Friday. 27/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Hester Underhill

Off piste

For the past eight years my cousin Graham has spent his winters in the French ski resort of Tignes (pictured). He first headed out as a teenager to spend five months washing dishes at a hotel and has since progressed to the rank of ski instructor. He returns to the UK every spring, sporting a fetching goggle tan and bushy beard. When the pandemic hit and Tignes shut down in March, Graham was forced to swap his high-altitude life for a less-thrilling six months in Oxfordshire, working on a construction site.

Like many ski-season workers, he usually spends his summers employed at beach resorts around the Mediterranean – he’s also a qualified windsurfing instructor. This means that he, like many others, lost out financially when European resorts remained unseasonably quiet this summer. Now, as the EU considers delaying the opening of ski resorts until the new year, these workers risk losing out on their winter income too. It’s the reason why Austria is pushing for its resorts to open and many of Switzerland’s largest ski areas have already begun the process. It’s also why some Alpine nations are demanding that the EU foots the bill to support those left out in the cold.

When I spoke to Graham last month about the prospect of resorts reopening (he’d already driven to France to begin training) he was full of sunny Alpine optimism that everything would go ahead as planned. Now back on home turf, however, he’s a bit less upbeat. “Nobody knows what’s going on,” he says. “Everyone’s fed up with the indecision. But it’s worse for families who live in the resorts all year round and have children in schools there. They can’t just uproot and go where the work is.” He’s crossing his fingers that Emmanuel Macron’s planned reopening of resorts will go ahead on 20 January but the downbeat Londoner in me worries that his Rossignol twin-tips might carry on gathering dust for another year – and that many seasonal workers like him will be left pining for the slopes.

Image: Getty Images

Conflict / Ethiopia

Personal politics

Yesterday, Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an all-out offensive against the rebel forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the northern region of Ethiopia, rejecting international mediation and escalating a civil war that has already displaced tens of thousands and left hundreds dead. The announcement was met with “deep concern” by the European Union and similarly worried the Nobel peace prize committee, which awarded the prestigious gong to Ahmed last year. Ethiopian officials rebuked outside involvement, arguing that foreign bodies should avoid meddling in the nation’s issues. Is there merit to this stance? “It could be seen as hypocritical: Ahmed has benefitted from US backing and is happy to accept the support of neighbouring Eritrea,” says Nic Cheeseman, author of Democracy in Africa. The problem, he argues, is that this dispute might only be resolved through effective independent mediation. “You’re going to struggle to get all parties to agree on the right path.”

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Global

Not buying it

Black Friday isn’t just about price reductions. Even retailers who don’t offer discounts can experience a big uplift in revenue and traffic as today’s event, along with Cyber Monday, simply gets more people shopping both online and in shops. However, an increasing number of brands are challenging the overconsumption. New Zealand-US trainer company Allbirds is raising its prices by $1 (€0.80) on the day, donating proceeds to the climate movement, while UK outerwear label Belstaff is giving 10 per cent of sales profits to the Big Issue Foundation, a charity for the homeless.

Outdoor-clothing brand Patagonia, meanwhile, has donated all Black Friday proceeds to environmental organisations since 2016. Explaining her own companies’ decision to support charities instead of offering discounts, Baukjen de Swaan Arons, founder of womenswear brands Baukjen and Isabella Oliver, says: “It’s been such a difficult year and as an ethical and sustainable brand we don’t feel that it’s right to participate and encourage hyper-consumerism. We believe in buying less and buying better.” It’s an easy sell if you ask us.

Image: Tom Ross

Diplomacy / Canberra

Diplomatic service

From Seoul to Abidjan, the architectural stock within major cities the world over has been improved with the addition of Swiss embassy buildings. The Swiss continue to invest in overseas architecture for diplomatic purposes that reflects the values of the nation while respecting the fabric of the foreign context. In Monocle’s (December/January)[https://monocle.com/shop/product/1849758/issue-139/] issue we explore a Swiss embassy that remains a bastion of good design in Canberra. The 1975 modernist building (pictured), encased in a hardy outer shell – rumoured to have been chosen to provide refuge for any Swiss government forced to flee Bern – features a warm and welcoming interior that is designed in an open manner to facilitate good diplomatic relationships. Jodok Brunner, head of foreign buildings at the Swiss Federal Office of Building and Logistics, says: “In the end, what sets Swiss design apart is not extravagance or opulence but careful planning and execution that will stand the test of time.”

Image: Alessandro Russotti

Design / Italy

Event planning

Milan Design Week’s organisers yesterday announced that the next edition of the mega-event will take place from 5 to 10 September instead of its usual April slot. Although the postponement will disrupt product launches and supply chains, next autumn is a more realistic time for the industry’s most important event to take place – and Milan in sunny September is a good place to be. A mini design week was held in Milan this September and showrooms and galleries that took part reported good sales and a more manageable number of attendees than in recent years. Which brings into question what will happen in 2022, when the world, hopefully, will be a much more normal place? Milan Design Week had become a mammoth event (2019, pictured) where smaller brands were struggling to get attention due to the large marketing budgets of the bigger names. Hopefully the extra time will give organisers the opportunity to refresh the format.

Image: Getty Images

M24 / Eureka

The Spirit Lives On: Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was a lot of things: one of America’s first billionaires, a film producer and an entrepreneur in industries from media to oil to property. But Hughes was also a keen aviator and owner of the airline TWA, who broke round-the-world records and paved the way for competition in international air travel.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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