Thursday 20 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 20/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock


Pedal to the metal

I was shopping for an electric bike last year and a shiny new model from VanMoof (pictured) was one of the first that I considered. Visiting the Dutch brand’s sleek space near London’s Battersea Power Station, I was charmed by a demo that offered the promise of a decent battery and a range of customisation options – everything down to the Allen keys was bespoke. I was even told that a team would be sent out to find the bike if it was stolen.

The news this week that VanMoof has skidded to a halt and been declared bankrupt augurs badly for those who had bought one of its bikes, not only because of the bespoke parts, which will now be impossible to find but also because of the warranties that can no longer be honoured. The Amsterdam-based company reportedly struggled to keep up with the cost of maintaining and servicing the bikes under warranty. By the end, it seems that the more they sold, the larger the liability for future repairs became.

Other e-bike companies have faced similar uphill struggles. On a recent episode of Monocle Radio’s The Entrepreneurs, Belgian brand Cowboy described how it had to restructure its supply chain and accelerate efforts to partner with shops that could service its bikes. “We’ve built a model called Cowboy Mobile Service – think of it like Uber but for fixing your bike,” says Adrien Roose, Cowboy’s co-founder and CEO. While the brand has offered repairs since it launched, it is shifting gears to make bike servicing part of a premium package in order to keep ahead of rising costs.

I didn’t buy a VanMoof in the end and opted for a model from French company Moustache instead – I have never looked back. Despite VanMoof’s unsaddling, e-bike sales are still accelerating. The key for competitors is to keep pace with the pack.

Sophie Monaghan-Coombes is a producer for Monocle Radio. For our interview with Cowboy, tune in to ‘The Entrepreneurs’. And for more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / India

Pocket of resistance

The leaders of India’s 26 opposition parties formed a coalition this week to challenge the re-election bid of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May 2024. The new ticket – named the Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) – has pledged to tackle the country’s rising levels of inflation and unemployment. The coalition includes the nation’s largest opposition front, the Indian National Congress, as well as other significant regional parties that govern West Bengal, Delhi and Punjab.

Modi (pictured) has faced a growing backlash after the Congress Party’s leader, Rahul Gandhi, was convicted of defamation and disqualified from parliament this year. He also sparked the ire of other political leaders when he sidelined the president, Droupadi Murmu, and inaugurated India’s new parliament building in May. While the coalition parties understand that a united front offers the only viable option to prevent Modi from winning a third term, it remains to be seen if their union can survive their long-standing ideological differences and personality clashes.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Turkey & Saudi Arabia

Getting defensive

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (pictured, in centre) has touched down in Ankara, concluding his three-day tour of the Gulf States. The trip was part of his ongoing charm offensive in the region and he was accompanied by a delegation of more than 100 business leaders, all aiming to secure co-operation deals and help revive the country’s economy. Erdogan hoped to shore up €22.2bn in investments from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

During his stop in Riyadh, he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia will be buying Turkish drones in one of the biggest defence contracts in Turkey’s history. “It is quite a significant procurement deal; the country has been interested in Turkish drones since 2021,” Valeria Scuto, a principal analyst at Sibylline Ltd focusing on the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, tells The Monocle Minute. “It is going to be a big development in the region and will aid Saudi Arabia’s own drone production, which is ultimately the country’s main aim.”

Image: Polimoda

Fashion / Florence

Factory reset

Florence-based fashion school Polimoda has acquired a space for its Anarchive research centre (pictured, as rendering) in the city’s Manifattura Tabacchi, a converted cigar factory. The centre, which is likely to open in 2024, will be led by the Milanese multidisciplinary studio (ab)Normal and will occupy three floors with a fashion archive, exhibition space and a place for school workshops.

The Polimoda Library, one of the largest fashion libraries in Europe, will have its own floor for its collection of more than 25,000 volumes, including rare books, as well as a selection of films on fashion and art. As Polimoda continues to invest in the preservation of invaluable cultural heritage for researchers, curators, archivists, students and designers, other fashion schools in Europe and beyond will hopefully follow suit.

Culture / Greece

Urban myth

The NYC and Greece-based design duo Eleni Petaloti and Leonidas Trampoukis – the couple behind the Objects of common interest studio – were in Athens earlier this week to launch their first-ever book, Noguchi and Greece, Greece and Noguchi, published by Atelier Éditions. On the rooftop of the Mona hotel, the pair talked about the famed Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi and his little-known fascination with Greece, which started with the country’s ancient myths that his mother read him as a child.

Drawing on a wealth of archival material from the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York, the book explores his trips to the country, his use of Greek marble and artistic collaborations with choreographer Martha Graham and futurist architect Buckminster Fuller. “This book is meant to draw a picture of Noguchi’s relationship with Greece through our personal experience with the country and our research on the artist’s life and work,” Petaloti tells The Monocle Minute. “Readers can form their own interpretation of him through the memories and feelings that are evoked in the book.”

Image: Luke Hayes

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Bard, Young V&A, Paper Fashion

We travel to Bard, an Edinburgh gallery focused on sharing Scottish craft and design. We head to the rebranded and re-vamped Young Victoria & Albert Museum in east London. Plus, we learn of a material innovation in the 1960s that resulted in paper fashion.

Monocle Films / Sport

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.


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