Saturday 18 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 18/11/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Picture perfect

It’s all about the fine print this weekend as we get the best bookshop recommendations in southern France and attend a comics auction in Paris. Plus: the top cocktail bars in Hong Kong, Thailand picks up an obsession on the road and an album for the flute fanatic in your life. But first, Andrew Tuck gets us to look at life through a different lens.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

In focus

In the December/January issue of Monocle, which will be on subscribers’ doormats in just over a week, one of our writers, Stella Roos, reports on a shift that’s happening at Finnish furniture brand Artek. Founded in 1935 by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl, the brand has spent years perfecting the manufacture of its signature designs. But now, Artek has decided that it’s time to be, well, a little less perfect.

Back in 2019 the company asked Simone Farresin and Andrea Trimarchi, of Italian studio Formafantasma, to evaluate its entire supply chain to see where it could do better environmentally. The invite came after the duo had staged an exhibition about the forestry industry at London’s Serpentine Gallery. One of the things that Farresin and Trimarchi suggested was lowering the standard of wood – mostly birch – used to make Artek’s famous seating and tables. What was the issue? An insistence on only using timber that was blemish-free meant that up to 90 per cent of this valuable commodity was being discarded. Cut to today and Artek has launched Villi, a version of its classic Stool 60 that features wood in all its knotty, gnarled glory. It’s a beautiful product. It carries meaning and takes you to the Finnish forests (not literally, you need Finnair for that).

This week I took the train up to Birmingham to meet a man who repairs cameras. This is for our February issue, so I won’t reveal all now. But as we talked in his workshop, he also began to tell a story of celebrating imperfection. When an old Leica, Pentax or Hasselblad comes his way, he sees his job as getting shutters to blink again and ensuring mechanisms move with grace – but not making the camera as good as new. The wear and tear on the casing – the scratches and dents – are to be accepted. And more than that, they are to be cherished. These marks are the camera’s history.

We also got talking about photography as he runs a small lab. He said that the most compelling images are not ones that are technically perfect but rather those that tell a story on film and capture genuine moments. Really, who cares if the framing is slightly off.

Now, I don’t think it would go down very well if I started encouraging our fact-checkers to be less diligent, or our writers to stop honing their craft but, actually, there are moments when we also step away from perfection at Monocle. Let’s go back to those design pages. When looking for residences to be shot for the magazine, we too shy away from places where no life has been lived. We err instead towards houses and apartments that have books jammed on to shelves, where dogs are evidently welcome on sofas and where children run free. Like the camera repairman, we are drawn to places where the patina of use – bannisters burnished by generations of gripping hands; kitchen counters softened and striated by kneading and knife-wielding – carries in it the stories of the owners.

It feels as though we are all becoming more aware that the race to perfection comes with unbearable costs and that, too often, it can also involve the eradication of those stories, our connection, our past. So, this morning, here’s a toast (or perhaps just a slice of toast), to the dents, blemishes, scuffs and even the fret-etched wrinkles that make the imperfect just perfect.

Image: Alamy

The Look / Bicorn hats

Chapeau must go on!

Of course, there is much excitement about next week’s release of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon (pictured), chock-full as it is with bloody battles, stirring derring-do and charmingly ludicrous historical inaccuracy (writes Robert Bound). The Pyramids? Kaboom! But that’s nothing compared to the excitement in hat-watching circles as Napoléon’s signature hit of headgear, that bicorn hat, rightfully enjoys just as starring a rôle as Joaquin Phoenix’s luxuriously arrogant performance as the diminutive French warmonger.

Whatever your feelings about carving up Europe with canon and cavalry, the bicorn is just a very fierce look. Wanna buckle some swash? Wear the bicorn. Napoléon wore his sideways to be bravely identifiable on the battlefield and – the odd British Rear-Admiral aside – no one has looked back from the Frenchman’s full-frontal fashion assault since. The rest is (some sort of) history.

Vivienne Westwood knew the power of the bicorn when she put it front-and-centre in her 1981 “Pirate” collection, a series of looks that embodied seamy elegance, revolutionary sexiness and no-shits-given swagger. Your correspondent is a proud owner of one of those Westwood hats, a beautifully finished fold of wool and felt with a daintily gothic black rosette and a brass tassel as heavy in the hand as the balls of a lowland gorilla. I wore mine to a Monocle party in Paris and culturally appropriated the living hell out of my hosts. Deal with it. The bicorn is not for shrinking violets. So next week, boo the Tricolore, cheer the bicorn and, if you want to get ahead, wear it like Boney.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Thai pickup trucks

Keep on trucking

There’s only one king of the road in Thailand and it’s neither the humble tuk-tuk nor those dazzlingly ornate lorries decorated with chrome wing mirrors (writes James Chambers). Pickup trucks are the national car here. They account for almost half of all new vehicle sales and at least one in four cars in Bangkok. Those statistics might seem straight out of the Midwest or the Australian outback but in the Thai capital, they are easily verified by the naked eye. They might even undersell the extent of this remarkably diverse vehicle fandom, which spans from neighbourhood fruit sellers to ladder-carrying tradesmen. Some models have passenger cabins for family members or have adapted to be ride-hailing side jobs, while others wear a solid steel cabin over the open-top trunk to imitate legitimate delivery vans. Such is the market for these utility vehicles that car dealerships put the newest pickup truck models on actual pedestals in their forecourts.

The Toyota Hilux and Isuzu’s D-Max duke it out for top spot, leaving the Mitsubishi Triton and Ford Ranger trailing in the rear-view mirror. Every one of these manufacturers has factories in Thailand, so their domestic sales figures are a reliable indicator of local productivity and consumer confidence. But these Japanese car giants face a reckoning in the Thai streets as their traditional diesel-engined dominance is being challenged by battery-powered alternatives from China’s Geely and BYD; Tesla’s soon-to-be-released Cybertruck is a long way from arriving in Bangkok but the Blade Runner-inspired electric pickup points to where the global market is heading. Toyota recently announced a trial of its first electric model of the Hilux. With air pollution a regular hazard in Thailand, a strong pick up in sales would be welcomed by all road users.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Star of the show

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’m visiting Hong Kong for the first time in early December and, as an avid Monocle reader, I just couldn’t embark on the journey without asking for your recommendations.

All the best,

Ali Abdulaziz

Dear Ali,

Hong Kong is full of activity and new openings. In fact, we’ll be featuring a full guide to the city in the forthcoming issue of our travel-themed annual, The Escapist. Until then, here are a few recommendations.

A stay at The Hari (pictured) will place you in the centre of bustling Wan Chai, while the five-star hotel’s impeccable service, cosy lounges and martinis on the terrace will be a welcome respite after a busy day. Hop on a tram or take a short stroll to the Starstreet precinct for a coffee at Blue Bottle and some shopping. We like Salvo, Kapok and Lane Eight (not to mention The Monocle Shop). Then, pop into the Hong Kong outpost of Kiang Malingue, a stellar, independent art gallery. WKM Gallery, PHD Group and M+ are also not to be missed.

If you have a taste for the outdoors, you’re in luck. There are many hiking trails and beaches, and the weather in December is sunny, cool and crisp. Tan on the white sands of Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung, stretch your muscles to reach the gorgeous views at the summit of Lantau Peak or take the ferry to Lamma Island for easy walks and a sundowner by the water at the newly opened Terracotta Lamma. Bars such as The Green Door, The Savory Project, Bar Leone, Artifact Bar and Melody are all on our radar. Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant The Chairman has a new venue, while Shop B offers a buzzy modern take on traditional Hong Kong fare.

Image: William Keo

The Interrogator / NICOLAS MAZET

One for the books

Nicolas Mazet is the owner of the Hôtel de Gallifet, a 19th-century residence in Aix-en-Provence that he transformed into a contemporary art space in 2010. The hotel hosts four annual exhibitions in its six exhibition rooms and gardens, as well as artist residencies and ateliers. Here, he recommends bookshops to visit in the south of France, where to have some of the best local wines in Aix and his favourite morning treat.

A few words about your latest project?
Textile designer Morgane Baroghel-Crucq is currently curating her second show at Gallifet, which highlights the craft of 13 artists.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Green tea with oat milk at La Brûlerie Richelme is my favourite morning treat. Franky, the fishmonger, usually sips on an Ethiopian coffee while Patrick, our beloved vegetable farmer, downs his fourth café serré. I then pick up a pain au chocolat stuffed with almonds and raspberries from Aux Saveurs des Saisons.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Côté Sud, Monocle, Beaux Arts Magazine, Elle Décoration and Art Absolument.

Favourite bookshop?
Librairie Goulard in Aix-en-Provence has an amazing selection of books. It’s the kind of place that you can get lost in and you always leave with books that you hadn’t come to buy. Book in Bar, an English bookshop and café, is also great. Librairie Actes Sud au Méjan in Arles is where I go to find unique art books or future bestsellers by international authors.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
I loved the recent film about Anselm Kieffer, Anselm, by Wim Wenders.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Danielle Mckinney, who I discovered at Frieze London this year.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
A book. At the moment it’s Cézanne: Des toits rouge sur la mer bleue by Marie-Hélène Lafon.

Any good restaurant or bar recommendations?
La Méduse on Rue Portalis in Aix-en-Provence, which has a lovely selection of local wines, including many natural ones.

Culture cuts / Read, watch, listen

Imitating life

‘The Vulnerables’, Sigrid Nunez. American author Sigrid Nunez, a National Book Award winner, is known for her measured – and often comical – meditations on human relationships and existence. In her new novel, a lonely writer, a Gen Z college dropout and a spirited parrot, Eureka, are forced to live together in a New York apartment. Equal parts heartwarming and cynical, the story is a lucid reflection on friendship and the complicated business of caring for other people.

‘May December’, Todd Haynes. When a young actress begins research for a movie, the married couple set to be portrayed in it are forced to reckon with their relationship 20 years after its beginning became a notorious tabloid scandal. This black comedy from Far from Heaven director Todd Haynes, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, dissects what it means to truly understand someone else.

‘New Blue Sun’, André 3000.New Blue Sun is the debut solo album from six-time Grammy-winning rap heavyweight André 3000, who made a name for himself as one half of Outkast. Surprisingly, it is completely devoid of rapping. Filled instead with jazzy flute sounds and ethereal chord progressions – and replete with some eccentric song titles – it is a testament to the artist’s capacity for reinvention.

Image: Jean-Jacques Sempé

What am I bid? / Tintin auction

Sketchy business

Artcurial’s Comic Strips auction, which begins today, is not exclusively a celebration of Georges Remi, the artist better remembered as Hergé (writes Andrew Mueller). But works related to Tintin, the plucky reporter Hergé created nearly a century ago for a Belgian newspaper, are the dominant attraction. On the block are dozens of Tintin-related books, paintings, sketches and toys.

The market for Hergé’s work appears as eternally robust as the appeal of his best-known character. In 2021 a painting intended as the cover of the 1936 Tintin adventure Le Lotus Bleu (pictured), fetched €3.2m – a record for comic-book art. Earlier this year, a black-and-white drawing from Tintin in America, made in 1942, went for €2.1m. So, some of these estimates seem pretty reasonable: a signed print of that Le Lotus Bleu picture is listed to at €1,500, while some elegant Tintin-and-Snowy bookends are listed between €300 and €500 (prices likely to be beaten).

A glorious addition to any home’s décor – estimated at €100 to €300 – would be the 1985 Editions Rombaldi poster that captures the grumpy Tintin sidekick Captain Haddock in full vituperative cry, as seen in Red Rackham’s Treasure. The speech bubble contains Haddock’s entire, extensive and inventive lexicon of insult – and the French gives proper grandeur to epithets such as “Espèce de mérinos mal peigné!” (“You badly groomed sheep!”), “Espèce de vieille perruche bavarde!” (“You chatty old parrot!”) and – possibly most damningly, in Haddock’s view – “Végétarien!”


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