When you are looking for outposts of opportunity (and also spots that are about to fade) you need to be reading not just the business pages but the international news ones, too.
It is a lesson that many of the leading fashion houses learnt long, long ago and is why a few months ago an executive at a key luxury brand told me that he had been scrutinising the progress of the talks in Lausanne between the p5+1 group of nations (the US, China, Russia, Germany, France and UK) and Iran, which promise Tehran a lifting of sanctions in return for a curtailment of its nuclear programme. His ambitious company felt that a deal looked likely in the coming months so it had recently dispatched him to Iran to check out the retail landscape and even look for potential partners. And it turned out they were not alone in following the negotiators’ progress: he bumped into other brands doing the very same recce in the Iranian capital.
Tehran is ripe to be the next frontier town for luxury brands, even if the rules of retail there rub up against the mullahs’ sensibilities. So we decided we should also take a look at the business landscape in the country and discovered that many brands already have a bold presence in the city thanks to both legitimate and grey imports. You can see all that we unearthed on page 69 in an intriguing story by Mehrnoush.
But in this issue we also visit a town on the slide. A town that, until now, has been riding high on an oil boom. Fort McMurray in Alberta is at the heart of the province’s oil sands industry and until now this has meant stratospheric salaries and an atmosphere of frontier-town-style wildness. But now that the global oil price has collapsed the game has changed. The major oil players are no longer investing in new projects and the air of optimism is being let out of the balloon rather rapidly. But our report on page 33 shows that many residents are almost looking forward to the downturn – if it allows Fort McMurray to catch up on building much-needed infrastructure and putting essential services in place. So while the wallets of the workers may take on a slimmer profile in the coming months, there will be other opportunities for people to exploit.
This strange see-saw of luck and misfortune also connects two other stories in this issue. Firstly our Madrid correspondent Liam Aldous was sent on a mission for this month’s Expo: to gain admittance to Madrid’s Edificio Princesa, a glorious piece of 1970s architecture that is coming back into favour. Though it has not been the building’s modernist harsh edges or its verdant balconies that have previously diminished its reputation but rather who the block housed: the generals and military loyalists of Franco’s regime. But as they die off, a fresh set of young residents is challenging the old order and allowing the Princesa to be seen in a sunny light. Head over to page 227 to see Liam’s well-appointed dispatch.
Then there is the rise of Tunis as a diplomatic capital (page 41), despite the recent attack by Isis terrorists at the Bardo Museum that left 21 people dead. That, however, still leaves it as a far safer base than Tripoli and most governments’ Libyan operations are now based in Tunis. So while Tunis has taken a hit it is still up on the diplomacy scale. So it’s all about shifting tides this month. And monocle can help you navigate the currents.