Saturday 11 July 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/7/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


In good company

  1. As the restrictions ease in London (last weekend restaurants and pubs reopened; gyms are next), people need to do an audit of their lives and decide which parts from the lockdown months they want to hold on to. For many, of course, the answer will be none of it – the virus has killed people, destroyed careers and damaged mental health. But for those who just had a life at home to contend with there were often pleasant surprises. For me, the most important was how people on my street looked out for one another and got to know each other.

Central to this sense of pulling together has been my octogenarian neighbour. And this is not because he needs everyone’s help – he sometimes lets you get groceries for him but prefers to take a stroll to the shops: “Once you start letting people do things for you, it’s all downhill,” he insists. Nor is it because he needs company; he has a rich and varied social set. It’s just that, as the street came together, he found himself at the heart of the action, including a lot of street drinks.

And I have definitely seen more of him than any of my usual circle of friends. Every evening, for example, we meet up at the end of the day to water the plants in front of our houses. He takes control of the hose and has worked the whole thing into a funny routine where he pretends to be my gardener and, if a passer-by stops to say hello, he tells them that he’s not allowed to talk on the job or his salary will be docked.

How to hold on to all of this (for my entertainment more than his)? Last night we hosted a dinner at our house for him and some neighbours to make sure that, as people return to their offices and busy lives, we continue to meet. When we called to invite him – this is a man who worked as dresser in the theatre and a butler too – he said that he had a prior engagement with Catherine Deneuve but that Kate was usually very understanding and that he hoped to attend. And I have the red-wine fug this morning to prove that he did and that it was a good night.

  1. I know we all hate tourists (unless we’re the ones doing the sightseeing) because they clog up our cities, bang you on the head with their selfie sticks and sometimes don’t even speak your language. But could London have just a few more please? There are hotel doormen looking gaunt, department stores missing their Chinese and Emirati fashion fiends, posh restaurants where wary Brits are refusing to scan beyond the house white on the wine list.

Yes, the easing of restrictions has given us back bars and restaurants but in London there are just not enough patrons to go round. This week the UK chancellor of the exchequer announced that he will try to come to the rescue by actually chipping in to pay for restaurant meals but the city’s hospitality scene has been engineered to cater for vast numbers of tourists, people coming up from the shires to see a show, people out for a big birthday – and we are a long way off all of that falling back into place.

There’s clearly going to be a shakedown in the coming weeks but let’s hope that the creative small operators who got to know their customers even better and became part of their neighbourhood’s support system will be the ones who hold it together and cope without the selfie-stick brigade.


Thirst aid

Toronto is in the midst of a heatwave (writes Tomos Lewis). And while many of us are willing to brave these humid 40C days outdoors after the long, cooped-up weeks of lockdown, there’s a small predicament unfolding: it’s proving tricky to find a drink of water while out and about. When Toronto’s lockdown began in mid-March, city hall turned off the 600 or so drinking-water fountains and bottle-refill stations, citing concerns about the spread of the virus. And although the parks are open again and some fountains are flowing once more, the majority of them remain dry.

City hall says that it doesn’t have the resources to clean the water fountains twice a day, in accordance with its own post-lockdown regulations. So now some residents are stepping in to quench the collective thirst. Several members of Toronto’s Tibetan community, for example, have set up tables in the city’s west end, offering free bottles of chilled water to overheated passers-by. And some advocacy groups are delivering cases of bottled water to homeless people, for whom public water fountains are often essential. So, although many fountains remain dry for now, Toronto’s collective spirit seems determined to ensure that the city won’t go thirsty for long during these hot summer days.


Fleet footed

Every summer they appear as a polished assemblage of neatly looped laces, taut leather bodies and chiselled rubber soles that dominate boardwalks, beaches and rooftop bars (writes Jamie Waters). Every dad in the history of the world owns a pair. So too do many students. The look is unapologetically Waspish and grown-up; it comes in combinations of chestnut-brown, navy and white and is good with a scuff and a polo – and bad with socks. The boat or deck shoe was invented in 1935 by one Paul Sperry, a Connecticut sailor looking for nonslip footwear who took inspiration from the grooves in his dog’s paws. Over the decades it has become a staple of the prepsters wardrobe. Style gods JFK and Paul Newman were fans, while Sperry and Sebago have long dominated the market.

The deck shoe has always been content to ebb in the background of fashionability like the tide on the Maine coastline, which is its natural environment. In recent years, however, as menswear brands tired of streetwear have toyed with an Ivy League aesthetic, deck shoes are enjoying a newfound fashion credibility. Sperry has collaborated with playful Manhattan labels including Noah and Rowing Blazers, which have swapped cow hide for corduroy in a kaleidoscope of colours. And its high-fashion apogee came last year, when Prada dreamt up a navy-white-and-sky-blue thing of real beauty. Sure, there’s still a Waspy whiff about the boat shoe, but it’s slowly making its way downtown.


Ollie Wards

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) flagship radio station, Triple J, is the top destination for those tuning into Australian music. The network unearths new talent as well as keeping its listenership up to date on current affairs. Ollie Wards heads up the station and has been working for the national broadcaster since 2010 – although he took a brief hiatus last year to produce true crime podcast, Snowball. Here he tells Monocle which hip-hop songs he likes to adapt operatically and why he eats fried rice for breakfast.

What news source do you wake up to?
I have the ABC news messenger app that hits me with three or four big stories – it’s really well curated. Right after that I turn on Triple J and get radio news.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
I’m an iced-coffee guy, no matter how cold the weather is.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I sort of obsessively listen to Triple J, especially the morning show. It’s partly a work thing; I’m like the coach to the players so I need to watch the game to be able to coach.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
When I’m in the shower I do an operatic version of Dr Dre’s “The Next Episode”. I also create and hum different versions of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.

Are you a subscriber or more of a newsstand browser?
I have a lot of email and digital subscriptions and newsletters. Every week,* The New York Times* podcast, The Daily, sends out a “behind the scenes” report. I get a myriad of Australian sources too, such as The Music and pop-culture site Pedestrian.

Bookshop for the weekend?
I usually end up in bookshops with my wife, Pip. There’s a bookshop in Newtown, Sydney called Better Read Than Dead that is cavernous. The first few times I went in I didn’t even realise that there was a second floor.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched lately and why?
My friend and former colleague Matt Okine has a show called The Other Guy, which has released its second season. I’m watching Normal People too and I am an emotional wreck.

Sunday brunch routine?
There’s a place called Two Chaps in Marrickville, Sydney. It does a fried-rice bowl for breakfast that’s broadened my concept of what foods you can eat first thing.

What papers and periodicals will be spread out on the dining-room table?
If I’m reading news, it’s online – I’ll check out The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian Australia, and a host of Instagram news accounts.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news? A favourite newsreader perhaps?
If I’m at home I’ll try to catch the 18:30 SBS broadcast. You can quote me on this: it is the best world-news wrap-up on any linear news service in the world. Later at night I get heaps of my news from US satirical sources – the shows of Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I’ve been watching Mark Felton Productions on YouTube. He’s a British historian who goes through quite specific parts of the Second World War and presents short stories with archival footage.


Rich pickings

‘A Burning’, Megha Majumdar. Kolkata-born Majumdar’s debut weaves together the stories of three people, each looking to improve their own standing. Their lives become interlinked in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a train, an act that one character, Jivan, gets wrongly accused of. Touching on politics, corruption and botched justice, this is an incendiary cry for freedom and self-determination.

‘First Cow’, Kelly Reichardt. Art-house film production company A24 released First Cow in US cinemas at the beginning of March but the subsequent lockdown didn’t give this title the airtime it deserved, which is why it’s now getting a digital re-release. Director Kelly Reichardt teamed up with screenwriter Jonathan Raymond on this adaptation of the latter’s book, The Half-Life. In 19th-century Oregon, two friends try to make their own fortune via a milk-stealing subterfuge. The cakes that they end up producing offer them a taste of the American dream.

‘The Greatest Part’, Becca Mancari. Singer-songwriter Mancari grew up gay in a very religious family in Staten Island – so she journeyed across the US (and beyond) before she found a home for herself in Nashville. On this record she explores some painful memories from the past but the lyrics come accompanied by the levity of a dreamy pop package. Atmospheric “First Time” is the best example of her skilful accomplishment; funky “Like This” and “Lonely Boy” also lend themselves well to a dance.


Cold press

Tucked along Norway’s northern coast in the Arctic Circle is Tromsø, a city of 75,000 that’s served by not one but two newspapers. “I think it helps to have healthy competition. We need to keep on our toes,” says iTromsø editor Stig Jakobsen, who returned to northern Norway five years ago following stints working for magazines, newspapers and television programmes in London and Sierra Leone. Founded in 1898 (the newspaper changed its name in 2009), iTromsø boasts a sizable digital presence but its tabloid newspaper is also printed six times a week for 8,000 subscribers. “People in Tromsø are eager newspaper readers,” says Jakobsen. He tells Monocle what they’re reading about.

What’s making the news right now?
The news of 2020 will always be somewhat related to coronavirus. Sweden has been way harder hit than Norway and so Swedes are not allowed to travel to Norway this summer. We had one recent story where people had reported that there were Swedish tourists. We found out that they were Finns who spoke Swedish so they could make themselves understood. Some of the most important news stories have been connected with the relief fund for business and how these big stalwarts in the business world have coped. There’s a Norwegian cruise-ship company that took out huge loans to build more boats just as coronavirus hit, meaning it was too indebted to be given any [relief] and so ran the risk of going bankrupt. The government had to bend the rules to save the company.

We’ve also been going through the salaries of local politicians. Two of the administrative counties have merged and incomes at the top level have exploded. There’s a crisis where people are losing their jobs but the politicians are making hundreds of thousands of kroner more than they were previously for doing the same job. It doesn’t make sense.

Do you have a recent favourite image?
We had a dreadful spring. We had an image of a man walking his dog along the pier and the waves were going over his head. It was quite a striking image and it made everyone chuckle because it’s like, “Why did we settle up here? This is a nightmare.”

What’s your down-page treat?
Three local [football playing] kids were signed by Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Local kids doing well is always a good story. It’s not super recent but there was also a story about someone who took a picture of some grass turf on the seaside that looked like Donald Trump’s wigs. That went viral.


Don’t ditch the office

On this week’s episode of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs, Roxanne Varza, director of start-up incubator Station F in Paris, says that most companies, whatever their size, won’t be rushing to go fully remote. “We conducted a study in the US, UK, France, Germany and Israel. More than 1,000 companies responded and we discovered that less than 10 per cent of them plan to go fully remote.” Varza says that even the companies which are talking about such a shift are also planning in-person meetings and events. “There is still this awareness that we need to see each other physically and there is some connection and serendipity that happens when we’re together that you just cannot replicate online.”

Varza says that for the many companies that are hoping to add new talent or hunt for new investors, looking beyond a video call or coffee-shop meeting can go a long way. “When you’re a young start-up and you’re competing for talent, you’re competing for customers, you’re working in the B2B space – you need the credibility of an office.”


Cool summer

When thinking about purchasing cool clothes for hot weather, it’s worth consulting Tiina Laakkonen. Few buyers do summer style better than Laakkonen, a Finnish former model, stylist and one-time design assistant to Karl Lagerfeld. She’s the owner of Tiina the Store, a womenswear shop that she opened in 2012 in Amagansett, one of the more charming towns in the Hamptons. Housed in a picture-book-pretty timber building from the 1800s, the shop has just reopened after being closed for weeks due to the pandemic.

“Summer is our busiest season and we know [this] will be an extra busy one as all of our summer clients are here,” says Laakkonen, who caters to aesthetes seeking roomy silhouettes, under-the-radar brands and pops of colour rather than flashes of logos. As well as courting Hamptons holiday-makers, she sells to customers around the world via her online shop. Tokyo, Hong Kong and Los Angeles are big markets.

As for her warm-weather picks? “I’m in love with Zanini,” she says, referring to Italian designer Marco Zanini’s independent label. “Marco’s philosophy matches my own: less but better with a focus on quality. His clothes are the perfect mix of understated and extraordinary.” A self-professed “dress person”, Laakkonen has her eye on a trio of frocks: a black linen button-front Zanini design, the electric-blue Poet model by London label Toogood and the navy Millefiore number by Italy’s Daniela Gregis.


Slurp’s up

When expanding the product categories of a menswear brand, it would seem logical to delve into accessories, homeware or perhaps publishing (writes Jamie Waters). But Brendan Babanzien and Estelle Bailey-Babanzien, the husband-and-wife team behind New York label Noah, have settled on… noodles. The duo has recently opened a shop in Osaka (Noah’s fifth outpost globally). When scouting sites, they wanted somewhere that felt uniquely tied to the Japanese city; they found it in a two-storey tiled building in the fashionable Minami-Horie neighbourhood, which for the past 100 years had housed a soba restaurant.

“When we open new places it’s important for us to integrate into the local community and make each place special for that location,” says Estelle. “I was so inspired by the building itself and took many design cues from that. Like all our spaces, it’s a place that feels homely and encourages our patrons to stay a while. From the start it was also really important to me that we continued to serve noodles.”

As well as offering gourmet soup noodles from a historic Japanese maker – which can be slurped in the second-floor café space – the shop is filled with the brand’s vibrant preppy-meets-streetwear designs spanning tracksuits, checked bomber jackets and double-breasted linen blazers. There’s a new sunglasses collab with the French specialist Vuarnet, and an exclusive T-shirt to commemorate the shop’s opening, featuring a kibori kuma (a wooden carving of a bear eating a salmon). “We want to be part of Osaka and build a relationship with the people there,” says Brendan. “You can’t do that online or from a distant city.”


What’s a man to wear on the beach?

Well, certainly more than just a smile – let’s be clear that the only tackle on display should belong to a fishing boat. But, we agree, it is risky when you head to the beach for the first time each summer if you are keen to be in the fashion stream with your swimming attire. There have been the summers when board shorts ruled, then came the neat trunks made by the likes of Orlebar Brown but, in recent years, the Lycra numbers favoured by Australian beach guards have come back with eye-popping gusto. What should you place your bets on – and should you dare to wear a “budgie smuggler” or “hamster hammock” just in the hope of being cool? Well, Brazilians in their eighties determinedly persist with the look but, beyond the realm of Ipanema, it’s a style that’s best left to people with youth on their side and tummies that haven’t had the pleasure of too many years of good living.

The rules are actually pretty simple for any gent: leave something to the imagination; choose a style that won’t scare the local wildlife when you head to the beach bar; and pick any colour or pattern you like (here, all rules are off). But if you do go down the budgie-smuggler route, beware of Mr Tiddly on the prowl for lunch – you have been warned.


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