Monday. 11/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Daniel Bach

Trade off

The start of any new year should be full of hope and opportunity for any business, both of which would be all the more welcome after the disaster of 2020. But for European companies across a range of industries, 2021 has started full of uncertainty and an unfortunate lack of sales to UK consumers – thanks in large part to the last-minute timing of a Brexit deal.

Take, for example, Danish cycling-apparel brand Pas Normal Studios. Its smart jackets and comfy shorts are carried at a number of select stockists in the UK and across Europe. In a year when restrictions meant that many of us weren’t shopping as often in person, e-commerce sales marked a lifeline for this and many other brands. Yet all shipments to the UK from the Pas Normal website have been suspended. Taking a look through the websites of a host of companies I’ve featured on Monocle 24’s (The Entrepreneurs)[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-entrepreneurs/] over the past year, the pattern of uncertainty is repeated – in both directions. Cornwall-based sustainable clothier Finisterre has suspended sales to many EU countries, while the guaranteed shipping delays from Swedish fragrance house Byredo and Parisian skincare brand Typology might have shoppers thinking twice about purchases.

Sure, all of this might drive Britons (and Europeans) to discover fantastic, closer-to-home labels to engage with. But it’s a disruption to business at a time when many small retailers are already fighting to stay above water because of the lack of foot traffic, not to mention the growing dominance of Amazon. So, while the media focuses on delays for trucks at ports, spare a thought for the consumers who have their credit card at hand and digital basket ready to go, only to be told that their purchase cannot be made. And then have a think about the struggling designer or manufacturer losing further sales, careers and hope. Let’s not pretend that this is all going smoothly.

Diplomacy / Taiwan

Picking sides

Kelly Craft (pictured), the US ambassador to the UN, plans to visit Taiwan this week in one of the highest-profile diplomatic visits to the country by a US administration official. It follows fresh military talks held last week with Washington and will take place just days before the inauguration of Joe Biden. China has warned that the US will pay a “heavy price” if the visit goes forward but Isabel Hilton, CEO of China Dialogue, says that Beijing is unlikely to take any significant action in response. She adds that the visit might actually be a clever diplomatic power play at a delicate time – a warning of sorts that the US won’t tolerate any Chinese provocations regarding Taiwan despite the final (chaotic) days of Donald Trump’s administration. “It’s quite sensible that the US should continue with the talks and announce the visit,” Hilton told Monocle 24’s (The Briefing)[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-briefing/2396/]. “Just to say, ‘Don’t try it. We’re distracted but not that distracted.’”

Politics / Germany

Life after Merkel

As Angela Merkel prepares to step down as German chancellor after elections in September, politicians new and old are vying to take her place. With internal Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party elections due to conclude this weekend, we profile the three candidates, warts and all.

Armin Laschet: The North Rhine-Westphalia state premier is the centrist candidate and a Merkel favourite. Though he is seen to have handled his region’s pandemic response poorly, current polling suggests that the CDU could be working in coalition with the Green Party after September – and he would work well with them.

Friedrich Merz: The former corporate lawyer was Merkel’s rival before she took leadership of the CDU. His pro-business agenda and conservative values have earned him the lead in polling of party members. He is also palatable to former CDU voters who defected to the far-right Alternative for Germany. He could, however, make any potential coalition with the Greens far less stable.

Norbert Röttgen: The chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee (pictured, centre, with Merz, on left, and Laschet) is one of Germany’s canniest geopolitical operators, which makes him an underdog favourite of Monocle’s. A digitally savvy campaign, along with missteps by Laschet and Merz, have drawn a late surge in support from younger voters. If he wins, expect a centrist government, with a pro-EU and anti-Russia foreign-policy stance.

Media / Global

Photo realism

While the camera might not be able to lie, it can certainly occlude, conceal, simplify – and fail to tell the whole story. One person’s convoy of desperate refugees can be presented as another’s flood of migrants. Enter Richard Mosse, who is rethinking traditional documentary photography for an age of reductive politics. “I realised that I was frustrated with the medium,” he says. “Often you’re just an illustrator for a writer’s texts. I wanted to break it apart.” So Mosse has developed a photographic style – often developed for military use – to tell a different story. “I’ve been working with infrared film technologies,” he says. “Registering invisible light forms as a way of telling very complex documentary narratives.” His latest project turns an experimental lens on the Amazon rainforest, seeking to capture the scale of the catastrophic – and human-made – forest fires. In a politically polarised age, a camera that uncovers more than meets the eye might be just what we need.

Listen to the full interview with Richard Mosse on ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle 24.

Leisure / Switzerland

Virtual velocity

Lenzerheide in the Swiss canton of Grisons plans to open up the world’s first interactive toboggan run this Saturday and keep it running until April. Organisers are selling the concept as a real-life Mario Kart run in which the rider is equipped with a transponder that interacts with sensors along the track, allowing them to dodge imaginary objects projected on the snow and slide though a light and sound show on the way down. You might wonder why anyone came up with such an idea: isn’t a toboggan ride down a hill fun enough already? But, then again, we could all use a bit of escapism these days. So for the Swiss among us who can make it to Lenzerheide, we wish you viel Spass. Your cooped-up kids will love it.

M24 / The Menu

Best from the archives

We round up a selection of highlights from the past nine years of The Menu. Martha Stewart tells us what she’d like for her hypothetical last meal and restaurateur Nicholas Lander explains what makes a great restaurant menu.

Monocle Films / Global

Copenhagen: healthy city growth

The concept of kolonihave, a blissful combination of an allotment and a summer house, has shaped Danish cities since the late 17th century. Today avid growers convene in these colonies to find a peaceful place to commune with nature – and a community of diverse characters.

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