With four billion people expected to watch the 2008 Olympic Games, it's a dream marketing opportunity for the fashion industry, prompting more designers to outfit national teams and launch sports lines as new sportswear stores pop up around Beijing.
“It is a great opportunity for fashion brands to get involved in something quite big and heroic,” said Ligaya Salazar, the curator of a show called “Fashion V Sport” opening at London's Victoria & Albert Museum this week.
“More and more we are seeing fashion brands getting involved in sports like the Olympics or Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.”
Salazar said fashion and sport shared a long history but the direct collaboration only began about 10 years ago after designers noticed people were increasingly wearing sports gear, such as tracksuits and running shoes, on the street.
This opened up a new audience for the fashion world which knew that sports had a greater global impact than any catwalk with fans fiercely loyal to their sporting heroes .
Massive sports brands like Adidas and Nike have always competed for attention at the Olympics but their new rivals are designers previously more at home with a couture crowd.
Designers Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen are producing collections with sportwears brands and sports figures are heading fashion campaigns, such as English soccer player David Beckham for Armani, or designing their own collections.
Salazar said this trend was reflected at the Beijing Olympics where the fashion stakes have been raised.
Designers muscle into sports
The U.S. Olympic Committee chose Polo Ralph Lauren as their outfitter for the Beijing Olympics, replacing Canadian company Roots Ltd which dressed the team for the past three Olympics.
Canadian retailer Hbc, originally the Hudson's Bay Company, is producing red-and-white hooded sweatshirts (hoodies) and gold collage maple leaf T-shirts with Chinese astrological symbols for the Canadian team.
Rio de Janeiro-based design firm Oestudio joined forces with sportswear brand Olympikus to create the Brazilian outfits.
Many other countries have yet to go public with their outfits which are often kept under wraps until the Opening Ceremony.
But while designers are moving into the arenas, they are also ensuring they back up their efforts with marketing and retail.
For example Polo Ralph Lauren, like many licensees, will also produce Olympics "replica wear" that goes on sale this month as the world spotlight turns onto the Aug. 8-24 Games.
German sports outfitter Adidas opened the doors to its world's biggest store in Beijing last month as it battles Nike for top slot in the lucrative Chinese market at a time when the U.S. consumers are tightening their purse strings.
The high-tech four-story megastore in a new shopping center in the popular Sanlitun area, which boasts another 12 sportswear stores, sells special Adidas collections by Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto of Japan, and an Olympic line.
Shopper Zhang Yan, 23, an English student from Mu Danjiang in Hei Longjiang Province in Beijing for the Olympics, said young Chinese wanted trendy sports clothes for sports and daywear.
“All young people want to these clothes because they are beautiful and very fashionable. Even some older people like to wear them,” she told Reuters.
“With the Olympics everyone wants to look sporty as this is the biggest event ever for us and we all want to be supportive.”