The fashion industry has saluted the American flag for decades. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have always played with the symbolism of Old Glory, and more recently labels as varied as Givenchy, Miu Miu, Thom Browne, and Chanel have proudly appropriated the flag for their own riffs on Americana.
But in our current heated political climate, the blue and yellow flag of the European Union, a symbol of peace and unity, has taken center stage for discerning fashionistas. Vetements released E.U. hoodies for Fall, and Parisian collective Études Studio plastered it on baseball caps, totes, and tees. British menswear line Agi & Sam stamped it on a parka, and cult indie brands like Eurotic are popping up with E.U.-inspired gear.
“In the time of right-wing populism, it’s important to make a statement,” explained Johann König, the founder of König Galerie in Berlin, who in May, launched his own line of “EUnify” hoodies under the label König Souvenir, which he started with his wife Lena, art director David Mallon, and Mallon’s wife Karin Önder. “We wanted to create opinion-wear which would allow us to express our views,” Mallon explained of bringing affordable works of art (cue: towels, tees, and puzzles) with powerful social messages to the gallery’s younger clientele.
Over the last two years, König Galerie, which is referred to by locals as “The Church” (as it occupies the space of former prayer grounds), has become a hub for Berlin creatives, a meeting ground for actors, club kids, artists, and everyone in between. “Traditionally, galleries are very elitist. But I feel it’s very important to open up on all fronts, in any capacity—fashion, music, politics, literature…When we do that we can reach a wider, younger audience and really engage them.” In addition to their much hyped-about monthly openings (which quickly turn into parties), the gallery hosts events like yoga, culture nights, and readings.
So it makes sense that the hoodie, a symbol of freedom and acceptance, has caught fire. The sweatshirt was initially launched as a memento for a pro-E.U. discussion that was organized at the gallery by Berlin creatives like Wolfgang Tillmans. It quickly caught the eyes of trendsetters thanks to the single star that König Souvenir removed from the flag and placed on the back, alongside the E.U. hotline number. “Through this symbolic missing star you start a dialogue,” said Mallon of his goal to energize the youth. The hoodies have since become a hot-ticket item they can barely keep in stock, thanks to fans like Off-White designer Virgil Abloh and photographer Juergen Teller who was photographed wearing his almost every day throughout Paris Fashion week.
“A hoodie is made for a riot, it’s something you can hide under,” said Mallon. “It’s a symbol of activism.”
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