PARK CITY, Utah — The gray-haired guy hanging out by the banister outside Robert Redford’s restaurant watching the herd of Olympic fans grazing on Main Street is just doing his job.
At 60, Willy Bogner knows how to work the Winter Games. A skier in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and the son of an Olympian, Bogner has moved on to turn the ski company his father founded into a major international firm, make 40 films and outfit the German Olympic team. It’s safe to say much has changed since the company started suiting up German teams in the controversial 1936 Olympics, but one of today’s standouts is the crossover between skiwear and snowboard looks.
Even though Bogner was out there rooting during the Americans’ sweep of the halfpipe snowboard event, he’s not banking on them or any other medalists to use their Olympic clout to build a brand. Who remembers clothes from Jean Claude Killey or Rosey Mittemeeyer? Most women are “very fussy” about who dresses them and aren’t about to hand that job over to an athlete, Bogner said.
“The credibility of an athlete is their sport, not design or taste. Most people buy these clothes for practical purposes. They don’t necessarily make people look good,” Bogner said.
More than anything, the Olympics provide a forum for brands to break out of their specialty and show off labels to new customers, especially young ones. This time around, 89 countries are represented and the Games remain the largest media event in the world.
For the Germans’ opening ceremony outfits, Bogner went with orange, white and terra cotta-colored fur-trimmed hooded jackets embroidered on the back with the Olympic rings and a Native American-inspired design inspired by Utah’s heritage.
The Russian team’s sable-trimmed outfits won style points from Bogner, but the U.S. team’s Roots outfits were “too military,” he said. Bermuda’s decision to go with Bermuda shorts earned kudos for being a fashion statement.
Bogner revealed an Olympic fashion faux-pas on his part. As an 18-year-old at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., he gave in to his “weakness for cowboys” and practiced wearing a cowboy hat and six-gun holster, reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood and John Wayne films he’d seen growing up. That was the same year he met Jane Mansfield during her visit to the Olympic Village.
“She was this great sex symbol,” he recalled. “The whole Hollywood thing was new to us. When I met her, it was a downer. She was a pretty regular person.”
The Olympics were also more contained back in those days, with the Olympic Village within walking distance of the various venues and relatively free from the media’s microphone, corporate sponsors or autograph seekers. The set-up allowed someone like Bogner, a top-10 finisher at both Games, to roam as he pleased, which is quite different from today’s security-enhanced experience.