Saturday 20 July 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/7/2019

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Ignoring the influencers

There are some descriptions that are fine to apply to others but you should never use about yourself. You are not, for example, advised to go around telling people that you are beautiful or intelligent if you plan on keeping any friends. Even if you really are both, it’s just not allowed. (I know, I have found it tough too, but it’s the rules.)

Perhaps that’s why the word “influencer” is so crazily annoying. When someone describes themselves as an influencer – ie an influential person – you feel a tide of despair rising around your ankles.

A couple of weeks ago I was at an event where a posse of self-described influencers had been invited to attend. They were not hard to spot. They arrived en masse from another launch, swinging bags full of freebies. They found the photographer and posed poutily. During the speeches they went outside to smoke and gossip. They asked questions such as “Where are we?” and “Do you know what this is for?” And then, like a panicked flock, they were off, their chunky Balenciaga-trainer-shod feet vanishing into the mist. I’d love to know what influence they had on anything that day.

The next day I met a PR boss, someone I have known for decades, who told me she was looking after a great fashion brand whose owner wanted “some influencers” to come and see the collection. Money was to be paid to get them to attend. A lot of money. The PR was not so convinced. “These people have no loyalty to any brand, they don’t know anything about what they are looking at, and within hours of posting pictures of the collection will be promoting another rival brand.” But the merry-go-round carries on spinning even as it all begins to look a bit corrupt.

Sure, when selling make-up to teenagers, or perhaps runway collections to the middle classes in China, some of these people deliver. But that’s not because they are “influencers”. What these people are doing is low-grade PR – repping and photographing. They don’t need a new title. And, while we are here, it’s also odd how someone with just 40,000 followers on Instagram is heralded as an influencer, while the editor of a newspaper’s fashion pages, with vast numbers of readers, is not.

This week I have been in Lebanon and met up with a long-time Monocle friend called Kamal Mouzawak. We have followed his story for more than a decade as he has used food to do numerous things, from empowering women to saving his country’s culinary heritage. He does this via a farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb, and a group of restaurants called Tawlet, where women bring in their farm produce and cook. There are stunning guesthouses too. Two days ago I drove (well, was driven; I am not sure any outsider could survive on Lebanese roads) to the Tawlet in the southern town of Saida. The restaurant is beautiful, the work his team do is impressive and in the kitchen are Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian women doing work they love. That’s influence – that’s changing lives and changing the agenda around the environment, tolerance and culture.

At Monocle we get to meet many extraordinary people determined to do things differently, from creating better cities to running fashion brands using fabrics made from plastic pulled from the sea. And the funny thing is that not one of them would stoop to call themselves an influencer.

Trade fair / Tokyo

Inside scoop

There was a whiff of sea air and even a glimpse of sun – a rare sight in this record-breakingly grey summer – at Tokyo’s Interior Lifestyle trade show last week (writes Fiona Wilson, Monocle’s Asia bureau chief). The venue was Big Sight, the city’s gargantuan waterfront convention centre, where crowds piled in to see homeware from more than 750 exhibitors. This was a celebration of what is called zakka in Japan: “stuff”. Some of it very useful; some of it… less essential.

“Made in Japan” was big news with towel-makers from Imabari, stainless-steel cutlery from Tsubame Shinko and wooden stools from Kochi. Tokyo got in on the act with a display of goods made in Sumida Ward on the city’s east side, which has a 300-year history of manufacturing. Furniture and interiors company Time & Style had a vast stand showcasing its modern take on Japanese style.

Ceramics were strong, with robust daily tableware from makers such as Maruhiro, based in the Kyushu ceramic town of Hasami. Kimura Glass, which makes some of the best wine and spirit glasses in the world, had a stand of minimalist beauty that allowed its fine glassware to shine. New products such as Now Industry’s iron Tetsu pans showed the impressive breadth of Japanese manufacturing; international exhibitors from as far afield as Tunisia, Portugal and Scandinavia (always big in Japan), were also out in force. But Japanese-made designs – classic and updated – continue to rule.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

If it ain’t broke...

How many times have you heard this one trotted out in a press release or snippet of corporate guff? “Our company is focused on solving the final piece of the logistics puzzle. We’re committed to conquering how to cover the last mile swiftly, safely and sustainably.”

And your response to such waffle? Something like this perhaps? “Of course you’re trying to find a speedy way to my front door – you and seemingly every other company that has something to proffer is fighting for the same 1,500 metres.” Or in my case: “Shut up! The last mile was conquered ages ago! I’m one of the pioneers!”

Spool back to 1975 and you would have found me swaying back and forth atop some cardboard cartons at the rear of a Ford delivery van. Up front, Pierre – a family friend and heir to a grocery-store fortune – is at the wheel and puffing away on a Player’s cigarette. We’re roaring around one of Montréal’s smarter Anglo suburbs, it’s snowing and Pierre is consulting a clipboard with delivery addresses scribbled into a grid.

On sharp corners he sends me flying across the back of the van and most of the time I land with a thud on someone’s order of vegetables and canned goods. As I’m bundled up like a little Michelin Man, there’s no chance of injury to me or the veggies and, as the van comes to a halt on a gravel driveway, I’m ready to spring into position and help Pierre carry the goods to the front door.

Using the most advanced technology of the day – the good old telephone – we’ve been able to establish when people will be home by calling them before setting off. This landline wizardry works wonders and at every address we’re met by our customers, who not only accept their goods but also pay in cash and leave a little tip for both of us.

Of course, we were only pioneers in our little patch of Québec as this type of service was pretty much standard all over the developed world at the time. Where we got sold on the idea that the “last mile” was in need of conquering and demanded reinvention, I’m not sure. Could it be that the same people who are trying to rethink the last-mile concept are the ones who also deleted it from some parts of the consumer experience in the first place? Just as having your groceries delivered used to be standard 50 years ago, the rise of supermarkets and out-of-town shopping killed it off in many corners of the world. Today Amazon and Ocado offer home delivery as if it’s the newest innovation in consumer culture since the minting of bronze coins.

Like so many management solutions that are presented to companies in need of a fresh mission and tagline (thanks BCG!), the last mile has become a raison d’etre for too many firms. Instead they should be concerning themselves with more important things, not least the grocery shop that should have focused on its product range instead of pretending it might one day be an innovator in automated home delivery. Or they should be sticking to tried-and-tested formulas rather than acting like hobbyists; drones belong on the battlefield and don’t need to be delivering blood between hospitals.

At our recent conference in Madrid, urbanist Jan Gehl reminded us that we don’t need silly electric scooters to help us conquer that last mile between the metro station and our lift lobby. “That distance is meant to be covered by something called walking.”

The interrogator / Edition 21

Clarissa Ward

CNN’s chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is based in London. But her job has taken her to the frontline in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. Here she reveals why there’s no documentary about cults that she won’t watch and how she still remembers the words to Pearl Jam songs.

**What news source do you wake up to? ** I spend half an hour without any news – it’s really important to have some quiet time. Then my first port of call is The New York Times: it has the most diverse and deep coverage, it’s beautifully written and has amazing photography. Once I’ve done that I brace myself for Twitter. I really have to put armour on: there’s so much nastiness on there but also lots of articles from more esoteric publications.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Definitely not juice. I used to be a tea drinker but then I had a baby; now I am a coffee drinker.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? I listen to Spotify for my music and go with what inspires me on the day; some days it’s Bach, other days it’s Sia. I have a playlist of nursery rhymes for my son but there’s only so many times you can hear “Five Little Monkeys” before you want to shoot yourself.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? I sing a lot. I tend to go for 1990s classics. I have serious nostalgia for my teenage years so it’ll be Pearl Jam or Garbage. I know all the words.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? We have the FT Weekend delivered – it’s a beautiful paper. I don’t really go to the kiosk; I read a lot online. Newspapers are a treat when travelling but during the week I don’t have the luxury.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? We subscribe to The Economist, we get the FT Weekend Magazine and if I’m in the US I’ll get the Sunday Times Magazine. I also like reading Porter, I love The New Yorker and I do enjoy Grazia from time to time.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? A bit of a newsstand browser. I love an airport newsstand; I wonder if they’re going to get mad at me at some point as I often spend half an hour leafing.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? Obviously in New York it’s The Strand; in London I like Foyles a lot. I also don’t turn my nose up at Waterstones – it’s a chain but I love to see the staff recommendations.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Sofa. We have cinemas in our home courtesy of Netflix and Apple.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? A French series called The Bureau about the French CIA equivalent, set in Paris, Algiers and Syria. It’s fascinating and some of it rings true to the work I do and places I visit. Also the documentary series Wild Wild Country about Osho. I’m obsessed with cults; there isn’t a documentary about cults I won’t watch.

Sunday brunch routine? My husband is a great cook so I am blessed. More often than not we’ll have pancakes, or eggs, avocado and mushrooms on toast. We eat in the kitchen while my son travels around with his walker making lots of noise.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out among the viennoiserie?The Sunday Times.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? It’s hard with my erratic schedule. I tend to dip in and out of stories. I don’t consume a full newscast except when I’m at home for dinner – then it’s Channel 4 News.

A favourite newsreader, perhaps? I do love [Channel 4 News presenter] Jon Snow. I love his ties and socks.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? Netflix, almost invariably.

Get out / Paris

Créatures comforts

For in-the-know Parisians, the only way is up – to the roof of Galeries Lafayette. Here, young French chef Julien Sebbag has launched vegetarian restaurant Créatures, which has already become a hotspot for discerning diners in the capital. “It’s got the perfect mix of impregnable views, cool vibes and delicious Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine,” says Adrian Moore, assistant head concierge at Paris’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

From its position overlooking Montmartre and the Garnier Opera House, the pop-up restaurant serves colourful plates of creatively named dishes such as Fire and Ice (a peach, feta and radish salad) and Summertime Sadness (focaccia with black olives and burrata). The restaurant, which was launched mid-June, stays open until 01.00 for those looking to enjoy spectacular views of Paris by night with a cocktail in hand. But it’s only open for four months over summer so be sure to bag a table before it’s too late.

More recommendations from Adrian Moore:

La Gare. “This Gastón Acurio relaunch of the trendy La Gare restaurant is one of the hottest openings of the été. The former La Muette train station got a complete retrofit with a covered terrace. This combined with open kitchen spaces dedicated to different cuisines (Chinese, Japanese, Peruvian, Mexican) and an airy South American fiesta vibe, make it a fun place to sup during the holidays.”

Girafe. “With arguably the best views in town, this 1930s-inspired, Joseph Dirand-designed establishment serves pristine fish and shellfish to a hoity-toity French and foreign crowd. Get a table on the terrace, where you might rub shoulders with Fergie or Lenny.”

Cravan. “Named after a Dadaist poet and boxer who was Oscar Wilde’s nephew, this tiny café/cocktail bar in the 16th offers excellent libations, charming period decor and the best lobster rolls and Japanese-inspired milk-bread sandwiches in town.”

Outpost news / Athabasca, Alberta

Come fly with me

At the elbow of the wide snaking Athabasca River – just south of one of the world’s largest oil deposits – is Athabasca, Alberta. Founded in 1877 as a seasonal Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, the “gateway to the north” is now a town of 3,000. Although three newspapers once served the community, just one soldiers on today: the Athabasca Advocate. Launched in 1982, the tabloid newspaper is printed every Tuesday thanks to publisher Allendria Brunjes. She tells us what’s making headlines in her patch of northern Alberta.

What’s the big story making the news? The local Métis community [people of mixed indigenous and European ancestry] is exploring self-governance. When the town of Athabasca was first incorporated, the Métis community was large and there is evidence that land was stolen from them. Now some members are looking at building a new community just west of Athabasca.

Best headline? The headline about the Métis community: “The continuing story of Moccasin Flats”. Moccasin Flats was the term previously used for an area of Athabasca, so referring to it as that says this is just one piece of a much longer story. It’s not the beginning nor the end.

Best picture? There was an anti-abortion event that was protested by pro-choicers. We have a picture of both sides standing together, smiling with their arms around each other. It says a lot about Athabasca. People can vehemently disagree with one another yet they’re able to get along well enough to take a photo together.

Down-page treat? “Athabasca readies to take to the skies”. We have an annual fly-in barbecue. All these great aviators in the province fly their planes into our little airport. I’m an aviation nerd: I’m a glider pilot and I’m working on acquiring my power licence too.

Next big event? Coming up is the Boyle Rodeo, which has the usual events: steer wrestling, bull riding and so on. But another is the Keepers of the Water annual gathering. It’s an indigenous-led conservation organisation whose members are focused on preserving the waterways and ensuring the water we have today exists for future generations.

Image: Bao Ngo

Culture / Listen / Watch / Read

Dear diary...

‘What We Say in Private’, Ada Lea. A shining example of the fecund post-heartbreak genre, Ada Lea’s début uses common tropes to tread experimental-pop ground. The Montréal-based singer – whose real name is Alexandra Levy – spent 180 days filling her diary with private thoughts. What she wrote (and said) there is finally seeing the light in soft, chilled-out ballads such as “What Makes Me Sad” and grower “The Party”.

‘Pearson’, USA Network. Legal drama Suits is getting the spin-off treatment with this new show featuring much-loved (former) managing partner Jessica Pearson as its central character. The fierce lawyer moves to Chicago, where she enters the dark political fray: she gets hired as a fixer by the city’s corrupt mayor. Things in the Windy City aren’t quite as shiny as in corporate New York but fear not – the outfits are all still on show.

‘Knife’, Jo Nesbo. The Norwegian crime writer returns with a chilling cold case for his drinking-prone detective Harry Hole. When Hole wakes up with bloodied hands and no recollection of what happened the night before, he knows he’s dealing with more than a bad hangover. Chasing him are not only regrets but an old enemy too. An on-point thriller to keep you on edge beside the pool.

Wardrobe update / Moonstar

Spring in your step

Moonstar, a firm best known for making plimsolls for schoolchildren in Japan, is becoming increasingly popular (writes fashion editor Jamie Waters). Fashion-conscious consumers are stocking up on the brand’s low-key canvas trainers (there was a profile in our June issue). But the shoe-maker, which manufactures at its HQ in Kurume, does a great summer sandal too: this Lazy slide – which is based on a school-sandal design and comes in all white, all black or a combo of white and grey – will set you apart on the beaches of Europe. Get packing.

Modern etiquette / Edition 15

Can I admit that I can’t remember someone’s name?

Sort of. Look, in an ideal world we would all have amazing 100 per cent recall and be able to trot out everyone’s moniker. These days, however, we meet too many people – and so fleetingly – that it’s ridiculous for anyone to expect you to drag their names up from the depths of your memory at a moment’s notice. You can bluff your way through these moments or just call everyone something camp, like “darling”. Or you can do the decent thing and say, “Remind me of your name.” So, yes, admit away, it’s totally modern.

Monocle Films / Global

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