This article titled “Stella McCartney’s London 2012 kit aims for aesthetics gold” was written by Hadley Freeman, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd March 2012 17.53 UTC
Amid the fanfare, patriotism and general media scrum that greeted the unveiling on Thursdaymorning of the Olympic and Paralympic uniforms for Team GB designed by Stella McCartney – the first time an entire Olympics kit has been designed by someone from the precious world of couture as opposed to the sweaty world of athletics – it feels churlish to sound a sceptical note. But seeing as McCartney herself told the Guardian the uniforms were intended to capture “what makes Britain British”, and scepticism and churlishness are absolutely part of the British spirit, maybe not.
Given the amount of PR and money lavished on the launch, visible in every nook and cranny of the thing, from the heavy gold invitations to the whizz-bang light show that prefaced the fashion show, which featured an impressive number of high profile British athletes, did no one at any point turn around and say: “Does anyone else think that having this event at the Tower of London seems, I don’t know, somewhat ominous? Seeing as most people think of the tower as the place where high profile Britons are imprisoned before being hauled off to be slaughtered?”
But then blinkered patriotism and an overfondness for national symbols have a tendency to override simple sense when it comes national sports, particularly during the Olympics, especially regarding their kit.
This explains the aesthetic atrocities British athletes have been forced to don in Olympics of yore, from the sad red jackets that looked suspiciously to be made from suede in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics to the tracksuits splashed with wiggly-piggly Union Jacks in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
No such strife this year, Adidas clearly thinks, judging from the overblown hype with which it showed the uniforms designed by McCartney, who already has a relationship with the branding-happy sportswear company, having been designing her Adidas by Stella McCartney range for eight years.
Yet in order to check out the clothes, one first had to endure the event. A few yards back from the Middle Drawbridge, past the hordes of French schoolchildren who make up the usual inhabitants of the tower these days, stood a giant tent.
After being walloped in the face with the gratingly ungrammatical slogan on the outside, “Great Britain take [sic] the stage”, one then went inside to watch the video: “Adidas, Great Britain, the Olympics” it proclaimed, in that order of importance, one suspects.
“The athletes say, If I feel I look good, it will enhance my performance,” claimed McCartney in the video while going through rails of sportswear with – but who else? – Jessica Ennis, the acceptably feminine face of the British sports world. That done, and with surprisingly minimal sports fashion nonsense chat – not once did anyone say the phrase “the material draws the sweat away from the body”, which is an absolute first for a sportswear launch – the show began, a fashionable 15 minutes late.
The lights went down, Florence and the Machine bellowed on the soundtrack and triple jumper Phillips Idowu and the ubiquitous Ennis rose out of a plinth at the back of the stage.
The only thing that could have branded the event more GR8 BRITON would have been if Sam Cam herself had appeared, wearing a dress designed by someone especially edgy from London fashion week, reading the new John Lanchester novel.
Christine Ohuruogu, Eleanor Simmonds, Jonnie Peacock, Becky Downie: they were all there, Olympians and Paralympians, recognisable and less so, with the notable exception of Andy Murray, who was probably too busy smashing a tennis racket on the ground somewhere to bother coming to the tower. The rest, though, marched about the stage most obligingly in highly choreographed formations and occasionally rose up out of the plinth at the back of the stage on various pieces of gymnastics equipment.
If you ever wanted to know how a fashion show would look if it were combined with JD Sports and raging patriotism, now you know.
As for the kit itself, well. McCartney has been working on this commission for two years, with the brief to design for 600 athletes in 26 disciplines and, to be fair to her, it was never going to please most people, let alone all people. The balance between fashion and athletics wear is not an easy one, as anyone who ever saw John Galliano on his daily jog in Paris in full pirate regalia can attest to.
“I wanted the kit to be British, but understated, not ridiculous,” McCartney said after the show. And understated it was, with red kept to a minimum other than as piping detail and the union flag’s top left hand corner only allowed to appear in the main, rinsed in blue.
Some pieces were lovely – such as the loose and low-key basketball kit and, at the other end of the spectrum, the sequin-splattered gymnastics leotard – some less so, such as the union flag-heavy Lycra shorts and the running pants for women with the flag in a gynaecological spot, surely an offence that could result in one being sent to the tower.
Ultimately, it is better than uniforms of the past, but that’s a fairly low bar. All, of course, will be on sale to Olympics fans from early April, with prices ranging from £212 (trainers) to £5 (wristbands.) If you’re thinking £212 sounds like a lot for a pair of running shoes, remind yourself that it’s a patriotic reference to 2012, of some typically garbled sort. Makes the cheesy and grasping capitalism seem more palatable. Right?
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