At the time of the Brexit vote almost two years ago, Berlin fashion designer David Mallon produced the first few hundred of the dark blue “EUnify” sweaters.
He removed one of the 12 golden stars and stuck it onto the back of the hooded jumper, along with the phone number of the European Union's information hotline.
“A missing star and the symbolism of a broken circle show everyone pretty quickly that something is wrong,” explained Mallon at the Berlin shop of his label Souvenir Official.
“And that starts a dialogue.”
A symbol of the times, the hoodie style evokes hip-hop culture, street protests and youthful rebellion, yet the logo sends a deeply pro-democratic and anti-extremist message.
As well as those rallying against Brexit, Mallon's creation soon caught the eye of fashionistas and influencers, popping up on Instagram, at trendy parties, in high school yards, and with cool kids as far away as Asia and New York.
Early this year, it made its breakthrough into the more staid world of global politics when it was donned by none other than Wolfgang Ischinger, 73, organizer of the Munich Security Conference.
At the annual powwow of heads of state, ministers, diplomats and generals, the sartorial Christmas present from Ischinger's grandson got more attention than his dire warnings about the collapse of the post-World War II global order.
'Cool love for Europe'
Since then there has been no stopping a fashion trend that may spark shrieks of delight from European Commission bureaucrats, while the label has added a T-shirt, jogging pants and a waist bag to its line.
Another early adopter was the youthful leader of the liberal, pro-business FDP party, Christian Lindner, who posted a picture of himself in an EU sweater on Instagram.
The caption included a winking smiley face and the message that “For me Europe is not only a continent, but another word for #freedom, #responsibility, diversity, openness and #tolerance”.
Heute ist #Europatag, aus aktuellem Anlass deswegen noch mal mit Hoodie ? Europa ist für mich nicht nur ein Kontinent, sondern ein anderes Wort für #Freiheit, #Verantwortung, Vielfalt, Offenheit und #Toleranz. Machen wir es so gut, dass wieder alle dabei sein wollen. Und: verändern können wir nur, wenn wir mitbestimmen – am 26. Mai wählen gehen?? CL #europe #EU #vote
Then came Justice Minister Katarina Barley of the centre-left Social Democrats, who has in recent weeks been seen sporting a EUnify jumper on giant campaign posters.
Fashion historian Uta-Christiane Bergemann noted that the sweater allows pro-European candidates, whether from the right or left, “to convey a very direct and quickly understandable message”.
By wearing one, Barley “conveys a sociable and youthful impression”, Bergemann said, while also signalling that “she identifies so strongly with Europe that she will envelop herself in it”.
Some designers already dare to dream that the EU flag will become as iconic as the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack.
“At first we were quite alone, but now there are about 20 creators in this niche, and I think that's very good,” said Mallon, who noted that while the symbol is trendy in Berlin, it is subversive in many English cities.
Inevitably, the hoodie hype has sparked a backlash, with some critics likening it to the inflationary and empty use of the image of Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary.
“You can welcome so much cool love for Europe,” wrote one commentator in news weekly Die Zeit.
“Or you can ask whether you can really purchase a political attitude in an online shop with next-day delivery.”
By Daphne Rousseau