Ralph Lauren might still be just designing neckties if he hadn’t spent the past 54 years pushing the envelope.
“My dad started with a tie, then did men’s wear, women’s wear, shoes, home,” said David Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s son and chief branding and innovation officer for Ralph Lauren Corp. “It’s born in the DNA of the company.”
So with that as the backdrop, the corporation is once again offering up a pioneering innovation, and it’s chosen the Olympics as the setting at which to unveil it.
On Thursday, Ralph Lauren will take the wraps off the Opening Ceremony Parade Uniform that Team USA will wear at next month’s Winter Olympics. The design of the anorak, midlayer jacket, pants, gloves and boots clearly has its roots in American sportswear — and is offered in red, white and blue color palette — but it’s what’s inside that really sets it apart.
The pieces were created with Intelligent Insulation, a temperature-responsive fabric comprised of two materials that expand or contract at different rates in response to temperature changes. As the mercury drops, the lengths of the two materials change, causing the textile to constrict and bend, increasing the amount of insulation.
This “personal thermal management” system will essentially swell to become a puffer outside in the cold but flatten in warmer temperatures when the insulation is no longer needed, Lauren explained. “It thinks for itself, it’s so intelligent,” he said. And there is no need for batteries or wires such as those found in other warming pieces.
The technology was developed by Skyscrape after years of research and development, and necessitated the creation of bespoke machines and a proprietary production process that was initially supported by ARPA-E in the United States Department of Energy.
“The development and introduction of Intelligent Insulation reimagines what is possible in the apparel landscape,” Lauren said. “For the first time, you can have a singular item that provides incredible versatility and style, for a variety of temperatures, changing the way we can holistically think about the makeup of a consumer’s closet.”
The uniform also ticks the sustainability box, eliminating the need for multiple garments, and helping the wearer be comfortable even when it’s cold indoors. “You don’t have to heat an entire stadium or house,” Lauren said, “just your own personal space.”
The uniform was made in the USA from recycled polyester fiber created from post-consumer plastic bottles. This is a similar fabric to that used for the company’s Earth Polo, a product introduced in 2019 with thread created from recycled plastic bottles and dyed in a process that uses no water.
Last week at the Australian Open, the brand introduced the RLX Clarus Polo, a shirt that offers high-performance attributes including quick-dry properties and moisture management, while retaining the comfort and breathability of cotton. It was developed by Natural Fiber Welding, a company Ralph Lauren invested in last summer.
For the Parade Uniform, Lauren said the company felt recycled polyester was the right material to use. “We have multiple sustainability stories but this is groundbreaking.”
For the summer Olympics last year, the company created a cooling jacket for Team USA’s Opening Ceremony uniforms that employed a self-regulating temperature cooling device within the garment. And in 2019, it introduced the heatable moon jacket with a battery pack that can be controlled wirelessly through Bluetooth technology.
Lauren said the heated jacket continues to be a strong seller for the company and is part of the corporation’s move to build its outerwear business. Chief executive officer Patrice Louvet “has said it should be core to the Ralph Lauren business,” he said. The Opening Ceremony uniform is seen as the “halo” of the brand’s outerwear efforts and is expected to help continue to build the business.
The uniform will be available for sale beginning Thursday on the Ralph Lauren site and in select Ralph Lauren retail stores. Retail prices will range from $20 for Team USA socks and $145 for Opening Ceremony gloves or a beanie, to $245 for the midlayer jacket, $295 for the pants and $1,998 for the anorak.
“There’s so much new-generation technology coming out and everything we do has to be forward-thinking,” Lauren said. “It’s rooted in our DNA, but we need to keep evolving. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tie or a shoe, we don’t want people to be bored, so we reinvent every season so it feels new and exciting.”
One athlete who was among the first to get a sneak peek at the parade uniform is Alysa Liu, the 16-year-old figure skater who was just named to the 2022 U.S. team. Liu, the youngest women’s national champion and who won her first title at 13, made headlines earlier this month when she had to withdraw midway through the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville after testing positive for COVID-19. She was in third place after the short program when the results came back, forcing her to quarantine.
In an interview from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where she’s putting the finishing touches on her routines before heading to Beijing for the games, Liu said she wasn’t certain she was going to make the team after the positive result.
“You had to take a test four days after you landed,” she said. “I took it in the morning long before the free skate. I forgot if it had to be two lines or one line to be positive, so when I saw the two lines, I was panicking. I looked it up online but still couldn’t find out until the tester came back into the room and said I was positive. I was like, ‘No!’ I was so careful and I was confused and really worried because a lot of people said if I got COVID-19, it would mean I was automatically out. But then I got the good news, so I was really happy about that.”
Liu, who will join Mariah Bell and Karen Chen in the women’s singles competition, is hopeful about the team’s chances to bring home medals. “I think we’re all going to skate really well and hopefully we’ll make ourselves proud and happy.”
One thing she knows is that she’ll be well-dressed. A new addition to the Ralph Lauren family, Liu said she has been a fan of the brand for a while. “I like the brand,” she said. “I like red a lot and I’m glad the American flag has red in it because now I get to wear some red. And I really like their jackets.” She said she also expects to get more use out of the parade uniform than just at the Opening Ceremonies. “It’s pretty warm. Because we’re skaters and we’re in the rink all the time, I’ll be wearing it there so I’ll be warm.”