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Designers Take Cues From Olympics Stars

U.S. designers on the Olympics.

Even the Water Cube is a source of inspiration for some.

Sports and style may seem like contrasting passions, but several designers are pooling a little inspiration from the Olympics in Beijing.

Not surprisingly, Michael Phelps and his fellow Speedo LZR Racer wearers in the Water Cube have wooed their share of fans, including Peter Som, Yeohlee Teng and Charles Nolan. United Bamboo’s Thuy Pham has been more intrigued by the modern design of the Water Cube by the Australian-based PTW Architects. Whatever the source of inspiration, several designers said their off-hours Olympics viewing may very well have an impact on their future collections.

And like many others, designers have been avid TV watchers. “Mesmerized” is how Josie Natori described her feelings as she watched the swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball, although she hasn’t been particularly inspired by those athletes in a design sense in the same way she was completely awestruck by the opening ceremonies. Natori, whose Natorious ready-to-wear collection makes its debut this fall, said the parade of 2,800 men in silver ceremonial robes, as well as the opening’s Han tribal segment were spectacular and inspiring since she melds East and West in all of her collections.

Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman has been pulling for British gymnast Beth Tweddle, who wore a customized Marchesa dress for a Visa ad earlier this year. “It was a wonderful project and I was extremely excited to take part. It was truly a pleasure to be working with someone like Beth. Such strength and talent should always be applauded and are so inspiring,” she said.

The Olympians have affected Nicole Miller in other ways. “They inspire me to go to the gym! I really like watching diving and gymnastics. [There is] no direct influence on my future collections, although I am a body-conscious designer and always like clothes that follow the curves of a woman’s body,” Miller said. “I am also good at camouflage, but none of those girls have any need for it.”

Rachel Roy has been drawn to the sprinters competing in Beijing’s National Stadium. “The strength and fluidity of runners is captivating to me. They embody who I try to design for, strong and sophisticated women who can still maintain a soft feminine quality,” she said.

For spring, Lela Rose is using a cotton mesh fabric mixed with taffeta, inspired by athleticwear. “I am currently obsessed with referencing sporty shapes and recasting them in luxurious fabrics,” she said. Her fall collection drew in part from the late American track star Florence Griffith-Joyner, or Flo Jo, which Rose described as “a little sporty, a little Jerry Hall. I was inspired by her tracksuits and designed some ‘uptown’ versions of them.”

Pham didn’t need the TV coverage to introduce him to the Water Cube’s unusual design. “I was actually inspired by the Water Cube aquatic center a few seasons ago, when I saw the renderings of it online. It was one of the coolest structures I’ve seen ever,” he said.

Teng shared Pham’s admiration for the architecture. Asked if she had been inspired by any of the Olympic athletes, she said, “Definitely the U.S. swim team with their sleek swimsuits, broad shoulders and long arms. What was truly mesmerizing was their form, the translucence of the water and the architecture of Beijing’s Water Cube — all of which will be a big inspiration for my spring 2009 collection.”

Others were glued to what happened in the pool. Nolan, who is creative director for the Kate Hill brand and designs his own signature collection, singled out Dara Torres, “the gorgeous blond 41-year-old swimmer.” When I saw a ‘Today’ piece on her a few months ago just after she qualified for the team, I thought how much fun it would be to have her in the show. She competed in three events and won silver in all three.”

Maria Cornejo said she has not consciously been inspired by the Olympics, but subliminally there are bold colors including a lacquer red, racerback dress very similar to that of a swimsuit.

Som, creative director at Bill Blass, was sorry to hear Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Games. “I always have loved a crisp clean tennis look — starting from Suzanne Lenglen’s Twenties chic up to Maria Sharapova. She’s the only person who can make a visor look totally chic. Unfortunately my tennis game is not up to par these days — I can only lob.”

But Phelps provided some solace. “Michael Phelps is superhuman. He must have the wingspan of a 747,” Som said.

Tadashi Shoji is another fan of the LZR, which is already featured in “Fashion V Sport,” an exhibition that opened earlier this month at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. “For spring ’09, I have applied the very same laser-cut technique to dresses and skirts that adds a sleek, streamlined element to my feminine designs,” Shoji said. “This technology is a new way to enhance a woman’s form in day to evening dressing — as well as for the pool.”