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Stella McCartney Unveils Great Britain's Olympic Uniforms

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Stella McCartney
British athletes triple jumper Phillips Idowu and heptathlete Jessica Ennis pose with designer Stella McCartney.
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

Stella McCartney — daughter of Paul, staunch animal rights activist and red-carpet favorite of musicians like Lykke Li —  is the first high-end designer ever to create Team Great Britain's Olympic uniforms, a task that is especially crucial this year as London hosts the summer games. In association with Adidas, the "looks kit" was unveiled at the Tower of London last week amid dramatic traditional pagaentry.  "If you ever wanted to know how a fashion show would look if it were combined with JD Sports and raging patriotism, now you know," writes The Guardian's Hadley Freeman, who viewed the collection last week.

Immediately noticeable is the general absence of red among the looks; this is a collection heavy on aerodynamic blue and white, which should make the Scots happy. "I wanted the kit to be British but understated, not ridiculous," McCartney said to Freeman after the show, referring to the uneasy balance between sophistication and nationalistic display. Freeman herself approved of many of the pieces, pointing out the "low-key" basketball looks as a highlight, as well as the gymnast's leotards. She felt less optimistic about the Union Jack-printed running shorts as well as the track pants, which she deemed awkward for their placement of the flag over a woman's genitals.

There was bound to be some discontentment due to the enormity of this task: McCartney has been developing the styles for two years and faced quite a challenge in her effort to elevate the art of athletic apparel. "[With] 600 athletes in 26 disciplines, to be fair to her, it was never going to please most people, let alone all people," Freeman states. Some of the more patriotically sensitive have taken issue with the collection for "psychological" reasons. As the Washington Post reports, some believe color can affect athletic mentality and performance and may find Team GB's palette thin on bravado.  According to a paper by Professor Robert Barton of the University of Durham, those who wear red are more likely to win. 

"Obviously she has designed these from a fashion point of view and was not taking into account the possible effects that might have on performance," says Burton. "Given there's an obvious justification for [including more red] and given the effects that we and other scientists have found, it does seem like a mistake."

Burton's concerns, it seems, are noticeably skewed towards male performance. He and a Durham colleague are researching whether athletes' testosterone levels are adversely affected by the absence of powerful hues, without any commentary on how this might influence female psyche and their subsequent athletic achievement.

For her part, McCartney insists that she did indeed consider how athletes' attire might influence their mentalities. "I’ve been talking to athletes for two years," she told Vogue. "I wanted to ask what matters to them — whether it might psychologically improve their performance to look good, what I needed to do to work around the rules and regulations of each discipline and all their technical requirements. Some told me, 'Yeah, if I look better, it helps.' Others said, 'I don’t care how I look as long as I can shave off a second.'"

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