“Oh no, they’ve turned the Union flag blue!” went the Daily Mail headline, plunging us once again into Olympic design controversy. This time it wasn’t the use of garish colours or inaccessible design provoking a reaction but the simple omission of a bright red cross on the Team GB kit. Despite the inclusion of crimson trim and various other red accessories across the range, die-hard patriots found themselves outraged by the designs, and took to any comment section available to vent their spleen. “Whoever gave Stella this contract needs a good kicking!!” read one comment and “GAH!…IT BURNS MY EYES!” went another. Others deemed it to be “more Scottish than British.”
For all the furore, Adidas’ Stella McCartney-designed uniform is actually an unusually stylish affair, neither visually offensive nor particularly bland. The simple elegance of the reduced colour palette combined with carefully chosen flourishes of red made our athletes stand out for all the right reasons in their events allowing spectators to support a team that looked as good as it performed – and given the tall order of designing for such a range of body shapes and sporting disciplines that’s no mean feat.
The full range of outfits caters for 900 athletes competing across 46 sports and includes 590 items of clothing. Given the varying nature of each garment Stella unsurprisingly ran across a number of design challenges along the way, in particular “Tom Daley’s little thing,” she said of the diver’s particularly skimpy outfit “There wasn’t a lot of space to work on to apply the print!”
In contrast to the aggressive public response the support of the athletes was unanimous. Sir Chris Hoy consulted on the design of the garments personally and seemed thoroughly impressed with Stella’s creations. “It’s very important that you feel confident in your kit because you don’t want to be thinking about it when you’re competing. To know that you’ve got the fit correct, it’s aero-dynamic, it’s efficient when you’re on the bike, that’s a big part of your performance.” And given the number of gold medals Sir Chris has picked up in the last fortnight we’re inclined to think he knows what he’s talking about.
If the public outcry over the British uniforms seemed excessive, it paled in comparison to the hysteria surrounding those of the Spanish. Designed by Russian firm Bosco, the kit was provided free of charge to the Spanish Olympic Committee, presumably to increase the firm’s advertising time on the podium.
But from the minute they were unveiled it became abundantly clear that Spain’s athletes were unimpressed; “At home trying on the Olympic clothes. Best I don’t comment…” tweeted canoeist Saul Craviotto, publicly expressing his horror at the garish red and yellow get-up. In contrast to the high-end look of the British, US and Italian kits, the Spanish ones were something of a let down, the design comprising a garish layered motif that resembled both a paisley tie and a persian rug, but without the class of either. Also unfortunate was its close resemblance to the equally controversial Russian outfits, dubbed the “Olympic kit horror show.”
But it was the USA that had the greatest trouble surrounding its off-track uniform, and in a much more political context. The $2,000 Ralph Lauren outfits were arguably the best looking of the bunch, but their military precision and sleek silhouettes were overshadowed by the inclusion of a label in each garment that bore the words “Made in China”, and caused widespread public outcry. The controversial decision to manufacture the garments outside of the US, especially given the unstable nature of the US economy, caused rare bipartisan agreement between both Republican and Democrat leaders, variously declaring that “the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves,” and “That is not just outrageous, it’s just plain dumb. It is self-defeating.”
Thankfully there were four athletes able to sidestep any vitriol and abuse directed at their outfits, the independent Olympic athletes, who were generously clothed by Nike in neutral white attire, accompanied by some seriously cool multi-coloured trainers. Nobody had anything negative to say about this limited edition run of clothing, in fact its simplicity was praised on a variety of design blogs. Which was nice.
When it came down to the actual competing all of these design concerns were put to one side. Spain competed with vigour in spite of their ridiculous garb, Great Britain won more medals than ever before, and actually looked stylish for a change, and the USA has been too preoccupied with its sporting successes to worry about its economic and social shortcomings for the time being. Which just goes to show that it really doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you win lots of gold medals.