Saturday 26 March 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 26/3/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Stay sharp

We start this weekend charting the demise of skinny jeans and the rise of delivery bikes as the new scourge of city pavements, before chatting to museum director Rein Wolfs and taking a glimpse into the first Oscars ceremony in 1929. First, our editor in chief on older parents and reader correspondence.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Founding fathers

I saw another report this week warning of the dangers of becoming a parent later in life. Apparently, men who wait until they’re in their forties to become dads risk giving their children genetic disorders and developmental problems, from dwarfism to cleft palate. Maybe. But my parents already had three daughters, and had lost a son, when my mum became pregnant again; she was 45 and my dad 50. From what my sisters later told me (one of them had already left home), the news was not greeted with celebration. But, luckily, my parents rolled with it. And here I am, with many quirks and endless personal failings, none of which, sadly, I can pin on my parents.

So here’s what I know about having older parents: it is great. Mine knew how to navigate life; they were grounded; they allowed this accident to shape their lives. They were at a stage when long walks, trips to the beach and tending the garden were more their thing – they gave me an appreciation of much of this too. In their later years they allowed parenting to ease into something even richer: proper friendship. I didn’t have them in my life as long as my sisters did but no harm was done by them being older parents. So if you are contemplating becoming one yourself, go for it (just in case you have nothing planned for this afternoon).

Tom Edwards, head of radio, has two young sons (both born in his youthful prime) and last week each of them drew a picture of him. One depicted him as a version of Superman; the other sketch was harder to work out. “What am I doing here?” Tom asked his son. “Taking the bins out,” said his son. Good to know how your children see you.

I try to get back to everyone who has a question, comment or complaint about Monocle. Last weekend someone wrote to say that my waywardness with pronouns was shocking and off-putting. Another person was angered that we had told you about Monocle’s 15th anniversary party when there was a war raging in Ukraine. On the pronouns, the correspondent is correct: sometimes in this column I get a little casual and break some grammatical rules – perhaps I could blame this on developmental issues from having older parents. And should we have told you about the party? I think so. But while consensus is great and I am happy to explain how we came to editorial decisions, sometimes you wonder what people see when they read Monocle. Twice now, people have raised with me that we have writers with Russian names; even asking about their connections back in the motherland. One of them said that she would no longer read Monocle’s newsletters. So that’s something good that happened this week.

And then another email. This one is from a Ukrainian living in Sweden thanking Monocle for all our coverage of what’s happening in his native country. But it’s the picture that he’s attached that hits me. It’s a photograph taken by a friend of his in Kyiv, an entrepreneur and local politician now in the territorial forces. On top of a copy of our book How to Make a Nation sits a rifle.

We have never been naïve about how states are made and secured; it’s why Monocle has, since Issue 01, covered defence issues, embedded with armies and visited arms fairs. Still, it’s sobering to see this celebration of soft power, diplomacy and national branding sitting with a potent emblem of the need for it to be backed up by hard power too. It’s the kind of letter to the editor that makes you realise what extraordinary (and demanding) people read Monocle.

And, finally, next weekend we – Tyler Brûlé, yours truly and other Monocle staff – will be in St Moritz for The Monocle Weekender. It kicks off on Friday and runs all the way through to Sunday morning, with panels, revelry and plenty of time to debate everything happening in the world. Join us. Head to to find out what’s in store.

(Not) The Look / Skinny Jeans

Slim chances

My first pair of skinny jeans were a dark wash from Swedish brand Nudie, which to this Perth teenager seemed impossibly exotic (writes Jamie Waters). I thought I looked unbelievable (a good thing). I was an ungainly, tall 17-year-old whose body had stretched beyond sensible proportions. After moving to Sydney, I can vividly remember pouring myself into stretchy, clingfilm-tight blue jeans from Aussie label Ksubi, which was then the pinnacle of cool.

What I didn’t know at the time was that one man was shaping my style. Since the early 2000s, Hedi Slimane had been championing a vision of thin men in tight clothes. At Saint Laurent and Dior Homme, the French designer put precision tailoring, pencil-like ties and liquorice-thin jeans on boys who looked as though they lived on cigarette fumes and cocaine. His pallid, nocturnal aesthetic shocked the establishment but it caught fire. Slimane made men care about fashion in a way that many of them had not before. He made it cool to consider the tightness of trousers and the sharp lines of a blazer. That skinny jeans were embraced not just by fashionistas but the mainstream male population seems quite unbelievable, given how effete they were.

Image: Alamy

Today’s teenagers are obsessed with nostalgia and that gaunt-rocker look is a major trend. Now it’s called “indie sleaze” and it’s expressed through Kohl-rimmed eyes and leather jackets – but a line has been drawn at skinny jeans. Generation Z has famously waged war on suffocating denim: the tag “no skinny jeans” has gone viral on Tiktok, with some users urging older folks to cut up or burn their pin-hugging wares. To the young and hip, skinny jeans are inextricably linked with millennials, who are deeply uncool. Even Slimane seems to have turned his back on the invention that made him. At the recent spring/summer show for Celine, where he is now artistic director, he showed one pair of jeans that were so baggy they could have been made from a million pairs of skinny jeans sewn together.

When viewed today, skinny jeans are an abomination. Like Ugg boots, another outfit staple from that era that should be illegal – they have not aged well. Am I saying this because I don’t want to seem washed-up and irrelevant? One hundred per cent.

How We Live / Delivery drivers

Vicious cycles

Try the following thought experiment (writes Andrew Mueller). Imagine adorning yourself in clothing and accessories prominently bearing the name and logo of the organisation that pays your wages. Imagine then going out in public and wilfully and persistently behaving in a reckless, obnoxious, dangerous and indeed downright illegal fashion. Now imagine the response of your employer: you are imagining a boot-print on the seat of your trousers or a cardboard box containing your belongings following you down the stairs – and quite rightly so.

However, workers in one particular sector appear unburdened by any such fear. Wherever in the world you are reading this, you have probably had to leap out of their way at least once. In London they are most prominently – though by no means exclusively – the riders of a well-known food delivery service.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

It takes your correspondent maybe 10 minutes to walk from Bond Street station to Monocle’s London HQ, Midori House, or vice versa. Within this brief stroll, I will see multiple incidences of marauders spangled in high-vis turquoise running red lights, riding on pavements, ploughing through pedestrian crossings and charging the wrong way up one-way streets, often while gawking into their phones and/or rendered further oblivious to their environment by headphones.

Misbehaviour by urban cyclists is not new; nor is complaining about the same by grumpy columnists. What is interesting about this variant is that the misbehaviour is all done by people advertising their employers, who either don’t know about the antisocial conduct of their operatives or simply don’t care.

They may well have their reasons for this indifference. The hooliganism of their riders doesn’t seem to be doing their businesses much harm and I doubt my own lonely boycott is going to bring them down. Perhaps, indeed, it is deliberate: if it becomes increasingly difficult to go out for our own sandwiches without being scythed down by some velocipede-borne yahoo, we will have little choice, as we cower indoors, but to submit to their services.

The Interrogator / Rein Wolfs

Seeing sense

Over the past 26 years, Rein Wolfs has worked with some of Europe’s most august art institutions, including the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zürich, which he co-founded. He now acts as director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Here he tells us about his weekend downtime and what he is currently reading.

Image: Shutterstock

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
One espresso, two espressos or sometimes three espressos.

Do you prefer Saturday or Sunday?
I prefer Sundays. On an Amsterdam Sunday, I watch football and Formula One, and walk along the beach. On a Swiss Sunday, I visit an exhibition and walk on the Uetliberg mountain.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Athenaeum Boekhandel at Spui in Amsterdam. When I studied there – admittedly in the previous century – I was there almost every day. They know everything and sell everything and have the best shop windows in the world of books.

What are you currently humming in the shower?
I’m as bad a hummer as a singer, I’m afraid.

Five magazines from your weekend stack?
This weekend I have Volkskrant Magazine, Der Spiegel, ID, Dazed and Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin.

What’s your newspaper of choice?
The Dutch Volkskrant, NRC and Het Parool. Further to those, The Guardian, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung. Oh, and not to forget The New York Times.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on TV recently?
The best things have been mostly football games. I have tried to avoid talk shows lately, as they tend to give too much of a stage for populists.

What are you reading?
I’ve just started The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois, a novel by the poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. It’ll take me a while to finish as I don’t have too much spare time but it’s fascinating storytelling about family and race in the shadow of the great Du Bois.

Do you still watch the evening news on TV?
If I’m at home, always. The German ZDF at 19.00, the Dutch news at 20.00 and sometimes BBC news too. I’m a bit of a news addict.

What do you listen to before drifting off?
I’m listening to Cassandra Jenkins at the moment. Her album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature can easily send me to sleep – in a good way.

Culture / Watch / Visit / Listen

Picture perfect

‘Azuro’, Matthieu Rozé. The debut feature by director Matthieu Rozé, which is based on a little-known book by French novelist Marguerite Duras, follows a group of friends whose holiday in the south of France is turned upside down when a mysterious stranger arrives. Set in a rugged village between the mountains and the sea, the film unpicks love, friendship and attraction by zooming in on everyday challenges. The result is equal parts funny and suspenseful. Its international cast, including Portuguese actor Nuno Lopes, Frenchman Thomas Scimeca and Italian actress Maya Sansa, brings panache to this sun-soaked drama.

‘Genesis of Photography in Japan’, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. This exhibition isn’t just about the history of photography but the history of Japan itself. The northern city of Hakodate in Hokkaido is where the discipline first found its footing in the country. During the shift between the Edo and Meiji periods, about 150 years ago, snappers such as Tamoto Kenzo, Takebayashi Seiichi and Sakuma Hanzo managed to capture a culture in the process of significant modernisation. Today their sepia stills have a mesmerising and poised – if haunting – quality.

‘Gelb ist das Feld’, Bilderbuch. Started when the members were still at school in the pretty Austrian town of Kremsmunster, art-rock quartet Bilderbuch have gone on to become a sensation across the German-speaking world. Still, they remain very humble. So much so in fact that they reportedly turned down the opportunity to represent Austria at this year’s Eurovision for “fear of failing”. It’s a shame because, as their seventh album proves, they have nothing to be worried about: their music is inventive, bewitching and always surprising. It mixes up rock backbones with mellow, early-2000s soundscapes; try “Day Drinking” for proof of this hazy, heady mix. Catch them soon on their (almost) sold-out tour in Wiesbaden, Salzburg, Zürich or Graz.

Outpost News / The Plum Radio

Bearing fruit

Caribbean station The Plum Radio may only employ a team of five but its global reach spans continents. Based on the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, it was founded in 2020 to remedy a lack of smooth jazz on the airwaves. Part of the station’s staff is Jay Le Vert, who has been a studio musician for 50 years. He fills us in on the station’s plans for expansion.

Image: Alamy

Tell us about the station.
The Plum Radio is part of [online broadcaster] North Coast Digital, which was set up in 2020 and was a real positive during lockdown on the island. It was our phoenix moment; we rose out of the hard times and created something we are proud of. It is a collaborative platform with a recording studio in Ohio, a marketing base in North America and a radio station here in St Thomas.

And where did The Plum Radio’s name come from?
The name came from Cleveland. NYC is the Big Apple, Georgia is the peach and Cleveland is the plum. We have a popular live show every Saturday night from a jazz club called The Bop Stop in Cleveland, so the name seemed to fit.

What music do you play?
We play 99 per cent smooth jazz but we are working on a Sunday segment dedicated to gospel music. There is some jazz-funk and R&B but I’ve been playing jazz for most of my life so we stick to what we know. We have a show on Friday night called For Lovers Only with radio personality Jeffree Charles, which is all romantic music.

What does your roster look like?
We have shows of one to two hours of free-flowing music, which play 24/7. Being a digital station means that we can be heard all around the world. So while we don’t have a lot of interaction with our listeners, we like to say that it is always the right time to listen to us, somewhere in the world – and someone usually is! We’re developing some shows based on Ethiojazz that will be produced in Addis Ababa and some more shows developed in Caribbean cities.

Fashion update / Valentino Narratives II

Look books

The fashion industry is built on using compelling imagery to drive emotions – most often the desire to shop (writes Natalie Theodosi). But the house of Valentino wants to challenge that focus on the visual with its latest project, a text-only campaign dubbed Valentino Narratives II. The aim is to “re-envision the methods fashion is communicating”, said the brand in a statement. To that end, it shifted the focus away from products and towards the industry’s broader responsibility to help safeguard culture and the arts.

Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli tapped renowned contemporary writers from across the globe and commissioned them to write essays on love. Excerpts from the final works also feature on bright, colourful posters, which have sprung up across the streets of New York and other global cities.

Image: Valentino

The participating writers hark from far and wide. Among them are supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, who recently published her debut novel, Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist Leïla Slimani, American humourist David Sedaris, Japanese feminist author Mieko Kawakami and Fatima Farheen Mirza, author of the best-selling novel A Place for Us, the first book to be published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint with Hogarth books.

As part of the project and its ongoing dialogue with literature, Valentino will also be supporting independent bookshops around the world, such as Brooklyn’s Cafe con Libros and Toronto’s Type. The brand has also renewed its collaboration with Belletrist, the popular book club founded by actress Emma Roberts and producer Karah Preiss. It’s a welcome mingling of haute couture and elevated literature.

Photo of the Week / The Oscars, 1929

Film star

Tomorrow, the 94th Academy Awards will return to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood with all the pre-pandemic pomp and ceremony restored (writes Georgia Bisbas). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) was formed in 1927 by studio head Louis B Mayer and this photograph, courtesy of the Ampas archives, is of the first awards ceremony and banquet, held on 16 May 1929 in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room.

Image: Shutterstock

Taken on a state-of-the-art (at the time) single-reflex camera, the image depicts a lively and elegant scene of old Hollywood glamour: strings of pearls and slicked-back 1920s haircuts for the ladies, and gentlemen in white or black tie. The 270 guests in attendance dined on fillet of sole under potted trees and ionic lanterns, which cast a warm glow over the ballroom. Unlike today’s ceremony – for which untold thousands of photos will be snapped by professionals and guests alike – only a handful of photographs of the inaugural Oscars were taken. The scarcity of records from events such as these add charm and intrigue to an event that grew to become a global spectacle.

Fewer than 300 people attended the first Oscars and Janet Gaynor, winner of the inaugural best actress award, once described it as a “family affair, more like a private party than a public ceremony”. So private was it that the The New York Times’s report on the event was just two paragraphs long. With about 3,000 attendees and millions of viewers watching around the world, this year’s Oscars can expect a few more words than that – not to mention a photograph for every flowing gown, triumphant win and not-so-gracious loss.


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