Some years ago the usually circumspect New Yorker film critic David Denby released 144 pages of butthurt with the title Snark. One can’t blame him, of course; if I had to share a byline with a preening no-talent hack like Anthony Lane I’d go round the bend too. With this preface, I’m beginning occasional RJ swipes, short bursts of cattiness that dish out snark where snark is due.
By now the furor over Ralph Lauren’s made-in-China opening ceremony uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team has even reached unto the unholy and padded-walled caverns where your correspondent doth toil. (I refer to Ralph Lauren as the broader clothing company; the man himself has everything to gain from not being involved in his company’s cost-motivated business decisions and serving simply as the oblivious, Bugatti-driving figurehead of a now meaningless lifestyle trope.) It is predictable that the outfits would have been made in China, as almost all of Ralph Lauren’s many, demographically-targeted lines are now made there in large part to varying degrees of quality. It’s equally lamentable that, unlike other makers in similar circumstances with more foresight and less presumption, Ralph Lauren did not make an exception to its manufacturing policies and arrange to have these uniforms made in the United States in order to forestall this sort of attack. While Ralph Lauren probably provided the outfits free of charge to the team (if it actually charged it for this dreck, I’m sickened), as a gigantic and profitable clothing brand it could well have afforded any additional incremental cost and chalked them up to public relations. Instead, it faces this minor and, to me, misguided storm when the real issue is that anyone who cares about design should be furious with the outfits themselves.
Quite simply, Ralph Lauren’s 2012 Olympic uniforms are tasteless and vapid, with no apparent indication of American-ness apart from the unfortunate and, I hope, unintended implications that Americans are as lazy, superficial and intellectually void as the outfits themselves. Nothing about them reflects the rigor and focus necessary to become an Olympic athlete or betrays any conscious thought about America (as one could expect from team uniforms). Instead, we have screamingly high-camp berets, a cheap fashion aspiration to military chic, and the insulting insinuation, repeated from Ralph Lauren’s 2008 Olympic uniforms, that the wearers are ambassadors of the country of Polo (located on the continent of Premium Outlet Mall) rather than the United States. Had the actual designer in question – who appears to have been an intern hired under President Ford’s “Project Bootstrap” – had a little more wit, each athlete’s chest could sported huge logos for his or her particular sport rather than the gigantic and gigantically clichéd silhouetted polo player. But that would have been expecting the creativity of a Franco Moschino rather that of the outlet- and license-financed lifestyle brand that is RL.
Words by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans
Illustration by Ralph Lauren
Illustration by Ralph Lauren