Friday, 23 March 2012

Come on you reds

One of the blessings of a budget is that, like a Sumo wrestler in a phone box, it's sheer bulk limits room for anything else in the media. A little less lifestyle product placement and celebrity blather is no bad thing. You might have thought that the coverage of haute couture would also have suffered, but coincidentally this week has seen the unveiling of the Olympic kit, which has allowed fashion to get its mug back in the picture with group shots of athletes looking like a superhero lineup.

The kit design has resulted in criticism, notably that it's too blue, and therefore a bit too Scottish (a subliminal suggestion of perennial loserdom, perhaps). Apparently nothing short of being wrapped in the Union Jack will do, though that rather negates the point of using a designer.

Stella McCartney, for it is she, "has designed the Olympic and Paralympic athletes' clothing for competition time, training, medal ceremonies and relaxation time - known as 'Village wear'". (I don't know about you, but the latter phrase immediately made me think of leather-clad bikers, red indians and construction workers). McCartney went on to say: "I spoke to Sir Chris Hoy and said, 'what can I do to help in any way?' And he said, 'I just want to look cool'." The man is obviously past caring about mere medals.

This insouciance flies in the face of research showing that wearing red enhances performance. "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" said the study's author. Well quite. She's a fashion designer, not a sports psychologist, and any fashionista knows that blue shifts more units than anything else, hence its use in second strips by football teams that usually wear red.

This is worrying news for Man City and (with any luck) Spurs and Chelsea, given that the chromatic correlation seems particularly pronounced in the history of the English league, though it doesn't seem to apply in Scotland or Spain, while Italy and Germany offer mixed evidence.

The real point of all this nonsense is the degree to which fashion has become pervasive. In the UK, it has been elevated to the status of a "creative industry", though the actual industry is now mainly in the Far East. English haute couture is by definition a signifier of class, mixing the traditional and the eccentric (those charming aristos), terrified of prole drift (Burberry), and appropriating and defanging street style (floral print DMs).

Fashion is given disproportionate levels of media coverage, even in outlets that are otherwise unsympathetic to objectification or the indulgences of the rich, though this may reflect metropolitan bias as much as anything. On any given day, about 10% of the "news" in The Guardian appears to be fashion-related. This might be delivered ironically, but it still leads to the impression that catwalks are a central feature of our lives.

What is faintly disturbing is the extent to which fashion is now leeching onto sport, that other great distraction of our age. What is faintly heartening is that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, so for once the catwalk is populated by real (albeit exceptional) people rather than preposterous super-models. Ben Grimm would feel right at home.

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