At le BHV Marais in Paris, there is a display of candles that are also used in the French presidential palace, Élysée. It’s no coincidence—the French government, and many of its institutions, including the Air and Space Force, are now selling branded merchandise.
After all, many people who find themselves in politics have an urgent desire to capture the hearts of youth, print money, and be surrounded by beautiful people. Why not turn France, which has a tendency to quicken the pulse of tourists, into a label?
Selling France has become a business. In September 2018, the Élysée Palace opened an online store stocked with more than 60 gifts made in France. From glassware by La Rochère to a Marseille soap cube and sets of three boules de pétanque, they all sell a piece of the French art de vivre. Imagine the conversations during the marketing meetings—“We’re France, we’re loved. Let’s sell it worldwide!” It’s not quite as fun as leaving Emmanuel Macron’s office with a pen or a mug, but it’s close. And what’s more, all proceeds are directed toward renovating the Élysée Palace!
Meanwhile, the gilets jaunes are still grumbling, and the public is suffering from a worldwide pandemic. But that didn’t impact the desire for products from the official shop for l’Assemblée Nationale, which does a brisk business in bleu-blanc-rouge souvenirs, such as notebooks, yo-yos, and patriotic face masks.
This year broke even more ground in the realm of nationalist commerce: the French Navy (Marine Nationale) and the Air and Space Force (Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace) both launched official shops. “Heat up your credit cards,” instructed Captain Éric Lavault, the spokesperson of the French Navy, at the official opening in May. The Marines sell dozens of products made in France, such as marinière shirts, umbrellas, and cool brands such as Saint James and Le Parapluie de Cherbourg.
The designers behind the Air and Space Force collection are two women: Agnès Patrice-Crepin, a a private pilot who became an aeronautic artist, and her friend Florence Ramioul, a nutritionist. Their company, Aero-Design Collection, was commissioned by the Air and Space Force to develop lifestyle brands.
To the question of why the French military branches would feel the need to have lifestyle brands, Patrice-Crepin had a quick answer. “In fact, they need to allow young people to access this profession,” she says. “It’s an extraordinary institution, and through this brand they wanted to convey a message of rigor, beauty, fraternity, of teams to the general public.”
Why not turn France, which has a tendency to quicken the pulse of tourists, into a label?
The merchandise could also be used as a recruiting tool, as a complement to the advertisements currently running on French television.
Beside the clothes and accessories, Aero-Design has also created a fragrance for the Air and Space Force. “Futur” is described as a “non-gender” fragrance, and its collector’s edition is filled with small pieces of MLI (multi-layer insulation), a rare material and thermal protector used on satellites. Patrice-Crepin even managed to send two bottles of perfume (one closed, one opened) into the atmosphere via a French rocket and made a movie out of the first spray before it fell back to perfume our planet. The idea is simple: to make space travel even sexier. (Are you listening, Musk and Bezos?)
On a smaller scale, La Brigade de Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris—the Parisian fire department—and La Patrouille de France (the precision aerobatics-demonstration unit of the French Air and Space Force) also have online shops selling all sorts of souvenirs. And a less bureaucratic institution, Les Bouquinistes de Paris—the booksellers whose stalls line the banks of the Seine—has an online shop, too.
So now you don’t even have to wander all over Paris anymore to procure a souvenir of the City of Light. Unless you’re craving some macarons.
Katia Kulawick-Assante is a Paris-based writer