Saturday 9 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 9/9/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Eyes on the prize

This week, we sniff out luxury cosmetics company Aesop’s future plans, swing by a timber-clad daycare centre shortlisted for the Riba Stirling Prize, cast an eye over the German chancellor’s new eye patch and plenty more. Plus: the Concierge whisks us through Malta’s many splendours. But first, Andrew Tuck reflects on lessons learned at The Monocle Quality of Life Conference. Enjoy.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

On the fly

What part does alchemy play in your work? We have spent much of this week trying to put our finger on what made The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Munich such a success. It’s always a highlight of the Monocle year, intense yet fun, but something else was at play this time. Was it Munich, compact and walkable? Was it the Allianz Auditorium’s pitched seating in the round that made watching and listening so appealing? Perhaps it was the mix of speakers – not one person misjudged the vibe or made the energy levels fall. Was it members of our team who worked crazy hours and showed each other camaraderie throughout? Or was it just a special mix of delegates – it was an amazing group from all over the world. Of course, brand guidelines ensure that any event or product turns out in line with expectations but sometimes you must accept that serendipity, the magic of human interaction and even just a blast of unexpected sunshine can elevate things in ways that you can’t predict or even control. Some things are out of your hands.

Are you good with names and faces? Our opening night reception party was held in the garden at Schumann’s Bar am Hofgarten and there was a certain point when I needed to go to the bathroom. The gentleman standing next to me – a Monocle conference attendee – struck up conversation. Now, and apologies if this is too much information while you down your rolled oats, but chatting nonchalantly about life with your flies undone has never seemed appealing. I like to focus and leave. Anyway, we managed the pleasantries and then he said, “We have met before, you know.” This was followed by that killer line, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And it’s true. While he looked familiar – his face I mean – I couldn’t remember our last meeting and I didn’t want to put my glasses on to have a good stare at this stage. I suggested that we speak again post-pee. Anyway, he turned out to be very entertaining, clever in that hard-to-pin-down way of successful entrepreneurs – and, to be fair, it transpired that it was years ago that we last spoke. But for a moment, I almost regretted our total ban on photo lanyards and name badges. In life, we all hope that we make an impression and that our interactions are filed away with equal import and clarity for all involved. Sometimes, however, my memory hard drive needs the occasional clue before it whirs into life. But I don’t think that I will forget my Australian friend again.

I also received a nice gift. Camila, who works in urban planning and design, has become someone who I look forward to seeing at our events – and I was pleased to see her in Munich. After reading a recent Monocle story about how you can use old guidebooks to see a city afresh, she located a copy of a book called London’s Natural History by RSR Fitter, published in 1945. It’s charming, with colour plates that show a London so recognisable, yet so distant. Its pages have that wonderful musty scent of time that has passed us by. Anyway, Camila gave me the book at the gala dinner at Galerie Thomas but after this, we moved on to a new venue for cocktails and dancing. I had this wonderful guide in my hands but with each passing moment, I feared that it may never leave Munich. In the bar I tried hiding it on a bookshelf but how would I ever remember that it was there? Then I found a cutlery drawer and placed it there. But again, I feared that it could soon become the book’s final resting place. Thankfully, in stepped Dave and Carlota from The Urbanist, who removed it from the drawer and told me to return to the dance floor. What a team. Dave even delivered it to my desk upon his return to London.

But it hasn’t been quiet back at base. We have just completed and dispatched the next in our Handbook series to print – France will be coming your way soon. Amy, its editor, has guided it out the door with calm and precision. Meanwhile, Manos, our newsletters editor, has been attending to a refresh of The Monocle Minute that will be landing in your inboxes on Monday – nothing scary, just a few tweaks to allow us to tell stories with more pace and variety. And this week we also sent the October issue to print, which contains the Monocle Retail Awards and our fashion editor Natalie’s impeccably reported Style Directory. Not a subscriber? Get on board at Who knows where it will lead.

Image: Shutterstock

The Look / Eye patches

Aye, aye captain

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, understands one fundamental rule of maintaining a political image: if people are going to make fun of you, be one of the first to laugh (writes Andrew Mueller). After sustaining facial injuries in a fall while jogging, Scholz posted a photo of himself sporting a black eye patch, accompanied by the quip, “Excited to see the memes.” A good amount of largely pirate-related merriment duly ensued and one cannot help but suspect that he may now want to keep the eye covering. It seems kind of cool – or at least makes Scholz seem cooler than he ever has previously.

The look is especially dashing on a bald man and the pantheon of potentates in need of an eye patch is a notably badass crew: King Philip II of Macedon, Israeli general Moshe Dayan and (in myth, if not reality) British naval commander Horatio Nelson. Recent political precedents are admittedly less encouraging. Indefatigable French xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen sported an eye patch early in his career, before adopting the glass facsimile more common among politicians with the use of one eye (including former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, who tore a retina in a teenage rugby mishap). US congressman and former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw wears one, a legacy of wounds sustained in Afghanistan. Regrettably, he has squandered the cachet that this confers by campaigning inanely in America’s culture wars.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

How we live / Rugby dads

Fair game

My Saturday morning routine in Bangkok begins with toddler football training (writes James Chambers). My two-year-old son kicks a few balls and puts a cone on his head to the delight and encouragement of his coaches and older Thai teammates. No contact sport is entirely harm-free but injuries are less likely in soccer than in rugby union, the sport that I grew up playing in Wales and retired from in my teens after a fairly nasty concussion. By now I have been playing football for far longer, having made the sacrilegious switch to the rival round ball at university, but rugby is still my favourite spectator sport and I would love for my son to one day take up the game. It teaches good values that are often absent in football, such as respecting the referee, shaking hands with the opposition after the final whistle and only going down injured when in agonising pain.

Here lies the problem. Always a physical sport, rugby’s health risks have increased as players in every position have become bigger and the tackles harder. As the world’s elite teams begin competing in the Rugby World Cup, which has just kicked off in France, an increasing number of recently retired professionals are going public with chronic illnesses related to the impacts experienced while training or playing the sport. The governing body, World Rugby, is tackling the issue head-on with strict new rules but armchair sceptics worry that a safe version of the sport will end up killing the game.

Fortunately, however, for those of us who are emotionally invested in its long-term future, there is progress on making the game safe and new money in the bank. Private equity firms have been investing heavily in international teams and tournaments, and the success of the last World Cup in Japan – not to mention the host team’s stellar performance on the pitch – has shown the potential for new audiences and advertising revenue. As the competition takes over the sporting calendar for the next two months, I will be watching closely, alongside my son. He already knows how to shout “Way-ells, Way-ells” at the team in red on the television; for this aspiring Tiger Dad, that’s enough for now.

Architecture update / Riba Stirling Prize shortlist

Ageing gracefully

The shortlist for the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) Stirling Prize, the top gong for new architecture in the UK, was announced this week (writes Nic Monisse). While the nominees include the usual mix of art galleries, university buildings and accessible housing, the standout is The John Morden Centre. Built for Morden College, a housing and nursing care charity in south London, this daycare centre features a hair salon, nail bar, dining room and workshop, as well as event spaces. The newly completed structure by London-based architecture firm Mae provides an inspiring alternative to typical nursing buildings that have been largely defined by sad-looking rooms with a clinical feel. By contrast, The John Morden Centre’s rooms are clad in warm-hued timber and linked by a meandering colonnade that wraps around the building. Large windows flood rooms with natural light and allow residents to enjoy views of the landscaped gardens.

Image: Jim Stephenson
Image: Jim Stephenson

According to Morden College’s CEO, David Rutherford-Jones, the new building will encourage residents to feel important and staff to care even more. Regardless of whether the building wins the top award at the Riba Stirling Prize ceremony in October, it should be held up as a benchmark for housing an increasingly ageing population. After all, an appreciation for quality spaces and materials doesn’t diminish with age – instead, it becomes increasingly important for energising and uplifting those in their twilight years.

Image: Getty Images

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Bay watch

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 am planning a weekend getaway to Malta. Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

Kind wishes,

Austéja Androsiunaite

Dear Austéja,

Malta offers plenty of architectural and historical splendours, and the good news is that the country is great for road trips because most of its sights are reachable by car. The capital of Valletta, which offers an array of top sights that can all be visited in a day, is a great place to start. Start at the Grand Master’s Palace, with its magnificent state rooms and collection of armour, and then move on to the nearby St John’s Co-Cathedral, built by the Order of the Knights of St John, which is home to Caravaggio’s 17th-century masterpiece, The Beheading of St John the Baptist. The nearby Upper Barrakka Gardens offer plenty of romance and sweeping views of the Grand Harbour, especially in the afternoon.

In terms of hospitality, the city is home to an eclectic crop of boutique hotels, from the high-end Iniala Harbour House to lower-priced options such as Casa Ellul, which is full of charm and sophistication. Be sure to visit Valletta St Paul’s AFT for unforgettable Italian food and, if you wish to explore the local cuisine further, Nenu the Artisan Baker offers a great selection of local dishes, including the typical Maltese Timpana (pasta with sausage sauce, baked in a puff-pastry shell), pan-fried rabbit and blistered octopus.

If you wish to explore beyond Valletta, strike out to Xaghra, one of Gozo island’s earliest inhabited villages, which features the majestic Neolithic temples of Ggantija as well as the Ta’ Kola Windmill. Then, have lunch at Oleander in the charming town square before stopping off at Ramla Bay for a scenic walk or a swim at the beach, which is known for its golden-red sands.

Finally, for a different view of Malta, visit Marsaxlokk, a colourful fishermen’s village where seafood reigns. Make sure to try Roots Restaurant for creative and hearty dishes before taking a stroll along the scenic, cliff-lined Delimara peninsula.

Fashion update / AESOP OURANON

Smell of success

Australian luxury cosmetics company Aesop has launched a new fragrance (writes Carolina Abbott Galvão). Ouranon, which blends resinous, woody notes with fresh touches of chamomile and lavender, is the sixth and final fragrance in the Othertopias range, a line launched in 2021. This year, Aesop finds itself at a crucial turning point following a change in leadership. In April, French beauty company L’Oréal signed an agreement with Aesop’s previous owner, Natura & Co, to acquire the business.

Image: Aesop
Image: Aesop

Following the purchase, L’Oréal appears to be focusing on opening new outposts in popular, busy locations, while seeking to expand further into the Asian market – particularly China, where Aesop already has two shops. If growth is the aim, the company seems to be playing its cards right. Diversifying current product ranges will pique new customers’ interest and investing in physical retail spaces is never a bad idea.

Culture cuts / Read, watch, listen

Blasts from the past

‘The Fraud’, Zadie Smith. British writer and essayist Zadie Smith, who rose to fame in the early 2000s, is known for her witty, tender portrayals of modern cities. But her sixth book, which is based on a real-life 19th-century court trial, looks to the past. The Fraud centres on Andrew Bogle, who finds himself the star witness to the “Tichbourne Trial”. The novel tells the story of a man whose future depends on the identity that he portrays. What follows is a meditation on truth, hypocrisy and the power of fiction.

‘Past Lives’, Celine Song. Celine Song’s directorial film debut tells the story of Nora and Hae Sung, two childhood friends who are separated after Nora’s family moves to Canada. Decades later, when they meet again in New York, they are forced to grapple with the outcomes of that choice. The result is a thoughtful exploration of memory, fate and the things that people lose through migration.

‘Trip9love…?’, Tirzah. Produced by long-time musical collaborator Mica Levi and written and recorded between their homes in southeast London and Kent, Trip9love…? is English songwriter Tirzah’s third album. Known for writing and producing sparse, intimate soundscapes, the record features personal lyrics and distorted rhythms. Expect plenty of piano and whimsical vocals.


Light and shade

On 12 September, French auction house Artcurial will mark the start of the autumn design season with back-to-back sales celebrating work from different corners of the world (writes Lucrezia Motta). The first auction will centre around Finnish designer Paavo Tynell, a master of Scandinavian lighting. Following this will be the second edition of the Brazilian Design auction, which will showcase pieces from big names such as José Zanine Caldas and Joaquim Tenreiro.

After the 2022 edition set four world records, expectations for this year’s sale are high. Among the day’s highlights is Tynell’s Snowflake pendant lamp, with an estimated price of €100,000 to €150,000; it’s an impressive brass structure made circa 1940 featuring 48 metal snowflakes. Another item to look out for is an elegant wooden coffee table by Tenreiro, which is expected to fetch between €30,000 and €40,000. The auctions coincide with Paris Design Week, which runs until 16 September.


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