Reining in the Love for I ♥ NY

I heart NY.jpgIt’s been plastered on t-shirts (3 for $10, last we checked), bumper stickers, salt and pepper shakers, even a particularly garish Gucci handbag, but for Milton Glaser the sheer endurance of the I ♥ New York logo he developed, gratis, in the late 1970s, is still difficult to fathom. “It is one of those peculiarities of your own life where you don’t know the consequences of your own actions,” Glaser told The New York Times recently. “Who in the world would have thought that this silly bit of ephemera would become one of the most pervasive images of the 20th century?” Earlier this week, the paper of record focused on efforts to “reclaim the symbol itself, which…has become devalued…through overuse.” Initiatives include a difficult-to-reproduce hologram that will mark the logo’s licensed use while sellers of unauthorized I ♥ New York goods (no doubt created at home, with help of Courier and Wingdings) will receive a cease-and-desist letter from an Albany law firm.

According to Thomas Ranese, chief marketing officer at Empire State Development:

“We have been reviewing anything found by our licensing agent,” said Ranese. Undesirable products include ashtrays ($6.99) and cigarette lighters ($3.99) because the state wants to discourage smoking.

Marshall Blonsky, 70, who teaches semiotics at Parsons the New School for Design, expressed skepticism at the state’s new efforts. “Oh, boy! That’s very odd!” he exclaimed. “They’re trying to re-proprietize this thing.” The brand is battered, Mr. Blonsky said. “What was absolutely original and therefore thrilling in 1977,” he said, “is now an empty signifier, nothing in it, no communication, zed, zero. It moved from poetry to banality, from red to pink, like a coin that has been rubbed smooth from so much usage.”

Tell that to Gucci, whose limited edition NY ♥’ing handbag sold out in a flash earlier this year and is now fetching sums on eBay that are far from zero. We here they’re particularly coveted in Japan.