The opener - Issue 130 - Magazine | Monocle

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Sky drama

A high-culture approach to in-flight safety

ana’s current in-flight-safety video, filmed in the style of traditional Japanese kabuki theatre, plays out the usually innocuous cabin procedures with wit, charm and beauty. Five traditionally costumed actors demonstrate the perils of smoking in the bathroom, taking selfies on evacuation or wearing high heels on the exit slide. After landing another video, a behind-the-scenes montage, includes a curtain call featuring the whole cast and crew bowing. You might want to sample them in one of ana’s new Kengo Kuma-styled 777s.

All for onesies?

They’re snow way to dress

We’re used to seeing kids parrot adult fashions but what about the other way around? On a recent trip to the Danish capital, monocle spotted some women donning a more fitted version of the all-in-one snow suits that children tend to wear during the winter in colder climes. They looked stylish and are probably a great way to keep warm but we can’t help wondering whether they might be a bit inconvenient when you want to remove a layer in a restaurant or café. Do you take the whole thing off to reveal another outfit or just roll it down to the waist? It’s all a little bit ski slope for us – we’ll stick to coats for now.

Boldly glowing

by Will Kitchens

We’re delighted that Los Angeles has launched a contest to design a new standard street light for the city. Some of LA’s 400 unique models pre-date the automobile. But as cars became commonplace, street lights grew taller and cities began opting for easily replicated designs. Now a new generation of designers are sharpening their pencils to draft modern street lamps, prioritising pedestrians and cyclists. Here we shine a light on our global favourites.

Santa & Cole Urbidermis Latina lamp

We don’t recommend counterfeiting this crane-like design, as Qatar did in 2006, but its width could fit sprawling LA streets.

Leccor Fiaccola light

Don’t reinvent the wheel. This 1989 lamp with a right-angled arm builds on a classic form but bathes a bigger area with light.

Friso Kramer inverted-cone lamp

The utilitarian beauty of this downwards-pointing light is hard to overlook, though Kramer aimed for it to go unnoticed. Indeed, monocle editors have been known to walk into these lampposts after a night putting the world to rights with wine glass in hand.

Backing the bus

Unclogging Miami Beach’s streets

Sunny Miami Beach has a lot going for it – well beyond its palm-lined shores. Its mayor, Dan Gelber, told monocle that the success of cultural events such as Art Basel and Design Miami has spawned a new convention centre and more public spaces. One thing he didn’t mention, though, was congestion: roads are clogged on the barrier island, especially during big events. But grinding along among all the Chevys and Teslas is the marvellously retro Miami Trolley, a free bus. Miami Beach has great scenery at every turn (much of it pastel-hued, mid-century architecture) so the city should boost its charming Trolley fleet. And if an above-ground monorail was added to the mix, roads would be clearer – and visitors more in awe.

Alex Duval Smith

An exceptional journalist

Alex Duval Smith, a monocle correspondent since 2012, died from lung cancer in December. Her writing and voice will be greatly missed by everyone at monocle and Monocle 24. Across the years Alex was variously our woman in Cape Town, Bamako and Abidjan. Her knowledge and passion came across in everything she wrote and recorded. Our condolences to her friends and family.

Turn off, tune out and embrace the joy of six

by Julia Hobsbawm

I began a quest for simplicity about 10 years ago when I realised that the “triple revolution” of the internet, the smartphone and social media was the biggest game-changer since the steam engine, the lightbulb and the telephone. This revolution makes our lives feel chaotic, complicated and time poor rather than stable, calm and productive.

Our desire for a life that is lean, clean and simple is not new or related to technology. Back in the 14th century, the UK logician and Franciscan friar William of Occam stated that simple always works better than complicated: “Never undertake plurality without necessity” is the adage known as Occam’s razor.

So how do you keep it simple? First, you decide to. You take micro-steps not giant steps. Just as you avoid obesity in the choices you make about how you eat, you avoid “infobesity”: stop bingeing mindlessly on too much information and instead decide what is a priority, what’s just curiosity or creativity – and when to look away from your screen. Research shows that it takes 23 minutes to regain focus when you come offline. You can also take a leaf out of nature’s book by respecting the number six, which is mathematically “perfect” and in line with our memory capacities. So don’t try to do more than six things a day; don’t “reply all” to more than six people; keep things real and keep things calm. Reject complexity in every conscious decision you make and feel the measurable difference.

The most famous design principle is Kiss (“Keep it simple, stupid”), coined in the 1960s by aeronautical engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Later, a more elegant version was born that I prefer: “Keep it simple, sweetie.”

Julia Hobsbawm’s new book, ‘The Simplicity Principle: Six Steps Towards Clarity in a Complex World’, will be published by Kogan Page in April.

The Interrogator

Robin Givhan

As The Washington Post’s fashion critic, Robin Givhan’s articles have been so influential that, in 2006, she was the first fashion writer to win a Pulitzer prize. Her keen eye for the social mores and fashion choices of political figures is one of her specialities. Here she reveals her go-to media and the itinerary for a great weekend.

What news source do you wake up to?
The dulcet tones of NPR’s Morning Edition.

Coffee, tea or juice to go with the headlines?
Coffee with cream, no sugar. I grind my beans myself.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for music?
Most likely Spotify, although I still harbour an affection for my old iTunes playlists.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I don’t sing in the shower. It’s probably the only few minutes during the day when I’m not thinking about anything at all.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
I have the print edition of the Post delivered. And I still read books in print form too.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon?
I love browsing my neighbourhood shop, Solid State Books, in Washington, and then getting a coffee.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately?
The last thing that had me both obsessed and wrecked was the hbo mini-series Chernobyl.

Sunday brunch routine?
I only occasionally do brunch. But when I do, my morning goes like this: take the dog to the park, work out, shower, buy something insanely indulgent from the bakery and wash it down with too much coffee.

Do you still watch the nightly news?
No. I absorb too much news all day to make an appointment with television.

A favourite newsreader?
There are many who I admire and respect but I enjoy Brian Williams’s [chief anchor at msnbc] wry humour.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I tend to fall asleep while watching some stand-up comedy on Netflix.

Catch up on The Interrogator in our free weekly email bulletin, The Monocle Weekend Edition. Sign up at

Haus Proud

How do you stop empty shopfronts making streets look sad? On Chicago’s Wabash Avenue, four vacant façades have been decorated with Bauhaus-inspired murals (it was to Chicago that Laszlo Moholy-Nagy fled the Nazis and founded the New Bauhaus). It certainly keeps the street sharp.

Born to run

The year of the rat is upon us

Joshua Wong is a rat. So are Mark Zuckerberg and Prince Charles (but you knew that). All three men were born during the year of the rat – and its latest annual cycle begins on 25 January. It’s a time for celebration and caution.

Rats are actually winners in Chinese culture. The small four-legged rodent came first in the mythical race between the 12 animals that decided the order of the Chinese calendar. Cheeky and quick-witted, the rat hitched a ride on the ox’s back and scurried over the finish line at the last minute, even beating the mighty dragon. Clever.

However, rats will enter 2020 with trepidation. Their birth years are believed to be unstable and full of change, so beware anyone who came into the world in 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 or 2008. Superstitious Chinese have ways of warding off rotten luck. One belief is that wearing red underpants throughout the year can act as a protective shield. Prince Charles needs a year’s supply, for sure.

Another fine mess

by Paige Reynolds

At monocle we hold our dogs dear. So when visiting Chengdu for our Cities Series conference in November, we were happy to find a snack inspired by our furry pals. Or rather what they leave behind. Behold “Dog Shit Candy”, sweets inspired by canine mess which, in China, is said to bring good luck if you step in it. Some say that the candy is named after the phrase “dog-shit luck”, an idiom thought to be from the China of old where a lack of fertiliser led to folk selling doggy business to farmers. Others say that the bean-and-peanut squares were named for their appearance. Either way, we’re keen on the treats.

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