With the ski season in full swing, we visit the cold-weather fashion labels keen to conquer the mountains and find some Christmas inspiration along the way. Plus: a Swedish professor teaches us a lesson in happiness and we meet a Finnish footwear brand that’s taking a step in the right direction. But first, Andrew Tuck has a few festive missives ahead of the big day.
Are you still sending Christmas cards? Yes? Well, you and I might just be about the last ones standing. It would be hard to describe the number of envelopes being pushed through the letterbox at Tuck Mansions as an avalanche; the bills outnumber the Crimble missives. I could put this down to my soaring unpopularity but everyone I speak to seems to be suffering the same card drought. And, in response, I have also begun to curtail my output. When years pass by without a snowy scene on paper coming back your way, well, to hell with them. Even the ones that I do receive seem to arrive suspiciously three days after I posted mine to sender. “Darling, he’s done it again. You are going to have to send him a card or he’ll be insufferable.” How did we get here?
My parents used to receive cards by the dozen every day in the run up to Christmas. I was primarily interested in the ones that mentioned me or the words “and family” on the envelope as I felt that this entitled me to open them, even if my parents were out. But whoever got to slit open the envelope, it was my official job to then attach each card with a dainty red or green peg to the strings that my dad tacked up with a drawing pin to the cornicing in the lounge. Over the years I became more fastidious about my styling role, rehanging cards so that all the robins perched together on one string and jolly, rosy-cheeked Santas bulked up on one another. And even the envelopes had potential. When cards arrived from distant relatives in Canada or South Africa, stamps would be removed for my “collection”. By the time Christmas Day arrived, the lounge looked as though it had been fly-posted with scenes of ladies in Victorian garb skating down a frozen Thames and horse-drawn coaches laden with gifts arriving in towns that were packed with smiling children (no doubt about to loot the presents). It has left me with a fondness for these contrived scenes. Who needs all these ironic cards and letterpress perfection when you can have a smiling snowman with a carrot for a nose?
There are obvious reasons for the demise of the Christmas card. Communication is now so effortless, so 24/7 that even when friends live on the other side of the world, a few words scribbled on a card can seem daft. Plus, people live more fancy lives. This year I have had to enquire whether people on my shortlist will be at home or on a tropical beach, or which of their houses I should send a card to (you need to keep in with these ones).
Of course, there is the modern alternative of an e-card but I have never opened one of these, so don’t bother adding me to your list. Perhaps next year I will also refrain from sending Christmas cards and accept that my home will become a card-free zone. But, for now, I persist, making sure to write the names of any children on the envelope in the hope that they will feel this provides them with their cue to rip it open when it lands on the doormat. Traditions.
The joys of a mountain getaway include the thrill of rushing down a powdered slope, sipping a warm drink with a view from the comfort of a chalet, après-ski socialising and, most importantly, the fashion. It’s why getting dressed for a day on the slopes is now a much more considered affair. A heightened appetite for looking chic has transformed the skiwear sector, which is no longer limited to traditional sportswear labels. Established fashion houses from Fendi to Giorgio Armani have all developed ski lines and added their own fashionable takes on the category. Louis Vuitton, for instance, worked with specialist manufacturers across France to adapt its ready-to-wear silhouettes for the slopes to create its largest ski collection to date.
This enthusiasm has also been felt by brands that have been in the skiwear game for decades. Heritage label Fusalp (pictured) has reached $50m (€45.7m) in revenue and aims to double that number over the next three years. The company’s chairman, Sophie Lacoste, describes its “fashion-tech” apparel as the reason for its success. “We’re not just making clothes; we’re creating intelligent apparel that makes you look good, perform well and feel confident”. The potential for interesting collaborations and technological innovation has made skiwear a market full of opportunities; one that we hope will make it in the long run.
In 2008, at the fresh-faced age of 34, Micael Dahlen became Sweden’s youngest economics professor. Now he has a new accolade: he is the world’s first recipient of a professorship dedicated to happiness, wellbeing and welfare at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE). “My goal is to make society happier,” he says. Some of his challenges to students include making eye contact with strangers, confronting fear, reconciling with a person who they were once close to and asking someone for help.
“Hopefully, the course will become mandatory for all students soon,” he says, while showing Monocle some of the rooms and environments of the Center for Happiness, Wellbeing and Welfare. Research at the new centre will look at quality of life, mental and physical wellbeing, social changes, what constitutes a healthy economy and how companies and society contribute to people’s welfare. The goal is to shape policy making, guide companies in implementing health-promoting measures to enhance productivity and profitability, and, not least, make research findings accessible to the public.
As part of his mission at SSE, Dahlen wants to broaden the understanding that economics should be about so much more than wealth. “As an institution, we are a crucial social actor, a welfare agent,” he says. “And with that, we have the great responsibility to educate students who will go into positions where they can truly make a difference – whether it is in the public sector, politically, in civil society or in business.”
Read more about Micael Dahlen in Monocle’s December/January issue, which is out now.
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.
We are visiting Iceland in the New Year, do you have any recommendations for unusual places to visit?
Iceland rewards the visitor who is willing to put in the miles, so don’t fret about leaving the Golden Circle behind. There’s little there that you won’t be able to see in the rest of the country – and with fewer people around. It’s worth spending some time in Reykjavík before venturing further afield. Head to the excellent contemporary art galleries at Marshallhúsid and stop off at the shops on the Grandi strip for a look at the city’s edgier side. Dinner at the counter of the casual Nordic restaurant Skál!, housed inside a former bus station, won’t disappoint. If your time is limited, the Snaefellsnes peninsula will provide all the dramatic nature that you might desire, particularly Djúpalónssandur beach. The little black church at Budir isn’t exactly a hidden gem but it is still worth seeing. On the way, stop off at Hvammsvík (pictured), a new geothermal pool complex that’s much quieter (and more integrated with nature) than other lagoons of this kind. Swimming in warm water is a big deal in Iceland, so if you’re after the best spot of all, head to Krossneslaug in the Westfjords. This glorious, tiny pool made of driftwood stands by the edge of the Arctic and is a wonderful place to appreciate this remote and overlooked region. Stay the night at Hótel Djúpavík and order the lamb. If you plan to drive around the whole ring road, you’ll encounter many stunning landscapes and waterfalls but don’t skip a detour to the East Fjords in a rush to get to the glaciers of the south. Head to the picturesque town of Seydisfjordur, where the pastel-coloured homes, which reflect in the still waters of the ocean, are a perfect summary of this awe-inspiring nation.
‘Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song’, Judith Tick. In Ella Fitzgerald’s first major biography since her death in 1996, historian Judith Tick examines the jazz singer’s beginnings and decades-long career. It offers a layered, carefully researched portrait of one of the 20th century’s most influential individuals.
‘Eileen’, William Oldroyd. Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel, William Oldroy’s film adaptation follows a younger woman (Thomasin McKenzie) who becomes obsessed with her older colleague (Anne Hathaway) in a snowy, small-minded town in Massachusetts. What follows is a tale about longing and desire that feels equal parts funny and sinister.
‘Christmas’, Cher. The American singer’s 27th studio album seems to be geared towards anyone who has ever wondered what the 1990s hit “Believe” would sound like if it were a Christmas tune (look no further than the lead single, “DJ Play a Christmas Song”, for proof). Expect saccharine pop mixed in with a few jazzy classics.
Finnish footwear brand Tarvas embodies the saying that less really is more. Its only two models, the suede and faux-fur trainer Forest Bather and the classic lace-up Explorer, are crafted in Finland with high-quality Italian leather. Since its beginnings in 2017, the brand has steadily grown and its products have now become staple parts of many winter wardrobes, known for their elegance and durability. “It took us five years to perfect the design,” says Tarvas co-founder Pekka Keinänen. “We wanted to create a shoe that you could wear during a hike or at a more formal event, such as a cocktail party.”
The brand partnered with an artisanal atelier run by Ari and Sanna Haapaniemi in Parkano to manufacture its shoes, a testament to the founders’ desire to pay homage to local craftsmanship. In the workshop, large batches of leather are laid out on tables, while the steady whir of machinery fills the air. “Our clients want to know more about where the shoes are made and we’re happy to show them,” says Jukka Lehtinen, another of the Tarvas co-founders. Whether you’re into a classic style or more daring design, Tarvas shoes are sure to become a new favourite.
Japan has never had much time for the alcohol-soaked heft of a traditional fruit cake, preferring instead to celebrate Christmas with a frothy strawberry shortcake. This simple but sublime confection of featherlight sponge, whipped cream and fresh strawberries originated with Kuniteru Kadokura, a baker who worked in the Japanese royal household before studying pâtisserie in France (the first person from Japan to do so) and then returning to open his own establishment, Colombin, in Tokyo in 1924. The invention of the Japanese strawberry shortcake came a few years later, made possible by a series of converging events. First was the introduction to Japan of homegrown strawberries and then the arrival of whipped cream.
The strawberry shortcake morphed into a Christmas staple and Colombin continues to make thousands (they’re expecting to sell 4,000 this year). The recipe has barely changed, apart from the reduction of sugar in the cream from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. Colombin’s head pâtissier today is Yasuhiko Horie, who joined the company in 1978. The design changes every year but the basic format – Santa in a bed of strawberries – remains. “It’s tempting to make it more elaborate but you have to remember that every cake is decorated by hand,” says Horie. And if Christmas isn’t a time that calls for traditions, when else does?