Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag

Skærmbillede 2016-08-13 kl. 22.18.14

Stella McCartney has designed the kit for Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic teams in 2012 and in 2016. She combines a sense of tradition with a subtle use of the British flag.

100 days before the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro British designer Stella McCartney revealed her design for Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic kit.

Modelling at the presentation were Tom Mitchell, 2016 Olympic silver medallist and captain of the English rugby sevens team and of Great Britain’s Olympic rugby sevens team, Jessica Ennis-Hill, 2012 Olympic gold medallist and 2016 Olympic silver medallist in heptathlon, and Tom Daley, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist in 10 m platform diving and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist in 10 m synchronized diving.

According to The Telegraph Jessica Ennis-Hill praised Stella McCartney and Adidas: “It’s an amazing design and I think it will give British athletes a massive sense of pride and give us an edge in Rio”.

Apart from the functionality of the many different pieces of clothing the national kit also needs to live up to certain visual requirements.

1. It needs to look nice. A male wrestler’s singlet and a female gymnast’s leotard may be made of the same skin-tight, elastic fabric, but women’s gymnastics call for a lot more glitter than wrestling. Swimmers don’t wear much at all. Still, swimwear fashion has changed a lot over the last few decades.

2. It needs to convey the nationality of an athlete by the use of colours, emblems or letters.

Dutch athletes will be easily recognized. Orange is the national colour of the Netherlands, a succesful brand that distinguishes Dutch athletes from everyone else. Athletes from New Zealand will be recognized for their use of the silver fern on black.

A fashion designer’s job is a little harder when it comes to the many nations where the national colours are blue, white and red (UK, France, Russia, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, USA, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Chile, etc.).

Stella McCartney didn’t use the Union Flag as a whole, but rather its colours and general characteristics, combing these elements with the newly granted coat of arms for the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations. She extracted the essence of the Union Flag and of British heraldry, so to speak.

The British flag has one advantage over all the other blue-white-red flags: It isn’t a tricolour. The Union Flag has vertical, horizontal and lines. The combination of Saint George’s cross, Saint Patrick’s cross and Saint Andrew’s saltire gives the flag its very distinct look.

At the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London Team GB’s kit was also designed by Stella McCartney. At the presentation Premier League and Olympic Games footballer Jack Rodwell wore a jersey with just a corner of the Union Flag on the front. Even with the wrong colours (three different shades of blue in stead of blue-white-red) this fraction of a flag was enough to be unmistakably British.

This is part 3 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
Rowing Blade Flags
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC


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