Saturday 13 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/1/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Outside looking in

Here to ease you into the weekend, we sit down with the editor in chief of a leading Norwegian newspaper, get the Monocle Concierge’s tips for a two-week trip to South Korea and finesse our sartorial game at Pitti Immagine Uomo in Florence, where an outdoor-fashion frenzy is taking hold. But first, Andrew Tuck has some real estate to look over…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Inside story

Idealista is the go-to property website in Spain (it also holds the same status in Italy and Portugal). It’s the perfect place to fritter away an hour of your life imagining a fresh start in Zaragoza, Valencia or a leafy suburb of Madrid (or to simply see how much your neighbours are selling their home for). Though it takes some getting used to, there’s a little tool that enables you to draw a search box on a map with the accuracy of a military drone operator. You can, for instance, pull up homes on a single street and then add numerous search filters. Nowhere can escape. As always, one of the treats of this diversion is seeing the interior lives that people have in various cities – for me, that’s Palma. Via a clickable carousel of images, you can suddenly wander around an apartment building whose lobby has always seemed to be the gateway to a world of modernist joy (sadly, it rarely is).

One Spanish quirk has become evident over time. When, say, a dear abuela has had her final tortilla, the heirs seem to waste no time in whacking that apartment up for sale without even pausing to perhaps re-style the place just a little. I regularly feel like Detective Tuck as I enter a large yet strangely cheap residence. “Something dark has happened here,” I think. My suspicions increase as I click on the first picture showing the entrance hall and notice a Zimmer frame pushed up against the wall. Then, I go into the kitchen that last had a refit in the 1980s and spy a wheelchair, with the footrests folded away, never to be taken on an evening tour of the neighbourhood again. In the bathroom I spot packets of unopened medicines by the sink, their efficacy now in question. At this point, I am confident that Señora Sanchez has left the building for the final time. But, if further proof were needed, in the main bedroom there are two single beds, each piled up with black bin bags. And staring down on the scene – a picture of Christ. I have yet to see the corpse but feel it is only a matter of time before an image shows a startled undertaker.

In the UK, with its patchy-at-best property market, there are regular newspaper columns and TV shows that tell you how to get your home pimped to be sale ready. Methods include anything from maintaining a tidy regime that would make Marie Kondo look like a slovenly hoarder to ensuring that there are always vases of freshly cut flowers and the aroma of coffee lingering in the air (a hybrid vibe of florist-cum-Starbucks seems to be what’s needed to loosen people’s wallets). The people I know who are trying to sell a home find this process exhausting – keeping up the façade of a perfect life is draining and the flowers soon wilt, along with the willpower. Of course, not everyone is with the programme. This week one colleague presented me with pictures of a house that he’s trying to buy, which looks like the set of a Wes Anderson movie. There are so many startlingly mismatched wallpapers that it feels as though you are entering an art installation. There’s also a house for sale near me in which the owner has a stuffed baboon perched by the fireplace. Well, I think it’s stuffed.

Then something I hadn’t seen before. A friend shows me a house for sale in London, letting me swipe through the shots on his phone. It looks great; way too prepped but immaculate. There are the flowers, the table is set for dinner and even the artwork is interesting. When I express my enthusiasm, he says that the problem is that it is a smelly wreck and points me towards a caption explaining that the rooms have been decorated digitally – none of this exists. There goes the job of the property prop primers.

I wonder whether this trend will take off in Spain. I hope not. The undertaker-has-just-left look makes you start wondering how you might reconfigure a space, while keeping the terrazzo floor, of course. Perhaps you would also hold on to the brightly tiled yellow bathroom, while perhaps shifting Christ’s watchful eye from above the bed (that can’t help entice any conjugal shenanigans). Or perhaps the digital makeover tool could have “dead abuela” as a setting, allowing you to transform a dull but OK space into an exciting doer-upper.

The threat to my detective work has made me a little nervous about a future where everything is perfect and no room is left for imagination. It has also made me realise how grateful I am to the impatient Spanish property heirs keen to offload granny’s old apartment at pace.

Image: Calvin Klein

The Look / Bare (almost) all

Brief encounters

There are many metrics available for measuring the efficacy of an advertising campaign but there can be few registers more reliable than the need to send street sweepers to wash the drool – it mostly is – from the pavements of New York and the freeways of Los Angeles (writes Robert Bound). Well, you know what we mean. I’m talking about Jeremy Allen “Tighty” White in his Calvin Klein boxer briefs, of course. If White hasn’t quite broken the internet, he has certainly had it straining fiercely at its seams. This server surge seems an act of sympathy with the Calvins in question, which look as strained as a leash tugged to breaking point by a very boisterous puppy.

It is such a look that the huge billboards on the corner of Manhattan’s Houston and Lafayette streets – 97 per cent buff body, two per cent Calvins, one per cent tarmac (pronounced “assfelt”) – have trended as a “national landmark” online. It’s as though White has climbed a fire escape to reveal Mount Tushmore, then stretched, revealing his Liberty Bell wrapped precariously in a pair of Niagara Smalls. The Bear’s bare and he’s rewriting the map.

Calvin Klein’s denim campaigns have been pursuing a simple-sexy aesthetic for 50 years. But the brand has hit a richer seam with its seamless boxer briefs as Justin Bieber, Jamie Dornan and a host of hot male properties have followed Mark Wahlberg’s pile-up inducing ads of the early 1990s. Sure, the internet – bent over its laptop – says that it has swallowed White whole but the billboards are what have propelled the campaign forward. National landmarks can only exist in the real world – outdoors. The look is something to aim for, gentlemen, but we should all desire media that simply makes us look up.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Air miles

Loyal to a fault

Many people reading this will be members of airline loyalty programmes (writes Andrew Mueller). And many of them should be wondering what the point is. Greetings from Sydney, second-last stop of the annual trip home to catch up with my vexingly widely dispersed Australian family. By the time I return, I will have dealt with six airlines. I am a member of either their own loyalty programmes or one to which they are allied. As a direct consequence, I would cheerfully never fly with any of them, ever again.

It is not just that the rewards have grown insultingly miserly, though there is that – I solemnly promise British Airways that I will not splurge in one shop the entire 100 Avios I earned for the Qantas flight from Adelaide to Melbourne. It’s that they are often not credited at all, plunging the customer into an absurd ordeal of administration, especially when – and I speak from present experience – it is a booking with multiple airlines that are all members of another airline’s programme, and who will all tell you that you need to contact someone else.

Even this desultory fob-off represents progress, given that customer-service options are now a choice between a chatbot that tells you to call a phone number that nobody answers, or – if you can find it – an email address, to which the automatic response promises a reply on a timescale likely to exceed your ability to remember what your question was in the first place. It is just all extremely weird, given that the original point of such programmes was to keep the most regular passengers coming back. If the airlines were trying instead to alienate them forever, I’m honestly not sure what they would do differently, beyond insistently planting every frequent flyer in a middle seat.

Image: Magnus Gulliksen

The Interrogator / DANBY CHOI

Fine tuning

Danby Choi is the editor in chief of Subjekt, Norway’s leading culture newspaper. It was the country’s fastest-growing newspaper in 2023, the same year that Choi made his book debut with Kanseller meg hvis du kan (Cancel Me if You Can), which criticises “woke” culture in Norway. Here, he shares some of his go-to news sources and favourite Oslo hangouts.

A few words about your latest project?
My first book ended up being a Norwegian bestseller, as well as part of the syllabus for hundreds of philosophy students at the Norwegian University of Science in Trondheim. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
I have a double-shot flat white on my way to work.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
As editor-in-chief of a fast-growing competitor, Subjekt, I don’t like to admit my love for NRK P2. But the Norwegian broadcaster has a dynamic radio station with the most important news, debates and long interviews, as well as the latest in music, culture and politics.

Go-to magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
I grew up with magazines such as Purple, Vogue, Elephant, Mixmag and DJ Mag. They inspired me to create my own title. Subjekt started as a magazine in 2013 before it launched as an online newspaper four years later.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
It’s called Etikk og estetikk [Ethics and Aesthetics] – and I’m hosting it. I also like Norsken, svensken og dansken [The Norwegian, Swede and Dane].

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
The last thing that I do before I fall asleep is check my calendar for the next day.

Any good restaurant and bar recommendations?
I have recently been spending a lot of time at the Sommerro hotel in Oslo and, in particular, Ekspedisjonshallen, which is one of its restaurants. My second favourite spot in Oslo is Panu, a wine bar and bistro.

Image: Jun Michael Park

The Monocle Concierge / Your Questions Answered

Baring our Seoul

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 planning to spend two weeks in South Korea later this year. What cities would you recommend visiting? I’m into photography, art, fine dining and street markets.

Gustavo Ferreira

Dear Gustavo,

Every first-timer should start in Seoul, the national capital of everything from culture to the culinary arts. But try to squeeze in a trip to seaside city Busan too. In Seoul, hit the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, near the ancient palace grounds offer a thrilling introduction to the country’s modern artists. Nearby is the Seoul Museum of History, where you’ll find a must-see exhibition of photographer Lim In-sik until 10 March.

There have been some exciting developments in the city’s fine-dining scene in recent years. At Restaurant Jueun, chef Park Jue-un has put together a creative tasting menu inspired by traditional Korean cuisine and his grandmother’s recipes. It’s hard to recommend just one street market: there’s a long stretch that includes the downtown Namdaemun Market (the city’s largest), Gyeongdong Market for traditional medicine and the Dongmyo vintage and antiques market. For a lively buzz after dark, you can’t go wrong with Gwangjang Market, where stalls selling savoury pancakes will make your mouth water.

Busan is a little more laid back but its citizens are known for their boisterous personalities. The city grew rapidly without much planning in the reconstruction period following the Korean War, which can make getting around a little tricky. Rent a car and take in its many hills and spectacular views of the sea. Near Busan Station, you’ll find Gukje Market, which was once a commercial centre catering to US soldiers and refugees but now attracts people seeking a retro vibe and food stalls. The finest art spot is the Busan Museum of Art. Its Space Lee Ufan, dedicated to the Mono-ha artist, remains open while the main building undergoes renovation. In the Haeundae Beach area, Johyun Gallery is a reliable bet to discover contemporary South Korean artists. Enjoy!

Image: S.S.Daley

Fashion update / PITTI UOMO

Technically speaking

Embrace the great outdoors: that’s one of the main themes of the autumn 2024 menswear season, which began with shows and presentations in Florence this week and continues in Milan and Paris (writes Natalie Theodosi). Brands have taken note of their customers’ desire to lead active lifestyles, whether in the form of weekend hikes, seasonal ski trips or commuting by bike. They have consequently expanded their activewear categories with new lines dedicated to sports. This investment in technical know-how is bearing fruit in urban wear too, with suits now made using comfortable crease-proof nylon. It’s also far more common to find luxury outerwear made from waterproof cashmere and featuring seamless, laser-cut details or multiple functional pockets.

Among the sector’s pioneers is Japan’s Goldwin. It now finds itself in an advantageous position: boutiques that once paid little attention to technical wear are now placing orders. Its new autumn collection includes an updated version of its short Gore-Tex parka with a collar and extra-large pockets, and an olive-green technical blazer that the brand’s president, Takao Watanabe, modelled at Pitti Uomo with matching cargo pants.

Even newer names had more functional garments in their collections. UK label SS Daley, best known for its dandy tailoring, presented its latest wares at the Palazzo Vecchio, with a bright-yellow raincoat and matching bucket hat. Italy’s Herno, makers of excellent rainwear and down jackets, has also been refining its technical brand, Laminar, with sophisticated silhouettes appropriate for both sport and life in the city. Herno’s president, Claudio Marenzi, believes that performance wear has so much potential that he recently added outdoor-wear experts Montura to the company’s portfolio. “In the long term, the rate of growth of the category will be the most significant in the industry,” says Marenzi. “This is the direction we’re heading in.”

Image: Artcurial

What am I bid? / Monaco Auction Week

Watch this space

French auction house Artcurial has kicked off the 2024 art calendar with an impressive sale at the Hôtel Hermitage in Monte Carlo (writes Lucrezia Motta). From royal watches to iconic bags, Monaco Auction Week is an unmissable event for collectors. The 2023 edition in mid-July was a resounding success; with revenues totalling more than €14m, it has set a high bar for this year’s event.

The first sale, Important Watches, will take place on Monday. Among the selection of high-end men’s timepieces under the hammer is a diamond-set 1958 Rolex Day Date called “The Eastern Arabic” (pictured). The watch, which was originally a gift from the Saudi King Saud ben Abdelaziz Al Saud to Lebanon’s then-prime minister, Rachid Karamé, is expected to fetch up to €100,000.

Another highlight, the “Montre Fleur” (“Flower Watch”), a rare 1938 Van Cleef & Arpels 18k gold timepiece with a pavé of sapphires that can be detached and worn as a brooch, is expected to go for €45,000. A black alligator-leather Hermès Birkin 35 from the 2010 So Black collection, designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, starts at €50,000. These unique lots are available to view at the Hôtel Hermitage between 14 and 17 January.


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