Saturday 14 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 14/1/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Full of character

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning the chair from which Donald Trump’s Twitter account might have been deleted, we have the auction for you. Elsewhere, we ruminate on the abundance of white trousers in Florence, get into gear at an Australian motoring meet and leaf through the fantastical tales of a Japanese writer. Andrew Tuck leads us to the departure gates with a note on the importance of brand values.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Living image

On Monday night my partner got back to England from a trip to the US. When he landed at Heathrow, he phoned me from the plane. About 30 minutes later he called again: they were finally about to disembark. The delay? Nobody had been available to connect the air bridge. Welcome to London. I promise not to be too curmudgeonly this morning but do you mind if there’s a small rant about brand values?

An airport is the first – and last – experience that anyone has of a nation. While a hitch with an air bridge might seem too much of a trifle to fuss over, such things are a common part of the experience of using the UK’s main airport. Just on my recent trips, there was the time when the trainee operator couldn’t work out how to connect the air bridge; then there was another when everyone got off the plane, only to be trapped by a locked door at the top of the gangway (10 minutes later a member of staff remembered and swiped their pass to grant us freedom). Last week, while we were waiting to take off for Zürich, the captain announced that the airport’s electricity supply was down, so they were unable to refuel the plane. Luckily, someone fixed the issue – or paid the bill. Heathrow, like all of the UK, is no doubt short of staff since Brexit and coronavirus but such hitches aren’t a good start or end to anyone’s engagement with brand Britain.

On Sunday I went to see a friend who has an apartment opposite a Starbucks in a posh part of London where you would imagine that everyone is precious about appearances. Outside his building there’s a small paved terrace and it has some interesting decorations: Starbucks cups discarded there by the café’s customers. He spoke to the manager some months ago and, for a couple of days, people did come to collect the cups but now this is his task. Starbucks loudly trumpets all of the good that it’s doing in the world but when its staff leave at the end of their shift, they see no shame in their company’s brand being embossed on the neighbourhood’s litter.

Or how about Lime, the shared bike and scooter business? In my neighbourhood, as in much of London, car-parking bays have been turned into places to leave a bike at the end of a ride and there’s usually a heap of various brands’ two-wheelers piled up willy-nilly. But the Lime bikes have become very popular with some youngsters because, apparently, they have a design flaw: with a whack of a hammer they can be unlocked and stolen in seconds. And off they go, the thieves, weaving through traffic, bells ringing. Surely Lime knows that it has become the getaway vehicle of choice for gang kids? I looked up Lime’s list of “core values” and near the top comes “mobility for all”. I wonder if they would mind changing that to “almost all”?

Protecting values is hard work and something that we at Monocle also deal with as a business. In the magazine, we champion the power of being hospitable, the value of craft, being community-minded and engaging in debate; we also try our hardest to ensure that these values – and many more – shape how we engage with people who come in contact with Monocle. No doubt there are still frustrations but I’d like to think that we have built a team that cares about where our logo appears and how visitors are looked after when they make the effort to come to Midori House; and that, if a member of the team saw a Monocle coffee cup tumbling in the breeze down Chiltern Street, they would stop to pick it up.

Over the years I have met many amazing brand gatekeepers who have been swift at taking the tough decisions needed to ensure that their company’s name stood for something. A friend who founded a highly successful menswear company told me how he had once paused at traffic lights next to a bus stop where two men were wearing tops emblazoned with his brand’s – and his actual – name. He looked their way for two seconds and one of them caught his eye and came over to the car, swearing and asking, “What the fuck are you looking at?” As he pulled away from the lights he made the decision to drop this line from his collection.

Brand management can be a demanding and complicated business, one built on precise and considered values. Yet if you don’t get the small things sorted and make everyone feel that taking care of the brand is part of their job description, it doesn’t matter how ambitious your core values are because you will soon be judged – and judged wanting.

The Look / Winter whites

In the snow

Menswear trade fair Pitti Immagine Uomo is, naturally, fertile ground for trend-spotting (writes Natalie Theodosi). It’s only a matter of time after arriving in Florence for the event before you start seeing a certain silhouette or design that the fashion crowd has anointed as the must-have of the season. Often it takes a day or two to connect the dots; not this year. I had only been in town for a morning before the look of the moment had made itself known: winter whites.

Image: Getty Images

On my way to the fair’s focal point in the Fortezza da Basso, I counted some 20 men sporting white trousers. Some went the classic route – pairing them with navy blazers – while others layered them with flowing tailored coats or khaki parkas; sportier types, meanwhile, tucked their trousers into high-top sneakers and ankle boots. The look of one Italian buyer who paired his loose white corduroy trousers with two oatmeal-hued jackets layered on top of each other was a particular standout; there’s something elegant about soft colour palettes that bring to mind snowy landscapes.

So why the collective appeal of the white stuff? Well, it’s a chic, simple solution for standing out in a crowd. The alternative – resorting to loud prints or complicated patterns – isn’t as easy on the eye and gives the impression of trying too hard. But mix touches of white with sharp tailoring and neutral shades, and you are guaranteed success. Many of the brands on show at Pitti, which wrapped yesterday, also gave the look their seal of approval, from Brunello Cucinelli’s white cords paired with alpine-inspired knits to Handpicked’s loose white denim and Altea’s classic tailored styles. Just don’t fall into the trap of a few Pitti-goers by opting for skinny fits in white – these look uncomfortable and, erm, immodest.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Splendour in the Gràcia

With 2023 in full swing and a cold winter biting (in the northern hemisphere at least), now seems like as good a time as any to start planning your escape. If you would like some expert recommendations (places to eat, stay and visit) for whichever destination you choose, click here. We will answer one question every week.

Image: Anna Huix

Dear Concierge,

I would love a few recommendations for live music and restaurants in the neighbourhood of Gràcia, Barcelona.

¡Muchas Gracias!
Sabina Nagpal,

Dear Sabina,

With its combination of village-like charm and urban bustle, Gràcia is teeming with excellent places to grab a bite. For Catalan cuisine, our pick is Fonda Pepa (pictured). Despite only opening in 2021, it has the old-school feel of a restaurant well beyond its years, thanks in part to its gleaming marble tables and chequerboard tiled floors. There is also an open kitchen, which means that you can admire the view as chefs prepare refined-but-hearty dishes such as flame-grilled tuna or roasted shoulder of beef. The team behind the restaurant recently opened a small deli, Cansaladeria Pedro Paco, where you can pick up local charcuterie and Catalan natural wine. Seafood restaurant Lluritu is another neighbourhood highlight but be sure to book ahead. Its menu is an unfussy array of super-fresh catches, with the seafood paella, grilled octopus and cuttlefish tartare particularly renowned; order a mix of plates for the table and sample them all.

Strict late-night noise restrictions mean that Gràcia might not be your best bet for live music so consider heading to La Nau in Poblenou or Sala Apolo in Montjuïc for the best that Barcelona has to offer in this regard. If you are set on staying in Gràcia, however, check out the line-up at Heliogàbal. This pint-sized venue – with a capacity of just 66 – is known as a launchpad for local talent and will give you a good taste of the city’s emerging music scene. ¡Diverteix-te!

How we live / Hoon culture

Reinventing the wheels

You see, hear and smell Summernats before you reach it (writes Andrew Mueller). You see the tyre smoke rising from Canberra’s Exhibition Park, you hear the screaming of hundreds of engines and then you smell the combined emissions of these tyres and engines. Summernats is an annual automotive festival, first held in Australia’s capital in 1987. It is a big deal: 2023’s four-day event drew a record attendance of more than 125,000 (for perspective, Canberra’s population is about 400,000). The stars are the cars: Summernats is a shrine to lavishly souped-up, lovingly restored and luridly repainted Australian classics.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Other attractions include a mullet competition (which many of those present seem qualified to enter), lawnmower racing and burnout competitions. Burnouts have limits as a spectator sport: after a few seconds it is impossible to see the cars for smoke. Crowds nevertheless encourage the competitors by waggling their index fingers – the burnout equivalent of applauding a bullfighter with cheers of “Olé!” At this year’s event, the most-waggled fingers were reserved for the driver of a bronze Holden Commodore, who not only burst his rear tyres but also set the back of his car ablaze.

There is a more serious – and somewhat melancholy – undertow to Summernats. Though its attendees might be derided as “hoons” (loutish drivers), they are diligent custodians of a peculiar heritage. Australians don’t really make cars anymore; Holden wound up in 2020 and its great rival Ford ceased local production in 2016. It is a shame because the country used to design cars that looked like no other: Holden’s stolid Kingswood, stately Statesman, svelte Monaro and pugnacious Torana, not to mention Ford’s glorious lineage of Falcons, especially the two-door variant that endures as the definitive hoon-mobile. At Summernats, these fabulous machines live, breathe and roar again.

House news / ‘The Monocle Companion’

By your side

The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future is brimming with canny, clever and upbeat ideas – modest, big and world-changing – to improve everything from our daily lives to public discourse. There are also suggestions for solving some of the thorny problems that the world is facing. The second outing of our popular paperback format is packed with knowing nudges, inspiring ideas and positive suggestions for fixing things. Pick up your copy of The Monocle Companionhere.

Culture Cuts / Listen / Visit / Read

Delightful diversions

‘Pensando Mucho y Mal’, Lusillón. This collection of laid-back, bossa nova-tinged pop songs builds on the singles that Lusillón has been releasing since she began self-producing her particular brand of bedroom pop during the first lockdown. The Madrid-based singer-songwriter’s soft debut album spans everything from melancholia to carefree joyfulness, with songs on the intensity of friendship as well as the frustrations of failed relationships.

‘Genevieve Chua’, STPI. If you’re in town for the inaugural edition of Singapore’s hallmark new fair Art SG, make time to stray away from the booths and into STPI. This contemporary art gallery is one of the city’s most experimental destinations and is staging a solo show by Genevieve Chua, featuring the Singaporean artist’s minimalist creations in cement and sandpaper – a series of abstract pieces that feel like tactile studies in brutalism.

‘Night Train to the Stars’, Kenji Miyazawa. This Japanese writer found fame for his poetry and short stories only after his death in 1933. At last, this sublime collection introduces English-speaking readers to his curious and whimsical world. Think fairy tales featuring a Westernised fox and a folkloristic earth-god, a corrupt police chief, a hunter chasing a bear and a rude and ungrateful rat.

Outpost news / ‘Jornal de Mafra’

Talk of the town

About 40km northwest of Lisbon, on the fringes of a national park, sits Mafra. This ancient town with a population of about 80,000, is home to one of Portugal’s most significant works of baroque architecture: the Palácio de Mafra. In 2019 the iconic lemon-hued building was given Unesco World Heritage status. Here, Paulo Quintela, director of Jornal de Mafra, tells us about his hometown, the origins of its newspaper and the best spot for seafood after work.

Image: Alamy

Tell me about the history of the newspaper.
Jornal de Mafra is a regional online-only newspaper founded in October 2014. It was created in response to the need for an independent, modern and reader-centred outlet covering local political, cultural and sports news.

What’s the big story this week?
The decision by the CNPD [Portuguese Data Protection Commission] to acquit the mayor of Mafra regarding the disclosure of the personal data of victims of coronavirus in the town.

Which events will you be covering in the next few months?
A big event for us every year is the Festival do Pão, an annual summer arts festival with loads of wonderful performers. Due to our proximity to the Atlantic coast, we also cover many surfing events, such as the Malveira em Festa.

What local spots do you and your colleagues enjoy spending time at after work?
Ericeira is a fishing village in the municipality of Mafra where we can drink good beer and eat good seafood, with the sea as a landscape and the good people of the village as company.

What am I bid? / Twitter office sale

Going cheep

Elon Musk’s tragedy has been, perhaps, failing to understand that one does not need to spend $44bn (€40bn) to beclown oneself on Twitter; people do it for free all the time. After taking over the social network last October, Musk jettisoned quite a lot: staff, rules, common sense, credibility, the price of Tesla stock. Along with these has gone a quantity of suddenly redundant office equipment, which will be auctioned by Heritage Global Partners on Tuesday.

Image: Heritage Global Partners

Much of this is generic – projectors, flat screens and furniture – though one chair might, perhaps, possess historical cachet as the very one from which Donald Trump’s account was suspended. But there are some genuine relics which might be coveted by the Twitterphile pre-emptively mourning the implosion of the platform: a statue of its bluebird logo; a neon light rendering of the same image; a wooden planter in the shape of an “@”.

There is a case for prudent investors to hold off, however. If Musk continues to steward Twitter with the decorum he has displayed so far, a few months from now you might be able to pick up the entire company for less than the reserve price of a surplus coffee grinder.


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