Ralph Lauren is bringing new meaning to the idea of warming up for the Winter Olympics: His Team USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes' uniforms, embedded with wearable heating technology, will actually warm them up.
Because who knows how cold it might get at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in Korea — maybe 10 degrees or even lower? No problem.
USA TODAY got an exclusive look at the patriotic togs that America's Olympians will be wearing when they parade into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9: Red-white-and-blue down parkas equipped with a button on a slender battery pack inside that the athletes can push to get an instant and long-lasting jolt of toasty warmth.
Call it the coolest heating system ever, says a proud David Lauren, son of Ralph and chief innovation officer for Ralph Lauren Corp., chief outfitter for the U.S. Olympic Committee since 2008.
"It's the most technologically advanced jacket ever produced," Lauren says. "There have been heatable blankets for kids before but they have wires. This is a fabric with ink that heats up — it's weightless, it's conductive and it's immediate."
The electronic-printed inks, printed in the shape of an American flag in carbon and silver and bonded to the interior of the jackets, are flexible and stretchable. The parkas are water-repellent. The athletes can set the temperature (there are three settings) via their cellphones. The heat can last up to five hours on the high setting and 11 hours on the low setting, fully charged.
And the heat button is big enough to be used with gloves, which is crucial because the Opening Ceremony uniform includes large brown suede explorer gloves with fringe and hand beading.
"We're using mobile technology so it's literally wired but with no wires," Lauren says. The heating system is embedded in "an American flag inside the jacket, only the athletes will see it, so the American flag will heat the jacket — it's a symbolic ode to our flag."
It's also a symbolic ode to Ralph Lauren's design philosophy, intense patriotism and love of the Olympics.
Besides the parka and the rhinestone-cowboy gloves (Ralph Lauren has long been influenced by western-wear looks), the Opening Ceremony uniform includes a slim jean with moto-inspired seaming, a patriotic intarsia-knit wool sweater, a navy wool ski hat, a USA-themed classic navy bandanna, a leather belt and brown suede mountaineering boots with red laces.
The hat, by the way, can be customized, a first, Lauren says. You can put the name of your favorite athlete or even your mother's name on it. The Polo Ralph Lauren Team USA collection is available in limited editions in select Ralph Lauren retail stores and at RalphLauren.com and TeamUSAShop.com, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for the U.S. Olympic team. A variety of similar items with heating technology will be offered in the fall, Lauren says.
All of the uniforms are made in the USA, Lauren said, eliminating the controversy that erupted in 2012 when it came out that the uniforms for the Summer Games in London were made in China.
As always, David Lauren says, the aim for Ralph Lauren's Olympic uniforms is to create a look that "reflects the DNA of America" as a country always moving forward, always innovating, with a strong sense of its heritage inspiring the future.
"So you see vintage-inspired southwestern gloves adding to an eclectic look of a jacket that is the cutting edge of modernity," Lauren says. "You're taking jeans, which are an American staple and a sign of American style around the world, and giving it a cutting edge of new fabrics and flexibility. You're taking a classic and making it modern and that is what Ralph Lauren is about."
Lauren said the heating technology was developed exclusively for Ralph Lauren and grew out of the success of the jacket that gold-medal-laden swimmer Michael Phelps wore when he carried the flag at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The USA on the back lit up, acting as "a beacon" for the team, Lauren says.
"It got an overwhelming response, we got calls from celebrities and people across the country asking how do I get a light-up jacket — it was a social-media phenomenon," Lauren says. This year, the aim was to combine symbolism with function.
"Our goal was to make Team USA feel comfortable and excited on the global stage, where they could feel confident and secure and ready to compete," Lauren says.