AN OLYMPIAN TASK Henry Grethel designs togs for the U.S. team


It may be the only fashion show with an audience of 1.5 billion.

The opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France, are expected to draw that number of viewers, who will see athletes from many nations attired in clothing made especially for the event.

Henry Grethel was chosen to create the parade outfits for more than 500 athletes, coaches and officials.

"It's a staggering responsibility," he said.

Mr. Grethel is the first American designer to be selected by the United States Olympic Committee for the task. He is currently designing the parade outfits for the Summer Games, which will be held in Barcelona, Spain. The clothes will not be available to the public.

The hardest part was making everything in the right sizes. Men's jacket sizes run from a 36 short to a 52 extra long. In shirts, neck sizes vary from 14 inches to 22, and pant waist measurements veer from 26 inches to 52. Women's sizes also illustrate the variety in the human form with sizes running from 4 to 18.

"It was like one big custom-tailor job," Mr. Grethel said. "We've got guys with 36-inch thighs and women's shoes from size 5 to 17 1/2 ."

Some teams were selecting members as late as Jan. 28, so Mr. Grethel had to develop outfits for the team hopefuls based on a history of players' sizes.

Mr. Grethel had never created clothing for special sizes before the Olympic Committee selected him for the job 1 1/2 years ago. He was introduced to the committee by officials from JC Penney, which is the only retailer in America permitted to sell USA Olympic merchandise.

For the winter games, instead of creating the predictable warm-up suits in the national trio of red, white and blue, Mr. Grethel put a spin on the outfits that will make them more versatile for the wearers and, hopefully, memorable for the viewers.

Classic overcoats in berry for the women, cobalt for the men, will top blue gabardine pants and hand-knit sweaters in white and cobalt. Suede shoes with a subtle star pattern, a fedora and patterned wool stadium scarf will complete the outfit.

The classic simplicity of the outfits makes them look as if they were easy to design. They weren't, Mr. Grethel said while previewing the outfits at the Men's Fashion Association spring show in Los Angeles recently.

Mr. Grethel had to create an outfit that would communicate the spirit of America while considering weather conditions, the many body sizes and the total look of the team as it paraded past cameras.

"You're not dealing with fashion models, but with people whose lives are sports. They aren't going to wear anything ridiculous," he said.

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