Thursday. 9/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Making the cut

On the opening day of menswear trade show Pitti Uomo on Tuesday, models strolled around inside a Florence palazzo – in some remarkably nice gardening clothes. They wore stone-coloured overalls with tangerine bucket hats; their forest-green rubber-gloved hands gripped trowels and secateurs. It was one of the most covetable collections we’ve seen so far this menswear season (we’re currently in Florence; Milan and Paris come next). Who was behind it? Fiskars. Yes – they of the orange-handled scissors. The Finnish tool company, which has sold one billion pairs of its signature snippers since 1967, has recruited young Finnish designer Maria Korkeila to create a sharp new workwear-inspired collection.

It’s an excellent branding exercise. The collection, which is unisex and uses recycled materials and vegan leather, enables Fiskars to broaden its remit: to engage with the fashion industry and get on the radar of a cool, design-conscious audience. It’s generally recognised that brands today – all brands, not just fashion firms – resonate best with customers when they inspire and intrigue; when, rather than merely peddling a single product, they build a universe for consumers to inhabit. One standout example is the Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak, which makes great clothes and deckchairs but also stages camping festivals and hosts tent-building workshops in its stores; there’s a lot for consumers to engage with.

The Fiskars collection is the latest example of how to successfully push a brand outside its comfort zone. But a word of caution: any such move needs to make sense for that brand. If it seems random or inauthentic, customers will smell a rat. For Fiskars, which has long made gardening tools, the groundskeeping gear is a natural move. And it looks good; it’s enough to make anyone want to get outside and trim the hedges.

Geopolitics / Iraq

Caught in the crossfire

It’s never going to be a comforting prospect for a country to feel as though it’s a pawn in a major geopolitical conflict. Iraq will be experiencing that sense of foreboding this week after Iran targeted bases housing US troops within its borders. “What concerns many people inside Iraq is that this retaliation, just like the actual US strike [on Iranian general Qassem Suleimani], is happening in Iraqi territory,” said Mina al-Oraibi, an Iraqi-Briton and editor-in-chief of The National in the UAE, on The Briefing. “And it’s the Iraqis who are caught in the middle.” Both Iran and the US seem to believe that targeting Iraq will somehow prevent the crisis from becoming a direct war. Iraq itself is powerless and is struggling to hold either side to account, adds Al-Oraibi. Iraq’s people, who have suffered plenty in the past decade, are left holding their breath in the hope that the crisis playing out on their soil doesn’t escalate.

Climate / Thailand

Running dry

Australia isn’t the only country experiencing the effects of irregular weather at the start of 2020. Thailand is seeing its worst drought in 40 years, causing reservoirs to operate at less than half of capacity and salty seawater to flow into household taps. The nation’s agricultural industry has taken a huge hit and will continue to suffer until the dry season ends – in April at the earliest. In response, prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has urged residents to save water, while the government allocated 3bn baht (€89m) toward resources for better clean-water management, including additional boreholes and pipes to extract groundwater. Thailand sits at the same mid-latitude range as Australia, India and Myanmar – all countries that are more susceptible to the extreme effects of climate change. Given the naturally humid conditions, Thailand won’t face fires on the magnitude of those in Australia – but the impact of a warming climate is still a daunting challenge.

Politics / Canada

Prickly subject

World leaders rarely make international headlines for their appearance but Justin Trudeau is the exception that proves the rule. So it was again earlier this week when Trudeau, fresh from his winter holiday, was seen sporting a salt-and-pepper beard. Whether for his youthfulness and rugged good looks or his poor judgement (Canada’s prime minister will be hoping this latest makeover will court less controversy than when a video of him in blackface emerged last year), Trudeau’s appearance has seemed to draw the eye of his global followers more often than his policy chops. Canadians, however, won’t be as easily distracted. “People adjust to a new image of a leader,” says Canadian political scientist Nelson Wiseman, who expects beard-mania to be a fast-passing fad. Quite right: voters are no doubt more concerned with how Trudeau will govern during his second term than whether or not he’s clean shaven.

Urbanism / Japan

City of the future

Mention Toyota and most people think of cars and trucks. But in Japan, Toyota is also known for construction: since 1993 it has built homes and apartment complexes. This week Toyota announced an ambitious plan with Copenhagen-based Bjarke Ingels Group to turn a 70-hectare site near Mount Fuji into a testing ground for its most advanced ideas in homes, transportation and energy. The city’s wooden buildings will draw on renewable energy – solar and geothermal as well as hydrogen fuel-cell technology. Homes will use robotics and artificial intelligence, have groceries delivered and garbage removed automatically. Exhaust-free roads will feature driverless electric buses that shuttle people around and deliver goods, while separate paths will be reserved for pedestrians, cyclists and e-scooter users. Toyota, which hasn’t disclosed costs, will begin construction next year; the first 2,000 residents will be researchers and Toyota employees. It’s a seductive, albeit unproven, vision of the future that Toyota is betting will entice a new type of customer: cities.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Seed

Raja Dhir is the co-founder of microbiome company Seed. Based in Los Angeles, Seed is a collective of scientists and doctors, researching how bacteria can improve human health and that of our planet. Its first product, a daily synbiotic, focuses on the stomach.

Monocle Films / Slovenia

Slovenian ski-makers

With hi-tech production at the heart of its business, Slovenian brand Elan has carved a reputation at the forefront of ski design. Monocle Films heads to the mountains to visit its factory and learn about its past, present and future.

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