Fashion at Sochi: who wears it best?

Jazzy trousers. Wong Maye-E/AP

So, your country is one of 88 participating in the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014. How do you get noticed? The winter games may not get as much coverage as the those in the summer, so fashion is used as a marketing ploy, blinding us all with patriotic peacocking. It has certainly proved tempting to throw an experimental mix of colours against the backdrop of the snow.

This year we have Mexico’s Alpine skier, Hubertus von Hohenlohe, with his Mariachi inspired body suit. Then there are the zany suits of the Norwegian Curling team which cause them to resemble a troupe of clowns. And the figure skating always throws up a few corkers.

The media has abounded with Sochi fashion faux pas stories. The many bizarre fashion statements we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks could make the games the worst–dressed sports event in history.

Although not quite as blatant as Katharine Hamnett’s political T-shirts of the 1980s, Germany is in a burst of sunshine colours. With the addition of a whistle, they would fit it pretty well at any gay pride rally. This has attracted its fair bit of commentary, adding a flair to the stories that surround the Sochi games about Russian corruption and anti-gay laws.

Colour proud. David Davies/PA

Of course, designing the official uniform comes with various considerations. National pride and how best to represent your country are of course central here, but maintaining this is often difficult when you go to major brands for your designs, who also want to promote themselves. Maximising the opportunity for official merchandise sales is also a factor.

The responsibility of achieving all these things has been given to home grown designers. And in many cases, they have come up with some pretty special results.

Some have chosen to ramp up their design handwriting, for example Ralph Lauren’s chunky intarsia knit of red, white and blue emblems for the USA. Others have chosen to remain sedate – erring on the side of boring – like Armani, with Italy’s all-in-blue outfits. Although I guess they have some hint of the Italian flag (in the seams), unlike their 2012 Olympics designs.

Lacoste have ensured brand prominence with their oversized alligator look. Some countries, perhaps trying to play it safe, have gone slightly off piste – Ireland’s mushy pea-like green on green on green is one unfortunate example of this.

Green on green on green … David Davies/PA

But the best of the bunch, I think, is Sweden, designed by H&M. They have managed to tick all the boxes, both using the flag colours effectively and designing something somewhat stylish – I wouldn’t say no to their asymmetric zip coat, or the leggings.

If I think of Sochi as one big fashion mall, I would buy the Kazakhstani embroidered boots worn by their flag bearer, the Swedish leggings, and the jacket from Tonga for its ridiculous print. Oh, and I like the look of the Team GB’s winter hats. After all, as we have seen, style at Sochi has no rules.

This is probably apt, as it is mainly an opportunity for the real sportswear brands to show their worth. Performance is really what is key here. The specialist functional needs for each game would have been analysed in depth, the garments extensively tested for safety, strength, support and protection.

This is where good design truly comes in to play. In the speed sports such as the luge and speed skating team colours and prints take on a more serious look, with limited room for embellishment: no fur trims here. And seam strengths are really put to the test.

Input from the competing Olympian here rarely goes beyond the functional needs. Unless of course you are a Prince – enter again Mexico’s solo Olympic athlete, who worked with Kappa to see his personality expressed through his attire.

The outlandish fashion of these Olympics has added a bit of spice and flair to the proceedings. And it’s apt that we see this flaunted at an event that, compared to the summer Olympics, is seen as a little bit of a joke.

But I will be certainly be testing my H&M Swedish team leggings, feeling empowered to “Go Gold”, as the label tells me, whilst walking along the corridors of London College of Fashion.