As the world makes efforts to kick into gear, bright ideas are sparking up across the globe, from the fashion house bringing haute couture to your door, to small towns tempting newcomers by offering free board – at a price. And why not a case of home-grown wine to cap it off?
At-home sales have long been the domain of Avon ladies and door-to-door Tupperware peddlers. Now, you can add chic Louis Vuitton sales associates to that number too. The French brand’s elegant new fleet of mobile boutiques travels to customers’ homes so they can peruse a personalised selection of pieces including clothing, fragrances, jewellery and leather goods. The LV by Appointment experience had its first outing in New York late last year and the plush trailers are now visiting doorsteps in California. Your driveway is the new runway.
Recipe boxes were my gateway subscription. Having never been a masterful cook, receiving a delivery of vegetables, meat and instructions on how to whip up a decent meal each week soon started to feel more exciting than queueing up for groceries. Then came the laundry detergent, the sanitary products and the natural wine. I quickly became a sucker for a subscription. Getting these parcels has felt like receiving a recurring gift, a mood-booster and a chance to find new vintners or ingredients I wouldn’t have known where to find myself.
Clearly I’m not the only one; the so-called subscription economy has grown by 437 per cent over the past nine years and these days you can pretty much subscribe to everything – cheese, beard oil and socks included. Still, it’s not until I started being targeted with ads for clothes boxes that I realised I had to wean myself off. If I signed up, a stylist would pick a few garments for me and pop them in the post.
Why did this suddenly feel different? Maybe it’s because picking your style is personal, and a hunt that’s a joy in itself. Mostly, though, it’s because there are certain items I need re-stocked on a regular basis (wine certainly being one of them) and others I don’t. I don’t want a new dress or a new plant every week. The endorphins last longer when you choose something to care for and cherish for a lot longer than that.
When you think of “wine country”, Australia’s Barossa Valley and Argentina’s Cuyo region might spring to mind. Brazil probably doesn’t. But sales of wine there jumped 30 per cent in 2020, with a large portion from Brazilian wineries.
Conditions this year have only helped: Brazilians, like many grounded by travel restrictions, are increasingly keen to support nearby growers. And president Jair Bolsonaro’s bungled handling of the pandemic has been enough to drive anyone to drink. Saúde!
After a tough year, you might think children could be cut some slack to play outside. Not by Japan’s more curmudgeonly residents, whose crowdsourced online map pinpoints where “stupid parents” have allowed playing on the street. Citizens are also called out for loud talking and inconsiderate barbecuing. Anyone can add an anonymous whinge and more than 6,900 hotspots are marked. Maybe the map is a sign of collective exasperation and no doubt there are repeat offenders, but most people try hard not to annoy their neighbours. There’s a reason why Tokyo’s parks are full of people playing musical instruments.
Whenever power switches at the White House, conversation among Washington’s permanent residents often turns parochial: which DC neighbourhood will be most transformed by the new president’s arrival?
For Washingtonians, it is a familiar cycle. An influx of new staffers scrambles to buy or rent homes, often near to one another, pulling along lobbyists and journalists in their orbit. Almost immediately, the fortune of one neighbourhood rises while another falls; Georgetown was invigorated by the glamour of John F Kennedy’s circle for instance, while Republicans of the George W Bush era found a foothold in Glover Park. These shifts can change existing cycles of development at a speed unseen in cities where taste and value adjust organically.
I’ve witnessed this first-hand. As soon as Barack Obama was sworn in, those of us who worked in political Washington could feel the centre of cultural gravity shuffle to the corridors along 14th and U Streets that had gone largely unloved since the Nixon years. That ended in 2017, when Donald Trump’s crowd sought refuge in The Wharf, a so-called “commercial lifestyle centre” that opened the year he came to office.
This year, there are a number of good candidates for the area most likely to be Bidenised. One can easily imagine staffers moving en masse into LeDroit Park’s brick rowhouses, with distilleries appearing in nearby Ivy City to entertain them.
But the crisis that consumes Joe Biden’s team has also stalled this cycle. With much of the capital’s business being done remotely, many district denizens have found homes in areas beyond the Beltway where space is more plentiful. The pandemic will ensure that Biden has a consequential presidency. But it could also stop him from having any local legacy. If that’s the case, we’ll miss out on an important aspect of DC life: a unique shorthand to explain why the city changes when it does. And possibly, a few new drinking holes in Ivy City.
One corner of the ‘South China Morning Post’ HQ recalls an era when journalism and drinking went hand in hand. Take a booth at the in-house pub and we’ll be happy to reminisce. For more, click here.
Considering switching the cosmopolis for a cosier conurbation? Well, a handful of small towns have made that decision easier. They’re offering incentives – with a catch.
Interviewing for a place in a shared house is never fun but imagine having to field questions from prospective neighbours too. That was the case for two ex-Berliners who won a community vote to become the town’s newest residents. In exchange for free rent, they must transform part of their new digs into a lively community space.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Italy.
If you’re looking to set up shop close to Rome, get in touch with the council here. Anyone willing to commit to a five-year stay, and open a tourism, culture, maintenance, medical or food business, is eligible for grants totalling €44,000.
Close to Tokyo, this is the perfect place for fans of a “fixer-upper”. New residents willing to move into the town’s akiya, or vacant homes, can do so for free and may also receive renovation assistance.
Late last year, I received a long-awaited package to my home in Warsaw. Inside was four metres of ivory silk crêpe – luscious and fluid, with incredible drape. I had bought it several months earlier from the American womenswear brand Elizabeth Suzann, known for its simple silhouettes that are sewn on site at the company’s base in Nashville, Tennessee.
I ordered the crêpe thinking that I would sew myself a shift dress (for the uninitiated, it’s a simple piece where the cloth falls straight from the shoulders). To me, those four metres of fabric contained the promise of life after a year of lockdowns – of silk garments and glasses of rosé outside after restrictions are lifted.
Here in Warsaw, style has long been bound up with resourcefulness. During the communist era, most people had to make do with whatever clothes were available. Some were able to get sought-after items from abroad, such as blue jeans, which became a symbol of freedom in Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain. Others sewed their own clothes, like my grandmother, who later shared her skills with me. Every item she made had a story.
After the fall of communism in Central Europe, Poles found themselves with significantly more choice, on everything from shoes to toothpaste. Shopping centres sprang up in every city, filled with Western chains selling fast fashion. Clothes became much more abundant but, at the same time, less special and more replaceable. Now, with online shopping, a new outfit is just a few clicks away.
Still, it is not all H&M. I like to spend spring evenings people-watching on Plac Zbawiciela, a popular spot known as “hipster square”, observing the eclectic style of passersby. Nearby, on Mokotowska street and at the Mysia 3 department store, shops sell clothes and accessories by a new generation of the nation’s designers, many of them made in Poland. Just as it did under communism, clothing still offers a way for us to express ourselves, regardless of what is happening in the outside world – and soon, I’ll have a silk dress to show it.
Photographer: Kenneth Tsang. Illustrator: Satoshi Hahsimoto. Image: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com, Getty Images