Saturday. 19/10/2019

Monocle
Weekend Edition

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Slippers? Pack it in

Round two. A couple of weeks ago I took a gentle swipe at slipper ownership, implying that – in some instances – they can be an indicator of an unwillingness to have fun, to go out, to ditch the fireside. For many readers this was a step too far. There were accusations of cultural sensitivities being trodden on: apparently I would never dare say such things if I had experienced a Canadian or Nordic winter. I was also told that I had failed to grasp how donning a pair instantly generated a relaxed frame of mind (slipper as Prozac, I guess). I was even threatened: I should stop attacking the slipper world if I knew what was good for me. But then, my colleagues have always been outspoken.

Well, I am sorry. But over the past few weeks I have become slightly obsessed with another oddity of the slipper set. And I think that after you have read this column, you will agree that the chargesheet against them is growing. The new problem needs a little set-up so bear with me.

When I pack to go on a work trip or holiday, I do a simple thing: put all the clothes I will need in a suitcase. This includes footwear: some runners, perhaps a pair of Birkenstocks and a good brogue. At this point, slipper fanatics do an odd thing: they leave the very things that they are obsessed with at home. They believe that airlines and hotels should provide them with the necessary homely footwear.

And so a staggering business has grown: companies manufacturing single-use slippers. Millions of pairs are placed by bedsides in hotels around the world every night; then, the next morning, they are chucked in the rubbish.

Twice in recent weeks I have stayed at hotels that are at the top of their game when it comes to sustainability. Both are free of plastic water bottles, one has got rid of plastic toiletry bottles (you’ll have seen that California intends to ban such things in all of its hotels) and the other has cut down on electricity consumption by using efficient lamps and bulbs. Yet both these hotels offer their guests one-use slippers.

Oh, but in both instances they are “biodegradable”. Now there are a few words going around that conjure gentle images of our waste turning into soil shortly after being popped into the ground; “compostable” is another one. I am not so sure. First, who is burying the slippers? Second, how long does it take for them to biodegrade: a day, 10 years? Third, who is monitoring all this – are we sure that the slippers don’t end up in a furnace?

Wouldn’t the better solution be to provide a really amazing slipper that can be cleaned and reused, like a bathrobe? Or, better still, just get slipper crazies to pack all the footwear they need for a trip, including their slippers. I don’t expect a hotel to give me shoes to use in its gym so why this obsession with handing over towelling tootsie-warmers?

Now, before you fret, I am not arguing for less luxury or against going out into the world to have amazing experiences. This is about better luxury: providing impeccable service, catering to people’s real needs and offering products made to last. So much of what passes for luxury is just rubbish – in every sense. Just look at the amenity kits handed out on planes: who needs another comb or plastic shoehorn?

Since launch Monocle has argued that, if they can, people should buy less but better: make homes that last a lifetime, invest in clothes that will still look good after one season, purchase furniture that will stand up to a few scuffs and knocks, design shops that won’t get ripped apart the minute a new creative director arrives. We have never championed luxury as disposable. We make a magazine that we believe is collectible. And we have always seen hotels and airlines as potential champions of good change; companies that can raise standards.

We have also always believed in making small changes. Perhaps one of these can be telling slipper folk to pack their own footwear.

The look 03 / Modern trekkies

Uphill struggle

No, we are not heading off to a sci-fi convention this week. We are talking real trekkies: the people who like to spend their weekends marching through muddy fields and up craggy peaks, and their lunchtimes lusting over the contents of The North Face’s website or dreaming about life in a Patagonia fleece.

But the defining characteristic of modern trekkies is that the sartorial space where weekend adventure clothing and workwear should divide has all but been eroded. It’s most evident now: the arrival of autumn sees them wearing chunky boots to the office every day and slipping on hiking pants without fear of too many sneers on the commuter trail.

Modern trekkies’ fetish for fabrics that rustle with every step has been abetted by the march of hiking gear onto the runway. There is a Monocle staffer whose passion for Loewe’s collection of outdoor gear makes him look prepped for tackling the Matterhorn when, in fact, he’s popping out to buy a smoothie. We think the ice pick in his belt is a step too far.

How we live / Madrid

Blight or blessing?

City dwellers are used to shrill noises: a car suddenly braking; the persistent beeping of a pedestrian crossing (writes Lewis Huxley). But it seems that the exotic call of a monk parakeet (pictured) is more distracting – at least, it is in Madrid. There the municipal council has grown sick of its parrots: earlier this month it announced plans to cull the birds, which have increased in number from 9,000 to 12,000 in the past three years. Other than being noisy, the parakeets are accused of competing with other species for food, building unsightly nests and posing a health risk to humans.

Similar birds – ring-necked parakeets – have become a fixture in London. How did they get there? The most likely story is that a storm in the 1980s damaged aviaries in the southeast of England, allowing them to escape. More intriguing is the theory that, in 1951, some flew the coop from the set of The African Queen and proliferated to the extent that there are now 8,600 breeding pairs: an even more successful romance than Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn’s cinematic tryst.

Madrid’s parakeets are native to Argentina; many were imported as pets before that practice was outlawed in 2011. But is a cull really necessary? Cities benefit from a connection to nature – and nature is rarely well behaved.

The faster lane / Tyler Brûlé

Maiden voyage

Spool back a couple of weeks and, you might recall, I mentioned an experiment: offering a highly personal, super-tailored tour of Tokyo for a semi-adventurous couple from Switzerland. Off the back of that column we received a series of requests asking for our Tokyo bureau’s little black book and what we’d charge for a couple of hours of shopping or an itinerary for a two-day cultural romp around the Japanese capital. With offers ranging from $100 for just five restaurant tips to many thousands for more involved services (more on that later), we thought it best to do a sample tour and then construct a business model around it. At the time of writing we’re five days into the tour with the Swissies – and so far, so good. I feel I’ve put together the best possible itinerary for them and they’ve been super receptive to all I’ve shown them. What follows are a few highlights and socio-cultural observations.

1. Smooth arrivals. That Japan still demands that foreigners fill out two arrival cards (one for immigration, one for customs) is quite astounding – particularly when many countries allow Japanese to enter with little more than a biometric scan. The good news for the prettier of my guests was the warm greeting she received from the VIP minder working for Swiss. “Oh, you’re such a pretty actress,” the minder said, as she hustled us through the terminal. “Berry, berry beautiful.” My guest – who, to the best of my knowledge, is not an actress – went along with it, beaming all the way to the immigration line. At this point the minder informed us that it was a one-hour wait – but perhaps our actress could jump the queue. Fifteen minutes later we were on the Narita Express.

2. ‘Have there always been so many westerners here?’ This question came from our pretty guest halfway through day one. “No!” I said grumpily. “Not so long ago a visitor could feel like they had Japan to themselves.” While Tokyo was looking particularly Caucasian thanks to the Rugby World Cup, I explained that a variety of forces had changed the arrival numbers dramatically and the likes of Instagram had largely ruined most bars and restaurants that had previously been well-kept secrets. Hence Monocle’s little black book of secret spots.

3. ‘Do you think that all this tourism in Japan will help civilise others?’ This question came after many whiskey highballs and much singing. Following a rather unpleasant moment where a fellow reveller barfed an evening’s worth of soba and shochu across the floor, both my guests were impressed by how politely the revellers and staff dealt with a rather messy situation. “The Japanese are just so polite,” said my pretty guest. “Elsewhere this would have turned into an ugly incident but it’s all been dealt with so delicately – guests knew it was time to leave, management knew the same and they also sterilised the surrounding area as quickly as the contents of his stomach were evacuated.” She was right; perhaps improved manners could be the best outcome of Japan’s runaway tourism drive. Imagine a world where everyone was quiet on public transport, phones were always switched to silent and no one ever annoyed the neighbours.

4. It’s good to smoke We also noted that nightlife is much better when cigarettes are involved. You’ll have to agree that a bit of well-placed smoke does a good job of covering unpleasant odours that are noticeable when tummies overturn, people get gassy and pits get sweaty. Yes, yes, I know you don’t want to follow this line of thinking but I’m right. And no, I’m not a smoker.

5. Pharrell doesn’t move It’s not every tour guide that can get his visitors a front-of-stage position at a privé Pharrell concert but this editor was able to swing it. Thanks to Monocle’s friends at Chanel we were able to fully dissect Pharrell’s performance up close. The magic of the man is that he doesn’t really have any funky moves and, as a result, never breaks a sweat. “It’s all in the neck and there’s just a lot of tongue,” said my Japanese friend Masa. “All of the choreography is in where he positions his tongue between sets.” He had a point.

More from Japan next week, along with the winners of last week’s quiz.

The interrogator / Edition 34

Spencer Bailey

After stepping down as editor of design publication Surface last year, New York-based journalist Spencer Bailey became the editor at large at Phaidon and a contributing editor for Town & Country. He is also co-founder of The Slowdown, a media brand billed as “short-form content with a long view” that covers culture, nature and perspectives on the future; he co-hosts an accompanying podcast too. Here are some of his media tips.

What news source do you wake up to?The New York Times’ Morning Briefing newsletter on the subway, en route to work. I also read the Financial Times newsletter. And on Saturdays I read the Monocle Weekend Edition.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines? Coffee. Black.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes? Spotify. Lately I’ve been really hooked on Nils Frahm’s song “All Armed” – it’s really good. I’ve also been listening to Thom Yorke’s Anima album and Andrew Bird’s new album, My Finest Work Yet.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower? It’s complete silence; my time in the shower is for clearing my head. You don’t want to hear me sing – trust me.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk? The weekend editions of The New York Times delivered. I can’t think of a single kiosk in Brooklyn Heights.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack? I try and keep up with the trifecta of the New Yorker, New York Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. I also get Town & Country, to which I contribute pieces on architecture and design. And my favourite magazine? Apartamento. I like it because it shows how we actually live; it’s not some airbrushed, faux-reality version.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser? Subscriber. I subscribe to the above magazines and also have digital subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. When I’m travelling I might pick up the Harvard Business Review or The Atlantic from an airport newsstand.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon? It used to be Book Court in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn; I loved that store but sadly its owners decided to retire and sell it. If I’m in Manhattan, McNally Jackson, Dashwood Books or Strand.

Sofa or cinema for the evening? Sofa. I’ve never shared this publicly but I might as well do so now: I have a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit addiction. I have watched every one of the 459 episodes to date. Mariska Hargitay is such an incredible actor – and an activist too.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why? Artist Rashid Johnson’s directorial debut Native Son on HBO. I found it to be one of the most deeply affecting films I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve also been watching Wu Tang: An American Saga on Hulu.

Sunday brunch routine? Sunday is a sacred slowdown for me, which usually starts with a morning run or a trip to the gym. Then I’ll probably make coffee and an insanely delicious scrambled eggs recipe I learnt from Wylie Dufresne years ago.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out among the viennoiserie? It’s The New York Times in print. I’ve also been poring over the new interiors book from Phaidon – it’s a broad swathe of 20th-century interior design.*

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? Not nightly but weekly. Specifically Last Week Tonight with John Oliver or Real Time with Bill Maher. I like context so I’d rather watch a programme that took time to synthesise the news than a programme that spits it out immediately.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off? At night my mind usually needs a rest so, more often than not, nothing. Sometimes, if I’m cooking, I’ll put on an interview podcast like Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The New Yorker Radio Hour with David Remnick, Recode Decode with Kara Swisher and Longform Podcast. After 10pm I have this rule that screens go off, so then I might read a book.

*We let Spencer have this shameless plug as he was so well behaved elsewhere.

Culture / Listen / Watch / Visit

Now hear this

‘Official Secrets’, Gavin Hood. Keira Knightley sheds the period garb to become Katharine Gun, a translator-turned-whistleblower who works for British intelligence. At heart this political thriller largely reflects true events from 2003, when Gun risked everything by feeding information to the press on the US’s illegal spying. The ensuing frenzy is a reminder of how standing one’s ethical ground is never easy but always fundamental.

‘Vagabon’, Vagabon. New York-based, Cameroon-born Laetitia Tamko (AKA Vagabon) used to work as a computer engineer before she quit to dedicate herself to music. We’re glad she did: her second album is a confident record that pairs her soulful voice with deep, resounding beats. The result is both intimate and rousing.

Sogar Theatre. Zürich’s independent Sogar Theatre reopens for the season this weekend – but the diminutive space is no longer quite so small. A renovation by Ken architects has seen the number of seats jump from 50 to 80 and inside the black-washed building you’ll also find a comely café. Pop in on for apéro and spoken-word performances.

Outpost news / Cayman Islands

Deep dive

Three sun-soaked landmasses in the western Caribbean comprise the Cayman Islands, a UK overseas territory that maintains a reputation as the go-to financial haven for big business; the booming tourism market is important too. A banker and financial consultant by profession, Ralph Lewis found his clients asking him how they could find jobs in the area so he decided to launch his own employment sheet in 2013. The Caymanian Times has since become a full-blown periodical, with 20,000 issues published three times a week and distributed across the islands. A full-time team of three cover all aspects of the news but, says Lewis, “The front page is always a happy story.”

What’s the big story making the news this week? From time to time we publish articles on the history of the Cayman Islands. This year we’re celebrating 60 years since the first constitution so our front page is “The Life of Captain Willy”, who served as a member of parliament for 55 years.

What’s your favourite image? We ran a picture of four young men who had been chosen for the international scuba diving hall of fame. We always want to champion the good work of the Caymanian people so it’s important that we’re sharing the achievements of our youth.

What’s your down-page treat? The Cayman Islands don’t do particularly well in football: we’ve got a small population and limited talent. That is until we beat a Barbados team in the Concacaf Champions League last week; now we’ve got something to cheer about.

What’s the next big event? On 19 December we’re holding our first voter-initiated referendum on the development of a new port on Grand Cayman. It’s the biggest project in the history of the Cayman Islands but a lot of people don’t want it to go ahead; they say that the port risks spoiling the environment and the island’s natural beauty.

Wardrobe update / 18 East

Flying the flag

If you pound Manhattan’s pavements you’re more likely to encounter pricey gyms and start-up mattress showrooms than cool clothes shops. But designer Antonio Ciongoli is doing his bit to change that: the shaggy-maned former creative director of tailoring firm Eidos – sister brand to Italian tailoring firm Isaia – has just opened a store for 18 East, the menswear brand he launched in 2018. “Finding a low-key downtown spot that still gets some foot traffic was no easy task,” says Ciongoli, who eventually secured a site on a quiet block in Nolita.

Inside, hanging from simple wooden racks, are pieces that embody Ciongoli’s singular crafty-hiker-cool aesthetic – or, as he puts it, “what you get when you mix Gandhi’s homespun anti-imperialism with [Nike’s outdoor line] ACG”. There are fleece jackets with block-printed pockets, tweed vests with pointy detailing recalling the archways in Rajasthani architecture and lovely white, undyed chinos, all made in India using natural materials. There are also gems from like-minded designers, such as upcycled denim by Atelier & Repairs and homemade loafers by Queens artisan Andrew McAteer.

The space was once a beauty salon and, for the time being, Ciongoli is keeping its original awning. “It’s funny to watch people come down the street, see the awning then look in the window and stop dead in their tracks,” he says. “There’s not much genuine street level discovery left in New York anymore so a lot of people seem to be drawn to this.”

Modern etiquette / Edition 28

Should I pick up someone else’s litter?

Yes. Why? Because grimacing, huffing and puffing won’t pick up that crisp packet, move that coffee cup or change the mind of the inconsiderate sod who left them there in the first place. Some people seem content to fall back on lame arguments, littering conversations with selfish utterances such as, “That’s what street sweepers/cleaners/housekeepers are for.” Rubbish. You, dear reader, know better. Kneeling down to pick something up shows some much-needed civic mindedness and humbleness, and a willingness to believe that small changes can make a big difference (they can). Just because you can’t beat the litterbugs, doesn’t mean you should join them. Besides, the moral high ground will be a much tidier place for it.

Monocle Films / Issue preview

November issue, 2019

Lovely to see you. Let us take your coat. Drink? Welcome to the latest issue of Monocle, which includes a special survey on the art of hosting; find out what to cook, what to talk about and plenty more courtesy of a smart spread of experts.

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