Punchy and profound - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 1/2/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Drunk on experience

Would you like a gin and tonic? Perhaps a beer? Glass of wine? OK, please yourself. A couple of weeks ago the PR for a fashion brand, which has an admirable commitment to bricks-and-mortar retail and likes what we are doing to champion this cause, came by Midori House, Monocle’s HQ. And the big headline? As part of exciting plans to give its stores a boost, the brand is going to start serving shoppers with – wait for it – cocktails! The PR paused after delivering the big news. Was I supposed to applaud? Open a tab?

Now I like a drink, I like two drinks, but I have never thought, mid-jumper purchase, “Ooh, I could do with a piña colada.” And I am pretty sure that the sales assistant wouldn’t really be that excited about watching me knock back even a glass of wine while they are forced to make small talk – “Doing anything interesting this weekend?” To be frank I’d rather save any cocktail moments to share with friends (although I am not as harsh as our own Robert Bound, whose endless and baffling rules about dining include: only children should be allowed to have fruit juice after 10.00 and breakfast should only be shared with the person who you slept with the night before).

But there’s a lot of booze on offer in nice menswear shops and cool women’s boutiques at the moment. It’s “experiential”, you see, and marketing officers have decided that this is the word that offers the promise of salvation to the high street. Look, we all like the idea of fun and, if you have kids in tow, the chance to whoosh down a slide in the mall can be a deal-maker. But does the average short-on-time consumer really want to linger another 20 minutes while a drink is made for them?

You can see the extremes and the pitfalls of the experiential trend in the flagships of the major sports brands. They now only just merit the moniker “shop”. As you enter, some cheery youth smacks a football at you (yes, they do actually work here) and you feel immediately panicked in case you knock it back and smash a window. Then a DJ will be bringing the house down and drowning out your thoughts. You struggle to find the shoes you want so you ask Mr Keepie-Uppie where you should look – but he tells you that your best bet is to go the company website.

Over the past week we’ve been meeting people in the property world because the lease on our London HQ is up at the end of the year. And as they talk about the market and their insider knowledge of the shifting fortunes of the various sectors, you really worry for retail. London landlords, they tell you, are still demanding aggressive rents but, from Kings Cross to St James’s, the talk is of shops unable to meet the costs and being horribly short on foot traffic. They tell you of even the most ambitious brands refusing to take on overpriced units and headline-grabbing projects that are pulling in lacklustre numbers. It’s messy out there.

What is clear, however, is that the retail shake-out is going to continue. And it increasingly echoes what happened in the media industry, where newspaper and magazine houses shuttered, leaving a landscape in which success was shared among the smaller publishers that found a powerful, distinct audience; a handful of prestige newspaper groups that adapted to the new world; and the digital behemoths. So all is not lost. But it feels as though many retailers have yet to discover their own brand’s new formula for success.

And while experiential is getting talked up, the shops we see making money are like a good magazine: passionate about what they do, good at telling stories, carefully edited, both innovative and reliable, and confident of their brand values. And as for the mid-afternoon cocktails, we’ll let the landlords and retailers who are lost drown their sorrows.


Meet you at the summit

Are you busy on Thursday 19 March? Great, thought not. So why don’t you come and hang out with us at the very nice Suvretta House hotel in St Moritz? Our editors are heading up there to host Monocle’s Winter Weekender, a gathering of our great readers and listeners enjoying the company of inspirational panellists discussing such wide-ranging topics as better business, the brain, the art world and making money from the weather. Then do stay on for skiing, lots of good food and perhaps a terrifying toboggan run. Find out more at monocle.com or email Hannah Grundy at hg@monocle.com.


Cool for school

Think of Alice bands – named after the pinafored heroine of Lewis Carroll’s tale – and images of preppy schoolgirls and prim Sloane Rangers spring to mind. If you spot a girl on the Tube with her head cocooned in a velvet halo, you know that she’s not behind on the rent – or on anything, ever. She’s prompt and she certainly doesn’t misplace things. A quick poll in our office reveals that the head band’s scholastic associations still hold fast. Whereas some see this as a benefit (“I appreciate their sense of nostalgia, like the hair equivalent of frilly socks”) others are deterred, saying that Alice bands are too neat and childlike and, frankly, not for grown-ups with messy lives.

Increasingly, though, they are being embraced. Miuccia Prada, expert in flipping preppy looks on their head and injecting them with weirdness and bite, was one of several designers to kickstart an Alice-band revival last year. She gave them enormous proportions – and spikes – and wrapped them in shiny satin. Other designers have produced versions with pearls or gems. Now we’re seeing hulking great headdresses on fashion girls everywhere, and not just posh girls. They’re not unanimously adored and they certainly have a whiff of Gossip Girl’s perfectly coiffed Blair Waldorf about them – one journalist wrote that they feel “a bit extra, like wearing a crown when you’re doing the weekly shop”. But there’s suddenly a touch of modern fashion to the Alice band’s old-world-princess glow.


Kaius Niemi

Helsingin Sanomat is one of the largest newspapers in the Nordics (writes Nic Monisse). Published daily in a compact format, it has the biggest subscriber base in Finland. Kaius Niemi has been editor in chief since 2013; he had spent his early career as a foreign reporter and war correspondent before returning to Finland to work as editor of the tabloid Ilta Sanomat. Here he tells Monocle about his favourite karaoke song and his city’s Alvar Aalto-designed bookshop.

What news source do you wake up to?
The mornings are pretty hectic, so I don’t have time to really scrutinise everything. I’ll go through the Finnish news sites as well as the Helsingin Sanomat app while in bed. Then I look at the Financial Times, The Economist Espresso and my Feedly feed.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I’m a Finn, so nothing starts without a coffee. I’ll blend 60 per cent arabica with 40 per cent robusta in my grinder and then put it in the Bialetti stovetop espresso maker.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I must be some sort of relic because I still listen to music on MP3s, mostly from CDs I own. I still like the feeling of owning my music: I have 646 albums, from classical through to jungle, and Siberian throat singing to Bach.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I don’t know about the shower but if I end up in a karaoke bar I'll be singing Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. It has got incredible lyrics, telling the story of the whole cold war era in one song; I love that.

Papers delivered or a trip down to the kiosk?
Delivered. In Finland, most newspapers are home-delivered.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I’ll have the weekly news magazine Suomen Kuvalehti, which is more than 100 years old, as well as The New Yorker, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal Magazine.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
Subscriber. I think good journalism is something you need to pay for.

Bookshop for a drizzly Saturday afternoon?
Academic bookstore Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in the middle of Helsinki, designed by Alvar Aalto. It has a nice cafeteria, called Café Aalto, which is a great place to go.

Sunday brunch routine?
We’ll go to the countryside – we have a country home outside Helsinki – and we’ll take our breakfast and our coffee into the woods and have it there, surrounded by nature.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table?
I’ll have the print versions of Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet, the Swedish-language, Helsinki-area newspaper.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
If something really big happens I will. But otherwise I’ll be watching on demand, usually the Finnish public broadcaster or NTV.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Nothing. I’m a great sleeper, which was helpful when I was a foreign reporter. I can sleep in a truck or a helicopter; so there’s no need for anything on the airwaves to put me to sleep.


Punchy and profound

‘Bait’, Mark Jenkin. The most strikingly original and unusual film of last year is now out on DVD and its power as a parable about the changing nature of community burns undiminished on the small screen. Two Cornish brothers live in discord: one fishes and mends his nets in time-honoured style, the other ferries tourists – the new normal. Their town is crowded with cars from London and prosecco chills in the fridges of holiday lets that once were dwellings. What to do? Tussle on the quay? Bait, shot on 16mm film on clockwork cameras, with the sound (including dialogue) added later is a bewitching masterpiece of storytelling, technique and texture that, thankfully, answers less than it asks.

‘Silver Tongue’, Torres. Getting dropped by your record label might not be the best news for a musician but for Torres (aka Mackenzie Scott) it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Having waved goodbye to 4AD, this new album – out on Merge – is completely produced by her and feels personal because of it. The US songstress delivers atmospheric, rousing numbers about the excitement and fear that come with falling in love.

‘The Shadow King’, Maaza Mengiste. Addis Ababa-born, New York-based novelist Maaza Mangiste has written a story that will finally cast the women who fought for Ethiopia in 1935 out of the shadows of history. As fascist Italy prepares to invade the country, protagonist Hirut is working as a maid to an officer of the Ethiopian emperor’s army. But the development of the conflict will lead her to come up with cunning plans – and inspire other women around her to take up arms.


Pick it up

Historically home to an active port and shipbuilding industry, the town of Pictou, Nova Scotia (population 3,000) sits on the banks of the Northumberland Strait (writes Will Kitchens). It was these shores that welcomed the Hector, the ship that carried the first significant number of Scottish immigrants to Canada, back in 1773. Today the newspaper of record in town is The Advocate, which has been continuously published since 1893. Editor Jackie Jardine spoke to Monocle from The Advocate’s headquarters, a small stone building in the centre of town that houses the weekly newspaper’s six employees.

What’s the big story this week? Former Central Nova MP [and former minister of justice, minister of defence and minister of foreign affairs under prime minister Stephen Harper] Peter MacKay is coming back to politics. Last Saturday he made his bid for the leadership of the federal Conservative party official. MacKay spoke of expanding “one big blue tent” where all the Conservative factions could move past their divisions to once again form a government.

Best headline? “Domo Arigato, NGA Robotics Club”. The story is about the New Glasgow Academy’s robotics club that put the community first in its project. This year’s project had teams pick a public space or building and improve it for the community. This year’s group chose to make the North End Recreation Centre’s playground more accessible for parents. Working on the project for about two-and-a-half months, the boys hunkered down and finished everything just in time for the competition. Now they’re set to move on to the provincial competition at Acadia University.

What’s your down-page treat? Our coverage of Burns Night, an annual celebration of the noble bard of Scotland. It’s widely attended, as Pictou County was founded by Scottish immigrants. While it’s not a hard-hitting news story, it is an event that matters to the community. If it matters to the community then it matters to us, the community newspaper.

What’s the next big event that the newspaper will be covering? We will continue to monitor the ongoing situation with our local kraft pulp mill, Northern Pulp, which recently announced its closure. This issue has divided the community and made national headlines. But this weekend we will also cover a fun event in New Glasgow called Chill Out, a closing event for the town’s winter carnival. It includes a chilli-making competition with a media category. One of our reporters will be there with her tasty recipe.


A global-village shop

The first thing I did when I moved to east London four years ago was go for a walk (writes Jamie Waters). I walked to Pho Mile, a stretch of Shoreditch famed for Vietnamese restaurants. I walked to Broadway Market, brimming with third-wave coffee stalls and beautiful magazine shops, and I walked around London Fields, where glossy young families bring portable barbecues to grill food for their picnics. And I walked to Wilton Way, a little Hackney street populated with cafés whose tables spill onto the pavement. Here, past the bakeries and bistros, there’s a pint-sized, white-walled homeware shop that is always sunny, no matter the weather outside.

Momosan was opened in 2014 by Momoko (“Momo”) Mizutani, a Japanese immigrant who studied design at Central Saint Martins and speaks in a gentle, soothing tone. Momo sells things from around the world that have caught her eye, which means that the items lining its delicate shelves are somewhat eclectic, united only by their irrefutable tastefulness. I’ve bought cylindrical Japanese vases for housemates’ birthdays (then we had to furnish them with dried flowers, just like Momo had done); mismatched ceramic spoons for a friend’s wedding; geometric earrings by a London designer for my sister; a candy-coloured soap dish for my mother. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what a thing does – a tiny wooden glockenspiel? Bundles of white sage? – but that’s not the point. A good shop doesn’t merely sell you what you need. It makes you desire things you never even knew existed – but now can’t live without. momosanshop.com


Cutting a dash

Arket, the clean-lined brand from Sweden’s H&M Group, is helping us to achieve our new year’s resolutions and get that bit fitter. The brand’s new line, Arket Running, is a men’s and women’s collection of T-shirts, fleeces, compression tights and reflective windbreakers, much of it made from recycled polyester. Most of the designs are attractive and sensible but there are pops of fun – an industrial-orange windbreaker, a camo cap. Get your gear online or at select Arket shops in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Amsterdam or London’s Covent Garden. It could be just the nudge you need; after all, it’s easier to pound the pavement when you look good.


Would you like to bring your wife?

An email arrived with a dinner invitation. “We wonder whether you and your wife would be free next Saturday to join a special charity dinner,” it began. Mr Tiddly could see my hackles rise. He decided it might be time to get to work and pretend to be loving; he rubbed against my shins. Now it happens that Mr Tiddly is one’s only bedtime companion at present.

So where had the “your wife” bit come from? Now this is not being woke but when you are inviting people you don’t know personally to any event, it’s unwise to start guessing at their sexuality or married/single/thruple status. Keep it easy: “feel free to bring someone”. That way a woman can bring her spritely new lover and leave hubby at home, and a gentleman may arrive with one Mr Tiddly (I jest, he’s too much of a snob to attend any event where he’s not the centre of attention).


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