Saturday 24 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 24/2/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Brace yourself

In need of a wardrobe refresh? Our sartorial edit has a hot take on the accessory sending Singapore into a spiral and we learn why a new Cartier collaboration is one to watch. Plus: we meet the the prime minister of Bulgaria. But first, Andrew Tuck returns from the Polish capital…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Pole position

Even when you follow a story unfolding in another nation and think that you understand its bigger twists and turns, the part that you miss from afar is what it feels like to live in that story, to find yourself caught up in a fraught narrative. This week Tyler, myself and a team of Monocle folk were in Warsaw for Monocle Radio broadcasts, an event for subscribers and friends. It was a chance to gauge the mood of the moment in a country that has such strengths in everything from design and culture to fashion and manufacturing – but also a war on its border.

It was also an interesting time to visit the country because Poland has a new prime minister, Donald Tusk, who came into office last December after a messy and polarising election (he was also prime minister from 2007 to 2014). He has a mandate to bring the country back into the mainstream of European politics after eight years of rule by the populist Law and Justice Party (PiS). It was a period in which LGBT rights were attacked, some of the strictest laws on abortion were introduced, institutions and the judiciary were stuffed with party loyalists and numerous attempts were made to restrict press freedom. But there are still problems, including the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, who is out to thwart Tusk’s reforms.

And though we have all heard and read much about this, I wasn’t aware of how much trauma the past eight years had caused for progressive Poles. While some people told us that it had helped galvanise civil society, united women opposed to the abortion law changes and detailed to us their own stories of doing battle (especially colleagues in the media), others seemed a little knocked off kilter by a period in which they had seen their values pilloried. And then there’s the war in Ukraine and Russia. A poll published this week found that 47.4 per cent of Poles believe that Russia will ultimately attack their country. It is hard to remain optimistic when you are living history like this. Perhaps it’s also why a few people seemed surprised by our enthusiasm for brand Poland. “Why Poland?” we were asked again and again.

In the new March issue of Monocle, there’s a story about how the country became a furniture-manufacturing powerhouse, producing for Ikea and Fritz Hansen but also supporting a network of homegrown brands. I was pleased to see many of the people who we featured at our party in the fun Bar Rascal, alongside ambassadors, a supermodel, academics, TV anchors, developers and architects. This manufacturing prowess extends to just about every sector you can think of, from clothing to cars. One morning, Tyler led a high-speed retail survey. As we met shop owners and makers, it was incredible to see how many products carried the nicely embossed words, “Made in Poland”. That’s one reason we are advocates.

And then there’s Warsaw. February is not the ideal month to see anywhere in northern Europe and I did have to shelter in several cosy cafés during the more insistent downpours. But the city is evolving. On Thursday morning, Marlena Happach, chief architect for the City of Warsaw, kindly came to our pop-up radio studio in the lobby of the Puro hotel. On The Globalist she talked about the city changing tack, thinking less about what visitors needed and, instead, creating a better quality of life for locals. There are now more spots where pedestrians prevail, including a new public area along the Vistula river and a tram and subway network that is undergoing an extension.

Over three days of good meals with locals (Polish food is another cheese-topped soft-power triumph), meandering city walks (thank you Mateusz for being our guide), visits to HQs and newspaper offices, we got to see Poland’s huge potential. It meant that by the time we hit the party on the final night, I was so well-armed with inspirational stories if anyone asked me, “Why Poland?”

Image: Tanchen Studio

The look / Singapore slings

Hot take

As simple pleasures go, there are few greater than sipping a cold drink on a hot day – and hot days occur frequently in tropical Singapore (writes Naomi Xu Elegant). Ice, however, melts quickly in the heat. Condensation droplets form within minutes on the outside of your iced latte or bubble tea, leading to drenched hands, damp clothes and small puddles of water sullying coffee tables and cars.

Singapore’s hawker stalls and takeaways hit on a simple solution: a plastic sling, snug like a belt around the cup’s sweating torso, with a strap to hold and swing from your wrist like a tiny, dripping handbag. The disposable holder has been ubiquitous for years but stylish Singaporeans are now taking the contraption to new levels, eschewing the single-use variety for reusable cloth versions. A throwaway convenience is now a personalised accessory: the choice between pink leopard print and austere, black canvas holders will convey sartorial nous to passersby. The accessory has even veered into the experimental. Take Tanchen Studio, a Singapore- and Shanghai-based textile maker, which recently debuted its S$35 (€24) B/B Cupholder (pictured). The sling, made from hand-painted wooden beads, is a bespoke take on the humble holder. And Singaporeans have reacted with their wallets: the collection is currently sold-out.

Culture cuts / TV picks

Outside looking in

‘The New Look’, Apple TV+. This French series stars Juliette Binoche and Ben Mendelsohn as fashion designers Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. Set in the 1940s during the Nazi occupation of France, it examines the rivalry that forms between the two designers as they fight to keep their fashion houses alive. Fast-paced and visually engaging, this is a compelling drama about the power of couture.

‘Feud: Capote vs The Swans’, FX. Ryan Murphy’s series tells the story of Truman Capote’s exile from New York high society. Following the success of In Cold Blood, the writer befriends a group of socialites that he calls the “swans”. But when he begins to reveal their secrets in his writing, things go awry.

‘Expats’, Amazon Prime. Based on Janice YK Lee’s novel The Expatriates, this series follows a group of privileged foreigners living in an affluent neighbourhood in Hong Kong, who are brought together by the disappearance of a child. A complex tale about grief, greed and displacement, starring Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / The digital bogeyman

Ghost in the machine

Sahil Omar is one of the most infamous felons in recent American history, a suspect in explosions at Fort Worth and Niagara Falls, and several mass murders (writes Andrew Mueller). Oh, and he’s imaginary. Omar, a 44-year-old migrant, was most recently linked with the shooting at the Super Bowl parade for the Kansas City Chiefs. Among the countless social-media users who breathlessly amplified reports of Omar’s involvement were at least three American politicians: two Missouri Republican senators – Rick Brattin and Denny Hoskins – and US congressman Tim Burchett, a Republican from Tennessee. Sahil Omar does not exist, though one has to feel for any real-life Sahil Omars trying to book a restaurant table. He is a recurrent social-media rumour, conjured into being circa 2022, and is reanimated by malicious and/or gullible people after any eye-catching crime in the US. Omar’s Muslim-sounding name and purported background as a migrant reliably brings out the worst in the worst people online.

Omar is also – or should be – a cautionary tale of the modern media environment. We all like being told that what we wish to believe is true; the looming artificial-intelligence avalanche will make that even easier. It is, therefore, more crucial than ever that we resist the impulse to believe anything that pops up on our feeds – or indeed assume that it has any basis in reality. One might hope that actual elected officials shouldn’t need to be told this. And an antidote already exists: the ponderous, fact-checking, old-school legacy media, which assuredly makes mistakes but generally corrects them – and rarely invents characters wholesale. Another reform is surely worth considering: a mandatory 24-hour delay on all social-media posts.

Words with / Nikolai Denkov

Learning curve

Nikolai Denkov is the prime minister of Bulgaria and has been since June 2023. Under the current power-sharing agreement reached by Bulgaria’s governing coalition, he will hand over the premiership to foreign minister Mariya Gabriel in March. Before entering politics, Denkov was a scientist and the recipient of several awards for his work in physical chemistry.

How does the death of Alexei Navalny register in Bulgaria, where similar things have happened to dissidents in the past?
Countries in Eastern Europe have an emotional sensitivity to these events because they’re still happening. It’s important to look at the past and take the lessons that we have learned from these incidents seriously.

Is Western Europe still too prone to wishful thinking?
An increasing number of politicians in Europe are beginning to understand the severity of a situation like this. We have an obligation to explain this to people across the continent and get their support for the decisions that we make. The current political climate is becoming extremely dangerous.

How do you approach this subject with Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who is often seen as an outlier on the European stage?
Once, at the European Council, I said to him, “Hungary was one of the first countries that suffered after the Second World War as a result of Soviet-led invasions in Budapest. What I know, and what I have repeated many times, is that Europe is at its strongest when it is united.” Though Hungary has tried to disrupt proceedings in the past, it hasn’t weakened the unity of Europe as a whole. Delaying these decisions is a problem, however, especially in these times.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Fresh perspective

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: Mike Bellame

Dear Concierge,

What’s the best thing to do in Asheville, North Carolina?


Brian Ward

Dear Brian,

Glad you asked. We’re well up on western North Carolina because in 2023, Monocle enticed 50 readers to Asheville for The Monocle Weekender. Start with coffee, pastries and a peruse of the racks at Citizen Vinyl, an art deco recording studio and working record press, before strolling through one of the US’s most walkable downtowns. Catch an exhibition at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, which tells the story of the local creative school founded by Walter Gropius and other Bauhaus bigwigs. While there’s no shortage of shops selling dreamcatchers and incense in Asheville, there are also some retail standouts: snap up a pretty pot from East Fork, which renders homely bowls and tableware in local clay.

All this should set you up for a ramble. Our suggestion is The North Carolina Arboretum, which has trails looping through the Pisgah National Forest without having to drive too far out of town (keep an eye out for black bears), or follow the French Broad River to studios in the city’s arts district. Pull up a seat on the porch at Leo’s House of Thirst wine bar and make sure to book a garden table at Eldr, which draws up its menu from what is in the local market.

Image: Cartier

Wardrobe update / Watches of Switzerland

All in good time

UK retailer Watches of Switzerland is celebrating its centenary in the luxury-watch industry. To mark this milestone, French brand Cartier has designed a limited-edition Tank Louis Cartier watch. This sophisticated piece, which will be available at the Watches of Switzerland showrooms in June, is a modern interpretation of the original Tank watch designed by Louis Cartier in 1917, with a brushed-gold dial, dark-navy alligator strap and original mechanical movement.

Its timeless elegance embodies the devotion to craftsmanship that defines both brands and their long-standing relationship with one another. With 100 years under its belt, Watches of Switzerland shows that time might pass but good taste never ages.


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