Before: Monocle hosted a reception in Davos this week. The guestlist was heavy with professors, central bankers, familiar faces from various governments and the sort of business folk who talk of trillion-dollar investments.
Never having been anywhere near the World Economic Forum’s big event before, there was one pressing question I had for Mr Brûlé: “What should we wear?” I cornered him on this matter a week ago and he immediately dispensed the sort of advice that he is rightly celebrated for: pithy, accurate and a little unsettling. “It’s relaxed,” he said. “Alpine chic. No need for a tie. You can also wear jeans and trainers.”
I put down the phone and, over lunch that day, passed on this knowledge from the oracle to the rest of my Davos crew. It seemed that the enquiry had done little to assuage the sartorial angst simmering in their bellies – or maybe that was just the spicy lunch. “Does he mean a ski jacket would be wise?” “Do you think I need a hat with a bit of Tyrolean-style swagger?” “Trainers? Really? Won’t I fall over in the snow?” My intervention had clearly not helped.
So as I headed down to the hotel lobby on Tuesday to find part of the team – Robert Bound, Tom Edwards and Josh Fehnert – I was intrigued to see how they had interpreted the dress code. Turned out that there was a lot of layering, thick socks, sturdy winter shoes and some very good hats with a sort of mountain-trilby vibe. They looked good, although there was a suggestion that they could also be mistaken for well-dressed farmers heading to the Keller for a Stein or two while debating cow welfare. (Mr Bound, by the way, has a hat weakness – we sent him to Texas for a story and he came back dressed for a part in a spaghetti western, with a five-gallon hat at a jaunty angle. And, for a while, he wandered around London in a sort of Napoleonic bicorne by Vivienne Westwoood but such is his confidence that no one ever asked him where his parrot was.)
During: it turned out that the male Davos guests had abandoned their ties – well, mostly. And both the men and women at the party looked at ease. There were old political foes deep in conversation, bankers having some to and fro with cyptocurrency advocates, academics spreading their visions, TV anchors lining up interviews. But here’s the thing. While the headlines from Davos might have been dominated by the words and presence of Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg, and while the run-up to this year’s event was made red hot by the forest fires in Australia, there were lots of almost positive voices in the room. Nobody was saying that the climate crisis was not real or that the solution was in place but people talked of rapid disinvestment from companies not playing their part, of how the money folk saw future wealth coming from cleaner, greener technology and how science still might come to the rescue if we let it. It’s then that you see the value for the political and financial elites of being in a Swiss valley, penned in with all of their equals. Because it’s not only the conversations that take place in front of the cameras that will shape our lives but the ones that happen over a glass of white in an alpine-chic bar too.
After: there were stories about how Zürich Airport was being put on lockdown to cope with Trump’s needs and the arrival of Air Force One. Well I didn’t notice anything different. Except that as I waited for my flight, I saw a chopper come in to land and then just as I boarded my plane, I looked out onto the apron and saw the ground crew holding up their phones. And then along the runway came Air Force One. Whatever you think of the man onboard, a presidential plane is still a head-turning emblem of power. It’s impressive.
On the flight back to London, shortly before takeoff, half a dozen men came onboard. Next to me was a gentleman who had the demeanour of “protection” and next to him the UK’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown. I am happy to report that he was at the back of the bus and didn’t get taken off first; although there were two heavily armed policemen to greet him at the bottom of the stairs. Oh, and he definitely hadn’t got the memo: the tie was tightly in place.