Saturday 6 June 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 6/6/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Travel and space

Every day there are reports dropping into my inbox about the future of work, how the office will never be the same again, why the era of the restaurant is over, why nightclubs are finished and how, for years to come, the fashion industry will stumble and stagger like a runway model with badly fitting shoes. Perhaps it’s all true. Perhaps all the luxury fashion houses will be forced to run their businesses with the same level of concern and virtue as an NGO (no shows, no parties, no frivolity, please) and offices will become like isolation wards. And maybe companies will never get their staff to leave the comfort blanket of their apartments again. But. Well, there are actually quite a few buts.

Lots of these reports are generated by futurologists and prediction agencies that have patchy track records at best or from the PR machines of companies that think they spy an opportunity. And the other problem is that if all of these predictions really do come true, then we’re sunk.

In the UK after weeks of lockdown, you see the circle of inspiration getting smaller and smaller. We had the Tiger King weeks and now the only thing that people seem to be watching is The Last Dance documentary series about Michael Jordan. Both great. But. I miss coming in to the office and colleagues telling me about the obscure gallery they went to the night before, the theatre production that moved them, the student exhibition that impressed, the talk they attended at the Royal Academy.

Ah, but you say, you can now do all this and more virtually – attend art fairs, see the world’s best museums and all without tall people getting in your way. Well, I have been into these viewing rooms and felt indifferent and, to date, nobody has ever raved to me about the amazing picture, photograph, or person that they discovered in one of these online arenas. They work fine as sales rooms (Ebay for rich people) but any curator who thinks this is as good as being there for real is kidding themself.

At the weekends I catch up with two friends who run a successful agency for actors and each week hear about shows cancelled and delayed (often for years), film projects stalled, TV series red-lit and you realise how much creativity, potent comment and new-ness is being lost every day. Not to mention the careers.

The potential inspiration drought was hammered home this week when our editor in chief sent me several dispatches from his travels in Switzerland, a nation out of lockdown, where he saw more new ideas and spoke face-to-face with more inspiring people each day than many of us have come across in weeks. I am sure he will tell you all about it tomorrow.

And this is why we need restaurants where you strike up a conversation with your neighbour, galleries where you get to stare at work that shakes you and travel. Travel is amazing. The chance to head out and be inspired, to meet people who can alter your world view and to realise that it’s hard to really change anything other than your outfit from your bedroom.

Late-night visitors Our neighbours press our doorbell. It’s late but the sky is still a polished steel blue. If we look towards the moon, in three minutes’ time, they tell us, we might see the International Space Station pass by with its newly bolstered crew that now numbers five: Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner, Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. And here it comes: a speeding dot made pearl white by the light of the moon. So small with the naked eye, yet captivating. We stand watching until it vanishes. Now a space odyssey really does give you a new perspective.


Opening season

Japanese retail, in typically ebullient fashion, has emerged from its nationwide shutdown with a long list of new openings. First out of the blocks is Uniqlo, which opened a substantial new shop in Harajuku yesterday and has another one to follow in Ginza. The Harajuku shop is brimming with ambition; fronted by UT – Uniqlo’s T-shirt brand – and a three-metre tall statue of musician Billie Eilish by Japanese art superstar Takashi Murakami, it will appeal to the neighbourhood’s youthful demographic. But don’t worry, all the core Uniqlo lines are there too, plus a flower stand and a wall of 240 touchscreen panels to help customers find the exact look and garment they’re after. The new Ginza shop, which fills four floors and opens 19 June, has been designed by cerebral Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

Also on the fashion radar is Loeff, the grown-up women’s label from United Arrows which now has a menswear collection and, from next weekend, its first stand-alone shop in Tokyo Midtown. Graphpaper, a favourite in Tokyo, which mixes its own pieces with brands such as Lemaire and Cristaseya, is about to open its first Kyoto outpost in an old wooden townhouse. Pilgrim Surf + Supply will be bringing the sunshine to Kyoto later this week alongside new outlets of Beams and Maison Kitsuné. These are tough times for retail in Japan but there will be plenty of fresh destinations once visitors do start to reappear.


Hipper slippers

Much like the mullet I have inadvertently been growing in the months since I visited a barber, my Birkenstock Boston clogs are all business in the front, party in the back (writes Will Kitchens). With an exposed heel, I slip my feet into them to potter around the house, into the garden and out with the dog, while the covered toes save me the indignity of wearing flip-flops.

I was sure that the Boston clog had reached peak popularity last summer (when I hopped on the trend, admittedly late). But I was wrong. Early summer 2020 sightings – on the feet of everyone from streetwear aficionados sporting tall athletic socks to dads with a penchant for Japanese workwear – suggest that the clog is more popular than ever. What was once reserved for hippies has become a choice of the fashionable set. Even JW Anderson has dipped its (covered) toes in the water.

And while it’s no earth-shattering revelation to say that Birkenstock clogs are popular, they are the perfect footwear for summer, when I yearn to be comfortable while hoping not to appear slovenly. The Boston, thankfully, has that covered. My fast-growing mullet does not.


Paula Scher

Paula Scher’s career as a graphic designer spans more than 50 years, during which she’s designed for the likes of the Museum of Modern Art, Bloomberg and the New York Botanical Garden. These days she splits her time between New York, where she works for Pentagram (she was its first female partner in 1991) and her country home in Connecticut. Here she tells Monocle how she finds new movies and where she looks for political news.

What news source do you wake up to? My husband, Seymour, puts on NPR and I read The Washington Post and The New York Times faithfully every morning. I read both papers completely, online.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I make about three cups of coffee in the morning.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I normally listen to my collection on my phone or computer but I haven’t been playing much music lately; Seymour’s listening to the news 24/7 so that’s all over the house.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I don’t take showers; I take baths.

Magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Always The New York Times Magazine – that’s just great. We have The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. I do enjoy some retail things that come – I love a really good Bergdorf Goodman catalogue. Right now I’m obsessed with politics, so I’m always looking at the polls on FiveThirtyEight or I’m reading Politico.

Bookshop you can’t wait to return to?
In New York there’s Rizzoli, which is fun to go into – it’s on the corner of my block, so I spend a lot of time there.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched of late and why?
I found that I had never seen Ryan’s Daughter [1970 film directed by David Lean]. It was an amazing movie – really political and really great.

Sunday brunch routine?
On the weekends we would normally drive up to Salisbury, Connecticut. Splitting time between the city and country is great for me; in the city I’m social and in the country I’m reclusive.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining room table?
We still get the Sunday New York Times. I like it better in print but I don’t look at it as much as I used to because I’ve already read it digitally.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
The news is on 24/7, so I don’t have to make an appointment. I don’t have a favourite newsreader but during the pandemic it’s been Andrew Cuomo [New York governor] at 11.30 with his New York report about what’s going on.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
It’s the second movie that we never get through and watch the next day.


Personal is political

‘Nayda!’, Bab L’Bluz. The mesmerising rhythms of Saharan blues swirl around Bab L’Bluz’s debut album. The French-Moroccan quartet draws on Arab heritage for its musical sound – but vocalist Yousra Mansour breaks with gnawa tradition by singing in enchanting tones about contemporary politics (as well as love and community). The hypnotic, time-tested instrumental refrains are irresistible but moody guitar riffs also bring this album into the present.

‘Dear…’, Apple TV+. We’re used to hearing about how inspirational some figures in pop culture have been but we don’t always get to witness directly the ripple effects of their actions. This new documentary series profiles 10 extraordinary figures, including Spike Lee, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey and Misty Copeland, by way of some letters they have received. It’s deliberately uplifting stuff; a heartening reminder of the fact trailblazers really can cause tangible shifts.

‘Rodham’, Curtis Sittenfeld. This is not your usual biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton – and that’s because it’s a fictional one. The starting point for Curtis Sittenfeld’s book is a hypothesis: what would have happened if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? The course of US politics would probably have been different if Hillary’s political ambitions hadn’t been paired with that cumbersome surname.


On the record

I experienced some performance anxiety last Saturday night (writes Nic Monisse). Not for myself but rather for Zoë Kravitz. See, I had sat down to watch High Fidelity, the new TV adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel – my favourite book. My fear was that the story of Robert, a deadbeat 1990s record-shop owner in London, wouldn’t translate onto Robyn (Kravitz) in 2020 Brooklyn. The nature of Robert’s poorly run establishment – the hostility of staff to customers was the best part of the book – had changed. At that time, record shops weren’t a speciality destination the way they are now, so it was constantly surprising that Hornby’s protagonist kept it afloat. But by focusing on this, I had forgotten what made the book brilliant: Rob’s frustrating and selfish behaviour – the kind of behaviour that makes you hate to love him. And one perfectly captured by Kravitz’s Robyn. Places might change but people – and your favourite characters – stay the same.


Texas two

“We are quite literally the tip of Texas,” says Gaige Davila, editor of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press. Founded in 1951, the weekly newspaper covers the cities of Port Isabel (population 5,000) and South Padre Island (population 3,000). The two cities sit just north of the Mexican border along the Laguna Madre, a thin lagoon that runs along Texas’s Gulf Coast. Davila grew up in this stretch of southern Texas but only returned home last year following stints at The Library of Congress in Washington and as a housing reporter for the San Antonio Heron. Last July he took over the editor’s chair at the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, where he not only pens the newspaper’s stories but shoots the photographs that accompany them. Davila tells us the latest out of coastal Texas.

What’s making news?
Hurricane season for the Atlantic Ocean has started. Tropical Storm Cristobal is developing and it has some threat towards this community. A major storm hasn’t hit here since 2008 so I’m keeping an eye on that. [Last week] I wrote a story about the amount of people coming to South Padre Island now that so many coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. Over the Memorial Day weekend, we saw 66,000 people come to South Padre Island. There was no room on the beach. People sat right next to each other. Nobody can enforce physical-distancing guidelines because they’re only recommendations in Texas and the governor’s orders supersede all local municipal orders.

Best headline?

There was a bookshop here called Paragraphs that closed this year. The headline was simply, “The end”. The owners wanted to step away, enjoy life and travel. Everybody welcomed that but it was the only small bookshop within 30 to 40 miles of here and suddenly that community was gone. I think a lot of people had the same feeling: that something special was leaving.

A favourite down-page treat?

A local artist named Andy Hancock, who is from Melbourne, recently made a 400lb [181kg] turtle from mesquite wood. South Padre Island is trying to [develop] this thing called the SPI Sea Turtle Art Trail, which celebrates the fact that sea turtles come to South Padre Island to nest. Sea turtles always return to the same beach where they were born or where their eggs have hatched. We’ve seen a resurgence in sea turtles in this part of Texas.

What’s the next big event you’ll cover?
There is a protest this weekend in Edinburg, in the Rio Grande Valley, for George Floyd. It’s not in our county but we do sometimes get out of our range of coverage when it’s something important to the public. This isn’t really a protesting kind of area in the US – which I think is partly due to the amount of urban sprawl here. But I think it’s something people will be interested in.


Let digital take the strain

The slow easing of lockdown restrictions and the onset of summer in the northern hemisphere mean that many small wineries and distilleries that rely on visitors to shore up their income are waiting to see whether tourists will return. After dealing with the collapse of orders from restaurants and bars, on-site visits could be vital for the survival of some smaller properties.

But on this week’s episode of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs Douglas Taylor, the CEO of Islay distillery Bruichladdich, says that business owners should already be thinking of new ways to connect with customers. “The on-premise business is going to struggle for a long time and is going to bounce back at different rates in different countries,” he says. “I think that the biggest pressure for start-up brewing companies and distilling companies will be around their tourism on-site.”

“So I think we’ll rely much more heavily on e-commerce. It won’t close the gap completely. But I’m sure that we’ll find innovative ways of creating experiences, creating tastings and finding a way to get our products through to consumers.” Where to start? As the head of a distillery on a remote island off the west coast of Scotland, Taylor says that connecting an authentic story to the place you are from goes a long way and that digital experiences will help until visitors can return in significant numbers.

Get your questions in now for next week’s panel:


Can you explain the laws of laying a table?

Mr Etiquette can but won’t. Unless you are about to become butler to a fussy monarch, you should fret less about fish knives and the use thereof, and focus instead on everybody having fun. Etiquette is about making things run easily; setting some simple rules so that everyone feels included and relaxed. That’s why Facetiming your colleagues from a tranquil café is wearisome; it prevents other people from feeling at ease.

And so it might surprise you that Mr Etiquette has for some years let dust settle on his bookshelf containing various titles about manners that were published across decades past. Simply think: is this courteous? Will this help? And, hey presto, the world of soup spoons and where to place a napkin becomes less important than whether you have another bottle of that nice red in the cellar. Mr Tiddly, however, still struggles with this approach. He delivered a lifeless rodent to me this morning and when I asked, “Does this really help the situation?” he seemed unwilling to fix the matter. Although at least he didn’t ask for any cutlery.


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