive home is the true sportswear/fashion fusion. More groundbreaking even than functional or funky shapes or features like pockets and zips, is the fabrics themselves. Where would Azzedine Alaia or Calvin Klein be today without sportswear-derived fabrics which can be incorporated into even the finest silks and leather to give them stretch. For this some credit must go to those athletes who have nagged their coach, manufacturers and sportswear designers to come up with new ways of making it possible for them to row, cycle, leap, swim, run and jump, faster, faster, FASTER.
Behind the greatest inventions in sportswear and fashion ultimately lies the competitive, fighting spirit of the Olympian. You see, it's not just whether you win or lose, it's how you're dressed that counts.