Saturday 24 December 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/12/2022

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Causes for celebration

A very merry Christmas to you and yours! We kick off the festivities by pondering what constitutes an Anglo-Italian festive feast and revealing Norway’s latest classic Christmas song. Plus: remain sartorially on-point this season with the inevitable return of the trench coat and our recommendation for a super-soft cashmere brand. But first, Andrew Tuck has plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Ignore the script

Well, the first thing to say is happy Christmas! I hope that, if you are celebrating the big day, you have a great time – may your turkey be juicy, your baubles glint and your relatives refrain from getting too drunk and telling that awful story about you again. I, however, have something else top of mind today – it’s my birthday.

Now let’s be honest, it’s a pretty terrible date to have as your birthday if you want to have even a modicum of fuss made about you. Why my mother couldn’t have popped me out a week earlier or perhaps held off until the new year I just don’t know. But, no, she chose Christmas Eve. And while I am the one who has suffered from festivity fatigue across the years, when I was a kid my older sisters would cheekily tell me in great detail how my arrival had ruined their Christmas because they were shipped off to grandparents while my dad came to the hospital to see his wife and accident child (my mum was 45, my dad 50 and I was not something that they had planned for). And, what’s more, that winter the snow fell thick and furious so my mum ended up staying in hospital for days.

As a child, however, it seemed OK to have your birthday on Christmas Eve: you were never in school so unlikely to be given “the bumps”, a ritual that saw you grabbed by the limbs and thrown into the air, often with a tinge of violent abandon – your arms faced a clear risk of dislocating. And, in the beginning, my parents made a point of getting separate presents for both days. But over time things changed and the dreaded “joint present” made itself known. Because while I definitely wasn’t at the top of the maths class, I was more than capable of working out the price of the joint present and deducing that this did not represent value for money if it was supposed to constitute two fabulous gifts.

And then it got worse. One year – admittedly when I was in my twenties – my parents clearly forgot their son’s birthday. In the flurry to prepare the vol-au-vents and to perch the fairy atop the tree, the offspring who had once all but owned Christmas as a fresh baby had to remind his folks that there was something more important to worry about than whether we had enough stuffing. I didn’t let that one drop for a long time.

And now? Rallying friends for dinner in the run-up to Christmas is a task and who wants to celebrate their big day weeks after the event? But then many people have the same issue with Christmas. Complicated or dispersed families and absent friends can make Christmas just seem like an exhausting and slightly unrewarding mission. You know what you are expected to do and feel but what if you want to do things differently? To break away from the table or the dash to buy last-minute gifts and make up your own traditions?

For my birthday this year I do have a lunch planned and will see friends but we will be in Spain with the dog. I am also looking forward to finding a moment to walk along the beach, feel the fresh air on our faces and do something life-affirming. Birthdays are special, Christmas too, but we need to worry less about the accepted script. Though believe me, if anyone ever goes down the joint present route with you then you are entitled to make a scene.

The Look / Trench coats

All-time classic

The trench coat – such a sartorial classic that it’s been in and out of fashion in every decade since the 1920s – is on trend again (writes Lauren Cochrane). You’ll see it on the street, worn by fashion students and finance execs; on TV, a symbol of whispered wealth on Naomi Watts in The Watcher or Shiv Roy in Succession; and, over the past year, the trench has become a staple of the front row.

Why is such a familiar favourite suddenly the latest thing? Excitement is so last year in fashion. Instead, reliability is in. Other trusty items that have returned to fashionable wardrobes recently include Levi’s 501s, white T-shirts and black polo necks. But the trench sticks out among its classic cousins because it’s a Jekyll and Hyde item – a safe pair of hands but also intriguingly nefarious. As demonstrated in countless movies, it’s the preferred outerwear of flashers or the shady private eye. A win, then, whatever your mood.

Image: Netflix

Burberry remains the blue-chip example, a garment handed down through generations. But designers ranging from Acne and Prada to The Row, Sacai and Dries Van Noten have put the trench on the runway recently. There is also Kassl Editions, set up by a collective in the almost-eponymous German city of Kassel in 2018. Its Original trench is the new in-the-know choice – with the oversized fit preferred by the fashion crowd. Riccardo Tisci, the outgoing designer at Burberry, saw the trench coat as a rite of passage. In 2019, he told me, “When you behave well at school in France you get the Chanel bag. In England, you get the Burberry trench.” Good behaviour never looked so stylish – or, indeed, so sleazy.

Read more about the latest fashion trends in Monocle’s December/January issue, which is on sale now.

How We Live / Anglo-Italian Christmas

Culinary exchange

It’s what families do around the world every year: host Christmas. Except this year is a debut of sorts for me (writes Ed Stocker). It’s the first time we will be hosting my extended Italian family at home in Milan. That in and of itself is a scary thing: I hail from a nation (the UK) that isn’t exactly renowned for its culinary prowess and I now reside in a country that is considerably more adept in that department.

To make things even scarier, my Veronese mother-in-law has specifically asked for an English Christmas this year. How much liberal interpretation can I make with this request? Does she mean spending an intense few days together eating and drinking far too much and then indulging in the traditional family argument? Is she suggesting that we perhaps turn the Christmas roast leftovers into a curry on 26 December?

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

In fact, further probing suggests that she’s less interested in the histrionics and more into a menu that doesn’t include lasagne. I’m going to play it safe and go for a 3kg tacchino (turkey) accompanied by all the trimmings, such as braised cabbage, potatoes and parsnips (if I can find them). Hell, I may even push the boat out and see how pigs-in-blankets – surely the height of British festive gastronomy? – go down with my Italian family. And if I’m worried about alienating them with all this exotic fodder then I can also offer up something that is a little closer to home: bread sauce, similar to northern-Italian pearà.

While we’re drinking (Italian) wine and pulling imported crackers, I just need to make sure I don’t burn anything. I’m determined to prove that Brits really can cook, after all.

Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Something in the tea

It’s not too late to get away for Christmas but it is unfortunately too late to receive Concierge-endorsed tips. We are now taking calls for New Year’s jaunts. If you’re heading somewhere nice and would like some recommendations, click here. We will answer one question each week.

Dear Concierge,

I will be in Vancouver for the festive period and would love some suggestions for restaurants, markets, shopping, tea and more. I will be there for 15 days (including three in Whistler to ski). Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Happy holidays, Claudia Quiros

Image: Alamy

Dear Claudia,

Winter is the off-season in Vancouver – be prepared for a damp chill – but cold and snow await at Whistler. The ski resort is just 90 minutes north along the breathtaking Sea to Sky Highway, which parallels Howe Sound, and was recently declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

For Christmas shopping, pop into The Polygon Gallery’s annual all-Canadian vendor holiday shop and stay for the Lind Prize 2022, an exhibit of the province’s finest emerging artists. While in north Vancouver, head up after dark to the Capilano Suspension Bridge (pictured) – a tourist landmark in summer, yes, but nearly unrecognisable in winter thanks to the Canyon Lights display. Across town, the VanDusen Botanical Garden also puts on a spectacular holiday light show.

Vancouver’s Chinatown is worth a wander. The new Chinatown Storytelling Centre is the cornerstone of the neighbourhood’s bid to become a Unesco World Heritage Site. Newer shop fronts are joining the traditional herb shops and noodle houses. On Georgia Street, pick up some fireside reading at Massy Books then taste the premium leaves next door at Treasure Green Tea Company. When you’re peckish, duck into the cleverly named Blnd Tger Dumplings and don’t miss a tipple at the restaurant’s hidden speakeasy Laowai (ask the barkeep for “the number seven”). Enjoy!

Christmas Traditions / Christopsomo, Cyprus

Breaking bread

Inspired by the wonderful array of nationalities at Monocle HQ, we’ve decided to share our colleagues’ native Christmas traditions during the festive period. This week, our fashion editor Natalie Theodosi shares the joys of a traditional Cypriot bake.

Like most celebrations, Christmas in my home of Cyprus revolves around food. After attending morning Mass and exchanging gifts, the whole family – including one too many cousins, some of whom you forgot you had, and an uncle making inappropriate jokes – gathers around the lunch table on Christmas Day for a big feast. It starts with appetisers like halloumi cheese and traditional pastourma sausages (made using beef, red wine and peppers, and grilled over the fire) washed down with a shot of zivania, which is Cyprus’s answer to brandy. Moving to the lunch table, you’ll usually find Christopsomo (Greek for Christ’s bread) front and centre, a type of bread decorated with a cross that is meant to bring prosperity to the home, plus more grilled meats for all those who follow Greek Orthodox customs and fast, abstaining from meat, for a full 40 days leading up to Christmas.

Image: Alamy

It doesn’t stop there: post-lunch Cypriot coffees are served alongside traditional Christmas sweets like melomakarona, small bites of heaven made with honey and nuts that every Cypriot grandmother starts baking in bulk from mid-December. It’s always a fun day of indulgence and plenty of loud conversation – in true Mediterranean style, people love to turn up the volume and talk over each other, especially when zivania is involved.

But perhaps the best part of the day is a less-official tradition: feeling a little too full and merry, you get to snuggle under a blanket with a good movie, your immediate family (the distant cousins have thankfully returned home by then) and a whole lot of leftovers.

Culture Cuts / Nordic Pop

Join the S-club

Every Saturday until the New Year, we’re presenting the top of the Nordic pops – pop stars from across the region whose catalogues provide ample fodder for your Christmas playlists (writes Gabrielle Dellisanti).

Norway / Astrid S
Astrid S is no newcomer to the Norwegian pop scene (writes Gabriele Dellisanti). In 2021, seven years after putting out her first single, the pop star released her debut full-length record Leave it Beautiful. Its sleek 16-strong tracklist of upbeat tunes celebrate the artist’s distinctive vocal timbre. To keep the nation listening, she has since released collaborations with some of her country’s top musical talents including indie-pop singer Dagny and electronic duo Röyksopp. The atmospheric “Just Wanted to Know” and galvanising “Breathe” will keep you pressing repeat.

If you’re after a seasonal tune to add to the Christmas playlist, the singer’s sentimental “Når Snøen Smelter” was released last year as part of the soundtrack for the fantasy film Tre nøtter til Askepott (Three Stars for Cinderella), in which she also stars as the protagonist. The song is well on its way to becoming Norway’s latest holiday classic.

Fashion / Stephan Boya

Steppe it up

Just off Munich’s Maximilianstrasse and between the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons is the small arched shopfront of Stephan Boya. Lined up on racks inside is a colourful array of soft cashmere knitwear that is hard to resist touching. “With a Boya sweater, you can just throw it on and that’s it,” says co-founder Stephan Fahning. “The quality speaks for itself.”

Stephan Boya was founded in 2009 by Fahning and Glenda Scipio, who met while working for the same advertising agency. The focus of the brand has not shifted ever since: making simple and sustainable 100 per cent cashmere sweaters that can be worn for any occasion by both women and men. Using the finest white fibres from cashmere goats on the Mongolian steppes, all the products are sewn by one family of garment makers in Nepal, who the founders visit twice a year. “We’ve even been on holiday together,” says Fahning.

The design development is led by Scipio, who sticks to highly wearable, mainly monochrome styles. “During the design process, we always say to each other, ‘Would you wear this yourself?’” says Scipio. “As soon as one of us says no, it’s off the table.” Stephan Boya has carved a niche with its chunky cable knits. The sweaters seem made for après-ski afternoons by the fireplace but, given how good they feel on the skin, they are likely to become a daily winter staple.

For more seasonal stories, pick up a copy of Monocle’s winter newspaper, ‘Alpino’.

New Year’s Resolutions / Change your Commute

Pedal power

Monocle’s December/January issue, available to purchase now, has a list of New Year’s Resolutions for personal betterment and enrichment of the soul. We’ll be sharing one every Saturday into the New Year.

“If your ambition is to become more creative and innovative, you should continuously expose your mind to new and challenging situations,” says Philippe Schucht, an expert on how to keep your brain happy. “You must lead it off the beaten track.”

Switch up your commute and electrify your day to change your life and your journey. Our tip is the Ampler Curt e-bike (no grease, no strides tucked into socks). Try heading on a different route once a week: pedal through a new neighbourhood and stop off at a park, museum or restaurant that you’ve never been to. Your calves and brain will appreciate the exercise.

Image: Matthew Beaman


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