Monday. 11/4/2022

The Monocle Minute

Breaking news / France

Reverting to type?

In the end there was no grand surprise in the French presidential election’s first round: incumbent Emmanuel Macron and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen emerged from a crowded field of 12 candidates and will now face each other in a second-round run-off on 24 April. Though opinion polls had suggested that the race could be extremely tight, Sunday-night projections based on a representative sample showed Macron comfortably ahead with about 28 per cent, compared to Le Pen’s 23 per cent. The question now is whether the run-off will revert to what has become a convention of recent French elections: a revulsion at the far-right, despite Le Pen’s assurances that she is a different kind of politician, leading to voters coalescing around the other candidate. Polls suggest that the gap could be far narrower than the last time these two faced each other five years ago.

Macron hasn’t had an easy ride since his 2017 victory. His reforms haven’t been popular, he has had to deal with the gilets jaunes movement and there has been a widespread feeling that he has been detached – even absent – on the campaign trail. In part, this is because he has always seen himself as an international statesman, most recently trying to mediate with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. Yet whatever his shortcomings, at a time of increasing polarisation he remains an unashamed centrist, a Europeanist and a believer in multilateralism. Despite his faults, both France and the world need that right now.

For up-to-date analysis of the election results and what it all means, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Natalie Theodosi

Stitches that bind

The fashion community was in full celebration mode ahead of Milan Fashion Week: it was supposed to be the season of doing business with confidence again and selling in pre-pandemic volumes. But after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the purpose of such events was called into question: after all, how appropriate was it to gaze upon lavish runways in Milan and Paris amid a humanitarian crisis? Ukrainian designers who were scheduled to participate in the fashion weeks lost months of work and rushed to flee their home country.

More than six weeks later, those same designers are back at work, determined to protect their businesses and support their nation’s economy. Brands are now relocating to new production facilities, reopening their online stores and fulfilling orders from around the world. Designer Lilia Litkovskaya (pictured) returned to Ukraine from Paris and moved to a factory in Lviv with seven members of her team to fulfil an order from UK department store Selfridges. Anna October, another up-and-coming designer, is producing her pre-autumn range from a house in the mountains of western Ukraine, while family-run tailoring label Kris Marán is keeping its operations going from its manufacturing facility near the Polish border.

Their day-to-day reality now involves working as military sirens blare, having to abandon their sewing machines several times a day and rushing to underground bomb shelters. Yet they feel compelled to carry on. “This isn’t just an attack on our sovereignty – it is also an attempt to eradicate our culture,” Kris Marán’s co-founder Kristina Stelmakh tells me. “Our duty is to carry the culture of Ukrainian craftsmanship through this hell and spread it even more widely.” As war rages, Ukraine’s creative community is giving fashion a larger purpose. As October tells me, buying a dress can now save lives.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / France

Down and out

It’ll be two more weeks until the second round of France’s presidential election reveals who will lead the country for the next five years but one thing is clear from the first round, held yesterday: France’s centre-left is in crisis. It has experienced a steady decline since Socialist François Hollande chose not to seek a second term in 2017 after a lacklustre term in office. That decline has been confirmed this election by the failure of Paris mayor and Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo (pictured) to get her campaign off the ground. According to Le Monde, there are also new divisions among the Socialists, caused in part by a private dinner that was held last Wednesday to discuss how to reform the party. Among those present were Hidalgo and some of her closest allies, including Hollande. The problem? The Socialist Party’s first secretary, Olivier Faure, wasn’t invited or even aware that it was taking place. Preventing a further slide into obscurity looks very difficult indeed.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Mexico

Mass distraction

France wasn’t the only country going to the polls yesterday: Mexicans voted in a referendum on president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s rule that could consolidate his authority in the remaining two years of his administration. López Obrador (pictured) has argued that the unprecedented vote is crucial to validating his democratic mandate and is pushing for such referendums to become a tradition for future Mexican presidents.

But many see it as a sideshow with the dual aims of capitalising on the president’s robust approval rate and distracting Mexicans from more pressing issues. The opposition has also accused López Obrador of using it to double down on the polarising narratives that fuelled his landslide victory in 2018. For the president, the result matters less than convincing his electorate that the exercise was worth the effort.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Malaysia

Mind your language

Between them, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have 11 official languages and hundreds of unofficial ones – which is why, since the bloc’s founding in 1967, they have settled on English as the official working language. Now Malaysia’s prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has thrown a spanner in the works by proposing that Malay should become the association’s “second language” after English. The proposal is in line with his government’s push to promote Malay, including through mandatory lessons for foreign students and by making speeches at international summits in his native tongue. But the move has left other Asean members wondering why Thai, Vietnamese or Lao, say, shouldn’t also be candidates. Indonesian education minister Nadiem Makarim has said that his country “of course rejected the proposal” and has argued that Indonesian, which is closely related to and mutually intelligible with Malay, would be a better choice, since it is more widely spoken and taught. The linguistic one-upmanship has begun.

Image: Nicholas Venezia/Selldorf Architects

Arts / USA

Hidden pleasures

After more than two years of closure, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego has just reopened with a renewed commitment to a West Coast perspective. Its exhibition calendar kicks off with work by Niki de Sainte Phalle, who spent the final years of her life living in the city. First designed as an oceanfront private residence in 1941 by Irving Gill, the museum is a palimpsest of the architecture of those who have renovated it over the years. The latest redesign by Annabelle Selldorf quadruples the exhibition floor space and makes subtle behind-the-scenes changes. “The architect’s vision included open, simple art spaces with no exposed ducts or pipes,” says Andrew James, associate at the Los Angeles office of Buro Happold. His team installed a temperature-control system that pushes air through subtle openings in the floor, keeping the space cool without the distracting drone and clutter of air-conditioning. “The almost hidden and very quiet system creates a perfect environment for enjoying art.”

Image: City of Helsinki

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Helsinki report, part one: Sustainability

Climate change is the biggest threat to our cities. Helsinki has set the ambitious target to be carbon-neutral by 2030, a goal matched by global engineering firm KONE. Monocle 24’s Carlota Rebelo reports from Finland.

Monocle Films / London

Yinka Ilori’s 3D-printed basketball court

Designer Yinka Ilori discusses the design inspiration behind his temporary installation in London’s Canary Wharf and the importance of play in adulthood. Hear more on ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

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