Saturday 3 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 3/2/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Going south

Andrew Tuck gets things under way with a unique view of the week, while we head to South Africa for a taste of Cape Town’s finest wine and charcuterie. Elsewhere, we get a hit of guerrilla marketing for a new Netflix series and we prepare to make bids on some fine items that once belonged to Elton John. If you can’t get your hands on anything, don’t worry: ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

A view to distill

What do you see? I had drinks with a friend this week who is a creative director at a big online-retail brand. He’s working on a refresh that includes new visual elements for the brand’s website. He found a designer whose work he really liked but wanted to get the approval of his CEO before pressing play. She also loved it and thought that their work was nuanced and beautiful but she vetoed hiring them. “Their designs are incredible but most people visiting our site will never notice these details,” she said to my friend. “They need something that just hits them.” In truth, my friend sees things that other people just don’t spot. Through his eyes, the world is rendered in fine brush strokes. He spies myriad ways to improve what’s around him and subtly change perceptions, while most just click and pay.

Erik Spiekermann is one of the world’s most influential typographers and a long-term friend of Monocle. He came into the office a few days ago for a catch-up. He’s very amusing and very direct – a livewire. You have to up your game when you are around him. Some years ago, when he met a former colleague for the first time, he pointed to his follically compromised pate and said by way of introduction, “You, me, the same problem.” This time his parting shot to me was, “You’re looking pretty good – just a bit grey.” In short, I love the man.

Anyway, one of the reasons he came calling was to give us a gift: a set of books. Back home in Berlin, he has an impressive letterpress set-up, where he resets and reprints limited-edition versions of novels and some factual books. It’s called TOC – The Other Collection – and he is part of a team that includes designer Susanna Dulkinys, author Irene Dische and publisher Birgit Schmitz. Every book gets a new jacket, which is based on a fabric that connects to the story, the topic and the author. The writer signs every book and they are numbered too.

But it’s the design and the consideration that floors you. Spiekermann talked to us about how the team selects the right font and ink colour, and how chapter headers are painstakingly made. The outcome of all this deliberation is a bound masterpiece. I just looked at the TOC site and you can get a copy of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart for £121 (€142) with its dustjacket printed to look like pinstripe suiting because, “it’s the story of a man who always wore a suit, even when he survived on canned dog food”.

For Spiekermann, it’s a wasted opportunity if you don’t select a font embedded with the right meaning. If you allow your company to persist with a jumble of typefaces, when one carefully chosen example could deliver elegance and clarity of thought or help make a business a relevant brand. Like a specialist surgeon, he knows what’s wrong just by looking. But would the person who persists with their e-reader, reading books in the ugliest format known to man, ever see what Spiekermann’s focus alights on – or even care?

In the February issue of Monocle, which is out now, there’s an interview with a remarkable young man, Pierro Pozella, who repairs old film cameras. He has harnessed his dyslexia and currently-being-assessed autism to become one of the best in his field. I visited him just before Christmas and he explained that when he sees a broken Pentax or Nikon, he can explode the camera into all its constituent parts in his mind and sense what needs mending and how to make everything work again gracefully. Even when he pursues his passion for photography, he alights on details through the viewfinder that I would miss and that many of us find too commonplace to linger on. Another set of eyes that sees the world in a unique way.

For anyone who makes anything, cares about appearances, frets over how they look, believes in design, these encounters have all made me wonder this week: what do I see?

House news / The Chiefs

Leading the way

The third edition of The Chiefs is heading to Hong Kong this March. Whether you’re leading a legacy business, building a brand or starting a new venture, this one-day conference will offer valuable insights and practical perspectives from leaders who have key lessons to share. With powerful voices from across Asia, and hosted by Monocle’s senior editors, it will be an event packed with inspiration. Join us.

Image: Pitti Uomo

The Look / Tailored overcoats

Fit for purpose

We all love puffer jackets, don’t we? Well, we might be a fan of their form – it’s difficult to love something that makes you look like the Michelin Man’s more gluttonous uncle – but we appreciate their function: they keep us warm (writes Alexis Self). That’s what outerwear is all about, isn’t it? Sort of. Nowadays most of us drape ourselves in coats and jackets whose functionality would make Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott envious. While a Sunday morning trip to the shops for a pint of milk can be onerous, it’s not exactly The Worst Journey in the World. Function is important but form should also matter.

Tailored overcoats are the aristocrats of the outerwear world. Etymology confirms this. Raglan sleeves – those that start at the collar rather than the shoulder – were named after Lord Raglan, a 19th-century British field marshal, who lost an arm at the Battle of Waterloo. The Balmacaan coat, which is back in fashion, takes its name from a country estate near the Scottish city of Inverness. Other styles, such as the pea or trench coat, reference naval or military occupations. These garments would have once been the preserve of the officers’ mess or country estate. But today we all can slide our arms into their silk-lined sleeves, pop their collars and head out to our top-secret rendezvous – even if it is with a pint of milk at the shops.

How we live / Guerrilla marketing

Tour de force

There are many ways to promote a product (writes Robert Bound). Buy advertising space, pay someone famous to tell their fans or, if you’re a film or TV series, get your star on a talk show. And then there are, well, guerrilla tactics. Last week actress Sofía Vergara regaled audiences and mock-shocked chat-show hosts with anecdotes from Netflix’s hot new narco-drama, Griselda, in which she plays the eponymous Colombian cocaine kingpin who ruled the Miami underworld in the 1970s and 1980s. Vergara was striking and engaging, and her portrayal of Griselda Blanco (no, they didn’t change her name for ironic effect) is epic. Classic promo.

And then there’s this week’s Griselda push by, presumably, some sort of geezer total in the French Netflix marketing department. On 30 January a big, purple party truck – emblazoned with the title of the show in gigantic letters – appeared to snort lines of white powder through a fully operational golden “coke straw” as it made its way down the rue de Rivoli in central Paris. Punchy. But, to promote a show full of tits, bums, golden guns and invigorating bumps? Perfect.

The “coke coach” has surely joined a pantheon of 21st-century guerrilla-marketing masterstrokes – a field in which Netflix has excelled. The streaming service created mind-bending bus-stop embellishments for Black Mirror, a banner ad for its gothic-horror show Wednesday that read “No sharp objects? What a shame” on airport security trays and – hello again – the countdown to Narcos, which was timed via an hourglass filled with white powder rather than sand. Again, in Paris. Maybe it’s our lad massif pushing the envelope again. It shows that your budget doesn’t have to be big to pull off a great stunt. Toot, as it were, sweet.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Talk of the town

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Image: Ricardo Simal, Norval
Image: Ricardo Simal, Norval

Dear Concierge, I am going to Cape Town with my three adult children. Do you have any ideas on how best to experience the art and design scene, local food and fun drinks?

Isabel Martínez-Monche

Dear Isabel,

Despite Marrakech’s best efforts, Cape Town has emerged as Africa’s leading art capital. A must-visit is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (pictured, bottom left), the continent’s largest repository of contemporary African art, on the historic Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Ingeniously carved out of the old Cape Town grain silo, the museum’s spectacular 10-storey atrium resembles a honeycomb cathedral. Another local favourite is The Norval Foundation (pictured, bottom right), which is tucked away in the further-flung Tokai suburb.

In-the-know Capetonians are constantly raving about the Irma Stern Museum, a real hidden gem that celebrates the life and work of one of South Africa’s most renowned modern artists. Expect an intimate artist’s residence packed with carved wooden artefacts, brightly coloured walls and expressive portraits.

As for food and drink, head to the charming Upper Union Restaurant and Kloof Street House, both of which can be found on buzzing Kloof Street. If you’re looking for a quieter setting, visit hillside restaurant La Colombe for a spectacular fine-dining experience. There’s also Oranjezicht City Market near the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is supplied by local farms (pictured, top) packs in everything from freshly squeezed juices to oysters and artisanal cheeses. Finally, Constantia Glen is another must-visit spot with spectacular views, fine wines and delicious charcuterie boards. Have a lovely trip.

Image: Beowulf Sheehan

The Interrogator / Zahra Hankir

Eye to eye

Zahra Hankir is a New York-based British-Lebanese editor and award-winning author known for her in-depth coverage of Middle Eastern culture. Here, she tells us about her latest book, her cultural obsession and her favourite Ethiopian restaurant.

A few words about your latest book?
Eyeliner: A Cultural History traces the history of the cosmetic from Ancient Egypt to the modern day. It isn’t really a make-up or beauty book but an in-depth cross-cultural study of how different communities around the world have used eyeliner over the centuries, for reasons that range from honouring the gods and warding off the evil eye to protecting against the sun’s glare. I travelled to countries such as Jordan, India, Chad and Japan to interview geishas, bedouins, drag queens and Kathakali dancers. The diverse cast of characters adds a human touch to the historical and anthropological aspects of my work.

What news source do you wake up to?
NPR’s Morning Edition. Being Lebanese, I appreciate Leila Fadel’s dispatches and have followed her career for years.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Cold brew from Villager, which is my favourite coffee shop in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. I’m a pastry girl so I’ll usually get a morning-glory muffin as well.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I’m not a hummer.

Favourite bookshop?
Libreria in Shoreditch tops my London list, while Housing Works Bookstore in downtown Manhattan is my favourite one in New York.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
Behind the Bastards. It’s a great blend of social, political and historical commentary, and Robert Evans is hilarious. The episode on Saddam Hussein is pretty good.

Who’s your cultural obsession?
Umm Kulthoum. My father is Egyptian-Lebanese, so I grew up surrounded by images of the singer, as well as her music. I was transfixed by her haunting contralto voice.

Any good restaurant or bar recommendations?
Ras Plant Based for vegan Ethiopian food in Brooklyn and St Ends for cocktails, which reminds me of bars in Beirut.

Image: Visko Hatfield

What am I bid? / ‘Goodbye Peachtree Road’

Candles in the wind

For Elton John, spending as much money as he has made is probably a challenge – but you cannot fault his efforts to rise to it (writes Andrew Mueller). John has spent prolifically, acquiring rails of couture, troves of jewellery, warehouses of furniture, garages of cars, museum-loads of art and a portfolio of properties. Last year, the musician sold one of these homes – his apartment in Atlanta – for $7.2m (€6.67m). Throughout February, Christie’s New York is hosting what amounts to the accompanying garage sale.

The Goodbye Peachtree Road auction features 900 items from his former abode, which, as he cheerfully said, “might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s my taste”. Enthusiasts of sober Scandinavian minimalism, look away now. For everyone else, options include delights such as a somewhat eye-watering crimson-and-gold banquette by Versace, which is expected to fetch up to $3,000 (€2,780), a colossal Versace table service in similarly coloured china for $6,000 (€5,600) and three luridly upholstered 19th-century Italian armchairs for $5,000 (€4,600).

The clothes auction, perhaps inevitably subtitled “Out Of The Closet”, includes treasures such as a Russian officer’s uniform worn for fancy-dress purposes, which could be yours for an estimated $3,000 (€2,780). The rock memorabilia enthusiast should save their bids for the stage gear from John’s early-1970s imperial period, when he was personally responsible for 2 per cent of global album sales. In that context, the $10,000 (€9,300) silver stackheels, which trod the boards of many famous stages circa Honky Chateâu, seem like a bargain.

Image: Mathias Eis

Fashion update / Aeron

Simple silhouettes

Eszter Áron is the founder and creative director of Budapest-based brand Aeron. It is best known for marrying traditional craft with modern manufacturing, such as knitting with Japanese Shima Seiki machines. Monocle caught up with Áron during Copenhagen Fashion Week. Here, she talks about her choice of artistic partners, her love of Copenhagen and the values that define her brand.

How do you find partners that you align with?
I need to be able to connect with them on a visual and aesthetic level. The next step is to be able to understand the vision of the particular artist and get to know more about their work and personality. Every season we like to connect our clean lines and silhouettes with something that you can find in small little details and colours. That little extra art that meets with our brand’s DNA is very important for us each season. We also try to trace everything related to the process down to the factories, so that we can stand beside people who share the same vision.

Why choose Copenhagen for your show?
When we first arrived in the city a few years ago we had this amazing dinner with the creative community in Copenhagen and I felt that I could live here. I felt safe and appreciated the intimacy of the city. The women were so empowering. We could have real conversations with people here. I also want to support Copenhagen Fashion Week because it puts so much thought into sustainability. Danish design aligns closely with the brand.

What are the values that you would like people to associate Aeron with?
We try to create pieces that represent quality and lasting value. We also want to empower women with our silhouettes – beauty can take many different forms. We only work with certified raw materials and try to incorporate recycled yarns and fabrics into our pieces. It is a challenging and complex situation but we aim to push ourselves, season by season, even as a small brand.


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