Friday. 4/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

American luxury: the quiet revolution

For years there’s been talk about whether the US can produce a luxury conglomerate to rival French powerhouses LVMH and Kering. There are some pretenders but, to generalise, US groups have struggled to compete because they don’t have a long history of craftsmanship à la Louis Vuitton. Luxury shoppers tend to like their purchases with a side order of heritage.

Despite this, two US labels, The Row and Gabriela Hearst, have managed to carve out a lucrative slice of the luxury pie. Both are young relative to their competitors (The Row was founded in 2006; Gabriela Hearst in 2015) yet what they lack in history they make up for in one hugely attractive selling point: quietness. Both create elegant designs from the most sumptuous fabrics and eschew logos. Both avoid pushy marketing; The Row, founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, is almost anti-publicity. The sisters rarely do interviews and, rather than featuring clothes, their Instagram is mostly a moodboard of architecture and artworks. As a result they’ve cultivated an air of mystique and the allure that comes with it – a rare thing for most brands today.

The two labels have now come to London to conquer the European market. Gabriela Hearst opened a shop in Mayfair last month; yesterday, The Row opened just round the corner, on Carlos Place. This modern US duo are a refreshing tonic against all the social-media noise and shouty streetwear that has come to plague fashion; the Olsens’ success thus far proves that consumers will pay for lovely, low-key clothes. I have a feeling they’ll thrive here.

Election 1 / Kosovo

Slowly but surely

Kosovo will head to the polls this weekend to contest the nation’s fifth parliamentary elections since it declared independence in 2008. The backdrop: recently resigned prime minister Ramush Haradinaj faces questions over his role in historic war crimes and Europe’s newest country is plagued by high unemployment and endemic corruption. That said, its fledgling economy is growing and EU accession remains a realistic long-term ambition. The country also has youth on its side, with an average age of just 29 (though tens of thousands of young people leave every year to work or study in the EU). Former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation army have long dominated government but this time they are being challenged by a 38-year-old law professor. Vjosa Osmani (pictured) is leading the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo and could become Kosovo’s first female prime minister – not to mention its youngest.

Politics / China

The state and the art

As protests rage in Hong Kong, Melbourne-based Chinese artist Badiucao has been gaining attention. He has made his mark with cartoons that satirise the Beijing regime – in one, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam wipes away her crocodile tears with reptilian hands – while on the streets his colourful “Lennon Wall” flag has become a standard for the movement.

Though the artist’s relatives in China have been threatened by the state, Badiucao refuses to desist. “The atmosphere in Hong Kong is suffocating but people tell me, ‘I haven’t smiled in days – your work made my day,’” he told The Briefing ahead of an appearance at a private Index on Censorship talk at London’s Tate Modern. “Art is something the [Communist] party can’t control and that’s something they’re not coping well with.”

Election 2 / Portugal

Poll position

Prime minister António Costa is seeking re-election in Portugal’s general election this Sunday; polls suggest his Socialist party (PS) will win but fall short of an absolute majority in parliament. Since coming to power in 2015, Costa and his party have brought political and economic stability to a country that received a €78bn bailout from the EU, IMF and EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) just eight years ago. Given this impressive track record, victory seems almost assured. That all stands in stark contrast to neighbouring Spain, where continued tension in Catalonia and a decelerating economy mean that the outcome of its general election next month is far less certain.

Transport / New York

Manhattan’s bus pass

New York barred most car travel on Manhattan’s 14th Street on Thursday, part of an 18-month pilot project designed to give buses priority along the busy thoroughfare. Though unhappy residents’ associations have delayed the plan for months, they have reason to be optimistic. In 2017, Toronto restricted cars on bustling King Street to make way for public streetcars, which resulted in the streetcars becoming quicker, more reliable and carrying 25 per cent more riders every hour. Torontonians, like New Yorkers, feared that barring traffic from one major street would simply lead to gridlock on those surrounding it but the evidence suggests otherwise. Instead, a thoroughfare with a reliable bus service and safer cycling encourages residents to abandon their cars altogether.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Extra: The Antwerp Six

In the late 1980s a group of fashion graduates piled into a van with their collections, drove to London and took the British Designer Show by storm, forging the futures of the so-called Antwerp Six.

Monocle Films / Spain

Parc de Belloch: the home of Catalonian design

Show-stopping design firm Santa & Cole takes inspiration from the Catalonian countryside and being just far away enough from bustling Barcelona.

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