Saturday 28 August 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 28/8/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Sun screen

  1. Another trip to the theatre this week. Halfway through a key scene a man, who could not have booked a more central seat, stands up and proceeds to ask some 15 people to also rise so that he can get out. Not great but when nature is banging on the door you can just about empathise. Still, two minutes later he’s back and instead of waiting for the interval he impatiently demands the same process in reverse, triggering a miniature Mexican wave as everyone clambers to their feet again. Then 15 minutes later another man does the same thing. And during the show two phones ring. Is this a lockdown hangover in which people in the theatre behave as they would sitting on their sofas watching Netflix? I am only surprised that nobody gets pizza delivered or paints their toenails.

  2. Although, talking of TV, we have just had one of those office moments where it transpires that lots of us have latched on to the same show at the same time: The White Lotus. Written and produced by Mike White, it’s a darkly satirical comedy from HBO about a group of people staying and working at a hotel in Hawaii, and it’s snappy – just six episodes. Murray Bartlett plays Armond, the hotel manager about to spin out of control; Jennifer Coolidge is dynamite as hotel guest Tanya – indeed, the casting throughout is wonderful. But what’s interesting is that just as in Netflix’s The Chair (written by Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman, and with Sandra Oh as the lead), you are seeing TV trying to find ways of making fun of so-called wokeness and cancel cultures, while not being stupidly offensive in doing so. In The White Lotus, for example, the character Olivia Mossbacher is the daughter who taunts her parents about their wealth and white privilege and reads every politically correct book she can lay her hands on but who, in the end, is really no different to them. And in The Chair, a story about an English department at a US university, you take one look at the students trying to catch out their teachers and thank the heavens that you are not clever enough to be an academic – yet empathise with the women who are after change. A revival of satire, the spoofing of our excesses, can only be a good thing as we fumble through these times.

  3. On my neighbourhood’s social media noticeboard, someone is looking for a dog-walker and it seems that they are having a hard time finding one. The dog’s name might have something to do with the problem: Mayhem.

  4. TV shows such as Succession brought to the fore the role of the costume designer and The White Lotus does the same. Alex Bovaird put together all of the characters’ looks, reflecting that uneasy vibe that surrounds many wealthy people when they head to the beach: how to stay looking rich while only wearing swimwear? Cue a Goyard bag for your holiday novel and sunscreen, a high heel chosen over flip-flops, and box-fresh Ralph Lauren polos. Although as a viewer it’s disconcerting when you watch a character who is there to be despised and wonder where his clothes are from. In The White Lotus, self-obsessed jock Shane Patton has very good bathers that almost made me wish for a QR-code call to action. (To make me feel better, a friend at a magazine here in the UK tells me that when they ran a story about a woman’s years of battling depression, she got an email from a reader enquiring where the poor depressive had bought the sofa that she had been photographed sitting on.

  5. But sunnier things. This week we held a party at Midori House for new readers, old friends, diplomats, staff and our commercial partners. For many it was the first big event that they had been to since the rules relaxed and the spirit was joyous. It was like things used to be. To such an extent that at midnight I found myself in a karaoke bar duetting with a colleague to Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. Yes, I was Kiki.

  6. PS: The Monocle Quality of Life Conference is in Athens this year and it will be a great place to meet other interesting Monocle readers, hear from 25 amazing speakers, catch up with all of us and get a unique perspective on life in the Greek capital. It promises end-of-summer sun, fresh debate and new horizons that will set you up for the year ahead. And I promise you that there will be no Nana Mouskouri karaoke covers from me. Although I am partial to “The White Rose of Athens”. No, that would be too much.


The feeling’s neutral

Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer who died this week at the age of 80, had an extensive collection of classic cars (writes Lewis Huxley). That’s unremarkable until you realise that he never held a driving licence. His haul included a 1937 Lagonda Rapide Cabriolet, one of only 25 ever made and, presumably, 24 ever driven. Rather than take any of his vehicles for a spin, Watts enjoyed dressing in a tailored suit that matched a car’s aesthetic and sitting in its driver’s seat remaining stationary while listening to the hum of the engine.

Having started his musical life in jazz, Watts was dragged into rock ’n’ roll by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The pair knew that Watts would give their band the swing it needed to emulate the American bluesmen they admired. Without it, success, particularly in the US, might not have been so forthcoming. The deal worked for Watts too: his wife Shirley Ann Shepherd, whom he married in 1964, forbade him from playing drums in their conjugal home because she didn’t like the noise. Ever the gentleman, Watts obliged; he only played when in the recording studio or on tour.

And those days on the road revealed more of his character. Watts was once awoken in a hotel in the middle of the night by a sozzled Jagger. The drummer rose, got dressed in an impeccable suit, walked up to Jagger and, without saying a word, punched him in the face before returning to his room and going back to bed. Watts has attempted to play this down, saying that the altercation only amounted to “pushing and shoving”. But he never denied that he wore sharp tailoring.

If there is a rock ’n’ roll heaven, Watts would probably be found tightening the knot of a silk tie behind the wheel of a stationary Citroën 2CV, with the engine humming and the gear stick in neutral. And, you suspect, that is all the satisfaction he’d need.


Against type

“Twitter gives you a headache” is the kind of statement that can spread like wildfire on social media. Of course, not all of them turn out to be accurate but, according to some, this one is. The network revealed a redesign earlier this month that included the introduction of a custom font called Chirp. For the boffins behind it, the creation of a new typeface is a major undertaking. Derrit DeRouen, Twitter’s head of branding, said that it had been designed by Swiss type foundry Grilli “to improve how we convey emotion and imperfection”, and that its previous font of choice, Helvetica Neue, was “not up for the job”. Neither, it seems, is Chirp: users have complained that it is hard to read and causes discomfort.

Twitter, to its credit, is wasting no time in addressing these issues but the saga does raise the question of whether it’s really the font that’s to blame. Is it the descender of a “g” or the curvature at the top of an “f” that’s causing users to strain their optic nerves? Or is the torrent of hashtags, at mentions, memes and videos that play automatically the root of the problem? Perhaps I’m just being a curmudgeon.

Well, it turns out that one of Chirp’s problems is its “hinting”, a mysterious aspect of typeface design that determines the alignment of a font to a grid. Chirp’s is slightly off, making some letters appear a pixel too tall or too short. This seemingly infinitesimal misalignment has a significant effect on a font’s legibility. It is, apparently, easy to fix, so Twitter users might find that when an update is released, their headaches will disappear. Then again, they may not. In the meantime, here’s a different kind of hint: read a book.


Keeping it simple

Following the resignation of her scandal-hit predecessor Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul was sworn in as the first female governor of New York in the early hours of Tuesday morning (writes Tomos Lewis). If the gravity of such ceremonies lies in their formal simplicity, that was a quality that Hochul emphasised with her choice of attire: a classic shirtdress.

The shirtdress was conceived in the 1890s as the women’s equivalent of men’s button-down shirts. It was part of a new uniform for women, whose participation in society and in the economy was rapidly increasing. By the late 1930s, the “shirtwaist dress”, as it was known, was a staple. Vogue hailed it an “American institution”: a garment that democratised womenswear, thanks to the simplicity and versatility of its cut, and demonstrated the prowess of US mass manufacturing. It also pioneered the notion of ready-to-wear fashion.

Shirtdresses have since been a fixture of many collections: think of Dior’s pinch-waisted version of the late 1940s, Halston’s bestselling suede edition in the 1970s and numerous other iterations at retailers today, from Equipment to Cos. The enduring popularity of the shirtdress is down to its versatility. It emphasises the person wearing it, rather than stealing the show, whether that’s with a belt or without, at a wedding, at a job interview, at drinks on the beach or, indeed, on the day you’re sworn into high office.


Assume form

Having co-founded and managed Vienna Design Week since its inception in 2007, Lilli Hollein has been a key name in the world of Austrian design for more than 10 years. From September she will succeed Christoph Thun-Hohenstein as director of the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts, where she’ll oversee the institution’s many exhibitions and permanent collection. She tells us about Italian espresso, 1970s music and the books currently on her nightstand.

What are you working on at the moment?
Handing over Vienna Design Week to the fantastic team that’s now under the directorship of Gabriel Roland. Visitors of the 22nd edition will see new spaces, new surroundings and, of course, many contributions that deal with issues in design.

What news source do you wake up to?
I listen to the official Austrian broadcast on my phone. I also get Der Standard delivered to my door and I read that every day.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Italian espresso. I make it with a Pavoni, a very difficult machine that some users call “the diva”.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I’ve started listening to music on vinyl again after 15 years without a record player. Our collection of records is also a mix between what my 13-year-old daughter likes – Harry Styles, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion – to my music, which ranges from classical to the late 1970s.

Do you hum in the shower?
Sometimes, though I don’t do it very frequently. If I do, it’s a very good sign for the people living with me.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I still read Der Spiegel even though it’s become more conservative over the past 10 years. And Monocle, of course; I was happy to see the launch of Konfekt. I also read Wald, a magazine about forests, and Domus.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I often feel like I need the time to think and focus, and to not consume any more information, so I don’t listen to podcasts very often.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Architecture and design have driven me my whole life. My father was an architect and my mother was involved with fashion so I grew up in that world. All of our family holidays included a visit to a museum.

What’s on the nightstand before drifting off?
I often read before I switch the light off. I just finished a new book by Edmund de Waal called Letters to Camondo. And I just started one about the decolonisation of museum possessions.


On the beat

‘Paris Calligrammes’, Ulrike Ottinger. Best described as “Adam Curtis-meets-Fran Leibowitz”, this documentary fuses social history with personal reflections on city living. The quietly compelling feature by German artist and film-maker Ulrike Ottinger serves as a collage of life in Paris in the 1960s. It was then that she befriended the leading intellectuals of the Rive Gauche over coffee at the Café de Flore or at readings at the antique bookshop from which the film takes its name. For all the countless silver-screen love letters to Paris that have been made over the years, few have managed to convey such an authentic sense of time and place as Ottinger does here.

Can’t Stop the Dawn, Eleni Drake. South Africa-born, West London-based songwriter Eleni Drake makes mellow and somewhat melancholy ballads that layer gentle guitar with her warm voice. But unlike many others attempting similar feats, it’s never predictable nor saccharine. That’s probably because there’s plenty of jazz influence in what she does and because the lyrics she writes focus on simple but powerful feelings: nostalgia for happy moments past, a bittersweet acceptance of time going by and finding pride in what you are.

‘Something New Under the Sun’, Alexandra Kleeman. The author’s new novel leans into the more surreal and uncanny elements of late-stage capitalism and climate change. A writer arrives in Hollywood to watch one of his novels being adapted into a film but what he finds there is more nightmare than dream come true. The landscape is aflame with wildfires, a mysterious kind of “dementia” is afflicting people regardless of their age and everyone’s drinking a synthetic liquid that’s replaced water. A different kind of satirical, dystopian novel – equal parts terrifying and hilarious.


In full flight

Headquartered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, The Berkshire Eagle covers Berkshire county as well as nearby parts of eastern New York state (writes Henry Rees-Sheridan). The region is famous for its arts institutions and the Berkshire mountain range, which together attract 2.6 million visitors a year.

During the second half of the 20th century, the Eagle gained a reputation for producing work of an unusually high calibre for a local paper. In 1973, the prominent American media critic Ben Bagdikian listed it as one of only three great newspapers in the world, along with The New York Times and Le Monde. Starting in 1995, there was a period of decline under corporate ownership. But in 2016 a team of four investors led by local retired judge Fredric D Rutberg bought the paper back. The Eagle has since expanded its staff and won numerous regional press awards. Kevin Moran, a Berkshire native and the paper’s executive editor, gives us the lowdown on this New England institution.

What’s the big news this week?
The results of the US census are out, which tell us a lot about our changing community. We’re a little bit down in terms of numbers. But the population is also growing more diverse. Also, this is a little self-centred but this week we’ve announced the purchase of our new printing press: a slightly used Goss Magnum. It does 24 pages, all in colour, all at once. Our newsroom’s really excited about it.

Do you have a favourite recent headline?
One of our best headline writers is our newsroom editor Tim Jamiolkowski. Just as in many other parts of the country, we’ve been enduring major heatwaves in the Berkshires. Tim wrote a headline above a photo of some kids trying to cool off: “Swelter in place.”

How do you give your readers a break from hard news?
Donald Morrison’s column runs on the front page every Thursday. It manages to be very local and very global at the same time. Last week its title was “Get ready for the Porkpocalypse”. It was about the undersupply of pigs in the US: a serious concern for the bacon-lovers among us.


Bound for glory

After an accomplished rowing career in which he represented France at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Maurice Houdayer turned his attention to books (writes Alex Briand). Over 40 years he collected more than 1,800 volumes featuring some of the finest art deco illustration, bookbinding and writing of the time – sometimes all three at once. After his death in October last year, his entire collection is going under the hammer at Artcurial. “Collectors are always drawn to look at other people’s collections,” says Frédéric Harnisch, its senior specialist of books and manuscripts. “There has always been a selection, an eye, even if it’s not their eye.”

Houdayer’s interest extended beyond procurement: he commissioned some of the greatest binders of the 20th century. “He sponsored art deco masters such as Pierre-Lucien Martin and Georges Leroux, one of my favourites,” says Harnisch. “Leroux wasn’t afraid to break some rules and use new, unusual materials.” Among the highest estimates is for an edition of Apollinaire’s L’Enchanteur pourrissant, featuring 31 original illustrations and sketches by fauvist André Derain, signed by both. Artfully bound by Jacques Anthoine-Legrain, it is expected to fetch up to €20,000. Collections such as this, carefully curated over decades, present experienced bidders with a unique opportunity to take their pick from some of the finest works in existence. And they give newcomers a head start in creating a collection of their own.

Images: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek. Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon


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