Friday. 2/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / ANDREW TUCK

Closing the Gap

It’s not so long ago that London’s premier shopping strips were lined with outposts of US fashion retailers keen to use the city as a base from which to invade all Europe. J Crew, Banana Republic, Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch were all present in force and selling powerful takes on American life – from the at-ease, khaki-pants-dressed comfort of the East Coast to a pumped-and-waxed masculinity direct from Fire Island. There really was something for all the family: the wife keen to dress like a stripper, the straight son happy to look like a gay gigolo and the dad who just needed some comfy trousers. Now? It’s not looking good.

Gap has just announced that it will be closing the remainder of its 81 stores in the UK and Ireland, and its outposts in France and Italy look set to go the same way. J Crew also shuttered in London during the pandemic. And the Gap-owned Banana Republic? Well, it gave up years ago. Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret are still here but what version of the American dream do they stand for now? Sex seems to be a forbidden topic in retail. Both brands have also been badly jostled by perceived failings in the inclusiveness debates and still look a little unsure of themselves.

The framing of the Gap decision mirrors myriad similar statements from other retail players in recent months – they are not really leaving Europe, just focusing on their online business. And these brands are trying to shake up their youth appeal, especially in the US: J Crew has appointed the highly-rated Brendon Babenzien from the label Noah to overhaul its menswear and Gap has teamed up with Kanye West’s Yeezy line in a deal which some analysts believe will deliver a huge financial win.

But perhaps the stumbles in Europe are down to more than just internet shopping trends and brutal competition from nimble groups such as Zara, Uniqlo and H&M. As a consumer, you also sense that many of these brands feel lost, unsure exactly what version of life they are selling – and to whom – and as concerned about the cultural wars as making nice clothes. And perhaps until America is more at ease with itself, its retailers will continue to struggle to convince Europeans to buy its products. High-street fashion at its best offers an affordable route to feeling better about yourself, feeling carefree. At the moment, many of these brands just can’t help you in that department.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Mexico

Press on

This week two broadcast journalists were arrested in Mexico City. Their crime? Filming outside the capital’s Metropolitan Cathedral. That same day, reporters were detained by police after trying to cover a suicide in a metro station. These sorts of difficulties are a part of daily life for the press in the country. It’s usually drugs-related crime and cartel intimidation that grab the headlines: Mexico was the deadliest place in the world to work as a reporter in 2020 with nine having lost their lives, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. But often, it’s more official powers that complicate correspondents’ lives. According to human-rights organisation Article 19, there is some form of aggression against a member of the press in Mexico every 13 hours, with almost 50 per cent of it coming from public officials. But Mexico’s news corps is defiant. “Silence mustn’t win,” Mexico City-based journalist Marcela Turati tells Monocle.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Japan

Ticket to ride

Japan has announced plans to issue vaccine passports as early as the end of this month. Though the country’s vaccine programme has been sluggish so far, it has been ramping up in recent weeks. By the end of June, 23 per cent of the population had received a first jab while 12 per cent had been fully vaccinated. For the latter group, municipal government offices will issue physical certificates with personal information including name, nationality and the dates of their vaccinations.

Digital versions might also be introduced in the future. With more countries suggesting they’ll consider opening borders to vaccine-passport holders, Japan’s business community has been itching for these documents so they can get back in the air on international business trips as soon as possible.

Image: Shutterstock

Aviation / Montenegro

Higher powers

In a legal spat between Montenegro’s past and present national airlines, the question isn’t what’s in a name but what’s in a logo. The Balkan country’s former flag-carrier, Montenegro Airlines, which has filed for bankruptcy, is suing the nation’s upstart Air Montenegro over its logo. Air Montenegro, which is owned by the state and took to the skies just weeks ago, has adopted the image of an eagle’s head for its brand and it’s startlingly similar to that of its predecessor (pictured). But as Monocle’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey pointed out on Monocle 24’s The Briefing, the new carrier is using leased, unmarked aircraft from a German charter airline. “It doesn’t have the logo of Air Montenegro, Montenegro Airlines or a whiff of an eagle anywhere on it.”

Image: Rodrigo Cardoso

Business / Italy

Iced gems

The arrival of summer will have many around the world reaching for cold refreshments. The market for Italian artisanal gelato, already worth about €16bn per year, is stepping in with lower-sugar alternatives that fit the mood of the times. Carpigiani, an Italian maker of gelato machines and a long-time pioneer in the business, is helping to spread the culture and taste with 20 campuses teaching more than 8,000 people every year across the globe. “In recent years we’ve seen growing interest in dairy-free or sugar-free options, and a greater desire by our students to make gelato from new ingredients, especially those of Asian origin such as yuzu or green tea,” says Kaori Ito, director of the Carpigiani Gelato University. Who’s got the scoop across the globe? Monocle’s July/August Quality of Life issue takes a look at three up-and-coming ice-cream firms – from Portugal’s Santini (pictured) to Nubocha in the US – that have it licked.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Lick and Karana

Lucas London is CEO and co-founder of Lick, a UK-based home-décor brand launched in 2020, which makes paint, wallpaper and blinds. The company recently partnered with Made.com and is aiming to inspire more people to take on home renovations. Plus: Monocle’s Nina Milhaud speaks to Karana co-founder Blair Crichton about the brand’s whole plant-based meat alternative – made from jackfruit – and Asia’s growing taste for meat alternatives.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: July/August issue, 2021

Monocle’s July/August issue marks a return to our annual Quality of Life special edition that is guaranteed to get you in the mood for the sunnier months. Review our index of the world’s 20 most liveable cities, our choices for your perfect summer playlist and an eagerly anticipated return to the Venice Architecture Biennale. After a challenging year, it’s time to get excited for summer again.

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