The Monocle Minute

In association with Brand Hong Kong

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 23 January 2017

Image: Raymond Hall/Getty images

Enter the dragon

Is the political rise of an opportunistic businessman-turned-reality-TV-star an “only in America” phenomenon? Maybe not. North of Washington, wealthy right-wing businessman and star of the Canadian version of Dragons’ Den, Kevin O’Leary, has announced that he’s running for leadership of the Conservative party with a promise to help “hardworking Canadians”. If he wins the 14-contender race he’ll likely be Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau’s strongest opponent in the 2019 election. Yet although O’Leary has the message and name recognition that might help him at the ballot box in a general election, he’ll have to win the votes of paid-up members of the Conservative party first – who aren’t likely to place their trust in a political rookie. But following the unexpected results that were Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump, it would be unwise to rule him out completely.

Image: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Japanese jitters

With US president Donald Trump’s swearing-in, Corporate Japan has shifted into worry mode. A recent poll by public broadcaster NHK showed that more than half of major companies have no idea how the Trump administration’s policies will affect their business. Their worst fear: a return to the bilateral trade war and Japan bashing of the 1980s. That thought has dogged executives ever since Trump suggested this month that he would penalise Toyota with a border tax if it built a factory in Mexico and tried to sell those cars in the US. Last week, hours before Trump’s inauguration, NHK’s news programme offered a reminder of what US-Japan trade tensions looked like, with archive footage showing crowds of Americans wielding sledgehammers and smashing Japanese cars. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Image: Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Spreading good cheer

Last week Australians awoke to a slice of good news over breakfast when local brand Bega Cheese announced that it will acquire the iconic Vegemite spread from its US owner Mondelez International. The deal, coming a week before Australia Day on Thursday, will bring the beloved Aussie brand back under local control for the first time in 90 years. The Melbourne-manufactured food spread is derived from leftover brewer’s yeast and was originally developed to rival the UK’s Marmite. Annual sales have been hit by changing breakfast habits down under, thanks in no small part to fellow Melbourne-born chef Bill Granger and his famous ricotta hotcakes. Vegemite’s new owner plans to convince patriotic Aussies to reach for the distinctive yellow-and-red jar at all times of the day.

Image: Courtesy of DTACC

Razing the bars

The city of Nantes has announced plans to convert a 19th-century prison into an urban village with 160 new homes, a theatre and a nursery, as well as a collection of pocket-parks, allotments and terrace gardens. Architecture firm Dtacc and Tandem+, which recently helped convert Nantes’ former courthouse into a high-end hotel, is spearheading the project, set for completion by 2019. “Opening up a place of confinement is truly symbolic; it’s a quarter that needed reinventing,” says Nantes mayor Johanna Rolland. Half of the neighbourhood’s new homes will be state-owned, a sign that the city is taking the challenge of social housing seriously. Post-modernist projects such as Ricardo Bofill’s amphitheatre-esque Les Éspaces d’Abraxas just outside Paris have been branded as architectural in-jokes at the expense of the tenants. Let’s hope Nantes opts for a more resident-friendly design.

From Monocle 24

A restaurant with no kitchen

In Helsinki’s new pop-up restaurant, Take In, customers eat together having ordered takeaway food from around the city.

From Monocle Films

The art of getting lost

The US military has long used a type of camouflage pattern designed according to the type of terrain in which it will be used. Now a Brooklyn-based company has persuaded it to try a new way of (not) seeing things.

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