Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympic Costumes Win Attention

Yep, it's time to break out the cray-cray Olympic uniforms that garner as much attention as the medals won by the world-class athletes.

Already, Mexico's skiing mariachi Hubertus von Hohenlohe has let his costume out of the gate: a skintight jumpsuit printed with a bolero, cummerbund and embroidered pants. And what about those audacious Norwegian curlers sporting TV test pattern suits? Put a red flower pot on their heads and they're Devo done over.

Let's not forget our American competitors marching at the opening ceremony in those gag-me-with-a-snowboard Ralph Lauren cardigans reminiscent of an ugly Christmas sweater contest. Ditto for the German Olympians in puffer jackets that when lined up side by side conjure a rainbow. And why not? They are, after all, in search of a pot of gold.

And then, my favorite attention-grabbing red-carpet ice moments: “Dancing With the Stars: the Olympic Skating Edition.”

There's bound to be an over-the-top Nutcracker soaring through the air in cartoonish braided and fringed epaulets topping a cutaway coat, a guaranteed oompa loompa ensemble, skaters dressed as yodelers, cowboys or otherworldly creatures, and plenty of artistic, avant-garde gender-bending designs from bandage strips to shredded, fluttering fabric.

Why the extreme costumes when all the world's a stage?

“Better bad than boring,” said Hollywood costume designer Michael Bush. Bush wrote the award-winning book “The King of Style” based on his life as Michael Jackson's costume designer and personal dresser.

“If it wasn't bad, you wouldn't be talking about it. And if it's bad, it gets better press, and let's face it, the world is critiquing everything instantly.”

Bush said he has nothing against Ralph Lauren, “but those opening ceremony outfits had so much going on that the athlete gets lost.” He paused to laugh. “All you really see is the costume and these athletes have spent their lifetimes getting to the Olympics. They're the ones who should get noticed and the costume should be secondary.”

Still, Bush said a costume — good, bad or ugly — has to get people talking. But a costume, he added, also should be entertaining, which is why the Norwegian curlers' suits get his thumbs up.

“They make you go 'Wow! What the hell is that? And then you go, 'That's actually pretty cool.'” But he would have tweaked the look by breaking up the suit with a solid-hued coat with a stripe down the sleeves.

And as bad or ridiculous or mesmerizing as Hohenlohe's look might seem to many, Bush is a fan: “Who cares about the guy in the white jumpsuit when you have a mariachi on the slopes? He's saying 'I own the slopes.' He looks confident, powerful. His is a very strong visual.”

And “the visual” is all important for a performer, be it a rock star or Olympian. And ice skaters know this better than anyone, he added.

“I'm sure we'll be picking those costumes apart, but if a costume is moving, that's an effective visual for the audience. Cue the music and now you've got an emotional connection with the costume in motion and the dancers reacting to each other,” he said.

“Michael Jackson always told me, 'Bush, I want my costumes to be equally entertaining on a hanger as they are on me. I will dance the beat, but the costumes have to show you the beat.'”

Warden Neil, who has designed for stars from Janet Jackson to Carrie Underwood and is the annual Golden Globes show designer and stylist, couldn't agree more. He also designed costumes for Michael Jackson and his brothers for their television specials.

“There has to be movement, definitely,” Neil said. “There also has to be something about a uniform that makes it look a little 'out there' and memorable, especially for a global event like the Olympics. Why? Because if you lose, at least you'll be remembered for your costume.”


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