Unceremonious Design

Anti-clockwise from top left; Team USA, Team Spain, Team Russia, Team Germany, Team Belize, Team Italy, Team Jamaica, Team GB Center; Team China

With the summer Olympic games due to start next weekend, central London is in that strange limbo between shutdown and frantic preparation; traffic is rerouted, ticketless neighbours have escaped to the country or the continent and thousands of Londoners prepare for what might be their last week in the office before the ‘greatest show on Earth’ clogs the capital’s creaking transport network.

I’m undecided about the Olympics. Those lucky enough to procure tickets are, I am sure, very much looking forward but I just can’t get excited enough about it. It is certainly unavoidable. You cannot walk 50 yards without seeing the expensively assembled Olympic logo, plastered on a lamp post or a road sign like corporate graffiti. Whatever ‘fever’ there might be, it feels somehow manufactured, a masterpiece of branding that boasts an ability to conjure fascination where there is apathy.

The most interesting thing, as always, is the athletes. All the venues, the hype, the logos, designs, campaigns and nonsense will fade once the event has begun, that is once the opening ceremony – the greatest opportunity for national boasting to a worldwide audience – has concluded. I say boasting, as it is the prerogative of the host nation to flex creative muscles without embarrassment or shame. However, it is also the opportunity for designers to clad physically appealing specimens in their garb. This may not be a runway in Paris or Milan, but if you’ve got the ‘talent’, you should be able to make some square-jawed spear-thrower look good, surely?

You would think so. And you would be (largely) wrong. I have no idea why but mention the words ‘Olympic uniform’ to seasoned designers and they start scribbling the sort of garb that would embarrass a rookie flight attendant. “This is for the opening ceremony” they gush, stroking the designs and purring “and this…is for the, erm, the sports stuff?” Italy’s, designed by Giorgio Armani, is extraordinarily unremarkable and China’s looks like that of a budget airline but Spain’s uniform, in it’s bright red and yellow glory, is so wickedly hideous that it is almost charming.

There has been much hullabaloo about Team USA’s kit, for the simple reason that though it has been designed by an American, it has been made in China. Some of the ire is politically-minded and unquestionably over-the-top – America has been China’s biggest export market for some time. However, though controversial in delivery, Lauren’s formal designs are the best of a bad bunch, along with Germany, Belize and Jamaica whose designers Cedella Marley and Puma have ignored the ‘school marm’ propriety of Olympic sartoria and used the nation’s colours in the most appealing way they can.

Team GB’s sports uniforms have been designed by Stella McCartney, who has deservedly taken the limelight (or had it thrust upon her) due to the inglorious effort at formal Olympic wear for Team GB by the high street brand, Next. Even the Henley-cum-Republican-fundraiser uniforms of Belize, designed by Jeff Banks, look at least relevant and grounded in sporting heritage. For the male athletes, Next have designed a black suit (with an unspeakable stitched-in gold pocket square), black or white shirt and black tie with gold detail. These nightclub outfits are so bafflingly inappropriate that the only positive thing to say for them is that the women’s ensemble is even worse. Frankly, I don’t care if they’re made in Berkshire or Bangladesh. They look atrocious.