Thursday. 27/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Brand ambitions

There’s life in America’s failing mid-market brands yet. In the past few weeks, the news that Brendon Babenzien will become creative director of J Crew men’s collections and that the Yeezy line for Gap in collaboration with Kanye West (pictured) will launch in late June have generated considerable buzz. As they should: both represent promising plans in these brands’ respective bids for revival.

J Crew filed for bankruptcy protection while Gap announced the closure of hundreds of stores in 2020. These and other high-street institutions like Brooks Brothers shut because they lost their relevance; they relied on nostalgia and failed to seduce clued-up, environmentally conscious younger shoppers who, for a similar price and what they perceive as better quality, could turn to Uniqlo or Everlane, a direct-to-consumer brand promising transparency with its production.

With Babenzien and West, J Crew and Gap have a shot at getting back on shoppers’ radars. Babenzien’s own label, Noah, is a quintessentially modern menswear brand; its polished blend of streetwear and preppy style, with the odd hit of eccentricity, is exactly how many urbanites are now dressing. Babenzien is also a master at marketing, creating a cultish community around Noah by communicating frankly about environmental and social issues. Meanwhile, Yeezy is worth more than $3bn (€2.45bn) and has a feverish following among younger men, although it’s notable that trainers represent the majority of its fortune; due to Yeezy’s exclusive trainer contract with Adidas, Yeezy Gap will only feature clothing.

These two examples are part of a wave of recent appointments of influential streetwear designers at mainstream US-focused brands: Jerry Lorenzo, of Fear of God, at Adidas Basketball; Kerby Jean-Raymond, of Pyer Moss, at Reebok; and Teddy Santis, of Aimé Leon Dore, at New Balance. Through their own brands, these designers have been setting the menswear agenda for some time but their designs have been expensive and inaccessible to many. Now at the helm of high street behemoths, the new menswear guard is entering the mass market; don’t bet against them.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / China & UK

Buy now, pay later?

For the first time, China has usurped Germany as the UK’s single biggest import market. Imports from Germany are significantly down following the UK’s exit from the EU, whereas the amount of Chinese-made products and textiles increased throughout the pandemic. On the whole, imports from China rose by 66 per cent between 2018 and the first quarter of this year. Although it’s true that the EU as a whole remains the UK’s largest trading partner, this increasing reliance on Chinese imports could put the UK government in a bit of a sticky place. Given China’s often antagonistic stance to Western opinion – from threatening Taiwan and crackdowns in Hong Kong to hindering investigations into coronavirus – and continued human-rights abuses at home, sanctions on Chinese goods are one of the few ways that foreign governments can put pressure on Beijing. The more such measures hurt at home, the less willing governments will be to pull that lever.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Baltics

Safety in numbers

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania this week agreed to further tighten military co-operation and even look at a joint acquisition of new rocket launchers. The announcement is in part a response to manoeuvres by the Russian military that are causing increasing concern for the eastern members of Nato and the EU.

The three Baltic nations, who have been among the most loyal members of Nato for almost 20 years, don’t believe that the alliance has gone far enough in addressing their concerns about Russia; the countries’ defence ministers have now called on Nato to strengthen its air defence in the region. It was Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 that initially shook the Baltics’ feeling of security. But with questions in the air about Russia’s role in the forced landing of a Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight in Minsk earlier this week, these nations hope to be prepared for any and all unexpected forms of intrusion by their eastern neighbour.

Image: Alamy

Media / Japan

Warming down

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper called for the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled in an editorial published yesterday. The move is all the more extraordinary given that Asahi is an official partner of the Games and has reportedly invested ¥6bn (€45m). The editorial didn’t get widespread coverage domestically, in part because Japan’s three other national papers – Yomiuri, Nikkei and Mainichi – are all official partners with similar financial stakes. Asahi’s editorial argued that Japan’s government has ignored public opinion and failed to engage responsibly in dialogue with sceptics. “The central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and Olympic officials are forging ahead relentlessly, refusing to address the public’s perfectly legitimate questions and concerns,” said the paper. Is this how Japan wants to present itself to the world? For the sake of Japan’s democracy – as well as the Games – the country’s leaders need to speak more openly with their people. Or they risk turning more domestic media outlets against them too.

For more on this story with Monocle’s Tokyo bureau chief Fiona Wilson, tune in to today’s edition of The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Image: Phineas Harper

Design / UK

Constructive praise

For those who feel that architecture focuses too often on building from scratch, a new award from London-based charity Open City seeks to recognise the opposite: the “outstanding long-term strategic care of existing buildings, infrastructure and open spaces”. Open City, which made a name for itself through the popular Open House festival, argues that urban stewardship is the most important but least celebrated aspect of city-making. “Architecture remains one of the most carbon-intensive sectors in the economy,” says Maria Smith of international group Construction Declares, which is partnering on the award. “The Stewardship Awards will celebrate those who are leading the change we need to see.” Applications are open until 17 June and an online briefing event at 15.00 London time today will detail the process. With architecture’s top honour, the Pritzker prize, having been awarded to refurbishment projects for the first time earlier this year, the industry’s new make-do-and-mend attitude is gaining some strong foundations.

Image: Alberto Bernasconi

M24 / Monocle on Design

Venice Biennale, part one

We visit the long-awaited Venice Architecture Biennale. In the first instalment of a two-part special, we explore this year’s theme – “How will we live together?” – and meet entrants from Hungary, Grenada and Denmark.

Film / The Netherlands

Blossoming business

The Netherlands is a world leader in the horticulture industry and shows no sign of wilting. We visit a delicately orchestrated flower auction, a grower and a florist to unpack the challenges of this fragrant business.

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