Macron merchandising takes the French for mugs

Always wanted to drink your tea in an Emmanuel Macron mug? Rejoice: on Friday, the Elysée presidential palace launched its online gift shop. The collection of official souvenirs includes Macron-themed mugs for €24.90 (£22) and T-shirts (€55). About 12% of the sales will be put toward the renovation of the 300-year-old building. The “Présidence Française” trademark was created by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, but until now the Elysée’s souvenir collection was basically stamps and keyrings. One MP called it a “Macron fanclub”: most of the products appear to be related to him. Britain has the royals to sell souvenirs – and now, it would seem, France has the Macrons.

T-shirts are emblazoned with catchphrases he has used in debates, such as croquignolesque (“cute but ridiculous”) and poudre de perlimpinpin (“snake oil”, a charge he used against Marine Le Pen). Another depicts Macron’s silhouette punching the air, from a viral photo taken at the World Cup final. Kids can colour in a giant poster of the Macrons for just €14,90. You can even buy blue, white and red macarons – sadly, no one thought to make the obvious pun. Perhaps rebranding the much-loved French treat would have taken the cult of personality a step too far.

For Macron, whose ascent to the presidency formed the perfect PR narrative, the shop is very on-brand. It also promotes French-made products – one of his missions. But it is nonetheless extremely tone deaf. Not only are the souvenirs about him, rather than the Elysée; they are also outrageously priced. Taking the biscuit are three gold bracelets inscribed with the French values of liberté, égalité, fraternité for €250 each. Only days before the shop launched, Macron inaugurated his plan to tackle poverty. For a man often lampooned as “president of the rich”, a €250 “equality” bracelet made of gold is not necessarily the best signalling.

Other gaffes were soon revealed: the Macron mugs, described as real porcelain from Limoges, turned out not to be made of the material. (“It’s croquignolesque”, the Limoges porcelain makers union commented.) A sweatshirt emblazoned “Français” (€115) was judged nationalist. The shop’s tote bags (€19) read président (the word for a male president) or “first lady” – there is no version for a would-be female president.

Twitter quickly turned the T-shirts into memes rewritten using Macron’s worst soundbites: that time when he compared “people who are successful and those who are nothing”; or when he said “we spend a crazy amount of dough” on welfare; or when he told protesters to “stop making a mess and look for a job”. And of course, there was a Free Benalla T-shirt, referencing Macron’s former bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, who assaulted demonstrators at a May Day march while dressed as a police officer, igniting a scandal in France over the summer.

Ironically enough, it has since been revealed that while still in his Elysée job, Benalla was tasked with launching the shop. He told the police: “One of my responsibilities is the creation of an online shop to sell goodies.”

Last week, Benalla refused to attend a hearing by the senate committee investigating his case. Far from distancing itself, the French government closed ranks around Benalla: Macron called the president of the senate to complain, and his justice minister, Nicole Belloubet, warned: “Parliament cannot interfere with the judicial power.” The Elysée spokesperson even accused the senate of being a “threat to the Republic”, looking to “undermine Emmanuel Macron”.

With the French executive and legislature wrestling over a case that could be damaging to Macron, his new merchandise offered a welcome distraction. And who knows – the online store may still add the Free Benalla T-shirt to its collection.