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Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Fashion designer Masha Ma on challenge of designing Team China Olympic outfits

Ma, one of the Chinese designers world knows best, worked for a year on uniforms Team China medal winners will wear at Rio Games. It is the first time a designer of her stature has been involved

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 5:51pm

Chinese fashion designer Masha Ma says she felt “really honoured” to be chosen to design the outfits China’s champion athletes will wear when they receive medals at this year’s summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The designs for Team China were unveiled this week at a ceremony in Beijing’s National Aquatics Centre (the “Water Cube”) attended by a number of former Chinese Olympic champions.

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“I felt really honoured to be selected for this project. It took a year,” says Ma, who shows collections for her eponymous high-fashion label on the catwalks of Paris each season.

“It was definitely a big challenge for us, we’ve never done such a huge project before and it’s for the whole country ... There’s Stella McCartney for the UK Olympic team and Giorgio Armani for Italy’s team, but it’s the first time China has enlisted an [individual] brand designer to inject their creative and aesthetic strength into an Olympic uniform.”

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Showing their support at the unveiling were diver Guo Jingjing, boxer Zhou Shiming, table tennis player Wang Hao, tae kwon do martial artist Wu Jingyu, weightlifter Lü Xiaojun, and gymnasts He Wenna and Zhang Chenglong.

Ma collaborated with official uniform sponsor Anta Sports Products, a leading Chinese sportswear company, on the project.

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Anta, which owns some 4,000 independent stores in China, supported Ma with the latest in cutting-edge patterns, fabrics and technology, including carbon fibre and bamboo fibre linings that allow the clothes to breathe easily in Rio’s hot and humid climate.

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Ma, who trained at London’s Central Saint Martins school, is an interesting choice because of her edgy fashion credentials – think minimalism, oversized leather jackets, graphic looks and bold silhouettes that take their inspiration from London’s underground music scene.

Shanghai-based Ma, who has steadily built up her fashion business in China, interned for the late Alexander McQueen and dressed Lady Gaga. She has a keen understanding of the modern Chinese fashion scene, and has been a force on the world stage for native Chinese design for the past several years.

Although China has employed other brands in the design of its Olympic uniforms, Ma is the first designer with international recognition to collaborate in their design.

“It is a long process of bargaining with the team to decide which is the most functional, stylish and suitable [design]. The colours obviously come from the national flags and it had to be that way,” she says.

The key requirements were to combine form and function while conveying the national identity. Ma says that for the sports jacket and tracksuit trousers, she took inspiration from “variations on the traditional symbolic architecture as well as Chinese motifs”. Multiple pockets make the outfits functional.

“It was really exciting to see some of the athletes in the final uniform [at the ceremony] and I’m really looking forward to see them perform in Rio ... I’m hoping it will bring them luck.”

Engaging a name like Ma for a project as high-profile as the Olympic Games indicates a growing official appreciation and awareness of native fashion design and how it can help project China’s soft power abroad.

“For me,” says Ma, “it’s one of the most important things that a designer can do in their life.”