The 2016 Summer Olympics officially begin Friday in Rio with a grand display of opulence as Brazil slowly buckles under the collective pressure to pull off an international spectacle. That’s right: I’m talking about the Opening Ceremony.
The athletes will arrive in Rio, armed with flags and campy patriotic outfits for the Parade of Nations. The Opening Ceremony is each competing country’s chance to show some national pride—even if it goes wrong. Will Canada wear Mounties hats? Will Spain wear mustard suits again?! We'll have to wait and see! One thing is for sure: Team USA—led by powerhouse gymnast Simone Biles and gold-plated swimmer Michael Phelps—will, once again, be clothed by Ralph Lauren. The outfits are predictable and look yanked from the closets of Kennedys (or Romneys!). What we need is a departure from the WASP-y wet dream for something more representative of the state of American fashion today. (Plus, do we really need to keep advertising for Ralph Lauren at the Olympics?) It’s time to present the beautifully diverse America we love to the world. Here are the 10 American designers who should be clothing Team USA.
Julian Woodhouse is an openly gay (and married!) black first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and menswear designer based in Seoul. (He’s still on active duty, y’all.) The self-described Army brat’s latest collection—shown in New York in July—takes cues from the Korean fashion world with interesting patterns, distinct trouser cuts and kimono closures. Woodhouse told The New York Times that he wants to expand what men are offered for fashion: “I don’t want to push men outside of their comfort zones, but I think they are looking for something a little more directed.”
Christian Siriano found his way into our hearts when he won the fourth season of Project Runway back in 2008. Since then, Siriano has designed for all body types, which would only help as Team USA’s muscles come in all shapes and sizes. Earlier this year, he debuted his collaboration with Lane Bryant–and snagged Orange Is The New Black actress Danielle Brooks to model (pictured above). Siriano was recently in the news when he jumped at the chance to design a gown for comedian Leslie Jones for the red carpet premiere of Ghostbusters after numerous designers declined to dress the six-foot star.
Kerby Jean-Raymond is a Haitian-American designer out of New York who came to prominence with his Spring/Summer 2016 collection for Pyer Moss, which protested the killings of unarmed black men and women by police. The show ended with a model carrying a sign reading, “MY DEMONS WON TODAY IM SORRY.” (The words were some of the last words from Ohio activist MarShawn McCarrel II, who took his own life in February.) The designer’s Fall 2016 collection spotlighted mental health and depression. As Jean-Raymond told Vice, “People assign this magic to fashion, but for me it's about what you can do with fashion.” How radical would it be to use the Olympic Games to highlight the things that ail America?
Carol Lim and Humberto Leon started their brand as a store in Manhattan in 2002 after a trip to Hong Kong. But that was a long time ago. Now, as the The New York Times reported in 2015: Lim and Leon are creating plays and magazines, distributing their clothes worldwide and designing wearables for Intel. The brand also recently created a capsule collection celebrating America’s gay bars like the Stonewall Inn. (The profits of the collection will benefit victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.) It’s not just the name of their brand that makes Lim and Leon perfect candidates for the Opening Ceremony. These two are hustling and showcasing the American ideal that believing in your vision can bring success.
Tina is the mother of the current Empress of the World, Beyoncé, but what more casual fans forget is that Tina had a pivotal role in the aesthetics of Destiny’s Child. When Beyoncé accepted the CFDA’s Fashion Icon Award in June, she told the audience how, back in the day, mainstream designers didn’t want to dress a group of black girls so her mother and Uncle Jonny made each Destiny’s Child garment by hand. “When I wore these clothes onstage, I felt I had an extra suit of armor. It was so much deeper than any brand name,” Beyoncé said. Tina has experience designing and dressing a group in different yet coordinating outfits, which is a skillset desperately needed for the Opening Ceremony.
The New York Times called Public School “an amalgam of disparate ideas.” Fusion writer Isha Aran told me that Public School was “Forever 21 fodder but like good.” The New York duo’s clothing designs are a cross between the high gloss of fashion magazines and the immediacy of street style, which we could use in Rio. Now, with successful women’s and menswear collections out there, Public School would clothe Team USA in comfort but also clothe them in cool.
BCALLA’s brand is loud, colorful and not at all subtle. Brad Callahan is a queer designer based in Brooklyn who started by designing costumes for the superheroes in his brother’s comic books and now clothes the likes of Lady Gaga and Azealia Banks (pictured above). His sexuality is infused in each design. “I think to be queer is to fight,” he told the Huffington Post in 2014. “The very first collection I designed was about fashionable street warriors and I think that vibe is really prevalent in my work—being authentic and brave in the face of a tidal wave of homogenization.” That’s the America I know.
To be perfectly honest, I would even settle for non-American designers clothing our athletes. Christian Louboutin is designing Cuba's opening ceremony outfits for crying out loud! You can dress a team with style regardless of heritage. And if you believe Team USA should be clothed by a Big Name™ designer, here are a handful just as worthy.
Alexander Wang is a Taiwanese-American designer who has clothed Rihanna, Amy Schumer, First Lady Michelle Obama and has been namechecked by Kanye West. If it’s good enough for FLOTUS, it’s good enough for the swim team!
Okay, hear me out. I think Betsey Johnson’s sparkles, pinks, sequins and rhinestones would be a welcome departure from the masculine boating wear we’ve put our athletes in for DECADES. Everyone could use a bit of fun.
Donna Karan of the Donna Karan collection and DKNY effortlessly straddles the divide between high and fast fashion. Her design sensibilities satisfy the need for a Big Name™ to produce the garments, but also understand the mass market that would buy after the games conclude.
Team USA will literally be wearing boat shoes in the Parade of Nations. It’s time we grow and properly display the full power of America’s fashion industry.
Caitlin is the associate features editor at Fusion. Prior to Fusion, she worked on features and national affairs at Talking Points Memo and completed an investigative fellowship at The Seattle Times. Will listen to any and all Grey's Anatomy theories.