On the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Uniforms donator Doug wrote-
During the 1980s the Australian wool industry was at its most prosperous times with record numbers of sheep producing wool receiving ever increasing values due to the success of the Reserve Price Scheme, and the overall guidance of the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC).
As a humble technician, my role was a low profile newly created position of “Controller, Technical Marketing” where wool was to be marketed on its technical properties, as distinct from the “Product Marketing Group” which exploited trhe traditional high profile approach of marketing wool;s superior fashion attributes. The Woolmark was the tool central to this approach.
When the forthcoming Los Angeles Olympic Games was announced, the Product Marketing Group seized upon the chance to show the world that we could make top fashion garments and display them on our elite athletes on the world stage.
A concept was launched using a contemporary top designer, Adel Weiss, with the most exclusive fabrics and knits available, and all with a lot of hype.
This launch failed dismally for the following reasons-
- The designer did a wonderful job presenting an excellent fashion range on perfect skinny models. The AOC however wanted a uniform which had an obvious Australian appearance when fitted to elite, and frequently muscular, athletes.
- The fabrics chosen did not reflect the performance required by travelling athletes, there was no recognition of the need for ‘easy care.’
- There was no recognition given to the problem of measuring, manufacturing and distribution of a range of articles when the selected athlete could be domiciled anywhere in Australia.
- There was no appreciation of such historical facts as Fletcher Jones, who had been unofficial suppliers dating back to the 1954 Olympics in Melbourne, and the Fletcher Jones board member, who was also an AWC board member, and was not in favour of the change.
The project passed from Product Marketing to Public Relations, a big spending off-shoot of the AWC Chairman David Asimus, and due to the day to day operations of the project was passed to me and PR took care of the financial matters.
The first task was to meet with the AOC and find out exactly their requirements. This lead to the production of a design and manufacturing brief, cointaining exact time lines for each event required to ensure an appropriate uniform on every athlete chosen to represent his/her country on the date given for the Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles.
Working backwards the timeline becomes-
1. Noted the exact date of the Opening Ceremony.
2. Estimated the date for distributing completed garments to each athlete.
3. Estimated the time span available for measuring each athlete and commence making each component of the ensemble to the individual measurements of each athlete.
4. Decided the date for making the final choice of uniform design concept.
5. Decided the date for distribution of the design brief to selected designers.
These five steps were spread out over a two year period. The Commonwealth Games occur midway between each Olympic Games, work on the Olympic uniform commences the week after the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony and MUST be ready by the prescribed day two years hence.
The project also had to remain cognisant of trade politics existing within the span of the task, as well as the temperament of designers in general. It is no overstatement to say that in the past every designer in Australia believed they could, and should, be chosen to design the Australian Uniform. The final choice of designer almost always faced criticism from the fashion press and any designer who had been overlooked. However, with the contenders receiving an exacting brief the numbers of serious contenders greatly reduced.
The Los Angeles Olympic Uniforms. A further reason for the AWC bid failure to design the LA uniform was that the AOC had already chosen Prue Acton to design it. This was based on her proven performance during previous games as she had a talent for creating good taste Australiana. Her design concepts also considered the effect when they were viewed on a single athlete as well as the impact when viewed on a 400 strong team coming on to the arena.
A blazer trouser/skirt uniform in bright gold was chosen for the formal uniform. It was my task to select a pure wool faille fabric from Foster Valley weaving mill and have sufficient woven and ready within the prescribed timeline.
The trouser/skirt fabric selected was a 60/40 wool polyester plain weave fabric from Macquarie Worsted. This fabric had a small effect thread of linen that was most attractive when dyed to match some eucalyptus bark Prue had brought back from central Australia.
For the Opening Ceremony uniform, Prue designed a series of native fauna, a kookaburra for the men’s shirt and a pleated skirt with a rural scene of kangaroos, hills and plants. This presented an insurmountable printing challenge to the local printing industry as it had an unacceptably large repeat size and the number required (50) was also commercially unacceptable. The solution was a DIY mock up at RMIT and the employment of four student designers. The fabric selected for this garment was a light weight 19 micron, pure wool with a very high twist yarn in alternating S and Z twist, warp and weft.
This fabric proved to be the solution to a very difficult problem, finding a wool product which is universally acceptable when worn next to the sin by young athletes competing in the heat of a Los Angeles summer. Modifications to this fabric were developed to exploit its success when facing the same problem in future games.
The most exacting garment in the ensemble is the tailored blazer, plus the related trouser/skirt. Unfortunately tailoring athletes that come in various shapes and sizes such as;
- Weight lifters develop an enormous chest, arms and neck size. A shirt made to a neck size of 52 would produce a shirt with cuffs extending well beyond the wearer’s hands.
- Basketball players are up to 7 feet tall and garments relying ona chest measurement grading would produce a shirt with cuffs extending only to elbow length.
- Swimmers develop enormous shoulders and slim hips, cyclists by contrast develop thighs I liken to tree trunks and a uniform featuring tight trousers must be avoided at all cost.
Suffice to say many ensembles require specialist ‘one off’ treatment for many athletes. Meanwhile there is a comfortable in between group who can accept regular sizes so you can cater for these by having back up stock with plenty of built in contingencies.
Athletes may be domiciled anywhere in Australia, this creates a fundamental problem of taking their measurements. The Fletcher Jones organisation was key to answering this problem due to their presence in every capital city, as well as many provincial towns around Australia. Each athlete on being selected for the Olympic Team was simultaneously requested to visit their nearest Fletcher Jones shop. The standardised measurement data collected was shared with the other manufacturers, e.g. Pelaco Shirts, Holeproof Socks and Knitwear, Maddison Belts, and even Hush Puppy Shoes.
As the time for the Games approached the AOC made arrangements for combining meeting of all. Selected available athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, where, among other things, they were fitted and supplied with their uniform. The method evolved as follows.
Men’s cream coloured button up, collared shirt. Images of a kookaburra have been printed onto the shirt, a single kookaburra on the left breast and a pair of kookaburras on the reverse of the shirt. The kookaburras are printed in a brown tone to complement the cream colour of the fabric.
Inscriptions & markings
On tag - FM