Q&A: Stella McCartney, Designer of Great Britain’s Uniforms

While other designers stop at making the gear the athletes parade in during the ceremonies, McCartney takes her fashion know-how and pairs it with cutting-edge technology to make uniforms the British team will actually compete in

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Adidas via Getty Images; Photo Montage by TIME

Expectations soared when British fashion designer and Adidas collaborator Stella McCartney was tapped as the creative director for Team GB’s Olympic uniforms – known as kits in Britain. As the Games draw closer, the high-end designer speaks to TIME about working with performance wear, facing criticism and making Britain proud. 

As a high-fashion designer, what drew you to working with Adidas and designing a sportswear line?

Well, you know it’s funny, I always kind of had the feeling that when fashion brands did sportswear, it never had the true authenticity of performance wear. It was always kind of fashion doing sport. And I always was excited from a design point of view in pushing boundaries on design technology so having access to materials that were cutting edge in the sporting arena and also working with different fabrics.

(LIST: Olympic Uniforms: The Best, the Worst, and the Just Plain Weird)

It seems that a lot of big name fashion designers, such as Ralph Lauren for the U.S., are getting involved with designing for the Olympics.

Ralph Lauren did the opening ceremony outfits and [I think] it’s very different. The opening ceremony has nothing to do with the actual uniform that the athletes wear when they’re [competing]. I know that [fashion designer and singer] Cedella Marley designed the Jamaican team kit but I’m not aware of any other fashion designer working on their actual team kit.

Was designing the actual gear that Great Britain would be competing in important to you?

Yeah, I mean for me working on opening ceremonies or working on the casual side of the Olympics is not terribly exciting to me. Working from every single aspect of their actual performance wear — that really, really excited me. I know in talking with the athletes, especially the women athletes, they’d never had such comprehensive view of their needs in terms of the kit itself. So this was a completely new way oflooking at the Olympic games.

(MORE: Ralph Lauren’s U.S. Olympic Opening Ceremony Uniforms)

Were there any unique challenges working on the Olympic designs?

The biggest challenge is getting the technology right and obviously working with Adidas on something like that is key. You can’t just do that as a fashion designer, it’s absolutely impossible. I mean, you’re talking about the best athletes in the world and you can’t let them down, you know, when it comes to technology. So as a designer it’s not like I could put long dresses on the field, I couldn’t work with volume, I couldn’t work with non-stretch materials. I couldn’t work with materials that I’m obviously more comfortable in so from the beginning to the end it’s been an incredibly challenging project. But in the end, it’s honestly been one of the most worthwhile and rewarding of my career.

What was your reaction to the criticism over the lack of red on the Union Jack-inspired uniforms after the unveiling of the designs?

I wasn’t surprised, you know. It’s just that when I presented the kit, I had like 15 athletes and I wanted to visually tie it all together. The biggest challenge I had, and one of the biggest requests I had from the team, is to make them feel and look like a team. I think I was a little frustrated because I had perhaps brought my fashion designer role a little too into it and kind of made it look like a group, rather than really showing off the kit in its entirety which actually has red all over the place. But for me, I just wanted to make Britain proud. At the end of the day this has never been about me and my ego, it’s really about the athletes first and foremost and then about the nation. That’s what happens, when you’re dealing with something of this magnitude, you’re up at a different level than I’m used to. [But] I’m still confident in the kit.

Are there any particular events you’re personally looking forward to?

I think London as a city is getting really geared up for it and you can feel it everywhere. I’m excited to watch all of it, both on television and hopefully in person. I have such a greater understanding now of how these athletes have worked for so long and dedicated their entire lives to this. So I’m incredibly proud to have worked on this.

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