Tuesday 18 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 18/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Natalie Theodosi

Calling the tune

When Jane Birkin’s passing was announced on Sunday, media outlets were flooded with images of the British singer and actress. There were stills from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow Up, in which she made her acting debut, black-and-white images of her travelling with her signature wicker basket and more recent portraits of a smiling Birkin clutching her namesake Hermès bag. Legend has it that the design was the result of a chance conversation on a flight with the then Hermès CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas.

Such images have appeared on designers’ creative mood boards since the 1970s, after Birkin moved across the English Channel to France, and they have never aged. Rather than being defined by a decade like other similar personalities – Josephine Baker will always be associated with the 1920s, Edie Sedgwick the 1960s – Birkin’s influence transcends time. Attesting to her status as a modern icon, “Je t’aime... Moi non plus” sounds as relevant today as when she first performed the song with her former partner Serge Gainsbourg, the waiting list for Birkin bags remains at an all-time high and women continue to scour flea markets for wicker baskets.

Birkin’s ability to embody this sense of modernity so effortlessly was about more than just looking good in T-shirts and jeans. Her enduring appeal came from her unique appetite for adventure and spontaneity. In the late 1960s she landed a role in French film Slogan and moved to France without speaking the language. Once she had learnt French, she dared to speak it with a British accent. She also favoured old jeans, men’s jerseys and DIY haircuts.

It’s nearly impossible to identify a modern-day equivalent. Now is a time when actors’ or models’ looks (including the ones that they wear to step off planes) are preconceived by professional stylists and dictated by social-media trends. What will it take for someone to become an icon of the future? Perhaps the answer lies in looking far beyond social media and, like Birkin, allowing more room for the unexpected.

Natalie Theodosi is Monocle’s fashion editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Global

Western promise

More than 50 leaders from the EU, Caribbean and Latin America, including Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (pictured, second from right, with Sánchez, on left, and the EU’s Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen) have descended on Brussels for the EU-CELAC summit. The two-day conference, which began yesterday, is the first major meeting of its kind in eight years. Forging closer ties with Latin America has increasingly become a priority for the EU as the bloc seeks to become less dependent on supply chains from China and Russia, and secure crucial minerals, such as copper and lithium, that are needed for the production of batteries and electric vehicles.

“Europe needs to rethink where and how it’s doing business with certain parts of the globe and Latin America is a good option,” Suzanne Lynch, Politico’s chief Brussels correspondent, tells The Monocle Minute. “One of the problems, however, is that many of the countries coming to the summit are taking a so-called neutral stance on the war in Ukraine. Europe has a very strong sense of where it stands and this could cause tension over the next few days.”

For more on the summit, tune in to Monday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Embassy of France in South Korea

Architecture / South Korea & France

Halfway house

Members of the public have enjoyed a first look at the renovated French embassy in Seoul. The firms behind the revamp – South Korea’s Mass Studies and Paris-based architecture studio Sathy – built on the work of revered architect Kim Chung-up, who designed the French government’s compound in 1961, drawing inspiration from European modernism and traditional Korean architecture.

“We tried to stick to Kim’s foundational spirit, while also ensuring that the result reflects the expanded scope of the friendship and diplomatic relations between France and South Korea,” said Mass Studies’ founder, Cho Minsuk. To do so, Cho and his team reviewed Kim’s drawings of the original building; this process informed the decisions to retain the classic design of the pavilion’s curved rooftop and reinstate an indoor water feature. The result is an embassy building that functions as a seamless architectural bridge between nations, embodying France’s values abroad while also reflecting the culture of South Korea.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Stavanger

Freedom of the city

Stavanger, Norway’s oil capital, has followed the likes of Tallinn and Luxembourg by making public transport free to all residents. The municipality’s population of 320,000 can now enjoy bus, train, tram and ferry travel at no cost – a policy that epitomises the city’s green ambitions. According to municipal authorities, the move aims to increase the use of public transport and “active travel” (such as walking) by up to 70 per cent.

While the initiative is particularly welcome during the cost-of-living crisis, opponents of the city’s centre-left coalition government have indicated that residents might benefit more from improvements to the current transport infrastructure funded by fares. Furthermore, the initial 200m kroner (€17.7m) that has been allocated to cover the loss of revenue will have to be bolstered if the scheme is to last beyond the year. While cities across the world will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the scheme, optimists are hopeful that increased public-transport usage will make expanding the service easier and reduce the reliance on cars.

Image: Netflix

Culture / Global

Into the deep

The Deepest Breath is a moving documentary offering a rare insight into the world of freediving. Directed by Laura McGann and released by Netflix later this week, it tells the story of freedivers Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan. McGann and actor (and freediver) Kristof Coenen tell Monocle about their inspiration for the film and how the nature of the dangerous pastime offered a rare cinematic opportunity.

Freediving is a highly cinematic activity. What was your inspiration for the film?
Laura McGann: While I was researching freediving, I was presented with these beautiful images of people behaving like seals and dolphins. The blue was just stunning and offered a beautiful light. It struck me visually as being something really special and incredibly cinematic. When I learnt about the story of Zecchini and Keenan, it just affected me on a whole other level.

Kristof, you are both a freediver and an actor. How do those two worlds collide?
Kristof Coenen: I started working for a theatre company in Belgium and we were touring the world. There was a side of me that wanted to freedive. I originally decided to move to Egypt and become a scuba diver but I have now settled in Brussels and work in a film studio where I train actors, such as Idris Elba, for underwater scenes.

The footage in the film is impressive. Tell us about the research process.
LM: The archive that we’ve gathered over the years has a beautiful intimacy to it. I was really lucky to find footage from the freediving community almost serendipitously; it is really good at documenting itself. Because of it, you always felt as though you were in the scene, giving the audience a clearer vision of what was going on.

To hear the full interview, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Culture

Catherine Joy White

The actress, author and gender adviser for the UN sits down with Georgina Godwin to discuss her new book, This Thread of Gold: A Celebration of Black Womanhood.

Monocle Films / Hospitality

Welcome to the Auberge Monocle

Monocle has so far resisted the temptation to open a hotel – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time thinking about who we’d hire to oversee a renovation, run the bar or design the uniforms. With this in mind, here are the six house rules we’d strictly enforce to keep things civil and serene around the pool, in the lobby and on the balcony.


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