Wednesday. 19/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Diminished returns

Earlier this week I received a WhatsApp message from an unusually glamorous sender – especially for a Monday morning. It was a voice recording from Alessandro Michele (pictured), the fêted artistic director of Gucci, providing me (and no doubt the hundreds of other attendees it was sent to) with information about the brand’s forthcoming runway show. It’s certainly a novel approach by a house famed for its playful take on luxury – and offers an innovative, eco-friendly alternative to the ubiquitous paper invitations.

It also brings a certain lightness to the opening day of what will be a tense Milan Fashion Week (the Gucci show takes place this afternoon). The recently completed fashion weeks in London and New York were noticeably muted due to the absence of Chinese and South Korean visitors. And in Milan, where the schedule is particularly packed with luxury heavyweights who have invested in expensive shows, brands are anxious about whether the whole thing will be worth it. The Chinese market represents a third of luxury spending worldwide and as much as 40 per cent of the customer base for some of the big Italian brands, yet it’s estimated that 1,000 Chinese press and buyers have cancelled their European trips. But what’s a brand to do? Drop the show and miss the press and social-media buzz for the season? The show must go on, it seems – but it’s a costly one to run.

Politics / Canada

Stuck in the middle

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has cancelled a trip to the Caribbean and the reason is entirely domestic: many of the country’s busiest rail links are at a standstill. Starting two weeks ago, supporters of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia blockaded the construction of a natural-gas pipeline that’s set to cut through territory to which they claim an entitlement. Those protesters were ousted by police, prompting demonstrations across the country. One, in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, has severed the freight and passenger rail links between Toronto and Montréal. According to Canadian National Rail, it’s the largest disruption in the company’s history. Trudeau called an emergency cabinet meeting to find a resolution but he’s in a bind: Canada’s pro-business factions are weighing on him to end the blockade but Trudeau has long said that reconciliation with First Nations is a priority of his government. Anything other than a peaceful resolution will only prompt further protests.

Politics / Thailand

Uncertain Future

Thai politics is about to get spicy. This Friday, the opposition Future Forward party will hear a ruling which will determine its very survival. The case surrounds a loan from its billionaire leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (pictured), which allegedly breached political-party funding laws. The fledgling organisation could be outlawed by the constitutional court less than a year after it caused a shock in elections by becoming the third largest party in the National Assembly. The FFP was founded on a ticket to remove the military from politics and this anti-establishment stance has already cost its leader his parliamentary seat. Banning the youth-backed party altogether could lead to street protests in Bangkok amid rising anger at the government of prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha. The former general, who took power in a coup in 2014, faces a no-confidence motion later this month. Although the FFP might no longer exist by then, its MPs will surely still have their say.

Culture / Austria

Funk in the house

Built in 1938, Vienna’s Funkhaus has historically been the home of Austrian national broadcaster ORF’s radio operations. Since the handsome building was sold to a private company three years ago, though, the culture-focused Ö1 and youth-oriented FM4 channels now have to be relocated. It’s not yet clear who will be the new occupants of the radio studios and offices on the upper floors but the building’s stunning concert hall and wood-lined recording studios will remain unchanged. Austria’s strict preservation rules for listed buildings ensure that none of the architectural patrimony will be lost, while concerts and classical performances will keep the stunning great hall alive with the sound of music. For more on this story, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest Austria-themed issue – on newsstands this Thursday.

Architecture / Australia

Towering ambition

From the shiny Brisbane Skytower to Melbourne’s obtrusive Eureka Tower, the tall glass-and-steel air-conditioned buildings of Australia are famously unpretty. Enter software giant Atlassian’s announcement of its new tower in Sydney that aims to change the tone of high-rises Down Under. Sat amid a new tech hub in an underused part of town, it will be the nation’s tallest timber structure at 40 storeys, and a costly one too – the current estimate is set at AU$1bn (€620m). Designed with environmental sensitivity in mind by New York’s Shop Architects together with Aussie firm BVN, the structure could change the narrative around the nation’s place-defining architecture. However, the cross-laminated timber used in these types of buildings typically comes from Austria (not Australia), which could dent the building’s green ambition.

M24 / On Design

Interior trends

Oli Stratford of Disegno joins us for the design headlines. Plus: a visit to ‘The Porcelain Room’ exhibition in Milan, and we speak to the design minds behind family-run Italian furniture business Living Divani.

Monocle Films / Beirut

Celebrating fashion in Beirut

A group of edgy fashion designers and Lebanon’s first-ever fashion school are shining a light on the possibilities for the next generation of creatives.

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