Friday. 13/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Natalie Theodosi

Looking outwards

Australian Fashion Week made a return to Sydney this week for the first time since the country opened up to international travellers. Unsurprisingly, it has taken on a bigger role than merely presenting Australian designers’ latest resort collections. The five-day event, which closes today, has encompassed 50 shows and an engaging series of talks by designers. More broadly, however, it has helped to renew Australians’ sense of optimism and appetite for creativity after a challenging few years of insularity.

There was plenty of young talent to get excited about, including tailoring label Clea, while the event’s first plus-size runway probed the issue of representation in the industry. There were also higher-profile shows by the country’s established brands, such as Aje and St Agni (pictured), both of which managed to grow their international businesses amid the pandemic. Aje founders Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest recently debuted a pop-up boutique in London department store Harrods, all executed remotely, while St Agni now works with global players such as Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. St Agni director Lara Bluett tells me that, as difficult as the past two years have been, the logistical challenges that they presented also helped to “strengthen our relationships with our global wholesale partners”. The goal now, she says, is “to bring inspiration from outside our physical borders to our Australian customers, while also growing abroad”.

With the future in mind, the state government of New South Wales has set a goal of making Sydney “the events capital of the Asia-Pacific” region within this decade. The international success of labels such as St Agni during a time when Australia was closed off shows that fashion brands can build global businesses and grab attention even without having to make their way to a big European capital. Sydney might not yet have the convenience or gravitas of Paris, say, or Milan but it’s quickly becoming a go-to hub for resortwear, which seems to sum up Australia’s sunny, optimistic spirit rather well.

Image: Tadas Kazakevičius

Diplomacy / Lithuania

Cutting ties

Lithuania is among the most outspoken European nations when it comes to Moscow; the Baltic nation’s parliament this week formally designated its eastern neighbour a terrorist state. Over the course of several candid conversations with Monocle for the forthcoming June issue, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has been frank about the threats emanating from Russia and China. The shifting security situation since Ukraine’s invasion calls for a “strategic change” in thinking from Nato, which has vowed to defend every inch of its territory from attack. “An inch is not so much,” says Landsbergis. “And Russia has the means to test that inch. So if we want to stand by this, it has to be strengthened with practical means.” It’s not just about military readiness but cutting economic reliance on Moscow and Beijing. “I can tell you that there are no vital links connecting us to Russia," he adds. Lithuania’s investment in energy independence looks like a far-sighted decision; the world should take note.

For the full interview, subscribe to Monocle magazine or grab a copy of the June issue, which will be on newsstands next Thursday.

Image: Reuters

Defence / Switzerland

Price of neutrality

While Finland and Sweden’s governments backed Nato membership this week, Switzerland is rethinking its own military and political position following the invasion of Ukraine. Individual politicians are already pushing for closer co-operation with the Western military alliance in the form of joint exercises – though accession is not currently up for discussion – while the Swiss parliament this month agreed to increase and modernise the country’s military.

By 2030 the military budget should amount to at least 1 per cent of GDP. That’s still well under Nato’s 2 per cent goal but would mark an enormous leap for Switzerland, from about CHF5bn (€4.8bn) to CHF7bn (€6.7bn). While details on how to finance the increase are yet to be revealed, Swiss parties of all stripes seem to agree that bolstering the military doesn’t break with the country’s deeply embedded neutrality policy. On the contrary, in an increasingly dangerous world, it’s seen as necessary to protect that special Swiss asset.

Image: Music Box Films

Cinema / Singapore

Looking westward

Singapore’s European Film Festival (EUFF), now in its 31st year, was originally launched to strengthen ties and encourage cultural exchange between the EU and the city-state. This year’s edition, which opened yesterday and runs until 26 May, takes place at The Projector cinema, a restored historic theatre. While France is the featured country and the César-winning Illusions perdues (pictured) will close the festival, the Ukraine-Russia war is inevitably casting its shadow. The festival features 24 films from 23 countries, including most EU member states, as well as Turkey and Norway. The only country with two films in the line-up is Ukraine. “We present this year’s EUFF at a difficult time,” says Iwona Piórko, the EU’s ambassador to Singapore. “We stand in solidarity with Ukraine by opening the festival with the multiple-award-winning Ukrainian film Mother of Apostles.”

You can hear more from the EU ambassador to Singapore on Monocle 24’s ‘The Globalist’ on Monday 16 May.

Image: PCA STREAM

Urbanism / France

Fix up, look sharp

This week, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo outlined a €250m revitalisation of the Champs-Élysées to be carried out in partnership with a non-profit group comprising community and business leaders. The transformation will take place before and after the 2024 Olympic Games in the French capital. The initial phase will see new vegetation and general repairs to buildings. An urban study undertaken by architecture studio PCA-Stream will inform the second phase, which will include a reconfiguration of the avenue’s traffic and improvements to public areas such as Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées gardens.

“We will have to reinvent the destination in terms of aesthetics and walkability,” Etienne Riot, director of applied research and innovation at PCA-Stream, tells The Monocle Minute. “It has to be a showcase of what an avenue, in a very dense city like Paris, should be in the 21st century.” If promises are fulfilled, other cities with sweeping avenues of their own will want to follow Paris’s lead.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle 24 / The Foreign Desk

Taliban and the burqa

When the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in the wake of the allied forces’ sudden departure, they assured the world that things would be different this time. This was the Taliban 2.0 after a progression of 20 years. But this week saw the return of the burqa along with hefty consequences for any woman who dares to show her face in public. Andrew Mueller explains.

Monocle Films / Denmark

Community spirit in Denmark

Housing co-operatives are numerous in Denmark, providing residents with affordable places to live, keeping community spirit strong and cultivating samfundssind: the Danish concept of putting society’s needs ahead of individual interests. Monocle visited the Jystrup Savværk co-housing community, an hour outside of Copenhagen, to explore the meaning of the word. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, which is available now from The Monocle Shop.

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