Few figureheads are more likely to kill a trend than Boris Johnson. Last month, the foreign secretary chose to wear a T-shirt adorned with playful French insults on his daily jog. As the sweat formed a small, dark pool over the words moule à gaufres (waffle iron), noix de coco (coconut) and bachi-bouzouk (an order of the Ottoman army that emerged as a result of empire and became problematic slang for “vagabond” in French), just like that, the French-slogan T-shirt died.
In fairness to our envoy, he was wearing a youth’s T-shirt with quotes from Tintin’s Captain Haddock, but the sentiment remains. Alongside Carven’s micro-printed French mantras, the Mon Amour and l’amant T-shirts by Sézane, beloved by Camille Rowe and Alexa Chung, and Topshop’s sold-out Merci T-shirt, 2017 has been the year of the French slogan T-shirt. Johnson’s contribution merely took the trend to critical mass.
Which makes news that English-slogan tees are taking off in France a curious reverse. Paris-based journalist Alice Pfeiffer points to sites such as Rad, Teessue and Faux for starters. The coolest of the three is Rad, which has slogan T-shirts reading “lover dose” and “you’re too close”. Equally popular is one from Proemes that reads “My favorite salad is books”, which manages to be both baffling and irresponsible. But there are plenty of duds, too. From the nonsensical “A little pinch of bananas” from La Redoute to the syntactically challenged horror show: “Love is like the wind, you can not see it feel”.
“People are really used to the omnipresence of English,” says Pfeiffer, who says it forms a core part of everyday French language. After all, the popular “We should all be feminists” tee is made by French label, Dior, and was the design that reinvigorated the slogan trend in the era of Trump.
It is charming to think that the French might be fetishising our style as much as we do theirs. But why now and why France? It might simply be that we have gone post-logo, with slogans proving so common that they no longer have any proper meaning. They are simply words that look nice on cloth, perhaps generated on Babelfish. This would explain the bloopers. There is a well known shoe brand that suggests you “play with yourself”. Pfeiffer says: “No self-respecting Parisienne would be caught dead in a T-shirt with a cutesy, happy French phrase such as ‘Ooh la la’.” Or, one would hope, anything as problematic as Boris’s shirt.