Mar 302012

Renowned British designer Stella McCartney recently revealed her Adidas designs for the Great Britain team’s uniforms. The prominent graphic on the bodice is McCartney’s unique take on the iconic Union Jack: “I thought it would be great if the design could make everyone feel like one team. I started with the Union flag, which I love—but it’s been so overused…So I isolated parts of the design and used it as a graphic.” McCartney also opted to use the color red, which is featured so dominantly on the flag, only sparingly.

Figure 1. [missing]; Image Courtesy of Vogue and Stella McCartney

As an eco-conscious designer, McCartney was also pleased to announce that much of the sportswear was made from recycled materials: “Half a million plastic bottles have gone into all this!”

However, the uniforms were met with quite a number of dissenters. Critics of McCartney’s uniforms were enraged that the national flag had been manipulated and transformed into something almost unrecognizable. The red, white, and blue colored flag has been translated into a uniform that is mostly shades of blue with white and red as accents. Since the graphic wraps around the body, only half of the graphic is seen from the front.

While these uniforms are actually quite attractive and beautifully designed garments, I can certainly see why there is so much dissent. These uniforms are a case in which fashion seems to have won out over tradition. The Union Jack has been interpreted into a graphic that has obvious ties to its reference, yet the graphic does not intend to be a complete replica.

At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Ralph Lauren designed uniforms for the American team that incorporated elements of the nation’s flag into the navy blue, red, and white color palette. While some pieces did have stars and stripes, not every garment was a literal representation of the United States flag. The aesthetic of the clothes themselves, particularly the Opening Ceremony suits, were representative of American fashion and clothing.

Figure 2. [missing]; Image Courtesy USA Track & Field

The Olympics is an opportunity for a country to stand united and compete with the best athletes around the world. The uniforms must be able to handle the agility required of the athletes in their events, create a coherent looks that matches the other athletes from their country, and be both visually appealing and fashionable. In an event as traditional as the Olympic Games, should designers be reprimanded for wanting to produce uniforms of an original design?

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