Quick Lerner - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 30/9/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Smart moves

The weekend begins with a deep dive into the business of smart dressing in the US Senate and a survey of sustainable fashion initiatives. Lost in Bangkok? You’re not the only one – so let us show you the way. Plus: a tête-à-tête with interior designer Sara Lerner of Studio Palta. But first, let’s hit the road with editor in chief Andrew Tuck.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Time for reflection

1. I was driving along in a considered fashion, Macy the fox terrier my only passenger, when a man in a parked car, talking on his phone, blithely swung open his door, clipping my vehicle. Bang! The glass in my wing mirror had smashed and was now dangling down – it looked as though the car was wearing a single glinting pendant earring. I pulled over.

This poor wing mirror has had a troubled life – just before Christmas it was almost sheared off when a lorry struck it (I was stationary at the time so his insurance paid). Let’s just say that I very accurately expressed my disappointment at the repeat of this situation to my new friend. “We need to exchange details,” I said in my best not-to-be-messed-with voice. He surveyed the damage and tried gingerly to put the glass back in place. “How much do you think the repair will cost?” he asked calmly. I chose an amount, a large one, based on my previous experience. I then watched as he pulled out a thick wodge of banknotes from his jeans pocket – he had thousands of pounds in his fist – and counted out my selected sum. As he handed it over, he said, perhaps a little steelily, “but you promise that there will be no comeback. You will not report this incident. You won’t mention it.”

It was then that the dynamic changed. I noticed his large, muscular personage. His very big car. Who was this man so intent on taking such a determined stand against the cashless society? Let’s just say I concurred with his request, even shook hands on our deal. As we were about to part ways, he said, “And sorry about earlier, I was on the phone to my mother – some trouble back home.” I suddenly had a vision of a particularly burly rival not fitting in the mince-meat machine – and bade Mr Money a fine day. I have since told rather a lot of people about my mirror moment, and every time there’s one element of the story that shocks people. “He had cash on him? Wow, that’s very odd,” they all concur.

2. Last weekend I was in Mallorca again. Some 50 years ago the Danish architect Jørn Utzon built a house on the island, Can Lis, as a refuge on a cliff. He had come to the island after resigning from his role as the architect of the Sydney Opera House and he would stay connected to Mallorca for the rest of his life. The Utzon Center in Aalborg organised a dinner last Friday at Can Lis to mark both its, and the Opera House’s, 50th anniversaries. And, somehow, I got invited.

We arrived at about 5pm and watched as the late summer sun cast amber beams of light around this modest, single-storey house on a cliff. Then night fell and the ocean was gilded with white moonlight, an occasional rib crashing past on the waves. Sublime. Spiritual, even.

The next day we were invited to see the second home he built on the island, Can Feliz, still lived in by his daughter, Lin Utzon. This house sits on the prow of a hill, a tumble of landscape falling away in front of its epic studio-lounge window. Neither house is designed for luxury – Can Lis is almost spartan – but, as one of our guides pointed out, there’s something almost cosmic about both. Sitting in the courtyard at Can Lis, or staring out at the view at Can Feliz, you could be on the deck of a spaceship, sailing over the landscape. And while the views at both are enthralling, the way Utzon frames that landscape heightens its beauty even more.

On Sunday morning we swam in the still-warm sea in a cove where monolithic, brash houses elbow each other for the best vantage point and where glass-sided infinity pools are de rigueur. It’s a parade of ugliness that only money can buy – just as Can Lis is a display of beauty only a modesty of materials and spirit can secure. Although anyone seeing my for-once cash-plumped wallet might never guess which I would hanker to have.

Image: Getty Images


Get smart

In a rare display of bipartisan consensus, the US Senate has unanimously passed a resolution insisting that male senators must dress formally (writes Andrew Mueller). “Business attire” must now be worn on the floor of the Senate, which for men “shall include a coat, tie and slacks or other long pants”. This appears to have been a response to recent liberties with sartorial convention taken by Pennsylvania’s Democratic senator John Fetterman (pictured), who had been turning up to conduct the nation’s business in hoodies and shorts after suffering a stroke and clinical depression.

At the risk of sounding like Fetterman hipsters who were into his early work, Monocle interviewed Fetterman in 2009, in issue 25, when he was the mayor of Braddock, a dishevelled borough in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Fetterman, to his credit, has taken criticism of his deportment with good humour, recently tweeting, “If those jagoffs in the House stop trying to shut our government down and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor.” His merchandise store offers an “I vote in this hoodie” hoodie.

Nevertheless, Fetterman has pledged to abide by the new strictures and so he should. His fuddy-duddy colleagues were not wrong when they harrumphed that it was disrespectful to dress for the Senate as one would for one’s shed. Aside from which, if recent hapless left-leaning populist insurgencies across Europe have taught us anything – in the UK and Greece, in particular – it is to be wary of the tieless and leather-jacketed.

Image: Mathieu de Muizon

How we live / Geographical markers

Pointing out

A typical Monocle dispatch usually begins by locating where we are or where we’ve been (writes James Chambers). An up-and-coming district or out-of-the-way town, for example, southwest of a widely known city or landmark. Here in Thailand, I’d tell you that I live and work in the north of central Bangkok. However, that geographical marker is my own artificial attempt at orientation, which I’ve formulated for the benefit of residents of London and New York – cities where addresses and areas make regular use of the compass points. If I said “North-Central Bangkok” to a Thai resident, I would certainly see far more looks of sheer bafflement than nods of recognition. As odd as it might sound, north, south, east and west are just not a thing here. My efforts to find out why have elicited a range of responses. Geography isn’t a strong point in Thai schools, some say. Others blame the expansion of the capital: “North Bangkok” was, until recently, part of a neighbouring province. My own working theory is a historic one: Tokyo and Bangkok were not colonised and so neither city relies on compass points for orientation.

So what do they use? In the Thai capital, alongside specific districts, a series of nine main roads named after kings are the equivalent of the four compass points. Locals appear to know exactly where they are, provided there’s a “Rama” road nearby. Where is North Central Bangkok? Near Rama VI. I’m all in favour of this individual approach to urban wayfinding. Beijing uses its ring roads as a guide while Paris has the Left and Right Banks; idiosyncrasies add to a city’s charm and create a sense of discovery. There’s also something a little dull and overly precise about grid systems. The only problem in Bangkok is that there is no logical sequence or order to the Rama roads. Rama I is essentially Sukhumvit Road but the rest are scattered higgledy-piggledy across the city. As one Thai friend told me, that’s the beauty of Bangkok. Don’t expect street numbers to be sequential or postcodes to make sense. Once you embrace that everyday chaos and disorder, you will know exactly where you are.

Image: Mikael Lundblad

The Interrogator / Sara Lerner

Quick Lerner

Sara Lerner is the founder of interior design studio Palta Studio. Mixing culture, craftsmanship and a passion for heritage works, the studio specialises in interior design, styling and the sourcing of unique objects for functional homes. Here Lerner tells us about her latest project, favourite magazines and design recommendations.

A few words about your latest project?
I recently completed a 2.5-year renovation of an 18th-century barn-turned-farmhouse on the Swedish island of Gotland as a personal project and summer escape. The island is very wild and unruly, full of pine forests and white sand beaches. The project carried a lot of that wild energy with it, restoring a place that’s seen quite a lot of things come and go.

What news source do you wake up to?
BBC World News on the kitchen speaker.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
A piping hot cup of Moccamaster coffee if I’m home or a matcha latte if I’m in a city with someone to make it for me.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I’ve become a completely devoted FIP [Radio France] convert in recent years. Listening to it is like having a good friend hanging around the house and I love it so.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
Juliette Armanet for months now.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Architectural Digest and House & Garden for the creative stimulation; Sirene for the short stories of the ocean; back issues of The New Yorker that I’ve neglected; and I absolutely love this English biannual publication called Rakesprogress, all about gardens and farming. It has incredible photography and is truly stunning.

Favourite bookshop?
Ark Books when I’m in Copenhagen, Papercut when I’m in Stockholm.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Wiser Than Me, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s interview series about women and ageing – especially her interview with Ruth Reichl, the former New York Times food critic.

Some cool upcoming design, architecture or art projects to look out for?
I’m looking forward to Make Do With Now, a new exhibition coming to the Copenhagen Architecture Festival this autumn. It’s about the generation of Japanese architects and urban planners that entered the field in the years following the 2011 earthquake and the Fukushima disaster, and how the constraints of their environment have impacted their design thinking.

Going anywhere nice this year?
Yes, I’m returning to a small beach in Sri Lanka that’s one of my favourite places for surfing and a great escape from the dreaded Nordic Novembers.

Culture cuts / Read, watch, listen

Guilty pleasures

‘Shame’, Annie Ernaux, translated by Tanya Leslie. The first sentence of the French Nobel Prize-winning author Annie Ernaux’s memoir, Shame, is hard to forget: “My father tried to kill my mother one Sunday in June, in the early afternoon.” The rest of this delicate coming-of-age tale follows the writer, whose life is changed from that moment onwards, as she grapples with the aftermath of the incident.

‘Fremont’, Babak Jalali. The British-Iranian director’s latest film follows Donya, a young Afghan woman who moves to Fremont, California, after serving as a translator for the US army. She spends her days working at a fortune cookie factory and trying to make a new life on the West Coast. But leaving her past behind proves harder than she thought. A beautiful, quiet film about endings, beginnings and the moments in between.

‘Tension’, Kylie Minogue. “Padam Padam”, the tongue-in-cheek lead single from the Australian mega star’s new album, Tension, quickly rose up the UK charts this summer, earning Minogue her first top 10 appearance since 2010. The rest of the album, released yesterday, doesn’t disappoint. Expect synth pop and plenty of Euro house.

Image: Stefano Guindani

Fashion update / CNMI Sustainable Fashion Awards

Changing gear

As the fashion industry faces demands to reduce its environmental impact, a number of annual initiatives are rewarding those willing to make the necessary changes (writes Natalie Theodosi). The CNMI Sustainable Fashion Awards, organised by the UN and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, Italy’s fashion organising body, is one such initiative. It is designed to gather the industry together at Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala to recognise the fashion houses that operate responsibly. One of the most notable awards, supported by Value Retail’s Bicester Collection, spotlights emerging fashion designers who pioneer innovation and embrace sustainable business models.

This year’s winner is London-based Priya Ahluwalia, known for incorporating recycled and vintage fabrics into her designs. She was nominated alongside Maria Sole Ferragamo, who creates jewellery using upcycled leather and brass for her So-Le Studio brand, and Made For A Woman, a brand rooted in social entrepreneurship that produces handmade garments by female artisans in Madagascar. All three nominees will receive industry mentorship and the opportunity to showcase their collections in pop-up boutiques across The Bicester Collection, a series of shopping destinations in Europe and China. “We have a longstanding commitment to empower the talent of tomorrow,” says Desirée Bollier, Value Retail’s chief merchant and chair of Value Retail Management. “All three finalists’ talent and convictions speak to a promising future for our industry and our world.”

Image: Louis Blancard

What am I bid? / Trésor Retrouvé

Animal attractions

Artist couple Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne spent the second half of the 20th century creating fantastical bronze and brass sculptures, and were commissioned by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Their nature-inspired works can be found around the world, from public squares in France to the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan.

Their estate was handled by Sotheby’s after Claude’s death in 2019 but the Lalannes’ home and workshop in Ury, France, had yet to reveal all its secrets. This year a huge bull statue by François-Xavier that had been blocking a door was finally moved, leading to the rediscovery of 19 original works by the couple. These pieces from their private collection will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s Paris on 4 October. A series of photographs of the sculptures in the gardens of the Château de Courances have also been produced. Highlights of the auction include the Chaise Branchette – a whimsical chair that reflects Claude’s penchant for vegetal themes, starting at €20,000 – and a drinks cabinet hidden in the body of a bronze cow, appropriately named Vache Bar, which is estimated to fetch between €600,000 to €800,000. Also of note is Pomme de Londres (pictured), a giant golden apple sculpture, one of Claude Lalanne’s most recognisable works.


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