Opinion: Olympic uniforms a missed opportunity

Viewers will be keeping a watchful eye on the respective Olympic team uniforms at the teams' march past - a traditional feature of the Olympic Games opening ceremony.


A selection of the New Zealand Olympic Team uniforms.

by Dr Vicki Karaminas
The eyes of the world will be on our Olympic athletes, as well as their uniforms, as they take part in the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. All around the world people will be tuning in to participate in the pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies, with a keen eye on the uniforms each country will be wearing to represent  their hopes and dreams. To say they will be underwhelmed by New Zealand’s official kit is an understatement.

What was the New Zealand Olympic committee thinking? Even though the designer of the uniforms, Shane Hansen is an artist and graphic designer, this was a task that should have been given to a fashion designer.  So where did New Zealand go wrong?  While it cannot be denied that Hansen is creatively talented, why would you give the task to an artist instead of a fashion designer?

Simply put would you get a painter who is not qualified for the job to fix a leaking roof or wire your house?
Garment design contains very specific skill sets that take into account the design brief, body shape, function, cut, silhouette and materials.  These are specialist skills that are taught in fashion design degrees at as polytechnics and universities globally.

Other international Olympic committees have understood the importance of the design, cut and representation of the Olympic uniform. The Italian Olympic uniform was designed by Georgio Armani; the British uniform was designed by Stella McCartney in collaboration with sports label Adidas and the French uniform was designed by Lacoste, founded by sports legend Rene Lacoste.
The Australian uniform was designed by fashion house Sportscraft, who are known for their tailoring. Their design brief was to incorporate elements of Australian heritage in their designs, to use breathable and lightweight fabrics for comfort in the Brazilian weather, this included the use of merino wool. Sportcraft collaborated with the AOC and the Olympic athletes to produce a costume that represented the Australian lifestyle and love of the beach.

While they need to look good, uniforms are not a fashion statement.  The Olympic uniforms are a costume, which first and foremost, should represent a raft of ideas and ideals.  Then they should be comfortable and functional. That’s where design and innovative fabrics are important and why some countries use fashion designers teamed up with sportswear specialists.

So where did we go wrong? Olympic uniforms are about national pride and should represent the culture and heritage of New Zealand. These uniforms are an opportunity to show the rest of the world who we are as a nation-bicultural and diverse.

New Zealand egalitarianism has won out this time, but we are not talking about an equal playing field. Our Olympic representatives are not part of an egalitarian club, but are the fittest, healthiest, best athletes in the country and they represent our inspirations and hopes. They embody such virtues as resilience, pride, strength and dedication, ideals that every New Zealander aspires to. These ideas should be carried through in the design of the Olympic uniform in its national symbols and motifs: the koru, silver fern and kiwi as well as its national colours: red, white, blue and black.

Since the time of the first games in ancient Greece, the Olympic ideals have been about excellence, health and fitness. Our Olympic athletes are not fashion models but they have ideal bodies and have worked hard to achieve their goals. The uniforms need to look good and show the underlying message that if you work hard and  have self belief, you can achieve your goals.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee should take a tip or two from Olympic sponsors ANZ, whose campaign articulates a brand that is aspirational and innovative.
New Zealand’s design aesthetic is avant-garde, innovative and sustainable.  These uniforms do not tick any of the boxes. This exercise has been a lost opportunity to showcase our unique culture and voice and excellent fashion designers to the world. What does this say about our fashion industry in New Zealand to the rest of the world?

Dr Vicki Karaminas is a Professor of Fashion at Massey University's College of Creative Arts



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