October 23, 2021

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The Louvre Turns to Merch

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PARIS — Can face masks and T-shirts save the Louvre? Probably not, but maybe they can help keep the museum’s name alive while its doors stay shut.

In normal times, the Louvre is one of the most visited museums in the world: 9.6 million people walked its halls in 2019. But the coronavirus has deprived it of foreign tourists and government decrees closed it down twice for nearly six months last year, a loss of €90 million (about $108 million) in revenue, according to the Louvre. Since last March, the museum, along with other French cultural institutions, has remained shut indefinitely. (It opened last year from early July to the end of October.)

“We need to find new ways to make money,” said Adel Ziane, director of external relations for the Louvre. “The Covid crisis has made it more urgent than ever to diversify and make the most of the Louvre name.”

One of his answers is retail. A lot of retail.

On Feb. 4, Uniqlo began selling a Louvre collection of clothing in its stores around the world, under a four-year licensing agreement with the museum. Peter Saville, an English graphic designer, splashed the museum’s inventory numbers and taglines next to the artworks on T-shirts and sweats.

Uniqlo’s two-minute promotional video for the line features Uniqlo-clad models walking through the Louvre’s galleries. The Louvre has produced its own short video featuring a museum official touting the values of “universality and timelessness” that it shares with Uniqlo.

The Louvre has also collaborated with Casetify, a tech accessories company, to put the images of some of its most recognizable women — Mona Lisa, Venus, Liberty Leading the People — onto iPhone covers, AirPods cases, grip stands, wireless charging pads, and water bottles.

Maison Sarah Lavoine, a tiny boutique located near the Tuileries Garden, offers a fancy throw pillow and ceramic candle holders said to be inspired by the pedestals of the garden’s statues.

During the pandemic, visits to the Louvre.fr website have exploded, according to the museum. But the Louvre had to rely on an umbrella online site, Boutique de Musées, to sell its wares, thus lumping them in with merchandise from museums like Versailles and the Musée d’Orsay. As a result, in late January, the Louvre created a separate online identity with its own e-boutique.

“We wanted to take control, to promote whatever we wanted, to tell our own stories — and reach the widest possible audience around the world,” said Yann Le Touher, head of sponsorships, branding and commercial partnerships for the Louvre. Louvre.fr is where you can find Louvre Swatches, a Louvre perfume by L’Officine Universelle Buly; and Louvre Monopoly.

The merchandise expansion is just one of the ways the museum has been getting creative with funding.

In December, for the first time in its history, the museum organized an auction with Christie’s and Drouot to raise funds to turn an unused museum space into a 12,000-square-foot educational, hands-on art “studio” for adults and children. Up for sale at the auction were donated works of art from Pierre Soulages and Jean-Michel Othoniel; a watch from Vacheron Constantin (the winning bidder could choose a piece of art from the museum to be reproduced on the dial, though the Mona Lisa was off-limits;) and a variety of museum-related “experiences.”

One unidentified bidder paid €80,000 ($96,600) to be able to witness, in person, the process of the Mona Lisa being taken out of its case for its annual inspection.

In total, the auction raised over €2.3 million ($2.8 million). “Bidders from all over the world came together to show their support,” Mr. Martinez said. “The desire for the Louvre is now more than ever alive.”

Cozying up to popular culture is not new for the Louvre, which welcomes — often at stiff rental fees — filmmakers, videographers, photographers, fashion designers, artists.

For two nights in 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z took over the galleries, staircases, corridors, and main courtyard of the Louvre to produce a music video that has been watched more than 200 million times on YouTube.

More recently, the makers of the Netflix series “Lupin” rented the museum for five days and nights. And Louis Vuitton, because of its status as a major donor to the Louvre, has an exclusive arrangement that gives it access to various museum spaces for its shows, which have taken place in the outdoor Cour Carrée and the glass-roofed Cour Marly (the location for the next one, to be revealed digitally on March 10, remains to be seen).

It’s all about the buzz and the bottom line; the fees are negotiable.

“The cost of the museum depends on the project,” said Mr. Ziane. “Is it day or night? How may galleries? Do you want the Mona Lisa? Do you want an aerial shot of the Pyramid? The prices can go quite high.”

In the meantime, those who want to don Mona Lisa on their face, can buy a “Monna Pop” face mask with 16 images of her face in bright pop-art colors on the Boutique de Musées site for €9.90.

The website proclaims, “Cover your mouth and nose with style!”

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