Friday, February 9, 2018
The Business of Designing for the Olympics
As I watch the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, I am struck by all of the design work that goes into the ceremony and the games. Who designs the vast opening and closing ceremony productions? Does the host country hire some or all the people who appear in the productions or are some or all volunteers? Who holds the intellectual property rights to the program elements and the recording of the program? The International Olympic Committee, I guess . . . . It strikes me that the Olympic Games have become big business, and intellectual property rights have become important to the value of that business. The World Intellectual Property Oganization notes that "[t]he Games are as much a celebration of innovation and creativity as they are of humanity, fair play and sporting excellence."
Perhaps most amusing to me in the run-up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games has been the coverage of the U.S. opening ceremony outfits, designed by Ralph Lauren. Even for those of you who purport to know nothing about fashion design, you may recall that Ralph Lauren designs those shirts and shorts and sweaters with the little embroidered polo horse on the chest . . . . But trust me, he's an iconic American designer. Anyway, here is a critique of the American ensembles, ranking each item. The jacket is heated (!). But the large fringe suede gloves appear to be a particularly controversial fashion choice. As one critic noted:
These outfits have come in for a lot of criticism, particularly because they require the athlete to wear ludicrously large gloves that look as though they were designed for grilling by some sadist who then wants the grillers to go up in flames because the fringe of their large gloves has caught on fire.
She goes on to say the following:
The gloves have also come in for criticism because they have a Southwestern, Native American–meets–Route 66 truck stop, tchotchke vibe to them. The Olympic rings and the American flag are beaded. Between the fringe and the beading, there have been some claims and concerns about appropriation. I hear those. However, I do think that, in the long view, we want the American Olympic team outfits to be referencing a broader set of cultural influences on American life.
Wow. Who knew the business of deigning for the Olympic Games was so complex and fraught with peril?
In truth, the relationship between the U.S. Olympic Committee and Ralph Lauren is just one example of a designer collaboration seen frequently in fashion design in recent years. Target, H&M, and many others have entered into successful collaborations with major designers. See, e.g., here, here and here. These collaborations involve contracts addressing the fusion of the applicable intellectual property rights, among other legal and business issues. See, e.g., here and here. This is undoubtedly an interesting aspect of fashion law.
But back to the Olympic outfits . . . . Bustle is running a series of articles on the team uniforms and their designers. Here is the first installment. And if you want to know how much it will cost you to buy parts of the Team U.S.A. opening ceremony outfits, you can read about that here. They're pricey; be prepared . . . .