Saturday. 13/4/2019

Monocle
Weekend Edition

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Storm in a teacup

I have always had a deep suspicion of certain tea drinkers. There’s something about their righteousness that rankles. Come on, you know what I mean: why do tea drinkers have to hold their cup in both hands and say things like, “Oh, I needed that.” Needed that? All you are drinking is a few old leaves in hot water. And as for the squeeze-of-lemon-in-hot-water crew: grow up.

I imagine Jack Dorsey, the founder of a well-known social-media platform, likes tea. This week news broke of his supposed diet regime which, he says, consists of five meals in the week and no food at weekends. Oh and a lot of ice baths. I hope he’s spoofing us. But like the tea puritans, if for real, he’s just another signatory to a sect of virtue eating and drinking, which always comes with a need to broadcast to anyone who’ll listen – in 140 calories or less.

Tea, like many of these odd diets, also seems to be relied upon as a way of negating other excessive behaviour – so you can drink your weight in albariño after work as long as you hit the lapsang souchong come morning (although Mr Dorsey doesn’t sound like he ever lets rip). That’s the other thing that puts me off the tea brigade: it’s all a bit fake.

I understand the urge. This week at Salone del Mobile in Milan we ended up at the bar that plays host to numerous itinerant design folk and the spritzes did seem to come my way with haste. The following morning, feeling a little dusty, I found myself online booking a line-up of yoga classes for later in the week as if a few downward dogs would work like hair of the dog. But the real solution was simpler and closer to hand: coffee. Lots of coffee. While tea drinkers sit in Cath Kidston kitchens, the coffee drinkers can gather at a polished metal coffee bar. A quick shot and you are back in the game. And unlike Mr Dorsey, I also had a nice breakfast.

Report / Media

LA story

Amid the conversations about Coachella plans and Lacma’s redesign, anyone eavesdropping in Los Angeles this week will have heard chatter about The Overheard Post. The new print newspaper is the latest venture from Jesse Margolis, the creator of Overheard LA, a popular Instagram account that (lovingly) skewers Angelenos and all their yoga-loving, celery-juice-drinking, crystal-worshipping quirks (mayor Eric Garcetti is said to be a fan). Like its online presence, The Overheard Post is decidedly tongue in cheek, taking a satirical slant on traditional newspaper features. The first, admittedly slim, issue offers a restaurant review of a nose-to-tail joint written by a dairy-free gluten-free vegan; an “LA stocks to watch” report (oat milk is up!); as well as interviews, comics, horoscopes and a spin on the letters page.

Report / Design

Smell the coffee

David Chipperfield, one of the world’s most celebrated architects, is flipping his lid – and tapping the base and caressing the spout of his reinterpretation of the classic Moka coffee pot for Alessi, which made its official debut this week in Milan. Like the buildings that Chipperfield is famed for, such as the Neues Museum in Berlin, his reinterpretation comes with a certain restraint and respect for what has gone before: in this case a simple coffee maker designed by Alfonso Bialetti back in the 1930s that went on to become a national icon.

“This project fascinated me because it’s connected with architecture, the role of innovation and how it has become part of branding,” says Chipperfield. “I felt a cultural more than a commercial responsibility.” And he’s pleased with the modesty of his changes, believing that architects have been forced to be at each other’s throats as they seek to stress their differences in a bid to create personal – and sellable – brands. “It’s hard to be anonymous,” says Chipperfield, who is also increasingly aware that design is being used simply to sell us more stuff. He’s clearly smelled the coffee: “The status of making products and even architecture needs to be rethought.” So that modest pot on the hob delivers more than a jolt of coffee: it also serves as a reminder that design shouldn’t just sell but endure.

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Get the message

Let’s start the weekend pondering a mid-size question. Why are so many companies caught in the trap of calling themselves innovation leaders when most of the CEOs leading these businesses are trotting out the same script to the media, shareholders and consumers? How is it that the people running corporate comms aren’t catching this, or the management consultants aren’t spotting an opportunity to redraft the message for inflated fees?

Over the past seven days I’ve been running a little audit of the language, message and overall pitch employed by brands when they talk up their ambitions. Not surprisingly, the vocabulary and vision is rather narrow: everyone wants to disrupt or anticipate disruption; everyone wants to capture the “share of wallet” and influence from people in their late twenties (I won’t use the “m” word in this column); and everyone wants to insert AI into their corporate message, because that hints that they’re also on their A game when it comes to future-proofing.

On the train between Stuttgart and Zürich I had time to replay a couple of conversations from companies large and small, analysing what was at the core of what they were attempting to express and why they’ve all ended up with such a thin narrative. After a short nap, a glass of wine and hours of German countryside, I identified the culprits: a dangerous trinity led by PowerPoint, Ted Talks and senior comms bosses delegating too much important work to inexperienced juniors.

In the new world of research and client service it’s much easier for a pricey comms firm to get a 27-year-old (they’re the ones most in tune, you know) to go on YouTube, find out what other CEOs are saying to shareholders and then redraft some of the choice bits. In order to narrowly avoid charges of plagiarism, it’s quite simple to just reorder three different speeches from various sectors (naval-defence systems, baby food and adult diapers are all interchangeable) and ensure there’s enough mobility, diversity, empowerment, equality and empathy peppered throughout the text. Wear a black turtleneck (swap with a tee in warmer months, or perhaps no tie if you’re a German company), add a funky trainer and a headset, and pretty much anyone can be a captain of innovation.

To ensure maximum nods and maybe a “breaking news” tag on the Bloomberg ticker, throw in a provocative quote or two. Say something like, “Our research shows that this new generation doesn’t want to own anything – they won’t be buying cars, they’re not interested in watches,” but then add something that every other CEO in the sector is saying to ensure you keep your job. How about, “What they really want are experiences.” If you’re in the retail business you might want to add a graph at this point highlighting how you’re only going to use Instagram from the next quarter to reach these consumers, because it’s cheaper than paying rent for big shops and having an advertising agency. Remember to add that retail outlets will soon become showrooms as all consumption is going to happen online.

As I spooled back across the week I was relieved to recall one conversation in Milan that restored my faith not only in marketing but also humanity and telling it like it is. Over coffee with someone who works for one of Europe’s biggest trade-fair groups, I asked what he thought about the digital threat. Was he concerned that trade fairs were becoming old-hat when everyone could just stay home and look at tables, bicycles and Christmas ribbons online? For a brief moment he closed his eyes and gestured to the hundreds of people darting to various furniture stands around him. “I’m not so worried about all of this talk about disruption and the need to constantly innovate,” he said. “Why do people come to trade fairs? Because you need to haggle and build relationships in person and we shouldn’t forget that there’s a certain amount of eroticism that goes with massive exhibitions like this. The trade fair is just a continuation of the three-day school trip we all grew up with.”

The Interrogator / Edition 07

Penny Martin

The release of the latest edition of hefty bi-annual The Gentlewoman is always an event for a magazine lover’s calendar. Much of the title’s reputation as the smartest women’s magazine around has got to do with editor in chief Penny Martin’s intelligent approach to fashion and commendable choice of interviewees. In the latest instalment of our series dedicated to the media habits of people we like, Martin reveals what television series taught her everything she knows about business.

What news source do you wake up to? BBC Radio 6 music news.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Hot water and lemon first, then black coffee.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I have a Spotify “writing” playlist with 616 songs on it but I tend to listen to audiobooks on Audible and the You Must Remember This podcast during the commute to The Gentlewoman’s offices.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? Everything! I did a lot of theatre in my teens and have a great recall for lines. I can remember the lyrics of pretty much anything and words that were spoken to me decades ago. I gather it can be quite spooky when I remind people of what they said.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? Recently, Interview. The New Yorker, always, and a few vintage women’s titles such as She, plus Fantastic Man of course. Monocle is there too, quite genuinely.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? I recently took subscriptions to New York Magazine and Interview. I’m not promiscuous in my magazine habits though, and don’t really browse.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? Hatchards in London. The Oxfam Books on Ealing Green is pretty good.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? I love the cinema but I can easily suspend disbelief and immerse myself completely in any screen media so the television serves just as well. My husband says his favourite thing is to watch me watching something, completely lost in the story. I can get quite worked up!

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late?Fleabag, Succession, Halt and Catch Fire – all brilliantly written – and I’m always rewatching Mad Men. Everything I know about business I learned from that programme.

Sunday brunch routine? My husband and I meet stylist [and friend] Simon Foxton at 11.00 in the local coffee shop to do the crossword.

Do you still watch the nightly news? Newsnight on BBC2. I can’t get enough of Kirsty Wark.

A favourite newsreader perhaps? As a teenager I was a big fan of Kirsty Young and Shereen Nanjiani on STV. But my schoolgirl crush was Mary Marquis – what a fox!

Culture / Watch, Listen, See

Around the world

‘Loro’. Raucous parties, neon-lit rooftops, naked skin and weathered moneymen – Paolo Sorrentino dipped into this world of modern Roman decadence with The Great Beauty but now he focuses on the politician who inspired this world: Silvio Berlusconi (played here by Toni Servillo). Sorrentino looks at the man through the eyes of his inner circle (“Loro”) cannily employing Sorrentino’s signature beautiful, kitsch aesthetics to answer the age-old question: how – just how – did the former PM manage to bewitch those who surrounded him, as well as millions of voters?

The Chemical Brothers, ‘No Geography’. No matter how long their careers, certain bands become synonymous with a specific point in time: The Chemical Brothers will forever be a shortcut for 1990s UK club culture. The truth is that, while the Manchester duo have experimented over the years, this ninth release lands them back in pleasingly known territory.

‘Electro, de Kraftwerk à Daft Punk’, Philharmonie de Paris. From this weekend the Philharmonie de Paris is hosting an exhibition dedicated to all things electro and the renowned French DJ Laurent Garnier has even selected a soundtrack for the event. This is their first major exhibition of electronic music and will also explore the genre’s connections to contemporary art. Among the highlights is an installation by French duo Daft Punk.

Eurovision / Song of the week

‘Better Love’ (Greece)

Every week in the run-up to Eurovision, which will be held from 14 to 18 May in Tel Aviv, Monocle 24’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco will put the spotlight on one entry. This week it’s Greece’s Katerine Duska with her track “Better Love”.

Thirty-one years ago, a Canadian singer won the Eurovision Song Contest representing Switzerland. That singer was Céline Dion with “Ne partez pas sans moi”. And this year there’s a chance for another Canadian to win the trophy. Hailing from Québec, Greek-Canadian singer Duska could charm the jury and the public with her Florence and the Machine-esque sound and high-fashion image. Greece is desperately in need of help when it comes to Eurovision – the country has fared poorly in recent years and failed to qualify last year.

Outpost news / Skagway, Alaska

Northern exposure

The Skagway News is a biweekly paper, originally launched in 1897 before disappearing for more than 70 years, only to be revived in 1978. The paper reports for a town of just over 600 permanent residents but in the summer Skagway sees almost a million tourists wandering its streets from the cruise ships that dock here. We speak to editor Leigh Armstrong – head of an editorial team of two – about what’s been making the news.

What’s the big story this week? There’s been a lot of concern around trapping regulations. Trappers in Skagway had worked to arrange an agreement with residents on where they are allowed to lay their snares. We thought it was getting somewhere but the local game association rejected it, so it looks as though it’s back to the drawing board.

Best picture? This week an Irish folk band called Jim Jam made their way to Skagway to perform in The Days of ’98, our old-school theatre venue. We’re running with an image of them on stage in their outfits for next week’s paper.

Down-page treat? One of the fun things we’re reporting on is the Escape Room that’s opening in town. It’s a big deal here – a bit more cosmopolitan than what we’re used to. You have to escape from a railway boxcar.

Next big event? At the end of April we start the town’s spring clean-up in preparation for when tourists start visiting.

Hospitality / Singapore

Fly around the shops

Fancy spending an extra five hours in transit? That’s what Singapore’s Changi Airport is banking on with the launch of Jewel, a standalone shopping mall that select ticket holders will get a sneak peek of this weekend. The frequent travellers among you who like to limit their time airside may be backing away at this moment but Changi is not alone – Hong Kong is also getting in on the act with the forthcoming SkyCity. While seamless transfers are all well and good, it’s clear that these airports want to tempt you to slow down and spend more time on shopping and eating, not least because other traditional incomes – such as car-parking fees – are in decline.

Can Jewel work? There is a certain type of transit passenger who sees travel as a special event and may be encouraged to leave the airport for some retail fun – and to mix with locals. But five hours is enough time to nip into town and Moshe Safdie, Jewel’s architect, is also responsible for Marina Bay Sands, a now iconic trio of interlinked buildings that’s just a 20-minute taxi ride from Changi. Although when you see us wheeling our shopping trolley round Jewel, feel free to remind us of our scepticism.

Modern Etiquette / Edition 01

Listen to reason

Do I need to remove my AirPods when having a conversation? Yes, you do. This week Monocle had two conversations with people (whose senior years suggested they should know better) who started chatting away merrily without removing their ear jewellery. We just started silently mouthing words to make them fear they’d suffered sudden hearing loss – and in seconds their earbuds were removed.

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference / Madrid

All friends together

Monocle is bringing together a peerless group of thinkers, entrepreneurs, reporters and makers for our fifth annual Quality of Life Conference. It’s an event that challenges and inspires as we look at how you can create better cities, run more rewarding businesses and stand up for the things you believe in.

Be with us in Madrid as star urbanist Jan Gehl gives us a masterclass in community, we look at fixing retail with 10 Corso Como’s Carla Sozzani and head to reporting’s frontline with photographer Ron Haviv and CNN’s Clarissa Ward. We also reveal how to build a hotel brand, start a food business and get people dancing. Join us for rich conversations and engaging hospitality this June.

Film / Travel

Athens: The Monocle Travel Guide

The weekly food shopping pilgrimage to a “laiki agora” is at the heart of the Greek lifestyle. Monocle Films takes stock at one of its favourite Athenian food markets.

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