With New Official T-Shirts, City Shoots for the Hip

Forget “I ♥ NY.” That’s old. That’s dull. That’s been done.

Earlier this month, the city’s tourism arm, NYC & Company, reintroduced its staid online store with a line of T-shirts printed with neon colors and bubblegum fonts and advertised on models wearing mustaches posing before brick walls. Evoking the palette of streetwear company Billionaire Boys Club, the shirts look ready to be worn by 16-year-olds in vintage high-tops or the 20somethings who loll in Williamsburg’s parks.

In a departure for municipal merchandise, five of the shirts name-check the individual boroughs. A sixth shows the familiar Bloomberg-era boxy “NYC” logo dissolving into transgressive spray-paint drips, above dripping maps of the boroughs.

Like so many other products consumed by young trendsetters (American Apparel, McSweeney’s, Vans sneakers), the shirts are made in California. The cotton they use is imported from China, Pakistan and Vietnam, among other places. (So much for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s call to buy local.)

Willy Wong, the creative director of NYC & Company, which commissioned the shirts, confirmed that the shirts were a bid to appeal to a younger audience. “I think we’re skewing a little bit more on the younger side. Anywhere from teenagers to 30somethings.”

Anne MacLean, the creative director of the Araca Group, which designed and produced the shirts, said it tried to reach out to a younger demographic by using colors that were “a little more urban in a certain way.”

At West NYC, the streetwear boutique whose in-store designed shirts have been worn by Chris Rock, the manager, Roger DaCosta, took a look at the designs and pronounced: “The people who purchase them will be high schoolers who want to recreate the 80s.”

Mr. DaCosta, born and raised in Queens, wondered why the shirt that represented his borough, like that for the entire city, featured dripping letters. “I’m not really sure why it has the dripping graffiti,” he said.

Mr. Wong of NYC & Company dismissed the notion that the shirts might have been inspired by graffiti, which as of this writing, remains illegal.

The drips on the Queens shirts, he said, were inspired by the borough’s diversity. “That overlapping, that is something I’ve always been interested in,” said Mr. Wong, 33, who has a master of fine arts in graphic design from Yale. “Colors overlap or forms overlap as a representation of that mixing of different cultures or different times.”

The decision to devote shirts to specific boroughs, Mr. Wong said, followed a trend and fit the city’s mission to promote tourism beyond Manhattan. Ms. MacLean said young people make up a significant population of the outer boroughs. “You go to Sunnyside or Astoria in Queens, and there’s people in their 20s now sort of mixed together with everyone,” she said.

Neighborhoodies, based in Dumbo, Brooklyn, has been selling sweatshirts that say “Cobble Hill” and “Upper West Side” since 2002. Its owner, Lori Fields, said the trend of buying something that bears the name of a more specific location, rather than “New York,” has taken off.

“The neighborhood thing has gotten really popular,” she said, “due maybe to development and gentrification. For people who are moving to the neighborhood, they can feel like a part of the neighborhood. And it’s for people that are kind of holding steady, the pillars of the community.”

Mr. Wong said the borough shirts were not intended to literally represent each borough, but instead to evoke them.

For Brooklyn, a graphic pink and yellow triangle recalls the bridges rising over the East River, while for the Bronx, printing the borough in lemon yellow was a mood study, he said.

“There’s a little heaviness with that yellow that’s kind of evocative for me of a kind of bluntness there,” Mr. Wong said. The word Queens is outlined in cobalt and magenta, as if painted over a stencil. The colors reminded Mr. Wong of the lenses of 3D glasses. “That’s my favorite one, it looks so cool,” he said. I don’t know why.”

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