Monday. 28/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

A touch of mystique

In the digital age, mystique is in danger of becoming extinct. It is particularly rare in fashion – that fast-paced, consumer-driven industry in which hype and exposure are kings. Stay off Instagram feeds for too long and you’re forgotten, doomed to irrelevance. Nowadays brands promote hashtags, offer the public glimpses behind the scenes and post shot after shot of influencers wearing their garb. Little is left to the imagination; publicity is prioritised.

Against this backdrop, it came as something of a surprise last week when our request to feature a small, independent Japanese brand in the magazine was politely rebuffed. The brand was not interested in press, we were told. How frustrating, I thought. And yet my interest in said brand was piqued and my desire to buy its already-attractive hooded coats heightened.

Japanese labels have long been masters of the enigmatic, whether it’s Visvim with its cultish following or Comme des Garçons, whose founder Rei Kawakubo (pictured) rarely does interviews and, when she does, is known for giving gnomic answers. In today’s culture, when we know so much about everyone and everything, brands would do well to consider whether mystique could be their most precious asset.

Politics / China

Behind closed doors

More than 200 key figures of the Chinese Communist party will convene today for the start of a four-day plenum. They’re gathering to discuss how to “uphold and improve the socialist system with Chinese characteristics”; a patriotic sentiment to those at home but a tactic of intimidation to those abroad. This is the fourth such meeting since 2017, when Xi Jinping secured his second term as the party’s general secretary, and it is set to be a demanding one. Navigating the country’s economic dip will likely be at the top of the agenda, even if tensions between the US and China have temporarily softened. The conclave, which takes place behind closed doors, also gives leaders the chance to discuss Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests; they are a direct challenge to the “socialist system” that China remains determined to uphold.

Media / UK

Secret service

At the end of last week the BBC announced the launch of a new online service hosted on the Tor network, through which the disreputable Dark Web – the home of extremist content and an online marketplace for drugs – can be accessed. These might seem like strange bedfellows for the UK’s beloved national broadcaster but, rather than a bid to engage with edgy new audiences, the aim is to circumvent internet censorship by oppressive regimes that block news coverage. Tor allows web users to browse anonymously and, by extension, safely. At a time when the UK is making a fetish of sovereignty, you might ask what right its national broadcaster has to subvert the legislation of other countries. In fact, this is in keeping with the aims of the BBC World Service, the broadcaster’s international arm. Bypassing censorship to bring impartial news and a shared sense of global citizenship to audiences is a goal that we at Monocle can only applaud.

Tourism / Australia

Higher ground

Far be it from us to dissuade you from travelling but the importance of being respectful while on the move has been brought to the fore again: tourists have been banned from climbing Uluru, one of Australia’s most stunning sites. The edict is more than 30 years in the making and has ignited a “fevered cultural debate,” as Phil Clark of the School of Oriental and African Studies, a college of the University of London, told The Briefing. Australia’s political right see it as political correctness gone mad, while the left say that it’s high time that the views of the Indigenous people who consider the rock sacred are respected. The debate about sustainable tourism, and the impact that travel has on native communities, is exemplified by issues surrounding sites ranging from China’s Potala Palace to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The ban on climbing Uluru should serve as a reminder to be mindful of local treasures – and sensitivities – before your next trip.

Business / Switzerland

Order of the day

With high rents and stiff competition, restaurants in Lausanne already have plenty on their plate. As such, many are supporting a new petition, launched recently by members of the left-leaning Workers’ party (POP), suggesting that the municipal government limit the number of fast-food chains in the city. The proposal comes in response to the opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a proposed Five Guys outlet. Petition organisers insist that the campaign is not about being anti-US or restricting free choice but maintaining a good balance. Doing so, they say, is advantageous for the health of the public and the high street. Whether or not the petition is successful, it shows a pleasing appetite to support Lausanne’s businesses and retain the city’s character – and maybe watch your figure too.

M24 / The Big Interview

Jill Tarter

The award-winning astrophysicist is a pioneer in the field known as Seti (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). For more than four decades she has been leading the way in attempting to answer the age-old human question, “Are we alone?” She speaks to Monocle’s Carlota Rebelo about what it’s like to devote your life to working on a problem that you might never see solved.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Guide to Hotels, Inns & Hideaways

Video didn’t kill the radio star and apartment-sharing apps haven’t scuppered our enduring need for hotels. It’s this sincere belief that proved to be the rallying cry for our latest book, which covers everything from hoteliers’ trade secrets to holiday recommendations.

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