In Louvre, France hones soft power strategy
PARIS » As empires fall, brands rise. No longer buoyed by Napoleonic empire-making and the power the French language once commanded, the French have honed new ways to exert cultural influence in a rapidly-changing, globalized world: brand diplomacy.
The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi over the weekend is the latest example of how traditional French cultural diplomacy is being supplanted by brand politics: Abu Dhabi bought the rights to use the Paris museum’s famous name at a price tag of over $500 million over three decades.
This example of “soft power” goes beyond museum names such as the future Shanghai Pompidou Center — and can be seen in the exporting of Sorbonne’s academic reputation, the proliferation of Christian Dior boutiques in Asia, the increasingly popular fizz of Moet & Chandon champagne, the cuisine of master chef Alain Ducasse and Louis Vuitton’s status handbags.
“It used to be by the military, like for Napoleon. Today, there are other means of influence abroad,” Laurent Stefanini, France’s ambassador to UNESCO, the UN’s cultural body, told The Associated Press.
“The fact is that the big known institutions are exporting themselves — exporting their products, exporting their collections, exporting their savoir-faire,” he added, saying that the French Foreign Ministry has ramped up efforts to promote France via its luxury and gastronomy in a concerted strategy in recent years.
While there was some grumbling about the commercialization of French cultural heritage when the Louvre Abu Dhabi project was launched, today it’s hard to find anyone critical of France’s effort to capitalize on the unique reputation of its museums and luxury traditions to draw people into French culture.
“Private institutions ... are playing a more important role as of the last few years,” Jack Lang, an influential former French culture minister who now heads the Arab World Institute in Paris, said in an interview.
Kering and LVMH — the huge parent companies for brands such as Saint Laurent, Dior and Vuitton as well as many Champagnes and spirits — have a near stranglehold on the luxury markets in every global region and jointly had sales of $58 billion in 2016.
“Foreign citizens might recognize France now by its brands and names... that’s a good thing. It’s an opening. This path will lead them to writers; to the technology that’s advancing in many domains,” added Lang.
Lang said that over the last decade the French state has cut funding to the traditional means of promoting French language and culture abroad, such as the Lycee Francais schools, amid the dominance of the English language.
The chefs, designers and curators are very much aware that they are modern day cultural ambassadors.
“The Louvre Abu Dhabi is... recognition of French expertise and the renown of the Louvre museum. So, yes, we are both very proud that the Louvre name bears these values (as) a new way for France to speak to the world,” Louvre President Jean-Luc Martinez told The AP.
Jalal Bushra Al Fadal from Sudan takes a selfie, during the public opening day of the Louvre Museum, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday.