Saturday 19 September 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 19/9/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Peak interest

Ten unusual things I learned at Monocle’s The Chiefs conference this week in St Moritz.

  1. That everyone should ask for a “butt test”. Don’t clench, I don’t mean that variety. Nora Fehlbaum, CEO of celebrated furniture company Vitra, was talking about how people pick an office chair by sitting on one for a couple of minutes to see whether it seems comfortable. She explained that it would actually take eight hours perched on a potential purchase before you would know if it was really the one for you. She instead suggested asking your friendly furniture store to loan you the desired model for a day. But be careful how you phrase your desire for a butt test: it could go horribly wrong.

  2. That the beautiful and vast video screen we had as a backdrop on stage could also have had an alternative use as a barbecue. Standing in front of it, dressed in a pink shirt and navy jacket, I began slowly to cook. I thought about taking off my jacket but worried it might look like someone had thrown a giant prawn on the barbie. I suffered for my hosting duties but at least I got a tan on the sly.

  3. Compliments come in odd packages. A very nice delegate said that she’d Googled the Monocle team before heading to the mountains. “I was surprised to read how old you are – you’ve got such a young voice on the radio.” I thanked her. You’re grateful for what you can get at this stage.

  4. That some people have both “a dry kitchen” and a “wet kitchen”. This came from Alberto Bertoz, senior vice-president of V-Zug, the Swiss home-appliances brand. It seems that wealthy people, especially in Asia, have stunning kitchens where no cooking takes place (dry) but look primed for an interiors shoot, and a second one tucked away out back where the staff chop, boil and roast (wet). But with lockdowns seeing people eating at home more, the pristine show kitchens are actually being used.

  5. You can take a dog on a chairlift in Switzerland. They love it.

  6. Marc Spiegler runs all the iterations of Art Basel around the world, where all the great collectors gather. His advice for anyone thinking about investing in art? Don’t. Put simply: unless you have incredible access and lots of money, you could lose your shirt. Just buy art because you love it.

  7. That “Regula” is a Swiss girl’s name. I wonder if there’s a boy’s equivalent? “Extra Large” perhaps?

  8. That people look good in traditional Alpine kit. A former colleague, resident in St Moritz, turned up in lederhosen and one guest said to me, “Luigi looks good in that outfit.” I concurred. “No,” she said, “He looks really good.” I suggested that she have a sherry and a sit-down.

  9. Buffets are alive and kicking in St Moritz and I salute the nation for defending the Swiss spread.

  10. That there’s leadership and there’s leadership. At the end of her session, Nora Fehlbaum explained how to engage with her company: downloading papers she’s written on the future of the office and home from the Vitra website, attending its online summit or, she said, “Email me.” And then she gave out her address and it was clear she meant it.


Easy on the eye

If you need some space to reconsider your life or livelihood then we’ve got a reading recommendation to help. The Monocle Book of Gentle Living, which was published yesterday, is a handbook that celebrates a simpler existence, celebrates slower living and proffers some tangible tips for change. Without being preachy, our handsome manifesto points out the merits of being a little kinder to ourselves, one another and the world around us. Isn’t it time that you turned the page? Order your copy today at The Monocle Shop.


Voting with her feet

During her eight years as Second Lady, Jill Biden wasn’t known for ruffling fashion’s feathers – not, at least, in the ways in which Michelle Obama did as First Lady at the same time. But that changed on Monday, thanks to a pair of black leather knee-high boots, which Biden wore to cast her vote alongside husband Joe in Delaware’s Democratic primary election. Emblazoned vertically along each boot’s upper was a single word: vote.

Sartorial sloganeering isn’t unusual during a US presidential race: T-shirts printed with a candidate’s name and baseball caps embroidered with a presidential catchphrase are a fixture of the process every four years. But Biden’s boots, made in a limited run by the Stuart Weitzman shoe company, marked her first foray into such practices.

The effect was twofold. First, the boots reaffirmed the sharpening priority for her husband’s presidential campaign. The consensus is that if Joe Biden is to win decisively at a time when the very act of voting has been politicised, turnout will need to be high. Second, they were a pointed contrast to Melania Trump’s most infamous employment of lettered clothing: in 2018, she visited an immigration detention centre for children along the Texas-Mexico border wearing a jacket sporting the words, “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?”.

In a febrile political climate, clarity can be hard to come by. But Biden’s boots spelled out how change can be brought about.


Culture vulture

White Arkitekter has grown from humble beginnings in Gothenburg to become one of the Nordics’ largest architecture practices. Founded in 1951, the firm is headed by architect and CEO Alexandra Hagen and its work ranges from city-planning to building Scandinavia’s tallest wooden structure. Here, Hagen talks about living out of a suitcase, local newspapers and fond memories of a favourite bookshop in Tokyo’s Roppongi.

What news source do you wake up to?
My in-laws. My husband’s family have a family text group and when I wake up there are usually 10 to 15 messages about what is going on in the clan: dogs, angry children, happy children, food, school projects, work problems, party pictures, shopping advice, parking tickets, pictures of broken machinery – all sorts of strange things, really, and a lot of bad jokes.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I start with tea and then proceed to coffee half an hour later – why choose one when you can have both? During the week I have tea and coffee in my hotel room before breakfast opens; I travel a lot.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I only listened to classical music up until about the age of 12; it is still my safe haven. But now I’ll consume almost anything.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I don’t sing in the shower but now that you bring it up, I’m inspired – maybe I should give it a go? It would have to be an opera, such as “La Donna e Mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I’m more of a bookworm really, so the stack beside my sofa only contains books. I mostly read magazines in the office: we have a lot of quality architecture and design ones.

Newspaper that you turn to?
I turn to whatever newspaper is available at the hotel where I happen to be staying; it’s always interesting to pick up a local paper to get a new perspective. I also have digital subscriptions to the Swedish newspapers Dagens Industri, Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter.

Favourite bookshop?
I stayed in Tokyo for some time during the 1990s and there was this fantastic bookshop in Roppongi that specialised in design and architectural books. I can’t remember its name but it was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I used to go there at 03.00 after the bars closed, ending the night out in the bookshop buying some fabulous piece of literature. I don’t know whether it exists today but it was an absolute dream for an architecture student.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I listen to a lot of different podcasts for news and new knowledge. I also really like Heavyweight with Jonathan Goldstein; it’s a collection of beautiful stories about the art of being a human in the everyday complexity of life.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Is there anything good showing on TV besides the news? I’d be grateful if you could give me tips.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
I love documentaries: reality beats fiction every time.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
It would be a Ted talk of some sort. I love Ted talks: one human being sharing knowledge and experience through storytelling. We’ve been learning this way for ages and ages, and that’s why it works. I like the format because it makes it easy to access topics that I know little about. They are short so I usually manage to listen to one or two before I fall asleep.


Vivid imaginations

‘We Are Who We Are’, HBO. Luca Guadagnino, the director behind the languid, Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name, has made a new television series for HBO that oozes coming-of-age emotions, romantic longing and captivating cinematography. The drama follows two teenagers who bond as their parents serve on a closed-off military base. Both protagonists feel like outsiders and are unsure of their place in the world.

‘Concorde’, Le Couleur. There’s an irresistibly vintage feel to this Montréal-based trio’s moody, broody atmospheres. The 1970s-style soft-pop focus paired with catchy disco makes for tracks that are both melancholy and danceable, while Vietnamese-Canadian lead singer Laurence Giroux-Do’s whispery vocals sometimes veer into titillating territory. It’s sexy, elegant stuff.

‘Long Live the Post Horn!’, Vigdis Hjorth. In this droll and rather delightful story about loneliness and missed connections, Ellinor is an emotionally anaesthetised PR consultant who, in the wake of a colleague’s unexpected death, finds herself working with the Norwegian Post and Communications Union. While struggling to keep a grip on her own life, she’s unexpectedly moved by a fascinating story about a long undelivered letter.


Spreading the word

The Caribbean nation St Vincent and the Grenadines comprises one large tropical island (St Vincent) and a smattering of 32 smaller ones (the Grenadines). The terrain of the mainland is mountainous and volcanic, and the sand on the beaches, which are popular with tourists, comes in black or white. The 110,000 people who live here have settled on what little sturdy, flat land they could find, scattered across dozens of small towns and villages throughout the archipelago. Its largest municipality, the capital city Kingstown, has about 16,000 residents.

“It’s a very dispersed population,” says Cyprian Neehall, editor of The Vincentian, one of the nation’s three print newspapers. But he does his best to ensure that his publication reaches everyone. The weekly periodical serves an important role as an objective moderator in the press landscape, says Neehall. Founded in Kingstown in 1899, it is the nation’s oldest paper and a respected voice on public matters. Heading up a team of six staff for a readership of some 6,000, Neehall tells us about the news that’s washed up on these Caribbean shores.

What’s the big news this week?
On the street, the big news is that the prime minister has announced his wife is extremely ill. His son is also seriously sick. It captured the radio airwaves and the other papers’ front pages this week. The Vincentian did not carry the story though. We didn’t have the first-hand details and we don’t run second-hand news.

Tell us about a favourite image.
We often run a special feature photo in the paper. Recently we ran one of a utility pole that feeds telephone wires into the parliament building. It was rotting at the bottom. You might say that it’s symbolic – there’s a suggestion there that the government is rotten at its base.

Favourite headline?
We ran one headline about a plane that was grounded in Miami and loaded with money, guns and cash. The flight instructor said it was going to St Vincent but we since found out that the plane was heading for gangsters in Venezuela. We ran with: “SVG [St Vincent and the Grenadines] used as decoy?”

And the next big event?
The election, which is expected before the end of the year. It will be contested across 15 constituencies by 30 candidates from the two major parties; we have a first-past-the-post system. There’s no clear indication who might win this year and we haven’t seen any polls yet. As it stands, parliament is split, eight against seven. I don’t think there would be fundamental change to our current system if the opposition were to win though: there’s only so much you can do with an economy as small as ours.


Secret stash

What makes the value of a certain piece of art or furniture soar at auction? Maybe it’s a design classic or an under-appreciated artist’s work that sparks a bidding war. Sometimes it’s a famous previous owner that adds to the allure. The latter, at least, isn’t a factor at French auction house Piasa’s sale of some 50 lots from an anonymous collector, which go under the hammer on Wednesday. Up for grabs are works by prominent conceptual artist Daniel Buren (pictured, on right) and Korean-born Yun Hyong-Keun, as well as the furniture of Alain Richard (pictured, on left) and Pierre Guariche.

“The owner’s identity is confidential but he’s selling because he wants to,” says Piasa’s Florence Latieule of the lots. “It’s not a question of money. He’s been collecting for many years so it’s more that it’s time for something different.” But if you’re looking for provenance, we do know that much of the art was purchased by the collector from Parisian dealer Jean Brolly and the furniture from gallerist Pascal Cuisinier. Maybe an anonymous bid might add to the already tangible intrigue?


Nurture your neighbours

The importance of coming together in person has been underscored in recent weeks, as people from around the world have returned to the office and resumed face-to-face meetings. And even if handshakes are not always exchanged, a guest on this week’s edition of Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs says that the past few months have been a good reminder to company leaders about how to communicate well with partners and clients to build trust and invite new opportunities.

“That sense of common human connection, that sense of really trying to understand what the other person needs in a relationship – I think that is actually the silver lining of Covid-19,” says Josh Wyatt, the CEO of NeueHouse, which operates private members’ clubs and shared workspaces in New York and Los Angeles. “We’ve gone back in time – 25, 50, 100 years – to the way that people used to do business. And maybe that’s a good thing.”

Moving forward, Wyatt says that the company will aim to be an “island of calm in the storm” to everyone they interact with, whether in person or digitally. “Our mission is that sense of conscious capitalism,” he says. “It’s that sense of blending the human interaction, the human spirit, understanding and really trying to help people. We’re facing challenges, whether they be personal challenges or, especially at NeueHouse in our line of work, trying to support creative entrepreneurs that work within our four walls or digitally within our communities. It’s really about focusing on generosity and a sense of kindness as we move forward.”


Can I prune the neighbour’s hedge?

The charms of a well-tended patch can be undermined by a negligent neighbour’s overgrown bush. All of which begs the question: to trim or not to trim? Recently, Mr Etiquette was mulling this over after deadheading the pansies and trimming his topiary (the hedge bears an uncanny likeness to Mr Tiddly, wouldn’t you say?). Suddenly, he happened upon a clump of unkempt weeds flopping over the neighbour’s fence. Maybe just a quick snip? Be warned. When it comes to turning a hand to a neighbour’s neglected patch, there’s a stark choice to be made. Lop off the offending branch and you’ll risk wrath, implied disapproval and potential recriminations. Maybe say it was an accident? Or you could let the overgrown mess and dry lawn next door bother you every time you see it. Not ideal either.

As with many things in life, it’s best to take the middle ground. Why not sidle over to your neighbour and politely let them know that you’re pruning anyway, so would they perhaps like you to sprinkle a hose pipe onto that Saharan flowerbed after you’ve wrested the dead fronts from that Jurassic-in-scale banana plant? Careful though: Mr Etiquette made the mistake of being a little too obliging with another neighbour a few years back and has been weeding their garden on Wednesdays ever since.


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