Saturday 25 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/11/2023

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Flying start

This week we shop around for the winter’s best styles for the slopes, wander the historic streets of Luang Prabang in Laos under the Concierge’s watchful eye, explore blue moods with the designer of Aegean Airlines’ new uniform and plenty more besides. First, Andrew Tuck gives us a dispatch from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

THE OPENER / Andrew Tuck

Beyond control

There was a beep as I passed through the exit gate at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. The guard, who was dressed in a perfectly pressed white thawb and wearing a red keffiyeh, asked me to repeat the process. There was another beep. “It’s your glasses,” he said, motioning to the spectacles adorning my sleepy face. “It always does this when people have nice glasses.” With a smile, he added, “Do you mind me asking what brand they are?” I gave him the details and even told him where he could purchase the frames online. “Thanks so much. I’ll look tonight.”

It was a surprising, engaging and open moment that captured the spirit of my first visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The main purpose of my time in Riyadh alongside my colleague Luke had been to meet the team behind a vast urbanism project called Diriyah Gate: a 7 sq km district of restaurants, residences, commercial offices and cultural assets that will be walkable, low-rise and inspired by traditional Najdi architecture. It sits alongside At-Turaif, a Unesco World Heritage site that was once the capital of this desert land. But we’ll do a deep dive into that another time.

For now, let’s briefly return to the sartorial world. We often judge people and make assumptions about them based on the clothes that they wear, the codes of dress that they abide by and the ones that they break. But that’s a tricky game for a European to play in Saudi Arabia because people adjust the meanings, hack the codes, again and again. We met women who arrived for meetings with their hair covered but let it run free and wild at dinner. Other women kept their heads covered while we were with them but told us about their beach holidays in Europe. For the women we met, all of whom were highly educated and globally minded, identity was not a fixed thing but something to be used, played with and enjoyed. It was the same for men: that traditional-looking thawb might be matched with a Balenciaga sneaker or a pair of Birkenstocks. Their views and perspectives were also a mix of proud tradition and international outlooks.

One of our contacts had an elegant grey thawb. Being nosy and wondering whether it had some meaning, I asked him why. “It’s just my winter colour and I like to stand out,” he said. “I don’t want to look like everyone else in the office.” As someone who always ends up with olive-oil splashes and pen marks on my shirts, I wanted to ask, “How do people keep their whites so white?” But that seemed a little low brow even for me.

Ahead of the trip, several previous visitors to the city had told me that Riyadh was ugly, that there was little to do and that I should go to Jeddah to see the country at its best. You certainly won’t be seduced by the highways, the endless traffic jams, the numerous military sites or the lack of pavements in many parts of town – but there are also plenty of things to like. The punchy Arabic-script shop signs are beautiful and the 1970s architecture in the leafy Diplomatic Quarter is head-turning. The scent-o-rama of the numerous fragrance shops is wonderful, while the tight branding of the new generation of cafés and food shops is just cool.

The country is in a race for change and some of the 14 gigaprojects promised as part of this transformation are seen by many as dystopian. (The Line, a 170km-long city encased in glass, has not caught the world’s attention in a good way.) But there are good things happening in Riyadh. A new metro is in its testing phase and there are ambitions to build more parks and green spaces. Diriyah Gate is also a scheme with great potential.

Perhaps what impressed me most were the stories of the women who we met, the warm Saudi hospitality and the feeling that a new generation was determined to seize this moment of change after years of claustrophobic control.

A little bit of seasonal house news. Next weekend it’s the Monocle Christmas Market at our Zürich HQ. Join us at Dufourstrasse 90. Then, the following weekend (9 and 10 December), it’s London’s turn to get the party started with numerous stalls, the real Santa, lots of mulled wine and all of our editors there to entice you into buying a gift subscription or two. Come and see us. Full details can be found here.

Colour me impressed: classic styles for the slopes

Image: Getty Images


As cool as ice

Anyone who spends a lot of time on the slopes will know that there are two kinds of skiers: those for whom the piste is a snowy catwalk and those who favour hi-tech togs to take them down black-diamond runs free of frost, sweat and chills (writes Kimberly Bradley). If you belong to the former category, you’ll be excited to know that the one-piece ski suit is back this year for the first time since the 1980s. For fashion-conscious women, Obermeyer in Aspen and Frauenschuh in Kitzbühel have especially fetching ones on offer, in stretch fabric and cinched around the waist. Meanwhile, looser onesies such as Arc’teryx’s Sentinel elevate the workwear look and adapt it for the slopes. This winter, those who prefer down jackets will see plenty of cross-hatched quilting; elsewhere, colour-blocked or nature-toned anoraks are cut a little longer for warmth.

The smart option is to tread the fine line between looks and function. Personally, I’ll be sticking with my sleek but tech-driven Peak Performance ski jacket and trousers. Despite the onesie trend, the idea of having to navigate the bathroom of an Alpine hut in one is too much for me to bear. But I’ve got my eye on a knee-length lambskin vest for its après-ski style, which will work just as well in the city when I get home. Even in the snow, a little bella figura is never a bad thing.

Fine print: some of the publications on offer at Casa Magazines, New York

Image: Timothy O'Connell

HOW WE LIVE / New York kiosks

Going paper-free

Sometimes one of the world’s great media capitals can feel like a news desert – at least, for those who are accustomed to reading a newspaper with their morning coffee (writes Gregory Scruggs). On a recent trip to New York, I asked the front-desk clerk at my hotel in the NoMad neighbourhood to direct me to the closest place where I could buy a paper. He gave me a blank stare, fumbled on his computer and recommended a newsstand a dozen blocks away. Why such a schlep? From a peak of more than 1,300 newsstands in the 1950s, just 300-odd remain in the city today. Those that survived are a good-looking bunch, benefitting from a sleek design by Spanish street-furniture company Cemusa that was rolled out in 2005. But few of their shutters are actually still rolled up.

On a Monday morning, I passed several dormant kiosks. I ducked into a bodega and a 7-Eleven. It was easy to come by a bagel, some eggs and cheese but not one of New York’s two broadsheets and two tabloids. Only later in the afternoon, at venerable print outpost Casa Magazines (which won a Monocle Retail Award this year), did I find newspapers for sale. By then I was hunting for monthlies and quarterlies, not dailies. I had already resigned myself to reading the latest on the Israel-Hamas war on a smartphone while riding the subway.

Life in the Big Apple has a lot to offer, from great restaurants and hospitality to new public spaces. Little Island on the Hudson river and the latest addition to the High Line, the Moynihan Connector, absolutely dazzled. The book selection at Rizzoli was impeccable, as was the curation at Fotografiska New York. Though my inability to procure a paper might seem a trivial matter amid such wonders, it’s a sign that something is amiss in a city that sets the tone for the rest of the continent.

Lazy river: view of the landscape surrounding Luang Prabang

Image: Getty Images


Slow and easy

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,

We are planning to spend a week or so in Luang Prabang, Laos. Do you have any suggestions on what is essential to see and do?

Thank you,
Christina Gregorio,

Dear Christina,

Coming from neighbouring Thailand, you are already one step ahead in your preparations. Bangkok is one of the few international cities to operate direct flights to Luang Prabang. You will also be familiar with Laos’s Buddhist rituals and the cooler, drier weather at this time of year, not to mention a few of the seasonal drawbacks (bigger crowds, lower air quality). But what will strike you right away when you arrive is the change of pace. Things move gently here.

To get your bearings once you arrive, climb up Mount Phousi, a hill in the heart of the old town. From this vantage point, you will be able to make out the two sides of Luang Prabang. First, there’s its history: the former ancient royal capital is a Unesco World Heritage site. You’ll enjoy the French-colonial architecture and cafés, palaces and Buddhist temples, conveniently arranged on a few walkable streets within a picturesque peninsula. And then there’s the wider city where most people live.

A week is certainly a long time in Luang Prabang, where the only thing that seems to be in a hurry is the mighty Mekong river that gushes by. This is a sleepy town where residents get up early to give alms to the monks and buy fresh food from the market, before turning in early (bars generally close at about 23.00). At night, seek out one of the restaurants or hotels screening outdoor movies. Despite not having a cinema, Luang Prabang loves film and the annual film festival (recently renamed Blue Chair) runs until mid-December.

As for where to stay, you have several good options. Though the Amantaka resort’s serenity is unmatched, consider staying at the more affordable Avani+ Luang Prabang nearby. If you want to get away from the crowds and be closer to nature (the city is in the mountains, after all), Rosewood’s breathtaking tented villas have you covered. A river runs through this secluded hilltop resort and there’s even an on-site waterfall, sparing you the need to get a photo at the Kuang Si Falls, the city’s most touristy attraction. Enjoy your time!

Culture Cuts / Read, watch, listen

Good grief

‘Baumgartner’, Paul Auster. A professor grapples with his mortality and the death of his wife in Paul Auster’s latest novel. Set between 2016 and 2018, the result feels equal parts whimsical and melancholic – and is not lacking in humour. We follow Auster’s protagonist through a series of mix-ups and mistakes, including a doomed relationship and subsequent messy marriage proposal. In one scene, he even slips and falls down the stairs. It’s a reminder that grief, like all human emotions, is something that everyone wears differently.

‘Saltburn’, Emerald Fennell. Writer-director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature, Promising Young Woman, won an Oscar for best original screenplay. Now she has returned with Saltburn, a lavish exploration of privilege and desire. University of Oxford student Oliver (Barry Keoghan) becomes infatuated with his aristocratic friend Felix (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to spend the summer at his family estate (yes, there are echoes of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ here). While cinematic convention tells us that a trip to an isolated location with mysterious acquaintances rarely ends happily, it makes for a thrilling set-up here.

‘Autopoiética’, Mon Laferte. The 40-year-old Chilean pop star made a name for herself singing ballads and folk pop in the early 2000s. But she spans a number of different genres on her latest album, from bossa nova to 1990s trip-hop (think Portishead). Laferte might be 20 years into her career but Autopoiética makes it clear that she’s not done experimenting.

Fashion update / Zeus+Dione & Aegean Airlines

Runway show

Greek-Austrian designer Marios Schwab had long dreamt of creating a new uniform for a flag carrier (writes Chiara Rimella). When he was tasked with rethinking the crew’s attire for Aegean Airlines, the creative director of Zeus+Dione – a brand that Monocle readers might remember from a handsome collaboration in 2017 – wanted to reference some Greek hallmarks without being too literal.

Going up: the new uniform of Aegean Airlines

Flying colours: the rich blues chosen by Marios Schwab

The result, which is now in use across the fleet, is a sleek take on suits, dresses and skirts. Aegean blue dominates the colour scheme but there’s elegant navy for jackets, coats and trousers too. “I wanted the crew to be easy to recognise from afar through colour,” says Schwab. “There are many shades of blue in Greek topography.” To evoke the dynamism of flight, the designer also opted for asymmetrical diagonal lines that drew inspiration from garments such as the chiton – a draped tunic worn in ancient Greece. “The spontaneous way of knotting it gave me the idea for the seam lines for most of the pieces.”

Practicality was obviously a concern (all items are breathable and allow ease of movement), as was achieving a balance between wearability and professionalism – the greatest challenge when it comes to designing uniforms for aviation or otherwise. “I wanted it to reflect individuality,” he says. “You can choose trousers, a dress or a skirt; it’s up to the wearer. It was important to move away from stereotypical strictness, bringing a sense of sophistication that is more ‘fashion’ and timeless.”

Second look: a skeletonised gold watch from Patek Philippe

Image: Bonhams

What am I bid? / Hong Kong Watches, Bonhams

Time is money

The clockwork wristwatch is, by now, purely decorative (writes Andrew Mueller). Even the most sophisticated timepiece contains a meagre fraction of the information stored in the cheapest smartphone or smartwatch. By definition, putting on a watch is showing off – and if you’re going to do it, you might as well show off big. Bonhams is offering an opportunity to do exactly that in its Hong Kong salesroom on 27 November. The biggest numbers are expected for a modern but rare Patek Philippe with handsome art deco features rendered in bold red and black, which includes the always-handy moon-phases feature. That one might clear €420,000, which seems – and is – a lot of money. But it’s a bargain by Patek Philippe standards. In 2019 a unique steel Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime fetched nearly €29m.

At the other end of the scale, you’ll look nearly as dashing wearing the Panerai Luminor (expected to sell for about €4,800), though you’re on your own regarding moon phases. Possibly the most picturesque lot is the scarlet-and-black carbon-fibre Richard Mille with a transparent fascia that reveals the cogs within. It was manufactured in homage to the Brazilian Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa and you might need to be Massa to afford it – Bonhams expects it to fetch €260,000.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00