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Standing tall

France

“Not French enough!” ranted France’s leading xenophobe. But it was far too late in the game for Jean-Marie Le Pen to undermine Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as French president. People said the same thing about Napoleon, who had Corsican blood in his veins. It didn’t matter then; it is hardly going to matter now.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French mother of Sephardic Jewish descent, Sarkozy’s rise to the presidency at the age of 52 owes more to the kind of “bootstrap” approach favoured in the US than it does to any Gallic equivalent of the Old Boy Network.

Unlike his conservative predecessors Jacques Chirac and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Sarkozy enjoyed none of the perks of being a graduate of the élite Ecole Nationale ’Administration. Abandoned as a young child by his father, Sarkozy has spoken about how he felt inferior to his rich classmates and was insecure about his lack of height. At 1.52m he is 5.2cm shorter than Napoleon. “What made me who I am now is the sum of all the humiliations suffered during childhood,” he told his biographer Catherine Nay.

Enter Super Sarko, the accessoriser: an unabashed collector of Breguet watches, Mont Blanc pens and Ray-Ban sunglasses. A one-man brandwagon that had threatened to overturn with victory in sight; only for his wife, Cécilia, to step in at the last minute and bring some much needed decorum to proceedings. Cécilia ditched his oversized Dior suits, designed for long, rectilinear silhouettes, and instead opted for the pragmatism of Prada’s dark grey and charcoal suits.

“What I noticed most before he was elected was that he wore suits that were much too big for him, the jackets often coming down way below his bottom,” says Sylvie Chayette, a fashion journalist at Le Monde. “Now he wears suits more his size. Apparently Cécilia took him off to Prada and helped choose a suit just before his victory in the second round.”

The results were instantaneous. Gone were the TV commentator’s jibes about Sarko’s shoulder padding; instead style titles such as Elle began to mention Sarkozy and his wife in the same breath as those avatars of style, the Kennedys.

“Generally heads of state have their suits made to measure,” says Florence Muller, a fashion historian at the Institut Français de la Mode. “The suits Sarkozy buys, while expensive, are still ready to wear, which I think shows that he is a man of his time. There are very few men today who buy tailored suits.”

Still, many French detect a certain vulgarity in Sarkozy’s appearance. A poll conducted last May by right-leaning daily Le Figaro had 52 per cent describe Sarkozy as “flashy”. The damage began earlier in the month when Sarkozy and Cécilia appeared on the cover of tabloid magazine VSD. In the photo Sarkozy’s open-neck white shirt was unbuttoned to reveal a chunky gold chain; Cécilia did not fare much better, with her undergarments clearly visible beneath her clothing.

There is also concern that Sarkozy is not projecting the right kind of presidential image by his persistent jogging. The most iconic image of his presidency remains the shot of him sprinting up the Elysée steps in his Nike running shorts, calf muscles bulging like butcher’s hams.

It will be interesting to see if Sarkozy, a deeply sensitive man, modifies his behaviour, like his wardrobe, to keep in tune with public opinion.

Blue-lake thinking

Sweden

Tällberg, three-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Stockholm, is a town of timber houses perched on hilltops that overlook the silent Lake Siljan. This is the Sweden of postcards. It has also been home for the past three summers to the Tällberg Forum, a sort of Scandinavian Davos, where politicians, heavyweight intellectuals and business leaders gather in the search for a sustainable future.

For four days in late June and early July, around 450 participants attended lectures on everything from security to health. But the conference really stepped up a gear with its discussions on climate change. And, this being Scandinavia, the organisers could not resist showing off the best local maypole-raising team and also ensuring that violin players, dressed in traditional brightly coloured local attire, hovered in all the right places.

Bo Ekman, founder of Tällberg Forum, set the conference’s light-hearted tone during the opening ceremony by staging a mini-play with a clear message: he played the part of humanity making Antarctica, in the shape of a large ice-cube dragged on stage, melt quickly.

“Tällberg is like Davos on Ecstasy. It’s all about openness, relationships between cultures and different components of society – private sector, public sector. So, I think it’s unique,” says Shereen El Feki, Al Jazeera International presenter and delegate to the conference.

Unlike Davos, Tällberg Forum offers an unconventional programme. “There are only a few international meetings – this is probably the only one – that integrate the humanities, music, arts, poetry, philosophy, into hard subjects like climate change and poverty alleviation,” says Christine Loh, CEO of the Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange and the Tällberg delegate on transport.

And at Tällberg, delegates perhaps find it easier to concentrate on the issues at hand because they’re surrounded by such a calming landscape. Jan Eliasson, UN special envoy to Darfur and security delegate at Tällberg, says: “We all rush around in our offices, with our ties on, to and from meetings in cars but we need to be outside those contexts to think in new ways.”

One key new trend evident at Tällberg was big business leaders coming to listen to the eco-message. Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Environment Institute believes that is a reflection of what is happening on a larger scale: “You see corporations coming out and saying, ‘If we get clear directions and regulations from society, we’re prepared to change.’”

Another trend was the participants’ agreement that the challenge now is to bring human rights and democracy issues into the green discussion. This year’s participants will be tempted to go back next year to join that debate. Or maybe they’ll just use it as an excuse to let their hair down in some maypole-dancing.
For more on Tallberg, visit Monocle.com

Q&A

Michael Johnson

Creative director of Johnson Banks

London, UK

Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
I have to say that I’m deeply unimpressed by any attempts by anyone so far to build a “graphic” brand for countries; it always seems tacked on and inappropriate. On the other hand some cities, like Amsterdam, seem to be getting the hang of it from a design perspective. The trouble is that then their tourist offices go off and produce clichéd nonsense using orange scribbled logos. The countries that have “re-branded” themselves, like Australia and Spain, seem to have done it without any help from graphic designers.

Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
The Baltics and all those “former republics of” could really do with some help. No one knows who or where they are. I also think that the UK’s physical brand is much less interesting than what we’re really like.

Spokes people

Spain

You have to feel sorry for the poor burghers of Barcelona. Their new citywide bike-hire scheme – BCN Bicing – has been a hit, with 80,000 happy customers in five months. But existing bike-hire firms have got the hump and successfully lobbied to make the scheme less user-friendly for tourists. That’s not a smart move.

Engine of change

Sweden

Since the government announced in April its plan to offer drivers who buy a “green car” a rebate of 10,000 kronor (€1,100), Swedes have been buying eco-friendly cars in record numbers. Green car sales have jumped by 25 per cent.

Just over 15 per cent of all new cars sold are now defined as “green” – fuel-efficient and hybrid cars with carbon-dioxide emissions of a maximum 120g per km, or cars that run on alternative fuels and burn a maximum of 0.92l of fuel per 10km.

So far, so good, but some problems have clouded the success of the initiative. The French car manufacturer Peugeot has priced its ethanol-run models 10,000 kronor higher than its petrol-run ones – exactly the amount of the rebate. Peugeot charges 147,900 kronor (€16,100) for its regular Peugeot 307, while the 307 BioFlex costs 157,900 kronor (€17,200).

The Swedish Association of Green Motorists is outraged. “When you buy an ethanol car, an engine warmer is needed, which motivates a slightly higher price. But only a few thousand kronor,” says chairman Jakob Lagercrantz.

Victor parade

Ukraine

“Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics,” says Victor Pinchuk as he dabs a bead of sweat from his brow while sitting in the sun-drenched café of his new gallery in Kiev.

Thanks to his steel-pipe company Interpipe, Pinchuk is a wealthy man – Forbes says he is worth close to $2.8bn – and powerful. He was a Ukranian MP until 2006, his father-in-law is the former president Leonid Kuchma, and his address book is filled with the names of international power-brokers.

Yet Pinchuk enjoys spending his wealth on philanthropic projects, promoting EU membership for Ukraine and art. Charity-wise he supports – through his Victor Pinchuk Foundation – the building of neonatal centres, and his wife Elena Franchuk’s HIV group, the Antiaids Foundation. The Foundation also gives money to Jewish groups and those in need of legal aid.

But it is the contemporary art bug that has bitten Pinchuk hardest. He has amassed a collection of over 300 works, pays for Ukraine to be represented at the Venice Biennale (and causes some local consternation by appearing to pick who goes) and has now opened the Pinchuk Art Centre with a design by the French architect Philippe Chiambaretta.

This summer the gallery was opened by Pinchuk’s friend Elton John, who also loaned part of his photography collection. At the opening party there was the improbable sight of Ukraine’s president Viktor Yushchenko contemplating the meaning of dark, sexual images by the photographer Gregory Crewdson.

Yet while Pinchuk may have left parliament, and be unwilling to get caught up in Ukraine’s September elections, he has political ambitions. What’s more, he believes the likes of British artists Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood (who both attended the gallery’s opening), can help him get what he wants.

What Pinchuk wants is for Ukraine to look to the West, culturally and economically: he would like to see Ukraine in the EU, although the EU looks less than keen. And Kiev, while booming, still seems poor and Soviet. “Art is a universal language and it will help modernise both our society and Ukraine. I want our country to speak the same ‘language’ as other western countries,” says Pinchuk.

Pinchuk hopes that the thousands of young people who file through the gallery will be inspired to ask themselves questions about who they are and where Ukraine is headed. He believes the answer they will come up with after taking in the photographs by David LaChapelle or Nan Goldin is west.

Pinchuk plans to open a larger gallery in time for the 2012 Eurocup that Ukraine will co-host with Poland.

Q&A

Valon A Syla

Deputy editor-in-chief on the ‘Gazeta Express’

Pristina, Kosovo

Which country do you think has the best brand image and why?
France. It has a very egalitarian image. It is the French – regardless of their ethnicity, race or religion – who are in possession of their own nationality: their brand belongs to them. That is how it must become in Kosovo.

Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
After Kosovo declares independence, it will have to build a new identity for itself, based on common values. Switzerland would be a suitable model, with its decentralised cantons. We must use our rich history and diversity to build a unified country.

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