Thursday 27 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 27/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Armando Testa

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Pizza the action

Italy’s far-right government has inspired criticism and mockery almost every week since it came to power last October but the latest in a series of state-sponsored initiatives gone wrong might be one of its most embarrassing PR misfires yet. Last week the country’s tourism minister, Daniela Santanchè, unveiled a new marketing campaign called “Open to Meraviglia”. It features Botticelli’s Venus recast as a “virtual influencer”, dressed in a miniskirt, wielding her smartphone in front of Venice’s Piazza San Marco, cycling in front of the Colosseum and eating a pizza on the shores of Lake Como.

Santanchè, in a puzzling state of denial, proudly announced that her €9m project sells “our nation in an unseen way that has never been done before”. Ask anyone, whether they’re in Houston or Hanoi, what they picture when they think of Italy and it’s likely that they will mention a dough-based dish topped with tomato and mozzarella or that curious circular building in Rome with lots of arches and no doors. Meanwhile, since the ad’s release, it has emerged that it inadvertently features stock footage of a Slovenian vineyard and that the ministry failed to secure the campaign’s eponymous online domain.

This kind of tourism strategy is astoundingly shortsighted. At a time when places such as Venice are struggling with having too many visitors – to the point that the city has considered introducing people counters and an entry fee – the campaign feels like banging a worn-out drum. In Portofino, tourists will now be fined if they linger too long in scenic spots to take pictures of themselves. There are, however, plenty of places around the country that remain all but unknown to international audiences.

Most of all, this is an abysmal example of Italian creativity: an ill-considered effort commissioned by patronising, disconnected older people who think that they know what youngsters like. Santanchè could have taken a whirl around Milan’s Salone del Mobile last week to find out what new generations of Italian creatives are up to. I dream of the day when the country’s pitch to international travellers will be as whip-smart as Iceland’s or Tasmania’s. For now, I remain open to disappointment.

Chiara Rimella is Monocle’s executive editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Reuters

Affairs / Sudan

Escape plan

The evacuation of foreign citizens from Sudan continues amid a fragile three-day ceasefire between the country’s military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Countries including France, Italy, Germany and Japan began to extract citizens earlier this week. The UK, meanwhile, came under pressure for its initial decision to prioritise the evacuation of its diplomatic staff over that of its other citizens, about 4,000 of whom reportedly live in Sudan. The first rescue plane for those left behind took off from Khartoum on Tuesday, two days after diplomats departed, with more flights expected over the coming days. “Given that this fighting started a couple of weeks ago and the remoteness of Khartoum, getting planes onto an airfield and evacuating staff is quite a feat,” William Patey, former UK ambassador to Sudan and Afghanistan, tells The Monocle Minute. “The fact that they could get an agreement [with the Sudanese army] in a week is astounding. You can’t just fly into a warzone and hope for the best.”

Image: Reuters

Business / Global

Next generation

The International Energy Agency’s latest forecast, which was published yesterday, predicts that one in five cars sold worldwide this year will be an electric vehicle (EV). Business has accelerated significantly over the past few years: about 14 per cent of all new cars sold in 2022 were electric, almost triple the figure in 2020. To date, China, Europe and the US are the biggest markets for EVs, with the first accounting for 60 per cent of all sales last year.

Elsewhere, consumers in India are snapping up two- and three-wheeled EVs: more than half of the country’s three-wheeler registrations in 2022 were electric. In the US, the market is only set to grow. “Joe Biden lit a fire underneath automakers to go electric last year with a huge raft of subsidies,” business reporter Isobel Hamilton tells The Monocle Minute. “With Tesla currently driving EV prices lower, 2023 will be a huge year for EV sales.”

Image: Paulius Staniunas

Geopolitics / Asia

Regional speciality

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), chaired by Indonesia, has started negotiations with five nuclear-armed countries to sign a treaty against the use of such weapons in the Indo-Pacific. The push to make the region a nuclear-free zone is one of the top priorities set this year by the multilateral organisation, which has 10 member states.

The political and economic bloc also aims to bring together outside partners to ensure regional stability and peace through dialogue. “We have our own agenda to work with all of the major powers – and all of the major powers are our friends,” Asean’s new secretary-general, Kao Kim Hourn (pictured), tells Monocle. Since its foundation, the bloc has increased foreign investment in the region; its combined economy is set to surpass that of Japan’s by the end of the decade. Our behind-the-scenes report from the Asean HQ in the May issue of Monocle, which is out now, shows why it is an organisation to watch.

Pick up the May issue of Monocle magazine now from newsstands or via our online shop – or subscribe so that you never miss an issue.

Image: Meta Campania Collective

Fashion / Italy & Germany

One-stop shop

Italy-based fashion label Meta Campania Collective is starting a pop-up retail series in collaboration with international shops this week. Launched in 2020 by alumni of Bottega Veneta, Loro Piana, Jil Sander and Burberry, the firm is taking residence at Bungalow, a multi-brand retailer in Stuttgart. As well as debuting its “Season 03” summer collection at the one-day opening, it will host an event to meet its growing German clientele.

“Bungalow has carried the brand from its beginnings, so it made for a perfect partner,” says Jon Strassburg, Meta Campania Collective’s co-founder and CEO. Its lines of hand-knitted polo shirts, workwear jackets and cashmere shorts stand out for their classic but lived-in feel. They have also been picked up by retailers including Canada-based Ssense, London’s Browns and Miami’s The Webster. The brand’s commitment to presenting its wares in a bricks-and-mortar setting proves how building a tight-knit network of stockists can benefit labels and shops alike.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

What is at stake in Thailand’s election?

The race to be Thailand’s next prime minister could result in a major opposition victory. Will the election be free and fair? Andrew Mueller speaks to Gwen Robinson, Kiara Kijburana and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, while James Chambers meets Korn Chatikavanij and Tisana Choonhavan.

Monocle Films / London

Glassblowing with Michael Ruh

Nature is a key source of inspiration for glass artist Michael Ruh, who has hand-crafted pieces for leading architects and brands, such as Fortnum & Mason. We visited his south London studio as production was underway for a new commission for The Birch Hotel to hear about his design process.


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