Saturday 19 February 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 19/2/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

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This week, find out how a French figure skater recovered from Olympic-sized embarrassment in style; why companies stick their oar in over social issues; and why Patrizia Dander, chief curator of Munich’s Museum Brandhorst, can’t wait to get back to Tokyo. First, on our 15th anniversary, Andrew Tuck remembers the arrival of Monocle’s first ever issue.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Issues forth

It was Valentine’s Day 2007, a Wednesday, when the first box of magazines arrived from the printers at Monocle’s then-offices on Boston Place, a road that runs besides London’s Marylebone railway station. In the meeting room, scissors were produced to cut the tape. And, finally, there it was: Issue 01 of Monocle; a pilot from Japan’s maritime forces staring across the cover. Someone was on hand to document the moment and, this week, Shin, our current photography editor, kindly dug out the shots for me to see again. There were fewer people in attendance than I had remembered: our publisher Pam, our managing director Robyn, and staffers Rob, Saul and Dan. There seem to be a decent number of wine glasses in action too and although I am not sure who it was that cracked open the cans of Kronenbourg, I have a feeling that Saul, one of our editors at the time, may have been responsible. Everyone looks so happy in the pictures – excited and wrinkle-free.

I’d like to say that the rest is history but it wasn’t going to be that simple. First, we had to explain the magazine’s seemingly simple concept again and again. It’s hard to imagine now but while people could understand that a newspaper might cover everything from current affairs to fashion, there were many who just didn’t believe that this diversity would work in a monthly magazine – and wasted no time telling everyone so. One person wrote a critique that dismissed us as a title that was seeking people who cared “as much about Somalia as they did about Jil Sander”. It’s such a funny line to think about now: the notion that, say, architects could never care about society, that good design could never be used to determine better outcomes in education, healthcare or diplomacy. Another critic came up to us a year after our launch to congratulate us on changing our design – and, actually, nothing had changed, he’d just got used to us.

Then there was just the complicated business of starting a magazine: building a network of correspondents, finding our voice, honing our remit in real time. It was not without its hiccups; there may have been a typo or ten. So we built up a robust fact-checking team and put in place endless processes to ensure accuracy. And, yes, mistakes can still happen. So we worked on our humility too.

Yet despite all of this, despite the doomster publishers already running around declaring that print was dead, 2007 proved a good time to start a media company, to found a magazine. As newspapers panicked about the shift to digital and started giving away their hard work for free, there was space for a start-up, not burdened by history, to go against the tide. So just as major media businesses shuttered bureaux around the world and cut costs by buying up cheaper paper stocks, Monocle did the opposite and, from Issue 01, we had fully staffed outposts in New York and Tokyo, and put reporters and photographers on planes to go and tell unique stories. We even asked photographers to return to shooting some stories on film.

Counterintuitively, the other thing that in many ways helped us thrive was the global financial crash of 2008. Why? It gave the magazine a renewed sense of purpose. As other news titles filled their pages with gloomy narratives, Monocle went to places that were still flourishing, looked at how to start a business, focused less on flash and more on design or fashion brands that were making products with craft and durability at their core.

Cut to 2022, in Monocle’s offices in Marylebone, London. It’s a Monday morning and the first boxes of the 15th anniversary issue have just arrived. There’s still that same excitement as the tape is cut and issues handed around to the team. This week, Tyler was in town from Zürich, as were more faces that have been around since Issue 01. But as we celebrate 15 years of Monocle, it’s vital that we look to the future and continue to bring new talent and new perspectives into the fold. And also to reimagine how we report again and again.

A couple of times a year, the team meets to talk about the business, make plans and plot. We also spend a lot of time thinking about how we need to tell stories, where we need to have correspondents on the map and how we make Monocle primed for whatever comes our way – our 15 years have been bookended by global crises, so you think about this stuff.

In the end our job is to make sure that you feel excited opening the envelope containing your subscriber’s copy, or cracking open a freshly minted magazine from a newsstand, and discovering places less visited, ideas that challenge and reporting that strives to be the best in class. And hopefully glitch-free. If the reveal makes you feel like pulling the ring on a can of Kronenbourg, then that’s job done. I may even join you.

To support our independent journalism, receive the magazine first and get your hands on the 15th anniversary issue (plus shop discounts and event invitations) become a subscriber today.

The Look / The revenge dress

Thin ice

They say that if you are nervous before a performance, you should just imagine the audience naked (writes Annabel Martin). But what if it’s the other way around? On Monday in Beijing, French figure skater Gabriella Papadakis turned embarrassment into gold: following a wardrobe malfunction at Pyeongchang 2018, she and her partner Guillaume Cizeron (pictured) triumphantly cavorted to glory. After scoring a world record-breaking 226.98, Papadakis said that the performance – and her remarkable look – was a “little revenge” for what had happened in South Korea four years ago.

Image: Getty Images

Anyone who has watched the Winter Olympics figure skating this year will no doubt have appreciated the costumes almost as much as the pirouettes. Indeed, you can’t really have one without the other. Although the competitors are not judged on their sartorial technique, the swish of silk and glimmer of sequins are designed to complement the velvety moves on the ice. Two years ago, Swarovski changed the game by developing crystals that are about half the weight of normal ones but no less sparkly.

Such meticulous design is crucial in ensuring that a loose thread or errant gem does not jeopardise a performance. In Pyeongchang, Papadakis discovered this the hard way. This year she didn’t take any chances. Resplendent in a full-sleeved, turtle-necked, dark maroon leotard, she not only took home the gold medal but proved that revenge is a dish best served cold.

How We Live / Hyundai in Kashmir

Lost cause

A couple of weeks ago, ice-cream-maker Ben & Jerry’s attracted – and deserved – widespread mockery for sonorously demanding via Twitter that Joe Biden de-escalate tensions with Russia regarding Ukraine (writes Andrew Mueller). It might have been hoped that other corporations would learn from the, if you will, frosty reception that this diplomatic foray received. They did not.

There was a time when, to foreshadow an imminently pertinent example, a company that manufactured motor vehicles would have concentrated on making the best cars it could and been content to be judged on the quality of their product. That time, you will have noticed, has passed. For a perplexing proportion of the entities that sell us stuff, supplying our demands is not enough. They now want to be our friends and/or allies. They wish to be seen to be taking a stand.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

This frequently goes wrong – clearly not frequently enough to dissuade them but certainly enough to be amusing. South Korean automobile manufacturer Hyundai recently conjured a diplomatic spat by straying out of its lane. Whoever operates (or perhaps, given recent events, operated) the social media accounts of Hyundai’s Pakistan outfit posted support for Kashmir Solidarity Day, a Pakistani holiday that implicitly asserts the country’s claim to Kashmir.

Uproar ensued in India, which administers Kashmir. Indian social media users vowed a boycott of Hyundai, opportunist newspapers and politicians gleefully piled in and South Korea’s ambassador was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi for one of those meetings at which coffee is not served. Hyundai felt compelled to issue several apologies.

Similar rows, for the same reason, beset Domino’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Suzuki – all of whom, like all corporations in all such circumstances, could have avoided trouble by simply not saying a damn thing.

It’s a Joke / Kekkonen’s border

Final frontier

The February issue of Monocle is humour-themed and on sale now. It contains the favourite jokes of of serious folks, from politicians to diplomats and security analysts. This week’s top gag comes from Janne Taalas, CEO of the CMI (Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation), a Helsinki-based NGO focused on conflict resolution. Drum roll, please…

“60 years ago, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Finnish president Urho Kekkonen were sweating side by side in a hot sauna after a long day of formal negotiations. Khrushchev threw water on the stove and suggested, ‘Why don’t we abolish the border between our two friendly nations?’

Kekkonen did not answer straight away. The silence between the men extended while they left the sauna, went into the lake for a swim and enjoyed some refreshments on the porch overlooking the lake.

Upon returning to the sauna, Kekkonen broke the silence. ‘I have considered your proposition of getting rid of the border,’ he said. ‘I am afraid that I am too old to lead such a big country.’”

Topical and funny… If you have a joke you’d like to share with us, send it to Alexis Self at The one that makes us laugh most in the Midori House sauna will be published in next week’s newsletter.

The Interrogator / Patrizia Dander

On with the show

Patrizia Dander is chief curator at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich. She previously worked at Haus der Kunst, a storied contemporary gallery across the city, where she curated retrospectives of Thomas Schütte and Ivan Kožaric. In 2019, Dander put together the highly lauded, genre-spanning exhibition Forever Young: 10 Years Museum Brandhorst. Here she discusses Succession, the exhibition she is currently working on and the seriousness of German news.

Image: Frank Stolle

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Tea and a radio programme that mildly attunes me to the morning’s news.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Succession. It’s been such a pleasure to watch the family’s fights and feuds, and the old order’s vain struggle for a raison d’être in the present. It has been said often enough but the cast is just fantastic.

Do you hum in the shower?
God, no! But I do sing in a choir, so my voice is not short of musical pleasures.

What have you been working on lately?
A major sculpture exhibition that looks at the effect of new technologies on our understanding of the body. It’s a project that has been in the making for several years. Coincidentally, it turned out to be very much in sync with the realities of the pandemic.

A favourite bookshop?
This one is due to my current longing for Tokyo: Tsutaya Books in Daikanyama.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
I try to, though I don’t always manage it. I admire the seriousness of German public television news and I am a great fan of Tagesthemen anchorwoman Caren Miosga. She’s to-the-point and adamant in her interviews but also a welcoming and empathetic person. Her banter with the weather presenter is just hilarious.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
It would have to be Virgil Abloh. I couldn’t stop watching and rewatching his video for the Louis Vuitton SS22 men’s collection. What a staggering celebration of black culture; of elegance and extravagance; and, not least, of the best in 1990s music. Goldie and GZA; I am still hypnotised.

Culture / Watch / Read / Listen

Ring the changes

‘Sad Cities’, Sally Shapiro. Ever since the release of their debut record Disco Romance, Swedish pop duo Sally Shapiro have charmed listeners with magical synths and plume-soft vocals. The elusive outfit is now back with a new album, after fans thought that they had seen the back of them in 2016. Expect more shimmering disco, with a tinge of electro sadness. Highlights include the dancefloor-ready “Million Ways” and the melancholic “Down This Road”.

Print Triennial, Tallinn. Originally launched in 1968 under a slightly different guise, the Tallinn Print Triennial is a celebration of reproducible images and radical political aesthetics. For its 18th edition this year, named “Checking Temperature in Three Acts”, the event takes conceptual aim at the rise of the right in Eastern Europe, with artists in the main exhibition tackling ideas such as the collapse of democracy and loss of freedom. Among the participants are artists’ rights group Artleaks, veteran Hungarian minimalist Dóra Maurer and Slavs and Tatars, whose Venice Biennale installation in 2019 featured bubbling green fountains.

‘Cry Wolf’, Maja Jul Larsen. Created by Larsen, one of the celebrated writers behind gripping political series Borgen (which has also just come back with its long-awaited fourth season), this new drama focuses on the Danish social system and the failings that lie within. Nordic-style welfare might be revered worldwide but Larsen reveals that problems exist here too. Based on rich research, the eight-parter has earned her the highly respected Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize; it also stars Bjarne Henriksen from The Killing, another of Denmark’s most beloved exports.

Outpost News / Sifnos Radioactive 91.3, Greece

Coastal drive

Riris Papatsarouchas originally set up radio station Sifnos Radioactive 91.3 in 1999 to provide some better driving music (writes Georgia Bisbas). As well as broadcasting to some 10,000 people on Sifnos and the nearby Cyclades, it has built a global fan base, with listeners in Brazil, Zimbabwe and Thailand. Here, Papatsarouchas tells us how he manages the station, which broadcasts for half of the year from Athens and from Sifnos in the summer – and about the street party that has made him famous across the Aegean.

Image: Shutterstock

How did you become involved in the station?
I got involved in the station because I created it. It’s a one-man show! It started in Sifnos in 1999 as a personal project. I was passionate about collecting MP3 files (looking back, I should have collected vinyl instead), which you could only listen to on your computer at the time. I created the radio station so I could listen to my music in my car. It was never intended to be commercial; advertisements kill the spirit of the radio. From day one it has been a labour of love.

What does the roster look like?
In 2003 I decided to enrich Radioactive with news bulletins that would inform listeners, which is especially important here as it’s quite remote. I started Datamax News, which produces weather, fashion, sports and news bulletins in MP3 form for my station and others in Greece. The idea was that they would buy them and broadcast the news that I had found. I also have great producers from elsewhere in Greece, as well as San Francisco and Belarus, who send me sets because they love Radioactive. At 23.00 every night, there’s a one-hour set from DJs around the world. I also do a live set on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at midday, where I talk about the music.

What sort of music do you play?
The music is eclectic. It’s mainly stuff I like; we don’t play any pop, other than the occasional 1980s power hit. My original job was in computing, so I’ve programmed the radio to create new playlists every hour, depending on the day and place. No two hours are ever the same and we broadcast 24/7. We have constant variety, so listeners never get bored. It can be anything from Frank Sinatra to Guns N’ Roses or Barry White. That’s why I have so many listeners: no commercials and good music.

Could you tell us about a memorable broadcasting moment?
Every August, I host a street party in Sifnos and thousands of people come from all over the world to join in. I’ve already received emails about people trying to book their flights. But there have been a lot of other memorable moments. During the summer people come by the studio in Artemón village: famous DJs and Greek musicians. The Dandy Warhols even played once.

Photo of the Week / ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai)’

Gale force

Photographers often strive to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson termed the “decisive moment” – an intangible essence that elevates a fleeting instant above the everyday (writes Alex Briand). Outside the medium, artists build their own worlds and manufacture their own drama. But in “A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)”, Jeff Wall provides a thrilling combination of the two. The original woodcut on which the picture is based is one of Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, a series that includes the timeless “The Great Wave”. Wall employed actors to recreate it in fields near his native Vancouver, replacing the mountain and its surrounding fields with bleak, brown farmland and a blank, grey sky.

Image: Jeff Wall

Wall’s original, taken in 1993, sits in a lightbox in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern. But in a new edition produced almost 20 years later in a collaboration between the artist and publisher TBW Books, the image is blown up to 99in by 156in (251cm by 396cm) and printed over 98 unbound pages. If assembled, the lightweight leaves will flutter and fold with the breeze, echoing the scene they portray. Sitting between photobook and artwork, just as the image itself sits between mediums, the new edition brings a sudden gust of new life to the picture. Just don’t open it outside in February…

What Am I Bid? / Juan Manuel Fangio’s Mercedes

Bid for speed

Cliché dictates that when selling a used car, it is customary to emphasise the meekness of its previous owner: ideally an elderly nun, who only ever started the vehicle to pootle between convent and cake stall. The appeal of the 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster being auctioned by RM Sotheby’s later this month is precisely the opposite. It was driven by one of the fastest people who ever sat behind a wheel.

Image: RM Sotheby’s

The metallic aqua convertible coupé was a retirement gift from Mercedes-Benz to Juan Manuel Fangio, or “El Maestro”, a five-time world champion in the early years of Formula One. Fangio drove this car on publicity tours of Europe and South America; since 1986, it has been parked in the Juan Manuel Fangio museum in Balcarce, Argentina. Sealed bids are being solicited until 4 March.

This will not be cheap. Surviving 300SL Roadsters fetch seven-figure sums even without having been the preferred plaything of one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. And unless the buyer of this one actually is Fangio’s fellow Mercedes driver and multiple Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton, its new owner is going to have to learn to tune out a sigh of disappointment from this beautiful machine every time they turn the key.


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