It is a symbol of revolution and freedom, of striving. And it’s a hat. It’s an icon that’s been seen for centuries, from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower. And yes, it’s still a hat.
More specifically, it is a Phrygian cap, the red bonnet famously worn by Marianne, the artistic personification of the Free French Republic. The Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games unveiled the hat as its official mascot this week, showcasing cartoonish imagery that has garnered widespread response.
“It’s the French spirit that has come to us, that French spirit that makes us a somewhat extraordinary nation,” said Paris 2024 Brand Director Julie Matikhine in a video celebrating the mascots’ unveiling.
As happens when a national spirit blends with the Olympic spirit, the mascots are also packaged into nearly 10,000 types of products, from plush toys to hoodies, electronics and luggage.
These mascots are not like the others
The mascots are called Phryges – Olympic Phryge and Paralympic Phryge. And before we get into the reactions to it, it’s worth noting that the Paris 2024 mascots are doing something important, even revolutionary: Aside from the Paralympic Phrygeus having a racing blade where his counterpart has a leg, they’re nearly identical.
This is a big departure from previous games, where the Olympic and Paralympic mascots were often different colors, designs, or represented by entirely different species. For example, at Rio 2016, one mascot was a cat-like chimera while the other was a very cute tree.
For Paris 2024, it’s a way of emphasizing that despite different appearances and events, athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games are just that: athletes.
“They were brought together and it’s the same world, same family,” said Joachim Roncin, who led the mascot design effort.
Among the reactions: Are these women’s parts?
It’s not uncommon for Olympic mascots to cause head scratching and confusion. Some of the most successful examples have been sure crowd pleasers – see Beijing’s recent deployment of the panda, its hard-working ambassador.
But when the French design something, “safe” and “audience-friendly” often don’t carry the same weight as elsewhere.
When they tried to express the French spirit, Matikhine said the Phrygian cap was the “best way we’ve found to illustrate this, the most distinctive way anyway”.
Responses to the Paris 2024 video tweet unveiling the Phryges ranged from “Olympic crynge” to asking if the coqthe well-known French Rooster, was not available for some reason.
Then there are the comparisons. One commenter said the red caps look like Smurf hats run amok. and A few others said the elongated triangular shape is like a cartoon of female body parts brought to life.
The Phryges have backstories
As simple as they may seem, these mascots aren’t under-conceptualized, though Paris organizers seem undecided about their gender, sometimes referring to them as “it” and sometimes “she.”
Describing the Olympian Phryge, Matikhine said:
“He’s a good tactician, a very focused mascot who thinks everything through before he acts. It analyzes the terrain, the situation. It never rushes into anything without calculating the risks. It is also very French, with a great charm, and with a sensibility that it tries in vain to hide.”
About the Paralympic Phryge she said:
“In a way, it’s the twin of Olympian Phryge. He’s a real party animal, extremely outgoing, he’s a people person, he brings the party and his charisma wherever he goes and gathers everyone around him, spontaneously and naturally. ”
Aside from the origin stories and performances, organizers hope the mascots will connect with fans and children and inspire the French public to embrace the sport even more than before. And they add that the mascot dolls and other items are already on sale more than 600 days before the start of the Paris Summer Games.
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