Saturday 3 June 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 3/6/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

What’s the story?

This week we note the resurgence of Issey Miyake’s pleated clothing, ponder art gallery etiquette and bid on some Eurovision props – but all after a jolly weekend jaunt to Brussels. First, editor in chief Andrew Tuck reveals what makes a sharp story and where plants go to die.

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Green goodbye

The fiddle-leaf fig – that large, tree-like house plant that appears in just about every interiors shoot – is the stroppy teenager of the vegetation world. It complains if you give it too much water, its leaves losing their lustre and developing unbecoming blotches. It rebels if you underwater it, throwing its fraught foliage on the floor. We have had one for about three years and there was a point when I eyed it while holding a pair of secateurs, wondering how quickly I could dismember its barren branches and dispatch it to an early bin-bag grave. But now, suddenly, it has decided to do its thing and is busily sprouting new leaves. There has been a stay of execution. The rubber plant, meanwhile, has never faltered and just grows and grows, and now requires rehousing.

Every now and then you have to go back to the beginning. When people ask me what I do for work I usually just say, “I’m a journalist.” But the truth is that when you become an editor your focus usually shifts from writing – well, apart from whimsical columns – to sending off talented writers to do the work. When a story needs telling your mental Rolodex spins as you think who would be best for the task: will it need someone with a nose for politics, a sense of humour, a driving licence, fluency in Italian, the ability to file at speed or all of the above? But, occasionally, you need to dispatch yourself to ensure that your writing muscles don’t develop bingo wings.

A few weeks ago, I headed to Bratislava to spend some time in the city for a report that will be in our July/August Quality of Life special (and, as the title of the issue makes clear, this was hardly going to be anything akin to front-line reporting). There was a story that we had wanted to do for ages and I had the contacts, so why not?

When you are editing copy, there are problems that arise again and again. One of the most common is a consequence of “over-reporting”. A writer becomes so caught up in a story that they end up interviewing far more people than can ever be slotted into a pithy 1,500-word dispatch. That’s not a problem until they try to do just that. Sometimes copy lands with me that features more voices than a Greek chorus. Every paragraph introduces a new name, a different perspective. Usually, at this point, you will have a quick call with the writer and remind them that sometimes fewer voices are what’s needed; that our duty here is to the reader.

Then you find yourself sitting at home one Saturday morning, listening to all the interviews that you did for a story in Bratislava and facing the brutal task of deciding what should make it onto the page and how to find a narrative line that’s accurate, fair and easy to follow. And what details need to be lost.

There was one small aside that even I realised couldn’t make the page. I had a tour of the city’s revitalised Old Market Hall with a wonderful urban visionary called Gábor Bindics (you’ll definitely hear more from him in the report) and he showed me an airy space that they hadn’t known what to do with. Bindics came up with an idea: to make it a care home for unruly, sad or needy plants. So when your fiddle-leaf fig starts shedding its leaves or your rubber plant outgrows its perch, you can bring them here to see out the rest of their lives. Anyway, the story goes to print this weekend and you can judge whether it’s an easy read. And if you want to know more about Bratislava, well, it turns out that I have enough material for a book.

We got to see a real Greek chorus last Friday. In Athens. Nic Monisse, Monocle’s design editor, and I were in the city for the Rolex Arts Festival, which was taking place to celebrate 20 years of the company’s highly lauded mentor-and-protégé programme, which matches talented artists with rising talents and supports them in extraordinary ways as knowledge is shared. As we heard, again and again, it’s a two-way process. Film director Alfonso Cuarón (Roma, Y tu mamá también) had mentored young Indian director Chaitanya Tamhane from 2016 to 2017 and he explained how he had turned to the young film-maker for advice and feedback on scripts. The two men’s friendship was evident as they smiled at each other onstage.

The Greek chorus appeared at the gala opening ceremony at the Stavros Niarchos Concert Hall. I was pleased that Nic had made it. His 06:30 flight to Athens that morning had been cancelled at the last minute and when the airline had told him that his only option was to fly that night (missing the gala) he had scrambled into action and discovered that he could still make it on time if he came via Crete and made a 30-minute connection there onto Athens. It somehow worked (in Crete he had to persuade officials to let him through the gates). And he wasn’t dented by the day – indeed, he was buoyed by his success. And that’s another thing you look for when choosing someone to send on a reporting mission: determination. What a good crew we have.


Wardrobe refresh

Pleats Please became famous in the late 1980s, when Japanese designer Issey Miyake translated his appetite for innovation and obsession for detail into a small line of technical, heat-pressed and pleated garments (writes Natalie Theodosi). They proved to be so popular that the collection became its own brand in 1993, with its signature micro-pleated, ankle-grazing trousers, midi skirts and matching tops offered in every colour of the rainbow.

Ever since, Pleats Please sets have made their way into the wardrobes of Miyake loyalists around the world. Yet the minimalist pleated look never quite infiltrated the mainstream and has been better known as a best-kept secret among design aficionados – think elusive fashion critics dressed all in black and gallerists or architects who appreciate smart, functional design over ephemeral fashion trends. But lately it has become more common to spot Pleats Please sets on the street, from elegant Parisians on the Left Bank, who favour the neutral-hued iterations, to bolder types in London, who tend to opt for bright neons. When I considered following suit and investing in a set of trousers and matching square-neck top, I discovered that most styles are sold out.

The renewed popularity of Pleats Please shouldn’t come as a surprise. The garments are easily washable, lightweight and crease-free. As the world finally gets ready to ditch streetwear (it is about time), these discreet, micro-pleated sets are filling the void for fuss-free, comfortable clothing that still looks elegant. The label is celebrating its 30th birthday this year and, especially since founder Issey Miyake passed away less than 12 months ago, there’s a newfound appreciation for his pragmatic approach to fashion: his belief that clothes are to live, dance and laugh in.

Image: Issey Miyake

How we live / Life through a lens

Get the picture?

You could fill a building the size of Amsterdam’s vast Rijksmuseum with everything that I don’t know about Johannes Vermeer (writes Josh Fehnert). Luckily, last weekend I nabbed tickets to the sold-out show about the baroque painter’s ageless oeuvre.

It opened in February, closes tomorrow and has been dubbed by various papers a “once-in-a-lifetime” affair that includes 28 of the master’s 37 known works. As for that well-known girl with the pearl? Alas, she couldn’t be tempted when I visited the show to take the hour’s drive from where she hangs in The Hague. I always thought she looked aloof.

In the low-lit haze of the Netherlands’ national museum, two things come into sharp focus. The first is the gravity and genius of this 17th-century Dutchman’s work: his peerless use of light and perspective to animate otherwise dull domestic moments.

The second? Let’s call it a snappy mood in the overfilled rooms. An admiration for the art – yes – but also a certain sharp-elbowed competitiveness as the crowd bumped, bobbed and clamoured for photos of the meesterwerken. The dark-blue rooms of the Vermeer wing seemed at times to roil like an angry ocean as impatient arrivistes clustered five deep around canvases with hoisted phones and digital cameras held aloft. Once their pictures were taken there was editing, zooming, focusing and cropping. Some tried tentative early filters for later publication on social media; others went for another go, unhappy with their first exposure. It’s one way of seeing things, I suppose.

Image: Getty Images

Some of the more incorrigible shutterbugs were admonished by stern ushers for reaching beyond the barriers for their bounty. Before leaving, I sank briefly onto a bench to survey the scene. The murky room, still thick with people, was occasionally illuminated by the flash of cameras like forks of lightning in a storm. The man to my left was browsing trainers on his phone, while the woman on the right was observing the fray through a pair of Galilean binoculars. She was gamely glimpsing beyond the bobbing heads and raised phones to, perchance, see a painting.

Is this what it has come to? One popular theory to explain Vermeer’s loveliness with light is that he used early photographic techniques: a camera obscura or maybe a lens to perfect his compositions. That broadly defunct idea didn’t see daylight during the show. There was, however, plenty to suggest that today people struggle to focus or live without a lens for more than a few short minutes. Something to reflect on, perhaps?


In the lead

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. It’s also on hand in audio form on Monocle Radio, with reports and the latest travel news from around the world. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

I’m going to Brussels for a long city-break weekend and looking for the best neighbourhoods, hotel options and local areas to explore. Any tips?

Many thanks,
Robert Kasunic,

Image: Alamy

Dear Robert,

Brussels is going from strength to strength as a weekend destination. The latest addition to its trove of art nouveau architecture is the newly restored Hôtel van Eetvelde. Designed by Victor Horta, the Unesco-listed monument is open to the public for the first time; Horta’s house and studio, now a museum, is also well worth your while.

If culinary delights are more your priority, the Marché de l’Abattoir in Anderlecht is a vast site offering stalls, ingredients and dishes from all over the world. No longer reserved for wholesale customers, you can get your fix of filet Américain (a Brussels speciality made with raw steak) or go for moules frites in the seafood restaurants of Sainte-Catherine.

For a change of scenery, head up to Montgomery and hop on the 44 tram to check out the Royal Museum of Central Africa. And if you’re into travel for travel’s sake, Train World is an evocative ride through the golden age of European rail: Belgium has one of the world’s densest railway networks and is set to be a key hub of night-train revival.

In terms of hospitality, Le Berger is a lovingly restored 1930s hotel in the hip district of Ixelles, with shiny wallpaper and a shady past. Or if you prefer something new, The Hoxton has just opened in a brutalist skyscraper near the botanical gardens. If you want to role play the European leader of your choice in EU summit mode, Hotel Amigo is the perennial favourite of prime ministers and presidents. Public transport is easy – and the beers alone are worth the journey.


Head to toe

Seaside retail is becoming serious business for luxury brands. Many have already started to make their way to the Mediterranean to meet clients at their favourite beach destinations, from the Marbella Club in Spain to Nammos Village in Mykonos, where shopping is usually followed by alfresco lunches and dancing. Loro Piana has set up shop in La Réserve à la Plage, a St Tropez institution. The Italian brand – which has been expanding its interiors collection and caught design enthusiasts’ attention at this year’s Salone del Mobile with its collaboration with artist Cristian Mohaded – worked on the club’s new decor. Sun loungers and parasols now feature the label’s Suitcase Stripe motif and Loro Piana’s signature earth-toned fabrics were also used to update the furniture in the restaurant. Nearby a Loro Piana boutique stocks the label’s summer collection of handmade linen totes, loose kaftans and colour-block sandals. We have our eye on the hand-woven Bali bucket bags, rendered in chic black-and-white striped motifs that match the parasols.

Image: Loro Piana
Image: Loro Piana
Image: Loro Piana

The Interrogator / Chiharu Shiota

Stringing along

Chiharu Shiota is a Japanese contemporary performance and installation artist who is based in Berlin. For the past two decades, Shiota has created universes woven from pieces of string, her signature medium. Her deeply moving creations form haunting, poetic environments that are decorated with everyday objects such as books and bed frames to bring you back to reality. Here, we speak to Shiota about hot water, Shakespeare and singing on her bike.

Image: Sunhi Mang

What news source do you wake up to?
The first thing that I read is my email account. When I wake up in Berlin, my assistants in Tokyo have already been working for several hours so I can update myself on what’s going on.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
I am a big fan of hot water. I always carry a bottle of it with me.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I do not hum in the shower but sometimes on the bike. Right now it would be songs from manga films that my daughter practices on the piano.

Your favourite bookshop?
Buchhandlung Walther König, next to the museum island in Berlin.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I am currently listening to Japanese literature podcasts on Shakespeare while I am making drawings.

Who is your cultural obsession?
Spanish painter Francisco de Goya.

And what’s your movie genre of choice?
Drama. I like to see the whole range of human emotions.

Any book recommendations?
I am currently reading Yoko Tawada.

And music?
I just made a playlist on Spotify for Qagoma Museum in Brisbane – it is being played in the public areas. It has music by Wagner, Mozart and Michael Nyman but also German bands such as The Inchtabokatables and Grüssaugust. It is a playlist of all my favourite songs.

Culture Cuts / Visit, read, listen

Spaces and places

Mariane Ibrahim, Mexico City. Mariane Ibrahim, the French-Somali gallerist who originally established a namesake space in Chicago – followed, in 2021, by a Paris outpost – has now opened a venue in Mexico City. The new space has a different programming rhythm to the other two locations, hosting extended exhibitions at a turnover of three to four a year. Until September, the space is displaying the work of French artist Eva Jospin, known for her beguiling sculptural cardboard landscapes that are making their debut in the region.

‘Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country’, Louise Erdrich. US author Louise Erdrich’s 2003 book is a journey in which personal and larger histories intertwine. As she travels through the lakes and islands of southern Ontario with her 18-month-old daughter, her connection with the land of her ancestors ties in with the story of the Ojibwe people. Reminders of both their culture and struggles are still etched in the landscape today. This is a love story to people and places, with a lyricism that’s simple and authentic.

‘Last Man Dancing’, Jake Shears. Five years after his self-titled debut, the former Scissor Sisters frontman returns with a second solo album that moves past the rockier tones of his previous record to deliver an ode to the unabashed glory of dancing. There’s plenty to keep the party going, from the 1970s disco vibes of the title track to the explosive funk of “Devil Came Down the Dance Floor” and the dramatic beats of “Too Much Music”.

What Am I Bid? / Eurovision paraphernalia

Selling for a song

The confetti has barely settled on the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 (writes Charlotte Banks). The deely bobbers have been packed in the attic, Finns are entering the acceptance stage of grief and cleaners are sweeping away the final specks of glitter from the M&S Bank Arena. Some poor BBC employee is now tasked with figuring out what to do with all the giant hands and cardboard cut-outs languishing in the store cupboard.

Thankfully, until 11 June, Europop fans can head to Ramco’s website and splash some cash on some of the items that featured in this year’s extravaganza. The sale is mostly limited to props and costumes provided by the UK – so you won’t find any neon-green, puff-sleeved boleros here.

Image: Alamy

What you will find is a wide array of impractical decorations for your maximalist living room. If you have the space in your house, you can bid on the presenter’s lectern, behind which Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham captured the hearts of Europe with her wine-aunt schtick.

The clear highlight, however, is a set of jumpers worn by the backing dancers of Icelandic heart-throb Daði Freyr, whose keytar-heavy “Think About Things” (Iceland’s entry for the cancelled 2020 edition of Eurovision) became one of lockdown’s biggest sensations. The six jumpers bearing his face, which at the time of writing are going for a total bid of £500, are the perfect memento for you and five friends.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00