“I (heart) NY”-Shirt

“Brigitte! What are you doing in Kuala Lumpur? Isn’t it gorgeous here?” Some people enjoy such reminders of home. For the rest of us, these chance encounters are pure agony. More than anything, they reveal the uncomfortable fact that we’re not the only ones who have set off to travel the world. There are two kinds of tourists, and personal self-awareness and acceptance of one’s role are decisive for classification. On one hand there are those who travel with a shield of breathable high-tech textiles or t-shirts with ironic sayings and can only say “beer” or “lactose-free milk” in the native language. On the other hand there are those globetrotters who feel like they’ve been caught red-handed when their accent is detected by keen ears and the cover of their perfect henna tattoo and faded jeans is blown.

And then there’s John Lennon, who managed to look cool in a souvenir stand t-shirt. How can that be?

The famous photo of John in his signature round sunglasses and his arms crossed in front of his $5 cut-off tee was shot on a New York rooftop in 1974.

The t-shirt however, only says NEW YORK CITY. No trace of a red heart or letters set in American Typewriter.

That famous rebus logo didn’t appear until 1977.

It was designed by Milton Glaser as part of a large-scale advertising campaign to improve the image of New York State and City. At the time, New York was associated mostly with burning garbage cans, drugs and shootings and tourists hardly dared to walk its terrifying streets. The situation was pretty bad. Not even Milton Glaser himself believed in the project’s success. But his mantra, “I (heart) NY”, has become true a million times over. Even though John Lennon was shot four years later in that perilous city full of crazy people. Maybe it’s the combination of tragic glamour and the cutesy proximity of words and image.

Whatever its secret, it never fails to hit the Walk on the Wild Side button. The logo adorns not only t-shirts, but anything that can be printed on and sold. It’s an absolutely democratic icon.

After 9/11, the logo, especially on t-shirts, became a symbol of sympathy and solidarity. Milton Glaser himself altered the logo, adding a small black blotch to the heart marking the site of the catastrophe.

After this short re-coding, “I (heart) NY” has again and above all become the uniform of the ubiquitous well-wishing tourist.

Thus dressed, he celebrates both his own status as a stranger and, at the same time, the city of dreams he has finally visited. What’s more, in this unique case it’s even possible that he is also politely and charmingly adapting to his environment, as there are actually New Yorkers who wear this t-shirt.

But you need a fine touch to distinguish this one. Tourist appreciation, breezy semi-ironic citation and the excesses of Swabians in exile, “I (heart) Stuttgart”, are worlds apart.

In one world, the wearer authentically lets the red heart fade in the sun of Central Park while writing in his Moleskine with a fountain pen. In the other world, he drips mustard on the faded white cotton while hollering at Times Square. Imagine.