SOCHI, Russia, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Once seen, never forgotten. The thousands of technicolour uniforms and ubiquitous flowery patchwork designs supplied by Russian fashion group Bosco will live long in the memories from the Winter Olympics.
Russia’s Olympic athletes have been wearing distinctive Bosco styles since 2002 and the company also provides clothing for teams from Spain, Serbia and Ukraine.
But these Winter Games are the biggest stage yet for Bosco Sport, part of a group that owns Moscow’s famous GUM department store on Red Square and had annual turnover of around 600 million euros ($825 million) last year.
The vivid patterns do not appeal to all tastes but Mikhail Kusnirovich, who founded the company in 1991 and is its main shareholder, is happy to stand out in the crowded sports and leisurewear market.
“Bosco has become one of the visual components of the Olympic Games,” the burly, bearded Russian said in an interview in a Bosco restaurant which occupies the classical old seaport building in downtown Sochi.
“Here a lot of people particularly love these colours. We have created some spirit, some atmosphere. We are different because we are very colourful.”
The Bosco quiltwork designs adorn everything from athletes’ bibs to the buses used to ferry officials and spectators around the venues in the Black Sea resort and mountains above.
Kusnirovich himself had a hand in the designs, which combine elements of traditional crafts from different regions across Russia, printed on a blue, rose, purple and orange background.
As he is speaking, Omega Watches president Stephen Urquhart comes over to offer his praise.
“Bosco colour is everywhere, fantastic. I like it very much. It’s really very nice, very special,” Urquhart said.
Russians have been snapping up the official merchandise. Long lines have built up outside the Bosco store in the Olympic Park and at the Sochi seaport.
Sales have soared in February to be 10-times higher than in any previous month, said Kusnirovich. During the London Olympics, the company sold three times more than usual.
The clothing does not come cheap.
At the Bosco outlet in Rosa Khutor, gateway to the mountain sports venues, a blue ski jacket - with a double-headed Russian eagle on one arm and ‘Russian Olympic team’ on the other - will set you back 10,900 roubles ($310).
Matching ski pants cost an extra 6,100. A pair of red and white trainers goes for 4,500 and a sports bag for 5,500.
Sales assistant Katya said the best-selling items, at just 500 roubles, are pairs of ‘Sochi 2014’ woollen gloves, with green, yellow, red and blue fingers.
“Everyone wants it, even if it’s just for the memory,” said Viktor Kartashov from Kamchatka in the far east of Russia, sporting a blue sleeveless jacket with the letters RU and a matching baseball cap even though he said the cost was ‘on the expensive side’.
Kusnirovich built up his business importing designer brands form Italy and is fluent in Italian. The company’s full name is the Italian term Bosco di Ciliegi which roughly translates as “Cherry Orchard”, inspired by the Chekhov play.
With the brand enjoying unprecedented exposure, the challenge is to build on the Sochi experience. Kusnirovich says other countries have been in touch about dressing their teams.
“From Cuba to Hungary, Finland. So many people want it. A lot of requests,” he said.
The company has a store in London in the retail centre close to the 2012 Olympic Park. It plans to open 8-10 shops worldwide over the next two years in cities like Paris and Shanghai ahead of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
With an eye on the international market, Bosco has also developed a “more refined” collection, named Bosco Fresh.
“Bosco is this too,” says Kusnirovich, standing up to take off his floral blue jacket and reveal a sober long-sleeved white polo shirt with small badges.
“The cherry logo and a bit of individual styling, this will be international. We divide our work up into two parts, Bosco Fresh and Bosco sportswear,” he added.
As the Olympic circus prepares to leave town, Kusnirovich is pleased with progress.
”People are not asking for discounts or about prices but are asking “is there any left, can we buy some?”
“Now we have to keep up with demand. But the spring collection has already arrived so we should be able to satisfy it.”
$1 = 0.7275 euros $1 = 35.7055 Russian roubles Additonal reporting by Mark Trevelyan in Rosa Khutor, editing by Ed Osmond