Team GB chase gold with clothing technology
Stella McCartney teamed with Adidas to produce Team GB’s sportswear
Members of Team GB display their new kits for the London 2012 Games
Stella McCartney’s design is aesthetically pleasing and designed to boost performance
Hints of red alongside the main blue and white represent the Union flag
Looking and feeling good is key to the athletes’ performance at the Games
Phillips Idowu and Jessica Ennis pose in their Team GB kits designed by Stella McCartney (centre)
There is more to sports clothing than a winning look as Tony James discovers with Team GB's Olympic sportswear.
It seems that what you wear influences how you behave and even your ability to perform, or as scientists name it, enclothed cognition. In fact a study this year led by Adam D Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University concluded that if you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply.
It is not enough to see a doctor's coat hanging in your doorway. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning ' that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention, but there is already a huge body of work on embodied cognition. This ranges from the experience of washing your hands, which is associated with moral purity and ethical judgments, to the fact that people who hold a drink in their hands rate others personally warmer.
On the face of it this would appear to have very little to do with the uniform that athletes wear when competing, but talk to any competitor and they will tell you that it is important to feel good in your kit as well as it being comfortable. To that aim when it came to creating their uniforms for the 2012 Olympics, the British Olympic Committee commissioned Adidas to supply the technology and renowned designed Stella McCartney to supply the style.
Over two years in the making, McCartney's design of the kit focuses on the Union flag, breaking down the iconic design and reconstructing it, creating a modern and contemporary twist. The result is a bold design that features on all items of the kit to ensure the British athletes stand out in front of the home crowd as a unified team.
The daughter of former Beatle Paul and the late Linda McCartney, Stella McCartney heads up her own fashion house, launched in 2001. She graduated from Central St Martins, London, in 1995, was creative director at Parisian label Chloe from 1997 and has worked with Adidas on sportswear since 2004.
"This is like nothing that I've worked on before," she says. "You are working with athletes. The first questions that I had were what can I do for you? If you are performing and you look better do you feel that it enhances your performance? You get so many different answers to different questions. It's really different and also the technology is really different."
Designing the sportswear was no easy matter. Each discipline has its own requirements, from gymnastics to cycling to track and field, and above that its own rules and regulations about what are permitted to be worn. "I think that the main thing that comes out of working on something like this is that athletes are human and want to look good, but they also want to feel part of a team - they wanted to feel as one and represent the nation."
Involving the British Olympic Association (BOA), British Paralympic Association (BPA) and the Athlete Commission in every step of the process, the result is a performance-led collection that reflects Team GB's patriotic pride and passion, ensuring that they fly the British flag in style.
"This partnership has brought together the best in performance technology through Adidas, the best in British design and creativity with Stella McCartney and the best in British sport with athletes," Andy Hunt, Team GB chef de mission and chief executive of the BOA, says. "Performance is our number one priority and the superb combination of Adidas and Stella is sure to impact positively on Team GB."
For McCartney's part, working with the Union flag was both an honour and a challenge. "The first place to start on a project like this is to look at the Union flag," she says. "For me it's one of the most beautiful flags in the world and it was important for me to stay true to that iconic design, but also to modernise it and present it in a contemporary way. Ultimately, we wanted the athletes to feel like a team and be proud with the identity we created.
"I wanted to start with the union flag, but I'm really aware the reds, whites and blues are in other nations' flags and sometimes you can feel quite confused when you are watching the Games... is that American, is that French? I wanted to make it slightly more delicate and have more texture. It's very recognisable still; I've represented all the parts of Great Britain. There's a lot of red in there, but in a non-traditional way."
When it comes to performance McCartney feels that she has achieved her aim of giving the athletes a boost. "You have to make the athletes feel like they are in the height of their performance," she says. "That they are wearing technical gear that is absolutely going to shave off the tiniest part of a second. Something that came across early on was that they want to feel and look like they are a team and there is such power in that.
"When I talked to the athletes I asked them: Do you feel different when you look good, do you think it enhances your performance?' and they all said 'yes'. You shouldn't have to sacrifice style for sport.
"I spoke to Sir Chris Hoy and said, 'what can I do to help in any way?' And he said, 'I just want to look cool'."
The first chance that many of Team GB had to assess the design and uniforms was at the glitzy launch held at the Tower of London in May. There were over 30 athletes in attendance including gold medal hopefuls Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu and Ellie Simmonds.
"With a global audience watching London 2012 every little detail matters," British triple jumper Idowu says. "I love what Stella has done with the design. Looking good is psychologically important, but my sprint suit is also technically advanced, so not only do I look good but I also have confidence in the technology in the kit."
It appears that you cannot please everyone with such a project and the main criticism levelled at the kit is the sparse use of red – the prime colour of the English flag of St George. One athlete quick to leap to McCartney's defence is heptahalete Ennis, who was consulted by McCartney. Ennis says she was excited to try on the kit in which she hopes she will win Olympic gold and she defended the sparing use of red.
"I think it's nice, it's got subtle bits [of red] the colour stands out more when you have little bits of red," she says. "Having the launch of the kit with Stella involved has been a totally unique experience; it really feels like the Games are upon us.
"Stella was really keen to know how you like your kit to fit. Because there are so many sports, she wanted to know how you feel it helps you perform. So I spoke to her about length of leggings and the cut of shorts and things.
"I remember my first Team GB kit was really multi-coloured down the side, but over the years it has just got better and better. It is really exciting to wear it, it's all clean cut, and it's just gorgeous. It's much better than the previous ones."
Ennis says she would not be taking any of the kit home with her for fear of inviting bad luck. "It's not a great position to be in, taking it away with you now. I think you should wait until you are safely selected for the team before you collect your kit," she says.
On the technology front the three key areas of the Adidas technology are faster, stronger and cooler. Following its roots, which can be traced right back to its founder – Adi Dassler, they have developed the maxim 'lighter equals faster'. Some examples can be seen in the company's lightest ever range of both footwear and swimwear.
The performance footwear is 25 per cent lighter to help athletes to gain fractions of seconds towards winning that coveted medal. The company is providing a total of 38 different shoes to athletes in London – 31 of which are lighter than the corresponding shoe they would have worn in Beijing. Having worked closely with athletes they came up with new lightweight adizero concept. And when it comes to swimwear, the adizeroGLD20 is the lightest swimsuit Adidas has ever produced and tests show it gives a 2 per cent speed improvement.
If London experiences a hot summer then the athlete's ability to control their body temperature is paramount. The company's ClimaCool technology combines wicking fabrics and fibres, body contoured designs and specifically placed ventilation zones to cool the body where it produces the most heat, keeping athletes cool no matter which sport they practice.
The material features compression fabric and TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) material, and is designed to mirror the movement of the muscles to generate maximum explosive power, acceleration and endurance. Adidas call its technology TECHFITTM PowerWEB, and while not new to the performance sports arena it has been updated for London 2012 to be more natural and less restrictive, while still delivering all the technological benefits.
When the games begin at the end of July, Team GB athletes will be performing against nations across the globe with equally illustrious designers. The US kit is designed by Ralph Lauren, Georgio Armani did the honours for Italy and even smaller nations such as Azerbaijan have called in international designers with Ermanno Scervino cutting the cloth for them.
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