July 20, 2012 7:16 pm

Winning looks

With major designers involved, competition for the best Olympic uniform is hotting up
Olympic kit by Stella McCartney

 Great Britain: Stella McCartney and Adidas

Imagine the pressure of designing the host nation’s Olympic kit, and the shame if they stepped out looking like a bunch of gym teachers – or indeed London mayor Boris Johnson in his dishevelled running gear. Fortunately, Stella McCartney, who was appointed by Adidas, with which she designs a range, is used to constant scrutiny. There were mutterings that she had desecrated the Union flag by rendering it in solely blue versions but her abstraction of the design gives a fresh feel. Yes, the kit is slightly reminiscent of toothpaste packaging, but that’s a side effect of the flag’s colour scheme. She said at the launch she “didn’t want to do it in a really traditional sense”, choosing to “break up the flag and isolate its graphics, and its colourways”. This is the first time a fashion designer has been involved in the whole look of the team, and with 590 individual pieces for on and off the field (Next is behind the opening ceremony attire), McCartney’s bid for marketing gold on 2012’s biggest catwalk will have put her through her paces.

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Jeff Banks’s outfits for Belize’s Olympics team

Belize: Jeff Banks

There’s a hint of the cricket/tennis umpire to designer Jeff Banks’s outfits for Belize’s six competitors to wear to the opening ceremony, although it was The Great Gatsby that inspired the Caribbean-blue blazers with white trim. Full marks for cultural context, because fashion is in thrall to Gatsby ahead of Baz Luhrmann’s film later this year. Extra points too for Banks’s dose of Olympic spirit – he financed the kit as a gift to the Belize team, using fair-trade products and materials from the UK. The national badge on the blazers was made using goldplated wire by Toye, Kenning and Spencer in Birmingham, and the panama hats were hand-blocked by Yvette Jelfs in Scotland.

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United States: Ralph Lauren

Opening ceremony outfits by Ralph Lauren

Although Belize’s opening ceremony outfits were inspired by The Great Gatsby, no one does that look better than Ralph Lauren, who created the costumes for the 1974 film. Lauren’s ceremonial designs feature Gatsby-esque double-breasted navy blazers with white trousers. The look harks back to a more gentlemanly era of sportsmanship, although the berets add a military touch. The most considerate touch by the Ralph Lauren designers, however, is the size of their logo. No one should have any concerns that they won’t be able see it, because the “Big Pony” insignia is huge. Just don’t mention the words “made in China” around any Ralph Lauren executives. Ever since the fact that the designs were made there became a hot topic in Congress, it has probably been a touchy subject.

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Uniforms by Ermanno Scervino

Azerbaijan: Ermanno Scervino

Azerbaijan has hired Italian designer Ermanno Scervino to create its uniforms, which seems like a missed opportunity to promote its own creative talent, although the country’s first lady approved everything. The air hostess-meets-cricket umpire look pops up again here for the opening ceremony, and raises a concern for female athletes. How are they going to ascend any podiums/ stairs/ put one leg in front of the other in those ultra tight pencil skirts? Maybe hobbling is now an Olympic sport?

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Jamaica: Cedella Marley and Puma

Puma's Iron Lion jacket

The Jamaican team have two headstarts for the Olympics: Usain Bolt, and a seriously cool kit that will make the rest of the competitors look like they need to loosen up. Puma has teamed up with fashion designer Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob, to create clothes for on and off the sports field, as well as the opening ceremony. Marley, whose fashion brand, Catch a Fire, is named after one of her father’s albums, says her inspiration came from some groovy sources – “Jamaican music in the 1970s and 1980s; Eek-A-Mouse, Bob Marley, Grace Jones” – and describes the result as “very contemporary but with a vintage sport, varsity feel”. Highlights include the off-track Iron Lion jacket, with its military styling in khaki canvas, and the hip Bolt Evo Speed XT Marley Trainers.

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Italy: Giorgio Armani

The master of muted tones, known for his liberal use of black and beige, Giorgio Armani was never going to turn his country’s flag into a riot of busy, garish graphics. Instead, the 50-piece collection, to be worn whenever team members are not competing, comes in white and midnight blue, with touches of red and green and decoration kept to a minimum. The words to the Italian national anthem appear in gold writing inside the jackets (above right) and on the left-hand side of the sweatshirts, “where the heart is”. Touching patriotism – or is Armani worried that the athletes might forget the words?

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South Africa: Leigh Schubert

Leigh Schubert’s uniforms for the South African team

Now here’s a surprise. The South African team will be turning up to London 2012 in jeans. Durban-based Leigh Schubert’s uniforms feature flag-print tops with “classic dark denim bottoms with subtle colour blocking detail with traditional sneakers for a dash of Afro Funk”. Anyone who has ever tried to run for a bus in too-tight skinny jeans might wonder how athletic a fabric clingy denim is but, thankfully, they are intended only for off-duty wear. Of her designs,which feature streamlined funnel neck tops for women, and asymmetric zipped tops for men, printed with a curved form of the flag, Schubert says: “After researching Olympic opening ceremony kits from around the world, the styles that historically were the most effective were casual and comfortable, but were sharp and simple. I took this as my inspiration for a design that very obviously shouts the South African flag, but not in a literal way.”

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Spain: Bosco

Spanish Olympic kit©WENN

Doing their bit to help prevent the country plummeting into the financial abyss, the Spanish Olympic committee commissioned the Russian sportswear brand Bosco – one of their sponsors – to create the kit. According to Spanish Olympic committee president Alejandro Blanco, eschewing a big-name designer has saved the state a fortune but the reaction among the fashion community in Spain has been less than patriotic. It’s not hard to see why. Perhaps they are aiming to make rival competitors laugh so hard they can’t focus? The red and gold kits, with full skirts have a folkish look about them, and red tracksuit tops with gold swirls, resemble something a 1970s Mexican wrestler might wear. The Spanish team’s mantra? “Austerity chic, austerity chic.”

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