Saturday 8 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 8/4/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Staying in step

How do you put your best foot forward when your socks are riding down? That’s just one of the matters pondered by Andrew Tuck this week. Among others elsewhere are the names of metro lines, the appeal of the last Chinese emperor’s watch and the hidden corners of Venice that are worth seeking out. Plus: how to hide from facial-recognition technology.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

You are what you wear

What do other men know that I don’t? Well, quite a lot I imagine. But my knowledge-gap concern today is about something very specific: socks. I have nice new loafers that seem to be the perfect fit, snug even. But if I walk for just five minutes, my hosiery sets off on a journey all of its own, slowly edging past my ankles, bunching at my heels. This forces me to stop and flip one foot up after the other so that I can yank the slinky socks back into position. That’s a lot of showgirl dance manoeuvres to perform even on the short walk from the office to The Monocle Café.

Midori House is in a part of Marylebone with a strong contingent of hedge-fund types who have the stealth-wealth look down pat: a good trouser, a gilet under their jacket, fulsome pomaded hair – and nice loafers. And, from what I have observed, none of them seem to be flicking their heels for urgent sock-rescue missions as they pace the streets. I really need their advice – on socks not stocks – but it’s a hard conversation to start in the coffee queue. “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you wearing sock garters by any chance?”

I took Jack, our editorial assistant, for lunch this week and a couple of seconds after we had sat down, he said, “Don’t look now but the actor Paul Rudd is on the table behind you.” I immediately looked and there he was. But there were two people next to us who I found far harder to ignore. A mother and son having lunch. She poised, beautiful, blonde hair scraped back and tied in a ponytail, a good bouclé jacket that hinted at an ordered wealthy life. He, perhaps 16, in teenager sweatpants-uniform land. What caught my attention, though, was that they were consuming their meal in almost total silence. This was because when the boy wasn’t eating, he was watching a video on his phone, balanced on his lap. There was no animosity between them. She would smile at him. But mostly just looked straight ahead for much of the time, frozen in her thoughts. It was tempting to ask her to join us but that would have been another hard-to-start conversation. And I guess it was just a moment in the dislocation that happens – by necessity – between parent and child at some point. But, observed so close up, it was a little heart-breaking. I found myself relaxing when they left.

The decoding of how we dress has become a whole genre of style writing – much of it very good. In part this has been spurred on by the costume teams of high-production-value TV shows where the minutiae of what each character sports are agonised over with almost scientific rigour. And at the pinnacle of this trend is the HBO series Succession.

In the opening episode of the current season, Tom corners Cousin Greg about the inappropriateness of his date for the evening. And the reason he knows she’s not part of the Logan family world? She has a “ludicrously capacious” Burberry bag on her shoulder that makes it clear to Tom this is a woman with too pedestrian a life for his liking. “What is even in there?,” says Tom, hissing. “Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail? It’s gargantuan. You could take it camping. You could slide it across the floor after a bank job.” That small scene has prompted Bletchley Park levels of decoding activity in the media as writers address their readers’ fashion anxieties – “Is your bag too big?”.

Worrying about the meanings given off by what we wear, however, is also born out of the post-pandemic shift in work patterns which, in many industries, has forced men and women out of their dull but safe suits and twinsets, and into a world of unsure freedoms. Now that on paper you can wear anything to work, how do you know whether you look the part?

I went for a breakfast briefing this week with a leading property company that has a fascinating in-house team of design experts and analysts. They track every shift in demand but also help to shape the market, suggesting to property owners which sectors will need office space – whether, say, urban farming will really take off. But I liked that Steve, a skilled and eloquent human geographer, could also decode fashion. He referenced his knitwear: a quarter-zipped collared top of the variety that all those loafer boys adore and which in the UK the likes of Prince William and our prime minister, Rishi Sunak, are devotees of. A single garment that, for now, marks you as safe-hands, considered, part of the team and no-longer a suit dependent – and a little bit of a Succession-style fan too. He’d got the style memo. And saggy socks? What do they say? That it’s probably time to get out the brogues again.

The Look / Facial recognition soft wear

Hiding in plain sight

The principal concerns when choosing an outfit for the day are, of course, whether it looks sharp and is suited to the weather (writes Christopher Lord). And now there’s another point to consider: can you scramble facial-recognition technology? Fortunately, an Italian firm, Cap_able, has you covered – literally. Cap_able makes knitwear in patterns that convince street cameras that you are not actually a human but a herd of grazing zebras or a disconcertingly short giraffe, thereby keeping your face out of the system and allowing you to maintain your look exclusively for the eyes of man.

Image: Capable

Woven in the famous Filmar textile mills, the label describes its Manifesto collection as being made from an “adversarial fabric” (100 per cent Egyptian cotton) that “wants to protect the individual from the abuse of new artificial technologies”. A noble cause, no doubt, if perhaps right now better suited to the streets of Xinjiang than Milan. The only trouble with Cap_able’s garb is that you’re hardly incognito wearing one of these technicolour onesies; you might confuse the cameras but those on the street will suspect that you just staggered out of an all-night rave. Perhaps that’s the look.

How we live / Name game

Lines of least resistance

There are cities – such as New York, Paris, Madrid – that keep it simple and identify their subway lines by letters and numbers (writes Andrew Mueller). Or after the colours in which they are drawn on the map – New Delhi, Boston, Washington. London is not one of those cities. Its Underground lines are individually named, some prosaically (Central, Northern, Circle), some more evocatively (Piccadilly, Metropolitan, District) and one just plain awkwardly: the Bakerloo line is a portmanteau of its original name, the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. The lines of London’s Overground system, however, are not formally named. But this is set to change.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

Transport for London, the body responsible for the UK capital’s trains and buses, intends to – somehow – spend £4m (€4.5m) on naming the six lines of the Overground. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has previously signalled that these names should reflect London’s historic diversity and “put some of our forgotten people and places back on the map”. This is a nice enough idea but there are probably pretty sound reasons why the three most recent names given to London train lines have all taken the consensual cop-out option of honouring royalty (Victoria, Jubilee, Elizabeth).

An epic – and epically tedious – culture-war squabble looms, though there will be a certain bleak amusement to be derived from the spectacle of angry dingbats threatening to boycott a railway line for being unacceptably woke. Mercifully, there is as yet no suggestion that the travelling public will be invited to vote on suggested names; we shall at least be spared the indignity of commuting on Liney McLineface.

The Concierge / Your questions answered

Searching for serenity

We hope you’re off somewhere nice this Easter weekend. But whether you are or not, tune in to Monocle Radio’s The Concierge podcast to be transported around the world via listener questions and hear the latest travel news. If you are travelling anywhere and would like some expert recommendations, click here to ask the Concierge a question. We will answer one every week.

Dear Concierge,

What hidden gems can you recommend in Venice?

All the best,
Mary Kay Jezzini,

Image: James Mollison

Dear Mary Kay,

At Monocle, we’re big fans of exploring the less-congested islands of Venice, and the best way to do that is with a boat guide like Francesco Pannoli of E-Concepts. Or you can simply ride the vaporetto away from the crowds to check out true local traditions, such as artisans making works in glass conceived by some of today’s top contemporary artists at Berengo Studio on Murano, the craft of longboat fabrication at Squero Tramontin or lessons in rowing those same boats at Remiera Vogaepara.

Visit the quietest corner of La Serenissima on the island of San Francesco del Deserto: a monastery that welcomes visitors for meditative weekend retreats and tours of its medieval cloisters and concrete chapel built by architect Camillo Bianchi in the 1960s. The uncrowded islands also offer better eating, from old-fashioned Trattoria Altanella to Venissa and its vineyard on Mazzorbo. Closer to the centre, we can’t wait to try the new Mezzanine Bistrot inside Palazzo Grassi, created by the team from Vino Vero, a beloved natural-wine bar and another great place to enjoy Venice away from the mass of tourists. Buon viaggio!

The Interrogator / Pierre Thiam

Cards on the table

Pierre Thiam is a Senegalese chef and author based in New York. He is famed for helping to bring West African cuisine to a fine-dining audience and his company, Yolélé, advocates for farmers in the Sahel. Here, Thiam tells us about his favourite bookshop in the Big Apple and the unfortunate song that he can’t get out of his head.

What news source do you wake up to?
I usually wake up to NPR, which is a mix of breaking news, analysis and music.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Coffee. I’m a New Yorker, after all.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
It depends. It goes from jazz standards or West African 1970s hits to my 22-month-old daughter Na’ia’s favourite song of the moment: “Baby Shark”.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The New Yorker, Food & Wine, Kinfolk, The Economist and Monocle.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?
New York has so many; it’s a book lover’s paradise. I especially love Kitchen Arts & Letters, Rizzoli, Housing Works Bookstore and Strand. Omnivore Books in San Francisco should get an honourable mention.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Most recently, I have been listening to How I Built This, The Moth and Snap Judgement.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
Definitely Inventing Anna. It’s a docu-series about Anna Sorokin, a Russian woman who conned members of New York high society into giving her hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cash and gifts by convincing them that she was a wealthy German heiress.

Culture / Read / Watch / Listen

Dancing with the devil

‘Dance Your Way Home’, Emma Warren. Journalist Emma Warren’s book traces the history of how we dance and why we find moving to a beat so irresistible. Having carried out strenuous dance-floor research, Warren ties together language, music, politics and history in this exploration of why dance both shapes and mirrors life. Spanning a vast range of decades and geographies, this energising book is a reminder of why it’s important to shake it off.

‘The Five Devils’, Léa Mysius. Acclaimed French screenwriter Léa Mysius’s second feature in the director’s chair is an eerie meditation on time, love and family secrets. Eight-year-old Vicky possesses a special power: a hyper-acute sense of smell that allows her to identify and reproduce any odour. When her mysterious aunt Julia suddenly reappears in her family’s life, memories from the past resurface. Sitting at the intersection between melodrama and time-travel sci-fi, The Five Devils is a film of operatic proportions.

‘Intérieur Vie’, Hervé. Hervé’s sophomore record proves that there are ways of writing profound songs while keeping a catchy pop edge. Intérieur Vie is a more introspective album compared to the singer’s debut but still features a generous helping of the soft electro beats that he has become known for. The uplifting “D’où Je Viens” (“Where I Come From”) is a literal return to the roots that pays tribute to his Breton heritage.

Fashion Update / L/Uniform

Market fresh

A new L/Uniform shop has opened its doors on Paris’s Left Bank (writes Claudia Jacob). The boutique, located in St Germain des Prés, features sleek interiors inspired by founder Jeanne Signoles’s numerous trips to Japan and her love of work by Tokyo-based architect Junzo Yoshimura. “The interior is warm and calm but also structured, just like it is in my home,” Signoles tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. She worked with Swedish architects Christian and Ruxandra Halleroed to create a space that blends design elements from Japan, Scandinavia and her native France.

Signoles remains a firm believer in the value of the in-person shopping experience, allowing her to showcase the high quality of the full L/Uniform product line, which includes some 120 accessories, handbags and suitcases. It’s why she is already plotting more retail openings in Japan, China and South Korea for later in the year. Watch this space.

What am I bid? / Puyi’s Patek Philippe

Temporal revolution

Of the 10 most expensive watches ever sold, the only non-Patek Philippe is a Rolex Daytona owned by Paul Newman. That fetched $17.75m (€16.22m) in 2017; the all-timer is a one-off Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime that went for $31.19m (€28.5m) in 2019. The records might shortly require rewriting. London auctioneers Phillips will auction, on a date to be confirmed, a Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune that is not only old and rare but belonged to the last Emperor of China.

Image: Phillips

Puyi had one of the more melancholic royal careers ever recorded. He became emperor in 1908, aged two, was compelled to abdicate by the Xinhai Revolution four years later and was restored in 1917 – but only for 11 days. In 1934 he launched a dismally compromised comeback as emperor of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo; after the Second World War, he was jailed as a war criminal.

This watch seems to have been purchased in Paris in 1937. Puyi gave it to his Russian translator, Georgy Permyakov, while he was a Soviet prisoner shortly after the war. It was exhibited in Hong Kong in March, with New York, Singapore, London, Taipei and Geneva still to come before it is sold. However spectacular the price, it will doubtless hold value: an artefact evoking a wretched figure whose timing, ironically, was always off.


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