Friday. 7/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Addressing the audience

Italians have a strange fascination with Sanremo, the annual song contest that famously inspired the format for Eurovision. It might be accused of being passé by some but as a cultural event it is still an oddly poignant showcase for the country’s social shifts.

This year’s edition is a case in point. The festival runs until tomorrow but the cultural clashes began early. During a press conference, Sanremo presenter Amadeus (pictured, on right) introduced one of his co-hosts, Francesca Sofia Novello (also the girlfriend of motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi), by praising “her ability to stand next to a great man, always being one step behind him”. A row ensued, followed by another debate on the deliberately provocative and misogynistic lyrics of rapper and contestant Junior Cally (he wound up performing a different song). Once the festival began, journalist and co-host Rula Jebreal sought to redress the balance by delivering a strongly worded feminist speech.

There are some people who would wish such controversies away; people who think that these occasions should be treated as carefree celebrations. The cheesy tunes, comfortingly predictable comedy and a taste for the kitsch might be the main reason why we watch Sanremo (and Eurovision for that matter) but wishing politics away from the stage is pointless because everything – even the outfits – can be political. Take a look at contestant Achille Lauro’s amazing glittery onesie and you’ll understand why his performance was a big step in a country that still struggles with discussions about gender and sexuality. It’s about time these issues took centre stage.

Society / Switzerland

Question of respect

Switzerland heads to the polls this Sunday for a referendum on banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. If successful, which looks likely, the new provision will prohibit homophobic public statements or actions that incite a climate of hatred. The proposed ban has, however, sparked a debate as to whether it encroaches on freedom of speech. The lack of a concrete definition of hate speech could also make any resulting law difficult to enforce and its impact more “symbolic” than real, according to Benno Zogg, co-head of the peace and security programme at Foraus, a Swiss foreign-policy think-tank. “But it still matters,” says Zogg. “There’s no gay marriage in Switzerland and it’s tricky for same-sex partners to adopt children. While this law might not change anything specifically on the ground, it might make same-sex couples feel more comfortable in the public realm.”

Fashion / Global

Not showing up

As the spring/summer 2020 womenswear season kicks off in New York this week, there will be one notable absence: the Chinese press and buyers. Many of the country’s celebrities, PRs and editors – including teams from China’s editions of Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar – have cancelled at least part of their fashion-season travel plans due to the coronavirus. Their absence will be a blow to all brands showing – whether in New York, London, Milan or Paris – because it means there will be far fewer people to spread buzz about new collections among the all-important Chinese consumer base.

When it comes to the impact of the virus on fashion, and the many people whose jobs are dependent on the sector, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. By pausing much Chinese manufacturing, and arresting the spending of the nation’s middle classes, the virus looks set to upend the industry from factory to shop floor. Indeed, shares in luxury brands including LVMH and Kering have already fallen. China’s importance to the luxury sector is well documented but the virus will bring it into even sharper focus.

Urbanism / USA

Chain reaction

Mobility is all well and good but you need to have a willing populace. A recent paper from Cornell University and the University of Maryland in the US shows that a certain amount of laziness is hampering the uptake of bike-share schemes throughout the country. The findings suggest that even a short saunter of a few blocks to the nearest bicycle is too much for some. The takeaway? Such networks have the possibility to radically alter the way we live but increased density (which might get around that walking problem), better planning and proximity to rail and bus routes are key. What’s certain is that cycle schemes done right have never been more popular around the world (Hangzhou has the largest docked fleet in the world, with an arsenal of 86,000 bikes), leaving little doubt that pedal power is here to stay.

Design / Stockholm

Stock in trade

Stockholm Design Week is in full swing and while the events and showcases across the city don’t match Milan’s major design week in terms of scale, its quality-over-quantity approach is impressing industry players. “It’s a well-curated week of quality shows and exhibitions,” says Singaporean creative director Gabriel Tan at a showcase for his new “Made in Portugal” design brand Origin at Asplund (pictured), a Stockholm interiors shop. “There is also more of a calm attitude here than at Milan Design Week. You can meet people from the industry and members of the press without feeling like you’re always in a hurry.” Those in the market for viewing new releases in said relaxed setting should visit the exhibits of Swedish bedding specialist Hästens and Danish furniture-maker Gubi in the central district. Meanwhile the city’s old National Archive has opened its doors for the first time for a Stockholm Design Week exhibition that’s attracting a creative crowd.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Explainer 201: Who was Mad Mike Hoare?

The true story of Mad Mike Hoare is a throwback to a time when foreign policy could be made by a planeload of middle-aged white guys with guns taking over entire countries. Although this business model is now – thankfully – frowned upon, it has by no means disappeared. Andrew Mueller discusses the mercenary’s legacy.

Monocle Films / Turkey

Building a place for culture

We visit a Kengo Kuma-designed art museum in Eskisehir that’s set to become Turkey’s new cultural hotspot.

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