Wednesday. 15/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Stock exchange

Department stores and independent brands have a strained relationship. But with retail in disarray, could they form an alliance and hoist each other out of the red? According to recent reports, many big brands are planning to pull their products from department stores and other wholesale networks in the wake of the pandemic, to focus more on direct-to-consumer platforms where margins are healthier. This will hurt department stores but it also means that there will be more room on their shelves for smaller brands.

In theory it could be mutually beneficial. Some department stores, especially in Europe and Japan, are good at unearthing talent. Yet they’re often overly reliant on well-known brands that have solid customer bases – and, as a result, many of their shops look the same. If department stores were to champion small brands more effusively, they could establish distinctive points of view and stake their claim as places of discovery. At the same time there’s a very real risk that the pandemic will wipe out a generation of smaller brands. Some will be snapped up by conglomerates; many others will close. Department stores could represent a lifeline.

Small brands have historically been at the mercy of department stores, whose excessive sales, fast seasonal turnovers and often-generic merchandising can be deleterious. Now that brands’ backs are against the wall, they could be more willing to speak out for what they want. Likewise, department stores might be more amenable to embracing the significantly heightened risk that comes with stocking small brands over household names. It’s a gamble. But sometimes the best solutions are born from anguish.

Media / USA

Changing the channel

CBS this week became the first major US television network to implement concrete hiring targets aimed at improving diversity and representation within the entertainment sector. Beginning in the 2021-2022 season, CBS said that it will dedicate a quarter of its script-development budget towards projects from creatives who are black, indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC). The announcement follows the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept across the US and the success of recent programmes such as All Rise (pictured). The network also announced an impending change to its writers’ rooms: each will include a minimum of 40 per cent BIPOC writers, with that target set to climb to 50 per cent by 2022-2023. If CBS makes good on its goals, it could be a watershed moment not just for the network but the industry as a whole. A 2017 study by Color of Change, a non-profit civil rights advocacy, revealed that 91 per cent of TV showrunners and 86 per cent of TV writers were white.

Diplomacy / China, UK & USA

Cell discipline

Boris Johnson reversed approval for Huawei to participate in the creation of 5G networks in the UK yesterday after Washington imposed sanctions on the Chinese telecoms giant. The decision comes as US national security advisor Robert O’Brien was in Paris for talks with his UK and French counterparts. And it’s no coincidence that the UK clamped down on Huawei while France stopped short of a full ban. That’s because EU countries are more able to resist pressure from the two global powers. “There’s a lot of concern [about China] in most of the European countries,” Isabel Hilton, founder and editor of China Dialogue, told The Globalist. “But at the same time, Europe has a great many concerns about US behaviour – in particular how erratic it is.” That capricious nature is what prevents many EU countries from banning Huawei. Could Trump broker a China deal and reverse his Huawei stance? It wouldn’t be the first time.

Elections / North Macedonia

Making its name

People in North Macedonia head to the polls today for the first time since the country’s name change was brokered with Greece. Former prime minister Zoran Zaev (pictured) had sold the highly controversial change as the route to prosperity, via Nato and EU membership. Nato swiftly fulfilled its part of the bargain but Brussels baulked, largely due to Emmanuel Macron’s reluctance to endorse the bloc’s expansion. The EU gave a belated green light to accession talks in March but not before Zaev resigned over the matter in January, leaving a caretaker administration in charge. One might think that the EU’s reversal would make Zaev’s Social Democratic party a sure bet at the polls. But the nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE party hopes that a surge in coronavirus cases and leaked recordings of a profane and boastful Zaev could swing the vote its way. As anyone who has gawked at Skopje’s bizarre collection of nationalist statues will understand, stranger things have happened.

Arts / London

Collecting dust

In-person art-market events have already become the exception not the rule on the global calendar this year. So the news that Frieze, London’s main art fair, will not be going ahead in October might not be a surprise. But in a country that’s just beginning to cautiously open up, yesterday’s announcement is still a major blow to the creative industries and their hopes for the future. Art Basel’s decision last month to skip its postponed Swiss edition in September was a signal that an autumnal resurgence of such events was unlikely. Frieze’s announcement cements the idea that, while other industries are adapting with outdoor formats or reduced capacity, this is going to be an off-year for art trade fairs. Without Frieze, the art world loses its biggest fair of the season; and without international collectors visiting its galleries, London will be foregoing far more than just a big pop-up tent in Regent’s Park.

M24 / Tall Stories

La Borda, Barcelona

We head to Barcelona to ponder whether apartment blocks can forge communal bonds and help their tenants get closer to nature.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: July/August issue, 2020

Monocle’s city-themed summer double issue celebrates all that’s great about our urban centres. From the people and projects making our cities better places to the shops that bring communities together, we’re here to prove that being at the beating heart of a metropolis is still the best way to live. Plus: why camper vans are making a comeback. Available now at The Monocle Shop

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