Qatar is braced for a fresh round of grinding sanctions after it refused to bow to the demands of a Saudi-led blockade yesterday. Speaking at Chatham House, the Qatari foreign minister Mohammed al-Thani stuck to his government’s line that “fake news” about the emir and Iran was used as a pretext for the ongoing rupture in the Gulf. He also dismissed the list of demands that include closing Al Jazeera and, he said, “[signing] an open cheque to the blockading countries”. The refusal echoes way beyond the Gulf: there will likely come a moment soon when Saudi will issue a “with us or against us” warning to its allies. That would have deep ramifications for Qatari investments in Europe and elsewhere, as well as also broader stability. What began as a spat is fermenting with Saudi ire into a new Cold War, with no moral high ground on either side.
Japan’s government is so keen to persuade the country’s workers to toil less and spend more time with their families that it is now considering a new holiday called Kids Week. The plan is to create a weeklong holiday for school children starting from 2018. The break would vary in date by region to avoid the travel crush that usually accompanies national holidays. The government is hoping that as well as promoting family time, the new holiday would also encourage spending on transport and hotels; research suggests that travel spending in Japan could rise by as much as ¥400bn (€3.1bn). Japan’s workforce clearly needs an incentive to take time off: a recent government survey revealed that the percentage of annual leave taken by Japanese workers in 2015 was less than 50 per cent.
Thai retail giant Central Group is continuing its steady takeover of Vietnam. The group opened its stationery and office-supplies shop B2S’s first outlet in Ho Chi Minh City this week and is already eyeing 30 more locations in the country over the next five years, including nine universities and four industrial parks. The attempt to profit from Vietnam’s increasingly young and educated population of 95 million people has been swift: last year Central bought Vietnam’s popular supermarket chain Big C and the previous year it invested in a 49 per cent chunk of electronics franchise Nguyen Kim. With all this traction it would be great to see Central’s move into Vietnam incorporate aspects of its approach to retail spaces in Bangkok: spots such as Open House and Think Space B2S have successfully merged dining, co-working and social spaces with bookshops.
Hampstead in North London is better known for brick Victorian townhouses and its heath than it is for modernist piles – but the Isokon building is a rare modernist landmark. Famously inhabited and co-directed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (after he fled Germany and before he crossed the pond), the 1934-built Isokon is a beautiful example of socially minded housing: 30-plus smallish spaces, shared communal areas and a hearteningly human scale. The latest exhibition by the building’s gallery chimes with the 80th anniversary of Gropius’s departure. Amid the fallout from the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London it’s also a nudge to architects and developers who need to consider the capital’s private housing, which is as underfunded and often poorly conceived as the social-housing crisis that many people became aware of since the fire. The exhibition Walter Gropius: Architect, Teacher, Isokon Resident runs until October.
From the rise of Mr Porter and Farfetch to the demise of Style.com, the e-commerce industry has experienced an eventful few years. This week we tell the tale of a new entry, an online marketplace called Bombinate. Founded by two friends following a road trip around the world, Bombinate sells only the highest-quality products from lesser-known brands from Europe. The mission is to cultivate a lively community of likeminded brands but how will it fare in a saturated market? Bombinate’s co-founder Massimiliano Gritti shares the company’s story.
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