Saturday 22 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 22/4/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

All that glitters

Austria might be the birthplace of Mozart but a gilded piano brought into parliament by another Wolfgang – a politician – is producing nothing but dissonance. Elsewhere, we step into the past with London’s old street signs, some of which are going under the hammer, and take a dim view on the trend for transparent bags. But first, Andrew Tuck contemplates the dress code at Milan Design Week.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Peeling back the layers

There is that moment when the season changes but some folk are reluctant to update their wardrobe. So, on the street, you will see the first-out-of-the-stalls brigade in their shorts and sandals, while others remain swaddled in comforting layers. But in Milan this week, as the temperature nudged above 20C, it felt as though the entire city had vowed not to unpack any summer staples until at least May. As the Monocle team dashed around – well, more sauntered, in my case – for the design week, I began to feel a little too warm for comfort. But dapper Milanese passed by in fluffed-up fleeces and sturdy winter coats.

We managed to entice some city-minded designers to attend Monocle Radio’s pop-up in House of Switzerland’s exhibition space in the Casa degli Artisti so that I could quiz them for this week’s episode of The Urbanist podcast. Among them was Naples-born designer Francesco Pace, who stopped by to talk about his show, Take Care! (which touched on all of the various connotations of that phrase). As he prepared to leave, he put on a sweater, picked up a giant Arctic-worthy coat and retrieved his woolly hat. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked with some alarm. “Aren’t you hot?” He replied very sweetly, “My mum always warned me to wrap up warm because otherwise you might catch a chill. I follow her advice.”

There were plenty of amusing, inspiring and wise moments onstage this week too. Monocle and Swiss appliance-maker V-Zug partnered for two nights of panel debates that were held in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli. The theme was the circular economy but the conversation ranged far and wide, taking in everything from coats worn for decades to how to be a good client. On the first night, Tyler and I followed tradition and introduced the panel. On the second night we switched things up and asked our guests to introduce themselves as if they were standing at a US immigration checkpoint and needed to succinctly and persuasively sum up their positions. Designer and architect Sam Chermayeff began by explaining that he lived between the US and Berlin but Tyler stopped him there. “Sorry, this is sounding very suspicious,” he interjected. Patricia Viel, who runs ACPV Architects with Antonio Citterio, simply said, “I am an architect,” but she delivered the line with such authority that we all agreed that nobody would dare to question her any further. And, well, Llisa Demetrios – granddaughter of Ray and Charles Eames, chief curator of the Eames Institute and a US citizen – was more likely to have a cavalcade waiting.

On the first night we were joined by architects Caroline Bos and Alexandra Hagen; gallerist, publisher and business founder Carla Sozzani; and Marcel Niederberger, head of sustainability at V-Zug. What was great about these conversations was how deep and nuanced the thinking was around creating more sustainable design and how we need to be wary of anything that looks like a quick fix. Caroline and Alexandra, for example, agreed that just because something is made from timber, it doesn’t mean that it’s all good: timber towers might be the solution that you require but they still involve the harvesting of a valuable asset and sticking all of that wood together also requires the use of some unfriendly glues.

It was the wonderful Carla Sozzani, however, who talked about the value of enduring design and the pleasure that she gets from putting on a much-loved coat that she purchased decades ago. Perhaps that’s why Italians are slow to ditch their layers: they want to get all of the joyful wear that they can out of the things that they own and cherish.

For more about Milan Design Week, pick up a copy of Monocle’s dedicated design newspaper, ‘Salone del Mobile Special’, which is available on select newsstands across Europe and online now.

The Look / See-through handbags

Full transparency

A particularly revealing item is back in fashion – and it’s hurting my sensibility (writes Chiara Rimella). I don’t mean low-cut jeans or budgie smugglers. I am referring to PVC handbags: thick, transparent plastic pieces that shamelessly display their contents like an airport X-ray machine. Among the many 1990s-throwback items that are dragging on the progression of fashion, this is one of the most difficult to unsee. PVC handbags were the culmination of that decade’s obsession with plasticky neon colours and clothes that squeaked when worn. They speak (or squeak) of a more innocent time when things felt as though they didn’t need hiding, largely because they were the preferred choice of prepubescent children (and I was one of them) who only really carried around their gel pens and diary.

Image: Getty Images

Not so now. The grown-ups have adopted the PVC bag and can choose to assume one of two attitudes: extreme self-editing or a total lack of public restraint, both of which feel representative of the modern condition. Those who fill their bag only with a neatly arranged phone and wallet are lying to themselves and others. Very rarely do we transport only the absolute necessities. The bottom of a well-used handbag is more often a graveyard of ticket stubs, pens, tissue packets, four-day-old newspapers, painkillers, lipstick… Everybody knows this but no one should have to see it. The PVC bag offers no choice: to lie or to reveal the ugly, uncomfortable truth.

How we live / The ill-tempered clavier

Keys to power

“Here comes the piano man,” someone whispered behind me, as Wolfgang Sobotka, president of the lower chamber of Austria’s parliament, appeared from behind a door and swaggered towards a dais (writes Alexei Korolyov). This ceremony, in January, was one of several to mark the reopening of Vienna’s historic parliament building. But most of those present were interested less in the building’s €400m refurbishment project than in Sobotka’s decision to spend €36,000 to hire a Bösendorfer grand piano inlaid with laurel-leaf ornaments plated with 23-carat gold for his new digs. Many Austrians were incensed. A gilded piano at a time of high inflation and soaring energy bills – the satirical cartoons almost drew themselves.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

It didn’t matter that the Austrian state had paid a good deal more (€1.8m) for a handful of artworks intended to “democratise” the building’s imperial-era halls. The gold piano became a metaphor for the people’s loss of faith in their out-of-touch representatives. Last month a pensioner glued himself to the instrument in protest, saying, “This piano is a symbol of decadence and aloofness. I have had enough!” At the January ceremony, Sobotka’s speech about a new era of modern, transparent politics that the refurbished building supposedly represents sounded more than a little off-key.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Emerald in the rough

If you’re interested in top travel tips and recommendations for the world’s most rarefied destinations, The Concierge now also exists in podcast form. Click here if you would like some pointers about somewhere you’re visiting. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

My wife and I are planning a three-day stopover in Seattle on our way to see family on Maui. Which district should we stay in? And are you able to recommend any boutique hotels, good restaurants and places of interest that are not full of tourists?

Kind regards,
Stuart Pearce,
Ellös, Sweden

Image: Alamy

Dear Stuart,

Welcome to the Emerald City. Downtown Seattle’s hotel offerings are exceptional. Consider Palihotel or The State for digs in historic brick buildings or check into Thompson Seattle for contemporary design – and preferred access to its ace rooftop bar, The Nest. South Korean brand Lotte’s first stateside property is renowned for crisp service and it’s just a block from the Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library (pictured).

Start your day at Monorail Espresso’s kiosk, then move swiftly past the crowds at Pike Place Market watching fish-throwing. Tuck into local favourites: Bacco Café for Dungeness crab Benedict; Jarr Bar for hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs; Sushi Kashiba for omakase; and Zig Zag Café for a nightcap. Downtown also boasts two dinner theatres with respectable menus: Can Can for cabaret burlesque and The Triple Door for live music and theatre. In nearby Belltown, The Crocodile’s multiple stages are a reliable source of live entertainment.

Head north to Ballard for shopping and dining (try all-day café Sabine). The fishing boats might look familiar to you, coming from Sweden – once a Scandinavian immigrant destination, this neighbourhood is now home to the expertly curated National Nordic Museum. Don’t miss the Ballard Locks, an engineering marvel. Heading east from Downtown takes you straight up Capitol Hill, where you’ll find the city’s best bookshop, Elliott Bay Book Company, and the charming eatery Oddfellows. Both Melrose Market and Chophouse Row offer eclectic combinations of shopping and dining. Walk south to Pioneer Square and a clutch of art galleries. For a day trip, hop aboard a Washington State Ferry en route to the always charming Bainbridge Island. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a whale. Either way, have a whale of a time!

The Interrogator / Joselina Cruz

Just like clockwork

Joselina Cruz is the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila. Before taking up the post, she worked at the Singapore Art Museum and for the Jakarta Biennale. Here, Cruz tells us about her favourite Manila bookshop and art podcasts.

Image: Sam L. Marcelo

What news source do you wake up to?
It’s usually Reuters on Alexa.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Almost always a latte, which takes me through until my first meal at about noon.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
The few physical magazines that I still browse include ArtAsiaPacific and, now and then, Artforum back issues. Other than those, everything is online. I scroll through Ocula, Art Review and Mousse.

What newspaper do you turn to?
News website Rappler. Here in the Philippines, there are very few spaces for journalism that can still be trusted or are of consequence.

Favourite bookshop?, which distributes a wide range of Philippine art and culture books online. It also has a lovely physical shop, which is nestled inside a photography studio in Manila.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
The Art Newspaper’s A Brush with…, hosted by Ben Luke.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
Mostly classical music: Offenbach’s Barcarolle, parts of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. They are on a playlist that I made to help calm my dog in the evenings. It was especially useful during the period of the pandemic when we were housebound. It has now become a regular thing and the music goes on at the same time every night.

Fashion update / Gucci X Nomad

Flux capacities

This year, Gucci is returning its focus to its house classics (writes Natalie Theodosi). It has reinstated an archival 1950s logo, along with signature tailoring designs, horse-bit shoulder bags and monogrammed luggage sets that celebrate travel. This refreshed vision has resulted in a collaboration with Nomad design fair. Dubbed “Artists in Flux”, the project sends creatives from various backgrounds to cities around the world to celebrate design, art and architecture.

Image: Alex Majoli / Magnum Photos
Image: Alex Majoli / Magnum Photos

This week, at Milan’s Salone del Mobile design fair, Gucci and Nomad brought together a group of New York-based artists to highlight the creative energy of the Big Apple. Among them were Rebecca Ness, whose oil paintings take inspiration from everyday moments; the Objects of Common Interest collective, founded by Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis, who are based between Athens and New York; and CFGNY, a multidisciplinary collective that explores race and identity through garments, sculptures and large-scale installations. The project is helping Gucci to achieve what many fashion brands have been striving for lately: to experiment with new creative mediums and become better established beyond the catwalk.

Photo of the Week / ‘Dialect’, Felipe Romero Beltrán

Waiting game

Colombian photographer Felipe Romero Beltrán’s new book, Dialect, published by Loose Joints, documents Spain’s immigration system by focusing on a group of young Moroccan men who are stuck in a detention centre (writes Kamila Lozinska).

Image: Felipe Romero Beltrán / Loose Joints

Beltrán visited the men over three years – the time it takes to obtain legal status – and illustrated their sense of limbo with a collection of candid, moving images. The mixture of documentary and choreography allows for poignant flashes of personality, exhibiting the men’s self-awareness and their brutal situation.

What am I bid? / London street signs

Memory lane

Want an authentic piece of London history (asks Charlotte Banks)? More than 300 of the UK capital’s distinctive black, white and red street signs are going under the hammer on 18 May. All of the signs up for sale in the online auction were installed in the City of Westminster in the 1950s and 1960s, when London was the swinging-est town in the West. Most feature the now iconic font designed in 1967 by British-Azeri designer Misha Black, who was then professor of industrial design at the Royal College of Art. Black created the bold, red-and-black lettering for Westminster with readability in mind. It has since become de rigueur across the city. “People are most interested in Soho Square,” auctioneer Catherine Southon tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. This lot, which bears the scars of its 60 years in the street, is expected to go for about £100 (€113).


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