- Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 11/6/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Guilty pleasure

The proponents of the new traditional Catholic fashion movement might provide us a fleeting moment of fun but there is no such lack of depth to this Saturday’s invigorating offering. We discuss the merits of cultural delights from lengthy book reviews to a remote radio station, while wringing our hands at the frustrations of booking a table at an Italian restaurant and preparing to have a ball at an auction. Starting the bidding is Andrew Tuck.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Ring down the curtain

Last week, for Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference in Paris, the team stayed at a hotel where, in a bid to embrace the neighbourhood’s African cultural connections, the walls are festooned with masks made from old washing-up-liquid bottles and string, the decor features a chaos of African fabrics, the bed is propped up on old wine boxes and there are messages all over the place – a pillow, for example, urges you to sleep with it (thankfully there are no encouraging words on the toilet paper). The room is so busy that there could be a herd of gazelles roaming on the carpet and a leopard curled up on your bedspread and you would never notice them. It’s moments like this when you realise that you are perhaps not in the age demographic that cool hotels are after. The breakfast, however, is very good.

So there was something comforting about arriving in Milan on Monday for Salone del Mobile. The hotel I had booked was modest (though during Salone the city’s inns whack up their prices with gleeful ambition, meaning that even modest can be eye-watering) but my room had a large window on to the street, there was a minibar filled with treats and the decor was thankfully bordering on the spartan (definitely nowhere for a leopard to hide). I doubt that the room has changed much in 20 years. Your granny would love it; I loved it.

In Milan I bumped into two friends who know all about this hospitality game. They run a hotel in the Austrian mountains and told me how the growing sophistication of weather apps is changing their business. Increasingly, people are holding off until the very last minute to commit to a booking, only handing over their cash when they see a row of beaming sun symbols on their phone screens. And if icons of thunderclouds appear, they then call the hotel and delay their trips (the hotel introduced flexible booking during the pandemic). The only wrinkle? In the mountains the apps’ soothsayer skills often falter – yes, there might be a clap of thunder at 05.00 but by 06.00 the sun could be out for the entire day. Who would want to work in hotels with ungrateful sods like me and the app watchers checking in (or not)? Well, this brings me to perhaps one of my favourite moments at the conference in Paris last week: a session called “Ask the Concierge”.

A week before the event, we realised that we had a small gap to fill in the schedule and that it needed to be about hospitality. We thought of various speakers; Josh Fehnert, our fine editor, offered to do a presentation. But then, in a moment of utter genius, I suggested we dress up as hotel concierges and take questions from the audience about travel. We would set up a concierge’s bell at the front of the room and people could only ask their question if they came up and banged the bell. Sometimes I even amaze myself. Tyler, naturally, loved it. Josh, however, a man who likes to be organised, was less enamoured with my push for freeform spontaneity. He might have muttered some dark words.

On the day, Fiona Wilson (over from our Tokyo bureau), Josh and I snuck off to change into sweatshirts emblazoned with the words “Monocle Concierge” and the crossed golden keys emblem that’s usually sported as a pin on a concierge’s jacket; Tyler joined us after wrapping up his panel. The sweatshirts were one-size-fits-all, so mine looked like a tube dress, while Josh’s resembled a boob tube. The four of us took questions from the audience and, in no time, we had a snaking queue of would-be bell bangers (Josh, shining bright as always). We even pulled up on stage one of our French panellists, Florence Martin Kessler of Live Magazine, to help answer a question about Paris: what should a father and teenage daughter do in the city? And how French her answer: she recommended a place where they could dance together in the afternoon – and perhaps the daughter could have an alcoholic drink.

We also had an auction at the conference, run by our former culture editor Robert Bound, which was funny and as lucrative as running a Milan hotel (though all the money is going to charity). One fine gentleman paid €1,300 for Issue 01 of Monocle; another woman stumped up €2,200 for lunch with Tyler and me. Finally, I am not a cheap date.

Both were moments that could have gone wrong but we took some risks and made ourselves a little vulnerable to the mood of the room, which, thankfully, turned out to be joyful and ebullient. And there’s a good lesson here – sometimes you just have to trust that it will all be OK, know that risk also brings energy and focus, go out of your comfort zone and realise that most people want you to succeed.

After the session, the sweatshirts were folded up and packed away for another day. And later that day Josh was shipped off to a sanatorium in the Swiss mountains. I understand that he is making a fine recovery, though he still claims that he can hear a bell being banged when he closes his eyes. Personally I am seeing a career for him as a new, less foul-mouthed Lenny Bruce. Stand-up is the future.

The Look / Trad Cath

Mass hysteria

From the holy land of California comes a new trend to make you clutch your rosary beads and scream, “Oh Lord!” (writes Grace Charlton). Traditional Catholic – “trad Cath” for short – might sound like an architectural style with a penchant for gilt (and guilt!) but it’s actually a congregation of social media It-girls deploring the hellish state of modern life and seeking sanctuary in Christ, while listening to one of the movement’s musical pioneers: Lana del Rey.

Image: Getty Images

The accessories that best convey this newfound fervour in your posts? Timeless pieces such as a copy of the bible, crucifixes and… lots of lace embroidered with depictions of the Virgin Mary. Reality star Kourtney Kardashian’s wedding to musician Travis Barker in Portofino last month represented a sort of Second Vatican Council for the sartorial movement. The Kardashian clan’s pilgrimage from Calabasas to the Italian riviera was made in custom Dolce & Gabbana, proving that even if transgressive designers have been excommunicated by the rest of the fashion industry for their questionable views, they will be welcomed wholeheartedly into this new denomination – as long as they agree to provide the clothes, food and locations for the weddings of its leading scions.

So, this summer, why not pick up something that says “God-bothering” from Harris Reed’s 2022 autumn collection, inspired by the arrow-hating St Sebastian? Or a piece resembling Rihanna’s Galliano papal garb, mitre included, from the 2018 Met Gala? Some might question the devoutness of this aesthetic movement – but don’t give any time to those non-believers.

How We Live / Booking a table

Call to action

Italy, a land of paper lovers, you say. Luddites who don’t embrace technology, you hasten to add. Nonsense (writes Ed Stocker). Just look at the fortunes of wine e-commerce site Tannico, which sold 2.5 million bottles online in 2020, generating revenue of €37.5m. If that’s not a sign of a digital revolution taking place in the bel paese – and through the wine glass to boot – then we’re not sure what is.

Yet while Italians enthusiastically embrace the likes of Amazon and Tannico, they don’t seem to be in much of a rush to facilitate quick and easy restaurant reservations via the worldwide web. Instead, they still seem heartily attached to phoning up and speaking to a busy person who will probably misspell their surname.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

There are scores of restaurants across Milan, my hometown, that wouldn’t dream of taking bookings any other way than via an old-fashioned call. Sometimes the complication involved feels like an analogy for Italy’s creaking and cumbersome bureaucracy, for which it is almost as famous as its furniture, food and fashion. Take the epic fish joint Trattoria alla Pescatore, which has been around since 1976. To make a reservation, you are advised to phone from Monday to Saturday between the hours of 10.00 and 12.00 or 18.45 and 19.30. Even then you might get no answer or find the line engaged. I managed to book when I had family in town the other week and felt a serotonin-rush of triumph. When I then had to cancel, I tried to phone, couldn’t get through and never heard back. Oh well.

Interrogator / Justin McGuirk

Man of many talents

Justin McGuirk is chief curator of the Design Museum in London (writes Annabel Martin). In a diverse career, he has edited magazines, founded a digital publishing house and been awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for his curation. He speaks to us about his favourite bookshop, living with technology and enjoying long reviews.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Tea. I start with green and move on to black.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Donlon Books on Broadway Market in Hackney, which always has an intriguing selection of books on art and design, subcultures, psychedelia and mushrooms.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
A French series called Baron Noir, a drama about a mayor who is a master of the political dark arts.

What’s in your weekend sofa-side stack?
The only thing that stacks up next to my sofa is copies of the London Review of Books, which contains reviews so wonderfully long that I don’t need to read the books themselves.

What have you been working on lately?
We just closed an exhibition at the Design Museum called Waste Age, which was about how design is addressing the environmental crisis.

Do you have a favourite film?
Impossible question. But I do have a weird obsession with Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, in which Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper reinvent a Patricia Highsmith novel in 1970s Hamburg.

Do you listen to podcasts?
Only rarely but recently I’ve been enjoying an obscure one called Peoples & Things, which is loosely about how we live with technology.

Culture / Watch / Read / Listen

Clicks and water

‘We Had to Remove This Post’, Hanna Bervoets. The workplace novel is nothing new but few books have smartly grappled with the dark and writhing underbelly of working in social media. Enter Dutch writer Hanna Bervoets, acclaimed in the Netherlands for her novels, screenplays, short stories and essays. This ultra-slim book – her first to appear in English – follows Kayleigh, who becomes a content moderator to pay the bills and spends her days in a small computer-filled room reviewing offensive images and videos. It’s a dark and disturbing exploration of the damage that digital data can do.

‘Jean Painlevé’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris. The French avant garde would have turned out very differently if not for the influence of photographer and film-maker Jean Painlevé. Born in 1902, the wild, provocative anarchist pioneered underwater cinematography, creating early short films filled with pseudoscientific explorations that would have a profound effect on Paris’s surrealists. This exhibition takes a deep dive into his sub-nautical film-making and includes works about octopuses and seahorses.

‘Island of the Sun’, Winona Oak. The island of this album’s title is Sollerön, a small outcrop in the middle of Lake Siljan, deep in rural Sweden. It’s here that Winona Oak grew up, playing a variety of instruments and training as a horse acrobat in her youth. Still, her music has nothing folksy about it: it is pop of the best Scandinavian order, with some hints of Mø’s danciest tunes and the vocal range of Sigrid – but with softer, more enveloping tones. The title track is a syncopated club-ready success, while single “Jojo” has a deceptively relaxed start leading into a mellow, beat-driven refrain that will no doubt have you swaying at a festival.

Outpost News / Islands FM, Scilly Isles

Islands of curiosity

With its white-sand beaches and tropical foliage, the Scilly Isles have some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery (writes Monica Lillis). Originally launched as Radio Scilly in 2007, Islands FM is a non-profit community radio station informing and entertaining the five-island archipelago’s 2,500 inhabitants. We speak to Bob Bate, the station’s co-director, about what makes it tick.

Image: Alamy

Tell us about the history of the station.
It began with a chap called Keri Jones. He was a BBC radio producer who had the idea that the Isles of Scilly could do with its own little radio station. He applied for a temporary licence and the trial was a success.

How did you become involved with the station?
I started off as a teenager at a hospital radio station. After a lot of experience with the BBC in Cornwall and Devon, and with the BBC World Service, I semi-retired but my love of radio was still there. I heard that the radio station on the Isles of Scilly was looking for people to join. So I applied to become a director and was lucky enough to be accepted.

Who’s your most popular DJ?
We have a lovely lady called Jane who does the weather forecast every day. She’s a very keen amateur meteorologist. Everybody listens attentively to her weather forecasts, because nobody does it the same way as she does.

What are some memorable broadcasting moments?
Just over two years ago, we decided to change the name of the station, which was a bit of a gamble. People did rather like the original name – Radio Scilly. But we found that people weren’t listening to it as much as they used to. So we decided to rebrand. It was quite a big job. But we did it and we are now known as Islands FM.

What local spots do you and your colleagues enjoy hanging out at?
There’s a great pub on the main island, St Mary’s, which I could heartily recommend; it’s called The Mermaid.

What am I bid? / Wilson from ‘Cast Away’

Start the ball rolling

A headline lot in the next entertainment memorabilia auction at Propstore in Los Angeles is Wilson, the Wilson-brand volleyball that served as companion to Tom Hanks’s marooned plane-crash survivor in the 2000 film Cast Away (writes Andrew Mueller). It might garner a world-record price for a punctured volleyball.

But Wilson is no ordinary volleyball. In Cast Away, Hanks's character, Chuck Noland, humanises the leather orb somewhat, smearing a face on its surface in blood from a cut hand and fashioning hair from tobacco stalks. It is one of the most famous props in cinema; in 2001 the Broadcast Film Critics Association awards honoured Wilson with the first and, so far, only prize for best inanimate object (though Madonna was arguably unlucky to miss out for her role in Die Another Day).

A marker for Wilson’s selling price was laid down recently: one of the three Wilsons used in the filming of Cast Away was sold by Propstore in November 2021 for $308,000 (€287,000) – vastly over the estimate. It is unclear whether this is that same ball and, if so, what has motivated the decision to resell it so soon. The discomfort attendant upon sharing your home with a volleyball crudely refashioned as a human head is surely a contender.

There is a cheaper option. Delighted by the product placement, Wilson has long-offered a Cast Away-edition volleyball, complete with weird crimson visage, which can be had for $21.95 (€20.50), although you’ll have to insert your own tobacco stalks. The real Wilson is under the gavel from 21 to 24 June.

Fashion update / Nona Source, London

Secret source

King’s Cross is becoming one of London’s fastest-growing creative hubs (writes Natalie Theodosi). The district is now home to celebrated fashion college Central Saint Martins, as well as multi-brand boutiques such as Twiin, which offers sunny fashion from the streets of Los Angeles. Alongside these are larger-scale projects including The Mills Fabrica, which features concept stores, galleries and workspaces for technology, food and fashion start-ups.

This month, Parisian circular-fashion platform Nona Source opened its first UK showroom at The Mills. With close ties to LVMH, it offers fashion and design professionals the opportunity to buy unused materials sourced from the luxury group’s stable of brands – including Dior, Celine and Louis Vuitton – at as much as 70 per cent off the wholesale price. The aim is to give UK creatives the same access to responsibly sourced, luxury materials as their Parisian counterparts and for LVMH to ensure that its discarded fabrics don’t end up in landfill. “By supporting the UK community, we also aim to boost circularity and upcycling of our unused fabrics,” adds Hélène Valade, LVMH’s environmental development director.

Fashion’s waste problem is well documented. According to Nona Source, just 1 per cent of the materials used for clothes go on to be recycled. The company’s expansion across the Channel is a step in the right direction. Some of the city’s up-and-coming names, including menswear designer and Andam award-winner Bianca Saunders, are already starting to source materials at Nona.


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