The Opener - Issue 152 - Magazine | Monocle

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how to live: look to the east 

The list

Want to support business in eastern Europe? It’s easier than you think, says Tyler Brûlé.

At a recent launch event for The Monocle Book of the Nordics, a reader asked the best thing she could do to support the economies in Europe’s eastern flank. According to a fellow attendee who works in the Swiss financial-services sector, the way to keep up morale and turnover is to “buy Hungarian, buy Estonian, buy Polish”. Our reader said that she didn’t come into contact with many brands from the Baltics but the finance worker suggested that, with a bit of research, it was easy to find them. “Poland is a huge production partner, so there’s a good chance that wooden items will have been made there,” he said. “And a lot of luxury-goods firms have been shifting production from Asia to Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania.” For our part, monocle has also been moving production to the eastern edges of the EU.

1. Bulgaria: We recently moved the bulk of our sizeable production of tote bags from Thailand to a factory that also supplies various Nato forces with duffels, packs and other materials.

2. Estonia: You will soon see a new collection of products made by some of the best linen producers in Europe. Think good towels for post-sauna dips, table runners and placemats.

3. Poland and the Baltics: Much of the paper for our magazines, newspapers and books comes from forests in the Baltics. We are committed to keeping all of our printing in Europe and will soon be looking at quality presses in Latvia.

correspondent’s view: Montevideo

Close to home

At the height of every summer, wealthy city dwellers from Buenos Aires escape the stifling temperatures and cross the river to Uruguay. With its long pristine coastline and laid-back attitude, Argentina’s neighbour has become the preferred holiday destination. But as the season comes to an end this year, something feels different.

Walking around the capital Montevideo, flashy cars with foreign plates are still parked outside homes in neighbourhoods where Argentine coffee and restaurant chains have opened concessions. The city’s marina, meanwhile, is so full of new arrivals that boats have been forced to park further away to the east. Porteños, it seems, are now committed to living in Uruguay year-round.

School enrolments and the central bank are two solid indicators of this trend. Bank deposits at the start of 2022 in Uruguay were almost double those in Argentina, despite the country being a fraction of the size. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in private schools is up by as much as 50 per cent. 

More interesting is how Uruguay is subtly, yet effectively, transitioning from a traditional tourist destination to a place that’s worth establishing yourself in. Argentines are becoming residents, opening accounts and businesses, and buying property. As for the locals? Well, these new faces are a welcome boost to finances, even if they could learn to tone down the noisy Maserati exhausts.

Virtual indemnity

It seems like companies think it might be prudent to begin engaging with the metaverse, so as to avoid the rush. Take JP Morgan, which has opened what it is pleased to call the “Onyx Lounge” in the virtual world Decentraland. Touted as the first metaverse bank branch, the Onyx Lounge offers such attractions as a hovering portrait of JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and a meandering tiger, for some reason.

But the lounge is not intended as a mere gimmick: JP Morgan believes that the trade in virtual property could become a trillion-dollar sector. It remains to be seen whether any of the investment bank’s rivals will sense a competitive advantage in avoiding the metaverse entirely and instead concentrate on employing sufficient operators to handle customer enquiries in the real world.


Protest songs

As authorities in Canada have recently learnt, even a relatively small protest can be a major nuisance if the participants are equipped with big trucks.

When police in New Zealand confronted a so-called Freedom Convoy, they got creative. Protesters were berated with the worst music the cops could compile, heavy on Barry Manilow, also featuring Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” and a version of Celine Dion’s emetic “My Heart Will Go On” tooted on discordant recorders.

Mystifyingly popular British dirgewriter James Blunt tweeted New Zealand police that they were welcome to give his works a spin. The speaker of New Zealand’s parliament, Trevor Mallard, thanked him but wondered whether it was fair on the officers who would also be damned to endure Blunt’s whining.

There is another flaw with this tactic. The kind of people who believe that New Zealand is an oppressive tyranny might also actually enjoy the racket broadcast at them.

Reporting from...

Monocle’s HQ and bureaux span cities across the world. Here we raise a glass to extended drinking hours in Zürich and a new neighbourhood in Toronto.

Smart move

The world’s first “smart” neighbourhood by Sidewalk Labs was shelved early on in the pandemic. Unveiled this February, a new plan looks cannier, with homes by David Adjaye, a park by Denmark’s sla landscape studio and Canada’s largest timber-framed building.

los angeles
Welcome facelift

The Conrad hotel, a mixed-use monolith designed by Frank Gehry, is set to welcome its first guests in June, marking the debut of the long-delayed Grand Avenue Project, first mooted in 2004. But it will take pizzazz to entice some reticent Angelenos back to the city’s core.

Hot under the collar

London has launched the latest phase of its Cool Streets and Greening programme to mitigate rising temperatures in its cbd. The plan is to plant more trees to provide shade for the area’s workers. Let’s see if the city’s less salubrious but more populous areas will follow suit. 


Switzerland’s largest city is close to cresting its highest-ever population as residents have chosen to stay rather than decamp for the countryside. Proposed new laws that would extend restaurant and bar opening times beyond midnight would keep the crowds happy.

hong kong
Hold the phone 

Stalls selling phone cards will soon fade away as a new law came into effect requiring prepaid Sim cards to be tied to a name. Registration will kill demand for burner phones. Authorities cite a rise in phone scams while privacy advocates fear that surveillance is the real reason for the call.

Out of time

It’s time to say sayonara to a Tokyo landmark: Kisho Kurokawa’s 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower. This stack of prefabricated capsules is the ultimate expression of metabolism, an architectural movement that compared buildings to living organisms. Demolition is already underway.


the interrogator

Patrice Wagner


Celebrating its 170th birthday this year, Paris’s Le Bon Marché can lay claim to being the world’s oldest and longest-running department store. Opened in 1852, its founders, Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut, created a new style of shopping by introducing the rather modern-sounding notion of free delivery to customers (alongside the less cutting-edge but rather practical suggestion of fixed prices for products). Significantly, the pair also turned their flagship into a cultural and social destination with live concerts, reading- and billiard-rooms and a salon for food and refreshments. Today the iconic Left Bank shop is part of the lvmh group. Its current chairman and ceo Patrice Wagner tells monocle how exclusivity can save shops, why digital transactions can’t trump physical ones and what to expect from the next 170 years of business. 

Tell us about Le Bon Marché’s approach to retail?
We strive to be different, with installations and exhibitions that surprise our clients. This preserves our uniqueness. Our aim is to enrich through intellectual or artisticexperiences. Once we set up electric-guitar lessons and you would not believe the number of people, me included, who scratched a guitar for 30 minutes before buying one, hoping to unlock a new hobby. 

You’re hosting an exhibition called X to foster collaboration between Le Bon Marché and its brands. What’s on show?
We approached Philippe Katerine – a singer, actor and artist who is adored in France – to be our main collaborator and to create installations. Porsche is collaborating with Tag Heuer and has provided electric cars to taxi around clients. It will also be possible to test-ride electric bikes courtesy of Cowboy teaming up with K-Way and a cocktail bar has been dreamed up by [nightclub] Castel and [perfumery] Kilian. We want to encourage liveliness.

“Physical shops need to offer something human, an oasis of joy that cannot be experienced digitally”

Why are collaborations important in retail?
They create exclusivity, not necessarily because of price but because of how much fun a product can be. A Scholl sandal can be bought anywhere. But a Scholl sandal made with swimwear brand Eres, available only at Le Bon Marché, is an exclusive. 

You’re celebrating your 170th birthday. What will the next 170 years look like?
I am not arrogant enough to predict that far into the future but over the next couple of decades there will be a shift from the old retail model to “retail-tainment”. Physical shops need to offer something human, an oasis of joy that cannot be experienced digitally, because our niche is social contact.


Don’t try before you buy.

São Paulo’s municipal fruit market isn’t usually the place for financial scandals but a widespread “fruit scam” proves that white-collar crime can happen anywhere. In February, visitors accused vendors of coercing them into buying extortionately priced trays of strawberries and custard apples for rs800 (€144). The scammers’ strategy involved giving customers a free sample before demanding that they pay for the produce. Thankfully the market is cracking down before other salespeople, such as car dealers, employed the trick. If that had been the case, taking a Porsche for a test drive could have turned out to be a very expensive mistake. 

Case of bad timing 

While celebrating its victory in the Africa Cup of Nations, Senegal striker Sadio Mané missed the outstretched hand of president Macky Sall. Who else has been left hanging?

Hands off
Collecting his Champions League runner-up medal in 2012, German footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger didn’t see president Joachim Gauck extending his hand in commiseration.

Barack Obama raised a toast to Queen Elizabeth while God Save the Queen played. The monarch didn’t reciprocate as she’s prohibited from doing so while the anthem plays.

In 2021, Recep Erdogan strained relations when two chairs were left out for his meeting with Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen. The latter had to sit on a nearby couch.

ILLUSTRATOR: Daniel Castiñeiras

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