We decided to press play on this special French edition of monocle while wandering along the aisles of the Yvon Lambert bookshop in Paris. It was a Monday in late autumn and the gilets jaunes had been out in force over the weekend. On main boulevards, cleaners were tidying up and trying to put the city back in shape; in pockets all over town, shopkeepers were taking down sheets of plywood, fencing and steel panels, all hastily erected to save window displays and shop stock from bricks and looting.
In the bookshop there was little sense that much had happened over the weekend. Locals and tourists were stocking up on prints and books, and an exhibition was being hung in the back gallery space. As I looked at some new launches in the magazine section I responded to a couple of texts and emails asking me about the mood in Paris. “All good here,” I responded. “Very much business as usual – aside from some boarded-up entrances and unpotted plants.”
En route to Gare de Lyon I had a conversation with our editor Andrew about the pros and cons of doing the issue. While we debated whether the timing was right to “celebrate” France given all the upheaval, we came back to the core of why we were doing the issue in the first place. “We’re not going to ignore what’s going on,” said Andrew. “But we’re also going to remind people why this is one of the most visited countries in the world – and very much an economic powerhouse.”
As I listened and kept an eye on the traffic (do the French love a motorcade more than the Russians?) I thought about Brand France and its economic, cultural, sporting, culinary and design contributions. Indeed, it wasn’t for nothing that the country managed to seize top spot in our most recent Soft Power Survey. “I think this needs a big business spin and highlight France Incorporated in every aspect of daily life,” I said to Andrew. “There’s room to highlight that France is a very complete, unique, industrialised nation that makes everything from submarines to in-demand handbags, boasts some of the biggest food-retail businesses and still has an auto industry.”
And that was the starting point for this issue, just like all issues of monocle: spot the opportunities, shine a light on what’s working and give some airtime to people who deserve a stage despite the politics of the day. Across 200-plus pages (and there’ll be even more minutes devoted to France on our radio station Monocle 24) we’ve climbed mountain faces, boarded naval vessels, sampled dishes, spent afternoons in workshops and ateliers and ventured across oceans to cover all the sectors and subjects that are relevant to this magazine. While it’s easy to find daily coverage of France’s biggest brands (L’Oréal, Vinci, Veolia, bnp Paribas, Danone, Carrefour, Publicis, LafargeHolcim, Total et al), we’ve been on the hunt for the emerging brands that make France a global leader in fashion, design, food, aviation and even niche pockets of technology.
Along the way we’ve also identified a few cities you might want to consider as your next base post 29 March (more on Brexit moves in a moment), some key spring/summer buys for your wardrobe and, of course, plenty of products for the larder. To make this whole exercise complete we’ve also commissioned a clutch of favourite brands for our Capsule Française: a series of fashion and accessory collaborations that will debut in our shops in March (remember, we’ve just opened in Los Angeles and at The Peninsula in Hong Kong) and on monocle.com.
Getting back to Brexit, it’s worth pointing out that this issue is also a collector’s item. Not because of all its Gallic tips and charms but because this is the last edition that will be printed in the UK. Over the course of 121 issues we’ve worked with a talented group of men and women in Dorset and, later, Cornwall to get our words and images on page. That’s 12 years of thousands of litres of ink, tonnes of various paper stocks, complicated binding and tricky inserts all coming together in a far corner of the UK before being dispatched around the world. From next issue the same orchestration will happen in Germany’s Lower Saxony and while it wasn’t an easy decision to part with our set-up in England’s West Country, the UK government’s appalling handling of its departure from the EU demanded we find a dependable, high-quality solution to ensure timely delivery of monocle to our readers and partners.
We’ve done a few test runs and you’ll be pleased to hear that you’ll have a superior-looking product come mid-March. We’ll explain more next month in a special section devoted to some of our new on-page innovations but for now I’d like to thank all of our printing and production partners for their outstanding work since 2007. As ever, all questions and comments can be sent to me at email@example.com – and thank you for your support.