The world’s biggest fashion show: Beijing’s opening ceremony

Times Fashion Critic

Australian aboriginal leaf motifs, French berets, Gatsby-esque American blue blazers -- it was the biggest runway show on Earth on Friday in Beijing, when the opening ceremony of the Summer Games became a catwalk for native finery.

Unlike the runway shows in Paris and Milan, these models came in all shapes and sizes -- pumped-up wrestlers, pint-sized gymnasts and lanky basketball players. They were really something to aspire to.

Forget the Oscars and the Emmys, I get giddy waiting to see what the national teams are wearing. Even " Project Runway” got in the Olympic spirit, challenging contestants on last week’s show to design an opening ceremony outfit and recruiting skater Apolo Anton Ono as a guest judge.

Ralph Lauren was a good choice for the American team, though the Polo ponies embroidered on the lapels of the athletes’ blue blazers were almost as large as the Olympic rings (Lauren has never been known for his subtlety). White pants are among the most difficult things in all of fashiondom to pull off, and true to form, these didn’t flatter. A few pleats would have helped. The white newsboy caps were a nice touch, broadcasting a can-do spirit, especially on basketball player Kobe Bryant, who cocked his to the side.

The French never disappoint. The men’s dove gray jackets were the most sublimely tailored of any team’s. And it was clear the women were representing the capital of fashion with the spring season’s all-important wide belts cinched around their jackets.

But the British were the best dressed in an updated preppy look that combined a dark button-down shirt and pants with a white jacket, striped belt and Vans-style slip-on sneakers. The Netherlands team looked jaunty, too, in light-colored suits with white piping and cheerful orange neckties.

There were some native touches, such as the aboriginal leaf motifs on the Australians’ shirts and skirts, and the colorful embroidery on the Russians’ shirts. The African teams are always good for color and prints. And the Latin American countries know how to do headgear. Loved the flat-topped black hats worn by the Chilean team.

It was refreshing to see a few women showing their feminine side. In blue print sundresses, the Finnish women looked the best equipped to handle the sticky weather.

There were more hits than misses, but there were some big misses. In a corporate gray blazer with casual white pants, German basketball player Dirk Nowitzki looked as if he was wearing a maitre d’s loaner jacket. The Venezuelans must have felt out of place too in their color-blocked tracksuits, like the goofy dad who shows up underdressed to a parent-teacher conference. Didn’t they get the memo? Tracksuits are podium wear. And can we please put a moratorium on baggy white capri pants, the scourge of shopping malls all over America? They don’t do anyone any favors, least of all the Lithuanian national team.

Meanwhile, hunky Swiss tennis player Roger Federer was reduced to wearing a cream polo shirt with a graphic that resembled a lower back tattoo. And carrying China’s flag, Yao Ming, in a red jacket and wide-collared gold shirt, looked as if he should be behind an Avis car-rental counter.

As Heidi Klum would say, auf Wiedersehen to that.