Stella McCartney shows off her UK Olympic designs

GREGORY KATZ Associated Press Published:

LONDON (AP) -- How many ways can you stretch Britain's red, white and blue Union Jack over finely toned Olympic athletes?

Ask Stella McCartney.

The famed designer unveiled her ideas for Britain's Olympians on Thursday with uniforms that made imaginative use of the familiar flag. The designs, a closely guarded secret for months, were shown at the Tower of London in a gala event that combined fashion's razzle-dazzle with the star quality of top Olympic competitors.

Out with rail-thin fashion models, in with real Olympic stars.

McCartney, who is serving as adidas' creative director for the Summer Games, said she hoped both competitors and the British public like the uniforms and are proud of the athletes who will wear them at the Olympics and the Paralympics.

"The basic message is to unify the team," McCartney told The Associated Press backstage after the show. "The athletes all want to feel like one team. The other big starting point for me was the Union flag, an iconic flag, I think every Briton is so proud of it, but I wanted to look at it in a different way."

McCartney said instead of simply using the flag in its traditional form she broke it up and used various elements in an original way.

"I wanted to make it slightly more delicate and feminine, while still keeping the masculinity in some ways," she said.

Britain isn't the only team that has pressed a top designer into duty -- Ralph Lauren is working on some outfits for the U.S. team, and Giorgio Armani is lending his skills to the Italian Olympians.

One challenge for McCartney was to incorporate the latest technological improvements and fabric developments into the designs without sacrificing her aesthetic goals.

"My first question for the athletes was, 'What can I do for you?'" she said. "This isn't about me, it's about Team Great Britain. They all said 'we need the technology.'"

That mean some of the artistic imagery had to be toned down.

"There are seams you can't mess up, there's tons of things, home and away kits, in gymnastics you have to have symmetry or you're marked down," McCartney said. "But it's been an incredible journey."

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu said it felt great to don the new uniform.

"All eyes will be watching London 2012 so every little detail matters," he said. "I love what Stella has done with the design."

He said the handsome designs and modern technology will provide a competitive boost.

"Looking good is psychologically important but my sprint suit is also technically advanced, so not only do I look good but I also have confidence in the technology."

The clothing included competition uniforms, training wear, a presentation suit, footwear and accessories.

British athletes who modeled the new gear included heptathlete Jessica Ennis, rowing champion Pete Reed and double Paralympic swimming gold medallist Ellie Simmonds.