Mathieu Lehanneur’s Love of Paris Lights Up the Olympic Torch
One year out from opening day, the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics unveil an elegant torch designed by hometown luminary Mathieu Lehanneur, who imbued the emblem with Parisian lore and clarion calls for equality.
Olympic torches often reflect the current narratives and sensibilities of their home city. Cherry blossoms informed the 2020 Tokyo torch, which Tokujin Yoshioka envisioned as a symbol of rebirth following 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The 2000 Sydney Torch took cues from the Sydney Opera House’s haphazard forms; a German eagle was etched into the 1936 Berlin Torch in a cocky display of pre-war nationalism. So when Mathieu Lehanneur won the competition to design the torch for next year’s games in Paris, he wove in nods to sustainability, peace, and equality, themes affecting his hometown and the games at large.
They coalesce in a champagne-hued steel torch imbued with Lehanneur’s signature whimsy and tempered with an elemental rigor. What appears to be two mirrored bottles—one smooth and matte, the other rippling and reflective—fused together at their bottom is a poignant statement on equality. The Paris Games marks the first in history to feature an equal number of male and female participants, as well as the first time the Olympics and Paralympics share the same torch design. The lower half nods to the River Seine; peace manifests via soft curves. “It plays on perfect symmetry, speaking to us more clearly about equality,” Lehanneur says. “I wanted it to be pure, iconic, almost elemental.”
Perhaps not immediately clear is the torch’s strides toward sustainability, a top-of-mind issue for a city faced with shutting off its sparkling national symbol, the Eiffel Tower, as an unprecedented energy crisis ensnared Europe this past fall. Unlike most host cities, Paris opted to use 95 percent existing or temporary venues to curb the Games’ staggering carbon footprint—and avoid a cityscape littered with abandoned venues. These issues were of importance to Lehanneur, who envisioned a simple design necessitating fewer components to make for easy assembly and disassembly. Only 2,000 torches will be employed along the route (as opposed to 12,000 normally) and they’ll all be made of recycled steel.
“We were looking for a strong message bearing in this case, of course, the message of peace and unity, but also a symbol of parity,” Joachim Roncin, the Paris 2024 head of design, told WWD. “We had something in mind [that] it’s not only about a shape, it’s also about something—a message we want to share with the rest of the world.”