Tuesday. 4/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Stronger than they seem

The department store is dead. The department store should be a digital showroom. The department store is no longer relevant to today’s generation. Oh really? Then why is it that a powerful Austrian-Thai duo is buying up some of Europe’s trophy brands and spending heavily to underline that a multistorey structure packed with good cosmetics, homeware, fine wine and tasty bites is more modern than ever? In case you missed it, Austria’s René Benko and Thailand’s Central Group snapped up Swiss department-store brand Globus over the weekend. In doing so, they have created a formidable retail block given their joint German holdings (Berlin’s KaDeWe is the jewel in the crown), their plans for a new flagship property in Vienna and the Thai group’s ownership of Italy’s Rinascente stores.

You might have also heard that print media has had it – yet some of the world’s wealthiest individuals have decided that despite their digital leanings, titles such as The Atlantic, Time and The Washington Post are somehow irresistible. So what’s the link between dusty department stores, fading print titles and high-profile buyers? Monocle reckons it’s all down to the power of three Ps – premium, proximity and patronage. As digital formats struggle to find the right pitch in the world of luxury, department stores and print titles with a winning formula (and there are more than you think) continue to attract desirable brand partners in the form of high-paying premium vendors and advertisers. Proximity is another powerful draw. Whether it’s desirable real estate in the form of a perfectly placed department store or the unique positioning of a newspaper or magazine, proximity to the right audience and like-minded brands makes both more appealing in a world that relies too heavily on programmatic targeting and empty data.

And finally, there’s patronage. Who doesn’t want to be seen to own an elegant retailer that defines the personality of a city, or a magazine that supports a free and critical press? The Globus deal is good for Switzerland and retail in general. Central Group knows how to run a high-end food business better than the former owner, Migros. Mr Benko has shown he’s more than happy to invest in respected architects to execute sensitive facelifts. Could he be in the market for a prestige German-language daily?

Politics / USA

Union in a state

Donald Trump tonight addresses both houses of Congress for his third State of the Union speech. Sandwiched between the Iowa caucuses yesterday and the vote on Trump’s impeachment tomorrow in the Senate, the speech’s timing is so awkward that any promises by the president to move forward and unify the country will quickly be forgotten amid the ongoing political rancour. That is a shame: these addresses have always been mildly partisan, yes, but they used to be important markers in the legislative calendar; dignified affairs in which a president would lay out a constructive agenda and the opposition would listen – even applaud – as nuggets were thrown in their direction by a leader hoping to win cross-party support for his legislative agenda. It’s worth remembering that, despite the looming November elections, Congress and the White House still have a country to run.

Defence / Greece

Drawing the line

Greece announced that it will be deploying an extra 400 border-patrol agents to its Turkish frontier. Despite framing the move as a way of stemming the number of immigrants entering the country, its motivations are complex. Tensions between Athens and Ankara have been mounting ever since the attempted military coup in Turkey in 2016 prompted some Turkish officers to flee across the border to Greece. Other disputes revolve around natural-gas deposits in the waters around Cyprus, and Turkey’s activities in Libya.

Jack Watling, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, says that there has been a rise in reports of border incursions, with Turkey arresting Greek soldiers for allegedly entering its territory and Turkish soldiers reportedly harassing Greek fishermen off the coast. “From Greece’s point of view, this is not a provocation,” says Watling. “It’s about managing a situation that’s been ongoing for a while.”

Transport / Vienna

Cultural exchange

From 26 February the city of Vienna will trial a new app that’s designed to reward people who travel without a car. The app will enable users to log trips that involve walking, cycling and public transport, incentivising greener journeys with tokens that can be put towards tickets to the theatre, concerts, museums and art exhibitions. Vienna is far from the first city to nudge its denizens towards planet-friendly transit. The Italian city of Bologna, for example, reduces pollution and congestion from April to September by encouraging the use of sustainable forms of transport – participants can enjoy free beers, ice creams and cinema tickets by using the Better Points app. Similarly, Silicon Valley’s Miles app launched in 2018 and has since been trialled in San Francisco and Pierce County, Washington, partnering with brands from Amazon to Starbucks to provide rewards. Of course, walking and cycling is good for your health and wellbeing – but it doesn’t hurt if it leads to a cultural bonus too.

Design / Japan

Flagship launch

Louis Vuitton, which has been in Japan since 1978, opened its lavish new Maison Osaka Midosuji at the weekend. It’s hard to miss: the building, designed by big-name Japanese architect Jun Aoki, looks like a series of sails – a reference to the old higaki-kaisen cargo boats that used to transport freight between Tokyo and Osaka – and the nautical theme continues throughout. As well as several shopping floors, with interiors by New York-based designer Peter Marino, the multistorey shop incorporates the brand’s first ever café, Le Café V, and restaurant, Sugalabo V. In a touch that’s reminiscent of Japan’s boom years, the restaurant, which is overseen by ex-Joël Robuchon chef Yosuke Suga, is hidden behind a door and reservations are by invitation only. There is no shortage of luxury shopping in Japan and competition is fierce; Louis Vuitton’s newest outpost shows that retailers are having to offer more than goods these days – they also have to offer a unique experience.

M24 / The Menu

The perfect match

How a new London initiative aims to match vacant restaurant spaces with young culinary talent, a J-pop star’s campaign to boost the popularity of sake in Japan, plus Maggie Beer’s campaign for better food in Australia.

Monocle Films / Global

Winter Weekender 2020: St Moritz

After our successful Bavarian outing last year, we’re back with another alpine adventure. Join us for two days filled with inspiring debates, Swiss hospitality and – if you like – a spot of skiing too. Find out more and book your ticket for the Winter Weekender here.

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