How to Tell the American Olympians Without a Program: Watch for the Levi's Look
When American athletes parade in Moscow next summer, the crowd won't need the Stars and Stripes to know them. With Levi Strauss as the official Olympic outfitters, the dismal double-knit look of the past is out in favor of a style right off the American prairie: white 10-gallon hats, red Western shirts, denim jeans or skirts and suede cowboy boots.
The switch is good news for the athletes. At Montreal in 1976 the American women took such an aversion to Halston/Montgomery Ward's dark-colored polyester parade dress they got permission to add their white windbreakers.
That is not likely to happen in Lenin Stadium next year. Levi Strauss, the largest manufacturer of jeans in the U.S., asked questions first and designed later. Each of the 700 athletes on the summer team will be issued 30 items, including two warm-up suits, travel clothes, team T-shirts, a suitcase and a commemorative belt buckle. At Lake Placid in February Levi Strauss will dress the 200 athletes and coaches on the U.S. Winter Olympic team in bib overalls, Western hats and sheepskin jackets.
With a 7'3" basketball player, 300-pound weight lifters and cyclists with thighs like water mains, the fitting problems will be enormous. Since many athletes won't be selected until just before the Games, Levi Strauss plans to airlift seamstresses to special factories in West Germany.
The firm will also dress 23,000 Soviet Olympic employees in official jeans (a pair of genuine Levi's is worth as much as $150 in the Soviet Union). The cost of all the clothes to Levi Strauss will be $1.8 million. To make sure its label is noticed, the company plans to spend $8 million on TV advertising next summer. The total package tops $12 million. To close the deal with the International Olympic Committee, Levi Strauss also contributed $300,000 to the games.
Dating back to 1850, Levi Strauss is still run as a family business, although it is a $2 billion enterprise. Robert Haas, 37, oversees the Olympics program. His father, Walter Jr., 63, is chairman of the board. Uncle Peter, 60, is president, and Grandpa Walter, 90 (whose father married into founder Levi Strauss' family in 1919), still reports to the office four days a week.
The Haases can afford to go to Moscow next summer, but they're not sure they want to. When their Olympic outfits hit Moscow, Walter Jr. is likely to be casting trout flies on Oregon's Rogue River while Peter rides horseback in the Sierras, 7,000 miles west of the Kremlin.
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