All herald Team GB. With the 2016 Olympics three months away, designer Stella McCartney has fired the starting pistol, unveiling a new kit for Team GB and ParalympicsGB which features a new heraldic coat of arms as its logo.
“The coat of arms is all around us in Britain. It’s so much a part of us that we barely even notice it, but it is so distinctively British,” said McCartney shortly after presiding over the launch wearing six-inch high heels, shoulder-robing a red coat over a cream blouse and black silk jogging bottoms. She was flanked on stage in central London by Tom Daley, who sported the new coat of arms on his tiny navy trunks, and Jessica Ennis with the image emblazoned on a two piece.
The proud puffed chests of the lions on the coat of arms made for an unmistakably patriotic image, and a confident one which stands out among the futuristic graphics that abound on most sportswear. Meanwhile, the proportions of both Daley’s and Ennis’s kit appeared to have taken inspiration from the Brazilian taste for barely-there beachwear.
Catwalk images are all very well, but if the Rio 2016 kit is to make it into glorious finishing-line images and podium photo calls, these clothes will need to deliver at performance level. To this end, Adidas claim technical advances will give this year’s athletes an advantage on their 2012 predecessors. Fabric is on average 10% lighter than in 2012, helping athletes go faster and further. ‘Climachill’ technology has been employed to cope with the different challenges of the Brazilian climate, keeping cool air flowing in and heat and sweat flowing out. According to Adidas product manager John Stewart, six sports including marathon, tennis and basketball will benefit from boost technology in footwear, which is designed to direct energy back into the foot on impact.
It was feedback from the athletes, rather than a nod to Rio-style swimwear, which demanded the precise, close-cut shapes. “Tom Daley loves this kit, because it’s so streamlined,” said McCartney. Rugby player Emily Scarratt, modelling the new kit for the first time, also approved of the close fit. “The last thing you want in rugby is baggy fabric, which gives your opponent more to grab hold of.”
But the national team kit has a purpose above and beyond the practical. “I want to deliver for the athletes,” said McCartney, “but I’ve got to please the nation as well. This project has to make a lot more people happy than I’m used to. In my day job, the women who buy my clothes come to me because they already identify with me in some way. This project isn’t like that – it has to emotionally and visually tick a lot of boxes for a lot of people, while keeping functionality paramount. In a way, it’s the most intricate thing I do.” It is also, says McCartney, the most rewarding. “I have so many incredibly proud memories from 2012. I remember every single newspaper front page, and how incredible the athletes looked in the kit.”
How much do aesthetics matter to an Olympic team? “Well, they matter a huge amount to the athletes themselves,” says McCartney. “Athletes dedicate their entire lives to their bodies. Their bodies are literally their temples. So of course they are proud of them and want to celebrate them. And if it’s important to them, then it matters, right?” This means delivering a perfect silhouette – “for instance, the women’s podium jackets are belted this time around; and I’ll put extra ribbing for shape” and a high style level in the more casual ‘village-wear’. Women’s sweatshirts come cropped to the waist, in keeping with current athleisure trends. Grey marl jersey – a timeless classic of sportswear-meets- weekend-casual – features in racer-back cool-down vests and hoodies with red drawstrings. Backstage after the launch, an off-duty Jessica Ennis sported a white neoprene sweatshirt with a coat of arms broken up by bold GB capital letters.
The new coat of arms – visual branding in its most traditionally British form – was created by the College of Arms in partnership with a digital artist, and becomes the new ‘logo’ of the Olympic teams’ official kit. Any coat of arms represents proud heritage – in this case, historic victories in the great battles of London 2012. If the coat of arms seems to project a newly confident, boisterous patriotism around Team GB then this is in keeping with the very different pre-Olympic mood. It is easy to forget, with hindsight, that in the run-up to the 2012 games much of the mood music was about blown budgets, lack of preparation and whether the city’s transport system would crack under the pressure. This time around, the mood is more confident – and, without the strain of hosting, more laid-back.
The union jack is represented in an abstract starburst graphic in the background of many pieces, and badged more traditionally on the hip elsewhere. “I believe we have one of the greatest flags in the world, so I wanted to use the flag as much as possible. But I thought about the context of Rio, and I pumped up the purity of colour,” said McCartney. “Last time I used lots of different tones of blues and reds, but this time I wanted to really punch it out, use lots of contrast rather than shading, because you are trying to stand out against a very vibrant, colourful backdrop.”
Besides standing out from the crowd, Team GB needs to look cohesive together. “There are so many different personalities, all these completely different sports and schedules,” said Rugby player Tom Mitchell, who modelled kit at the launch, “and the kit is important because it unites us as a team. When you’re walking around the village, it creates that immediate link.”
The new heraldic badge for Team GB incorporates a crown of medals and relay batons, representing continuity and teamwork, while three lions hold Olympic torches and wear laurel wreaths. The four home nations are represented by a rose, a thistle, a leek and a flax, while the motto translates as ‘Joined in One’.
The Team GB kit in pictures
- This article was amended on 27 April 2016 to add in quotes from Stella McCartney