Tuesday 15 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 15/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum

Opinion / Genevieve Bates

Holding back the years

In London, the V&A Museum’s first new exhibition since the pandemic began opened on Saturday. Bags: Inside Out aims to juxtapose contemporary signifiers of mass luxury with historic military, medical and ceremonial bags. Among the items on display are Jane Birkin’s original Hermès namesake, Winston Churchill’s despatch box and one of Margaret Thatcher’s ladylike signatures, which gave rise to the use of “handbag” as a verb, meaning to bully or coerce (usually said of a woman hectoring a man). Curator Lucia Savi says that the signs of wear on the displayed pieces “remind us that bags are status symbols but also practical companions to our everyday life”.

Followers of fashion will hardly need to read the museum’s display cards to identify some of the more contemporary items such as Gucci’s Jackie bag, Chanel’s 2.55 quilted classic or more recent bags by Supreme and Off-White. I would usually argue that fashion deserves to be seen in museums but there were moments when it felt slightly ridiculous to peer through the glass at Fendi and Prada pieces that could be seen down the road at Harrods or, in a few cases, in my own wardrobe. Viewed as a group, the most coveted bags of the past century reveal more about the evolution of travel and celebrity culture than our fashion tastes.

Perhaps the greatest value of the exhibition lies in its intriguing connection of our current consumer culture with the past. Cotton totes bearing environmental messages today continue a tradition evidenced by the anti-slavery mottos embroidered on a ladies’ workbag from 1829. Paco Rabanne’s metal belt bag of the 1960s is an update on an iron-filigree purse from 1660s Nuremberg. And the tiny dangling jewelled chatelaines of the 1860s (pictured) make clear that miniature bags weren’t invented by Jacquemus in 2017. I left the exhibition feeling that the joy of carrying a smart bag today is part of a valid and long-standing historical continuum, rather than a sign of shallow consumerism.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Latin America

Working agreement

Latin America’s Pacific Alliance is open for business. Formed in 2011 and comprising Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, the alliance makes up the world’s eighth-largest economy and its approach stands in contrast to the more protectionist (and better known) Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. At a partially virtual summit over the weekend (the presidents of Chile and Colombia (pictured) met in person), the main topic of discussion was a free-trade agreement with Singapore, which could be signed next year. “The alliance has an interest in Asia – and Singapore in particular,” Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, professor of Latin America History at the University of Kent, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “They see Singapore as a place where they can find new ways of developing human capital.” Expect the Singapore deal to be the first of many trade agreements that the alliance strikes with Asia as it raises its profile.

Image: Getty Images

Housing / France

Rent out of shape

From January, 28 municipalities across France, including Bordeaux, Montpellier and Lyon (pictured), will bring in temporary new laws to cap the amount that landlords can charge for rent. These cities will join Paris, which has been using a form of rent control since 2015, in a nationwide experiment that will run until 2023. The limits will calculate rent according to precise euro-per-metre guidelines and are popular with voters facing a pandemic-bruised economy. But France would do well to guard against sacrificing long-term risks for short-term benefits.

A Stanford University study into San Francisco’s rent controls between 1994 and 2010 found that new renters struggled as some landlords were discouraged from letting properties, choosing to sell or redevelop instead, while sitting tenants stayed put for longer. “The lost rental-housing supply likely drove up market rents in the long run, ultimately undermining the goals of the law,” the study found. A word of caution, then, for France: well-meaning policies can have unintended consequences.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Japan

Character defining

Monks at the ancient Buddhist temple of Kiyomizudera in Kyoto have announced the kanji (Japanese character) that best represents Japan in 2020. In front of the assembled press corps, chief priest Seihan Mori (pictured) used a giant calligraphy brush dipped in ink to write the character that won the most votes (out of 208,025) on a piece of paper 1.5 metres high. The winner? Drum roll, please... “mitsu”, which means “close” or “dense”. This year it was referenced everywhere as people were told to avoid the sanmitsu or three Cs: closed spaces, crowds and close-contact situations. Used frequently by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, sanmitsu was also chosen as Japan’s buzzword of the year in an annual ranking by publishing house Jiyukokuminsha, which rates the year’s biggest news stories and social trends. We’re hopeful that “jiyū” (freedom) will be the kanji of 2021.

Image: Getty Images

Leisure / Switzerland

Snowing endorsement

Skiing has sparked a political conundrum across Europe over the past few weeks, with multiple countries closing their resorts due to memories of coronavirus outbreaks linked to parties in Ischgl in March and crowding at cable cars in Verbier earlier this season. But there are responsible ways to manage this: the Swiss canton of Valais, for example, has come up with an idea to tackle concerns and provide a social boon in the process. To enforce physical distancing, the canton has co-operated with the Valais ski-lift association to create 100 new jobs. The so-called “slope angels” will be present wherever there’s a chance of gatherings, for example guiding skiers from carparks to cable cars, organising queues and even being active on the slopes to ensure that everyone follows the rules. In difficult times, it’s great to see inventive solutions that stop short of full closures where possible – and keep people employed to boot.

Image: Deborah Jones

M24 / The Menu

Thomas Keller and Andrew Wong

Top US chef Thomas Keller tells us what it takes to achieve his level of success. Plus, Andrew Wong on how an academic collaboration helped him in his restaurant.

Monocle Films / Global

Japanese gift-wrapping: Lesson 3

No other country has refined the ritual of gift-giving as much as Japan. Get inspired with our nifty wrapping tricks to deliver ‘The Monocle Book of Japan’ in style. This beautiful tome unpacks the nation in a multitude of ways: from design and hospitality to transport and business. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.


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