Saturday 24 June 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/6/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

In good taste

This week, we note the emergence of camouflage clothes that are made to be seen, recommend some of Vienna’s must-visit summer locations and bid on a coveted baroque artwork. But first, editor in chief Andrew Tuck reveals what makes good cities and why they delight us.

The opener / Andrew Tuck

City living

In the summer of 2007, Monocle published its first Quality of Life Survey – a ranking of the world’s best cities to call home. I am still fond of that issue. The launch magazine had been worked on for months and I sometimes pick it up to remind myself of our original ambitions – to believe in print, be opportunity focused, offer solutions and be wry. Second and third issues (and, as it turns out, fourth) are always tricky; these are when the hard work of winning long-term readers really begins. Issue 05 marked a turning point: a moment where we found our groove. Its sunny cover, including a shot of a young man backflipping into Lake Zürich, showed us in a different light. We were both detailed in our research and joyful in our outlook. And readers got it: the sales chart took an almost alpine ascent.

Now city rankings are not new or revolutionary but we – and I think I should admit that this was mostly Mr Brûlé – saw a need for something different. At the time, most of the rankings seemed to be aimed at expats (will the schools be suitable for young Samantha if you relocate to Singapore) or rather dull people. There was never much talk of nightlife and the chance of getting a glass of wine at 01.00 in a nice bar. And while we can all gather dry data sets, there was little input from people on the ground who could give a richer story and real insight. So not only did we include crime statistics and ambulance response times but we also mixed in the late-opening bar test, looked for places where you could do your grocery shopping on a Sunday, investigated the strength of local media and also how easily you could escape too – was there a good airport? Munich emerged on top in that first year and is still a high-ranking city today, hence why we are returning there for the Monocle Quality of Life Conference in August. And for 2023? In our July-August edition Vienna takes pole position.

Across the years we have added new metrics and asked our researchers and correspondents to dive ever deeper into what’s happening where they are. While medium-sized cities with good civic leadership, mostly cohesive communities and some wealth in their coffers tend to flourish, it’s interesting to see how the list has evolved since 2007. Among the starkest of these changes is the vanishing of North American cities from the mix; there seems to be an almost existential post-pandemic threat to many of the places we first surveyed back then. Now, before furious fingers reach for keyboards, this is not to say that these cities are devoid of quality of life. But do they have a quality of life designed for all? And is there a sense of safety, good housing and education too?

These are some of the issues that trip up London, my hometown. I can’t think of a more dynamic, exciting, diverse, powerful city to live in. I also have a job, home and can get almost everywhere on my bicycle. But the fraying is never far away. This week I noticed that a takeaway food chain near Monocle now has a security guard in a protective vest keeping an eye on the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches – food theft is spiralling in cost-of-living-hit London. At lunch this week a colleague described the almost desperate battle to find somewhere decent to rent. Access to housing and annual rent increases were two key metrics that informed our Quality of Life Survey this year. But to see the cities that have climbed and fallen, just pick up the issue.

My colleague, Josh, gave me a gift: a copy of Nairn’s London by Ian Nairn, published in 1966. Nairn was a celebrated architectural writer who was impassioned and bemused by how London was being rebuilt both physically and socially in these still postwar years. I wonder if there’s any writer who so sharply sees the city, explains it and tries to shake it to its senses now. I have been using the book to see places I know in a different sepia light, reading of cherished buildings now gone. “London burnt in 1940 for the sake of tolerance,” he writes. “And the price was well worth it. It is burning again, but this time only to satisfy developers’ greed, planners’ inadequacy and official stupidity.”

Cities still stir us. How they function and fare can be both maddening and exciting. They force us to be their critics and champions too. But, at their best, they are the greatest of sanctuaries, the places where ideas can be born and shaped at speed, where we mix and muddle, win and lose, and where, you hope, you can get a drink at 01.00.

The Look / ‘Damoflage’

Patterns and pixels

Pharrell Williams’s debut show as Louis Vuitton’s menswear creative director took centre stage this week at Paris Fashion Week’s Menswear show (writes Natalie Theodosi). The heritage brand took over the historic Pont Neuf in front of its headquarters, turning the bridge into a runway covered in a chequerboard pattern. The spectacular views of the city at sunset and the energy of the choir singers were a highlight but the most eye-catching element in Williams’s line-up was a new iteration of the famous Louis Vuitton Damier pattern, dubbed “Damoflage”. The motif – a pixelated camouflage print – made its way onto trench coats, backpacks, smart leather jackets, trunks and plenty more besides. Williams took his bow in a slim suit bearing the pattern (pictured) and many of his famous friends, with early access to his collection, have adopted it too.

Image: Alamy

It's only a matter of time before the look becomes a trend. Louis Vuitton loyalists are already pre-ordering Damoflage suits, caps and luggage. When the collection hits shop floors next spring, the high street will – for better or worse – come out with its own version of the pixelated pattern. This might not be a style with staying power but it marks a significant moment in fashion’s history – a Damoflage trunk could make for a smart functional investment. But it remains to be seen if the rest of the world can pull off the head-to-toe look as effortlessly as Williams did, without looking like an 8-bit video game character.

How we live / Pedestrian concerns

Walking wounded

Experience has taught this correspondent that nothing, not even expressing views on the Middle East, fills your inbox so abundantly as criticising cyclists (writes Andrew Mueller). Cycling is good and should be encouraged – some of my best friends are cyclists, etc. However, I am not a cyclist; nor am I a motorist. I am a pedestrian and an increasingly beleaguered one.

I was recently in Bratislava, attending the Globsec Forum. The conference venue is on the north bank of the Danube. There’s a path along the river leading to Bratislava’s Old Town. It should be one of Europe’s more agreeable strolls. It is, instead, a roller derby of bicycles, e-scooters, e-bikes, electric skateboards and other contraptions that look as though they were ridden off the set of Mad Max. I did this walk three times each way. I was run into twice, had to take evasive action on a dozen or more occasions and witnessed several accidents or near misses.

It is not just Bratislava that seems uninterested in protecting pedestrians. Back home in London, I asked the Metropolitan Police for some figures. In 2022, 3,384 fixed penalty notices were issued to cyclists; that’s a little more than nine a day. There are evenings when I see more transgressions than that walking from Midori House to the nearest Tube station a 10-minute dawdle away, especially by food-delivery hooligans. In the first three months of 2023, police officers confiscated 244 e-scooters, which are theoretically illegal on public roads in the UK. They could beat that any day without leaving Oxford Street.

The urbanism buzz phrase du jour is “the 15-minute city”, neighbourhoods where everything is within walking distance. But if we want to achieve that, cities need to be peacefully, safely and pleasantly walkable.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Viennese whirl

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. This time we focus on Vienna, which topped our annual Quality of Life Survey as the world’s most liveable city. To find out why and read the full rundown of the top 20, pick up a copy of Monocle’s July/August issue today.

Image: Julius Hirtzberger

Dear Concierge,

I will be at a conference in Vienna at the end of the month. I would like to visit some museums, and have good food and beer. What are your suggestions?

Thank you,
Cédric Jamet,

Dear Cédric,

Whatever your line of work, it’s not surprising that your event is taking place in Vienna. After all, according to a survey by the International Congress and Convention Association, the Austrian capital is the world’s top conference destination. But, of course, there’s much more to this city than its event-hosting know-how. Culture is another area in which it excels so, if it’s exhibitions that you’re after, you can’t go wrong with Vienna’s Museumsquartier (MQ). It has everything from architecture and urbanism to contemporary art and canvases by Austria’s fin de siècle superstars Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Across the street from the MQ, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (pictured) features the world’s largest Bruegel collection. Walk a couple of minutes across the majestic Burggarten and you’ll find the Albertina Museum, which is full of works by the French Impressionists and the Russian avant-garde.

As for food, try a Käsekrainer, or cheese sausage, at one of Vienna’s many street-corner sausage stands. But if you want something more substantial, book a dinner at Skopik & Lohn, which offers top-quality Viennese cuisine with a modern twist. I especially recommend the Wiener schnitzel with potato salad.

When it comes to beer, you are spoilt for choice: it’s everywhere. But for a relaxed ambience and good music, Neubau, the seventh district, which begins right behind the MQ, is the place to go. Café Europa in the Zollergasse is a Monocle favourite and, just in time for your visit, a new bar-cum-gallery called Atlas has opened in the Neustiftgasse. So gute Reise and see you in Vienna!

Culture hits / Summer playlist

Let’s dance

Monocle Radio’s senior culture correspondent and music curator, Fernando Augusto Pacheco, selects 10 scorching-hot tracks for warm summer evenings in the city, from Maracuyá disco to sensual reggae beats. Every week for the next month we will post portions of the 60-track list, starting with these toe-tapping tunes.

‘Maracuya Massage’ by Stuzzi. Fruity disco from the Swedish singer.

‘Pelle Di Luna’ by Franco Esse. Mediterranean beats from Rome.

‘Brasilian Skies’ by Masayoshi Takanaka. Japanese city-pop with a Lat-Am influence.

‘Enjoy Your Life’ by Romy. A blissful, euphoric celebration of existence.

‘Lost in Sunshine’ by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Cool vocals for a celebratory track.

‘Lipstick Lover’ by Janelle Monáe. Laid-back, sensual reggae beats.

‘Miami Beach’ by Rigoberta Bandini. A fun song inspired by the Spanish singer’s trip to Florida.

‘Massa Den’ by Fatoumata Diawara. A wonderful track by the Malian singer.

‘Dance the Night’ by Dua Lipa. Everyone’s going to be talking about the Barbie film this summer – and listening to its excellent soundtrack too.

‘Amor e Sexo’ by Rita Lee. The late Brazilian Queen of Rock always charms.

To listen to the playlist, find Monocle Radio on Spotify or tune in live to Monocle Radio for more songs. The entire playlist is also featured in our July/August issue, which is on sale now.

Fashion update / Europe

One for all

As men’s fashion week rolls on from Milan to Paris this week, it’s notable that both emerging and established designers are exploring the concept of the uniform (writes Natalie Theodosi). “Today, having a uniform offers a sense of freedom – an ability to cut through the noise,” Lawrence Steele, Aspesi’s creative director, tells The Monocle Weekend Edition. Steele tends to steer clear of seasonal trends in favour of wardrobe classics, tweaked to perfection, season after season. For next spring he has created smart shirts in waterproof, technical materials and workwear jackets featuring a mix of nylon and woven fabrics.

Image: Solid Homme

Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli also plays with the idea of the uniform in his first menswear show for the Italian luxury fashion house in three years, aptly presented at the Università degli Studi di Milano during school hours so that students can join in. His version of a modern-day summer uniform consists of elegant short suits, made to feel more contemporary with softer lines and loose silhouettes.

The short suit has been particularly popular in Paris: South Korean label Solid Homme has paired tailored shorts with smart shirts and ties (pictured), which are making a comeback as designers return to smart dressing. Issey Miyake has reworked the suit in its signature pleated fabric and sunny summer shades, while Antwerp-based Dries Van Noten offers a “rigorous tailoring silhouette”, celebrating dressing up and the “power of reduction”. Menswear designers are making a point this year that some of the most traditional principles of getting dressed remain as relevant and modern as ever.

Photo of the week / ‘Brooklyn Gang’

Hazy days

An exhibition of previously unseen work by pioneering US photographer Bruce Davidson opened yesterday at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York and runs until 16 September (writes Matthew Beaman). Davidson is celebrated for his intimate portraits of people living in the city during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, which he achieved through his all-consuming approach to documentary photography. His book East 100th Street was the culmination of two years spent photographing the residents of a single block in Harlem. For another, Subway, he spent five years riding trains and immersing himself in the underbelly of the city.

Image: Bruce Davidson

This portrait is taken from his book Brooklyn Gang, for which he followed a tight-knit group of teenagers during the hot summer of 1959 as they sunbathed, smoked and partied (pictured). Because of the trust that Davidson built with his subjects over long periods of time, he was able to engage with them in a way that many of his contemporaries couldn’t through mere observation. The result was evocative, candid images such as this one.

What am I bid? / A real Rubens

False profit

It is every art collector’s wildest dream: a relatively modest purchase which turns out, on closer inspection, to be a lost masterpiece. In 2008, $40,000 (€37,000) was paid at auction in St Louis for a work credited to the 17th-century Baroque painter Laurent de La Hyre. The same picture will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on 5 July and is expected to fetch about $6m (€7m).

Image: Sotheby's

Between auctions, experts have concluded that the painting is not – as was believed – a copy of Peter Paul Rubens’ “Saint Sebastian Tended By Two Angels” (pictured), but an original, painted by the artist circa 1610. The work, commissioned by the Genoese general Ambrogio Spinola, disappeared for several centuries before it turned up in Missouri, in 1963, erroneously attributed.

Even at the upper range of the estimate, the work is likely to be a sound investment. A low bid seems improbable: in 2002, his “Massacre of the Innocents” became the third-most expensive painting ever sold, at $76.7m (€70.5m). The back story of Saint Sebastian may cause other owners of baroque biblical artworks to regard their collections with fresh, and optimistic, eyes.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00