Saturday 30 March 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 30/3/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

It’s a cracker

This week with Easter celebrations in full swing and better weather beckoning for those in the northern hemisphere, thoughts might turn to gardening. Why not take a leaf out of UK horticultural expert Alan Titchmarsh’s book whose choice of trousers set the internet alight? Plus: how heritage outdoor brand Stanley got cool and where to weekend in Copenhagen. But first, Andrew Tuck on his top 10 takeaways from The Chiefs conference in Hong Kong.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Holding the stage

The third edition of The Chiefs, Monocle’s business and leadership conference, unfolded over two days this week in Hong Kong, wrapping up in the early hours of Friday morning (our readers are a committed bunch). It’s the first large-scale event that we have run in Asia since the coronavirus pandemic and it was inspiring to hear the stories of so many motivated women and men, running businesses, doing diplomacy and shaping the world around us from their bases and HQs, not only in HK but also Jakarta, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo. Here are 10 things that we learned.

Your passion can quickly turn into a sizeable business. Carlos Granon is the co-founder of fashion brand Topologie, which is headquartered in Hong Kong but does much of its trade in Japan (and he is now pushing into Europe via France). The brand’s collection of bags and fashion accessories is inspired by the founders’ passion for mountain climbing. Its fast-selling phone cords are made from climbing ropes, cut to length for you in-shop. But climbing has also shaped the business culture. “You are always pushing yourself outside your comfort zone as a climber. You have an inclination to explore,” said Granon. I wonder whether a love of shuttlecocks might work just as well?

You can make a crafty circle. Mark Cho, founder of menswear brand and retailer The Armoury, does so many fascinating things (if you are in town, go visit his set up on the fifth floor of the Pedder Building). Along the way he has made alliances with a small contingent of watchmakers, eyewear-makers and more, and his passion for telling their stories and selling their wares has helped protect their joyously niche crafts.

Jennifer Woo, chairman and CEO of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, was asked about the health of the department store as a concept. Her answer was simple. “If you run them like finance operations, they will not turn out well. Look at them from the customer’s point of view if you want to succeed.” She also revealed that they once opened a branch of Lane Crawford until 02.00 for one high-paying customer.

It turns out that Noni Purnomo, chairperson of Blue Bird Group Holding, one of the world’s biggest taxi operations, could also be a stand-up comedian. At the end of her session, we asked her to give us some tips on running a company, which she did with aplomb, before adding, “And remember that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel – just make sure that the light isn’t a train.” Star turn.

Celebrated interior designer Joyce Wang stressed the need to “win with quality” but also explained why she has chosen Hong Kong as her base. She said that, sometimes, she sends a rough sketch to a supplier and they build a prototype in days, even when she hasn’t requested one. This is the city of the fast turnaround.

Then Angelle Siyang-Le, director of Art Basel Hong Kong, stepped away from the fair to discuss the highlights and reveal how many “sold” red dots were appearing on artworks. A lot, it seems. She emphasised that Asian buyers were back in force, even key collectors from mainland China, where a rocky economy had threatened to undo the fun of the fair. “We’ve seen everyone who we need to see,” she said confidently.

You can make a real difference. Yuta Oka, founder and CEO of Staple, and co-founder of Naru Developments, talked about the work that he has been doing on Ikuchijima, a tiny island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. He has revived a series of buildings, creating three inns along the way, and this diligent work has meant that an outpost with an ageing population has suddenly seen an uptick in young people moving to the island.

Tao Bin, a state-of-the-art dispensing machine that’s able to make dozens of drinks, is taking over its home market and is now going global. Thomas Morrison, the company’s chief technology officer, explained how some unusual combinations have been big hits. Plum-favoured Pepsi might be the future.

Kevin Mark Low, educator and founder of Small Projects, had the audience gripped with his take on architecture, from how most architects only ever make one great building to how to be a good client. He revealed that he usually meets would-be clients in a café for the first time. Why? He likes to see how they treat the wait staff. If they are impolite, they are not going to get a Small Projects building.

Finally, Dian Sastrowardoyo, one of Indonesia’s most famous actors, discussed the power of reinvention. She took six years out of her career to work as a consultant before returning to the big screen to play some of the most iconic roles in her nation’s cinematic history – and take up directing.

That’s a wrap.

Image: Shutterstock

The Look / Dangerous denim

Camera obscura

Among those bearing witness to the end of the Cold War as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 was US satirist PJ O’Rourke (writes Andrew Mueller). For him, it was as much a soft-power victory as a hard-power one. The West had won “Not just with ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missile] and Green Berets and aid to the Contras. Those things were important but, in the end, we beat them with Levi’s 501 jeans.”

It would appear that the Workers’ Party of Korea, for whom the Cold War has never ended, is well aware of the subversive potency of Western denim. On a recent showing of the BBC’s Garden Secrets in North Korea, its proverbially inoffensive presenter, 74-year-old Alan Titchmarsh, had his trousers blurred, lest viewers glimpse his jeans. Not since The Ed Sullivan Show demurely shot the lascivious gyrations of Elvis Presley from the waist up in 1957 has there been such fear over the havoc that might be wrought by the broadcast of someone’s lower quarters. Denim jeans are banned in North Korea because they are seen as a symbol – if not, indeed, a symptom – of Western decadence. The USSR and its Eastern European satellite regimes were also suspicious of jeans, a disapproval that prompted a lively black-market trade in genuine Levi’s and a minor cottage industry of bootlegging.

All of this is pretty weird. What better emblem of proletarian equality than a garment first made by Levi Strauss & Co from the rugged fabric of the worker? The real problem, perhaps, is that North Korea’s cake-enjoying supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, fears that he might struggle to find a pair that would fit.

Culture cuts / Spring music

Express yourself

‘Moon Safari’, Air. The French electronic duo’s 1998 debut album still feels fresh today, from the serene “La femme d’argent” to the vocoder paradise of “Sexy Boy”. Belatedly celebrating 25 years since its release, Air have reissued Moon Safari with added live sessions, unreleased demos and a documentary film.

‘Las Mujeres ya no Lloran’, Shakira. The Colombian pop diva is back with her first album since 2017’s El Dorado. Its name references her recent hit single “Music Sessions, Vol 53”, a collaboration with Argentinian producer Bzrp, on which she sings “Women no longer cry, women make money”. The record’s catchy hooks and pithy lyrics prove Shakira is still a force in pop.

‘A La Sala’, Khruangbin. The Houston trio’s fourth album, the full release of which comes this Friday, is more subdued than previous releases. Highlights include disco-inspired “Pon Pón”, which is out now, and the sensual “Todavía Viva”.

For more spring artistic highlights and cultural recommendations, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Cold comfort

True colours

In 1806, Frederic Tudor harvested ice blocks from a frozen New England pond and shipped them to Martinique – what didn’t melt, he sold at a loss (writes Gregory Scruggs). After improving insulation and scouting new markets, the entrepreneur became a millionaire known as “The Ice King”. Tudor would surely swoon at the Stanley Quencher, a 1.2-litre tumbler that can keep a dozen ice cubes intact for 48 hours. The double-walled vacuum-insulated cup with a handle and reusable straw has become a must-have hydration accessory in the US. The product flopped after its debut in 2016 but found a niche following among millennial mums.

Stanley, a heritage outdoors brand known for its grandfatherly green thermos, needed some cajoling to embrace a pastel colour palette for a female clientele. The Stanley cup (not to be confused with the ice hockey trophy) has gone viral with Gen Z and Gen Alpha thirst quenchers who buy a rainbow’s worth of cups to co-ordinate with different outfits.

Quencher-mania arguably peaked last November, when a woman posted her cup on TikTok intact in the aftermath of a car fire with ice still rattling around inside. Spending $45 (€42) on a to-go cup for its insulating properties reflects the uniquely US obsession with cold drinks. Restaurateurs know that they must serve their patrons H20 piled high with frozen cubes. The relative scarcity of ice is one of the first rude awakenings encountered by Yankee innocents abroad. As Mark Twain once wrote, “I think that there is but a single speciality with us, only one thing that can be called by the wide name ‘American’. That is the national devotion to ice-water.”

Image: Alamy

Words with / Maggi Hambling

Get inked

Maggi Hambling is one of the most celebrated female artists on the UK art scene. Her latest solo exhibition, The Night, which opened this week at Hong Kong’s Pearl Lam Galleries, features a series of works influenced by Chinese calligraphy.

What was your first encounter with Chinese drawing?
I remember when I went to the British Museum to study these long, silk scrolls. I’m a great believer in the Chinese idea that you have to be equally eloquent when you don’t make a mark, as well as when you do. It’s quite tricky but I always leave a bit of bare canvas in my paintings. As I get older, I am trying to say more with less.

You have a pretty strict morning ritual at your studio in Suffolk. What do you enjoy about starting work early?
It is the best time of day because nobody telephones and the world is one zone. For about four or five years, I would get up early in the morning to draw the sea because there was no one else there. It was fantastic.

The night can be a place of madness, romance and carnal desire. These themes are explored in your works on display in Hong Kong. What does the night mean to you?
The night sky is a universal place. It is there no matter whether you’re in China or London. The night is a mysterious realm where dream meets reality, sex meets mythology and the unknown meets the known. It’s a strange place.

Do you ever think about where your art will end up after it has been bought? Does it matter to you?
No, it doesn’t really matter. When a painting sells, I’m already into the thrills, spills and horrors of the next one.

Do the final versions of paintings always turn out as you imagined when you started?
It’s easy to begin a painting but it’s difficult to finish one. When I start, I don’t have any clue what it’s going to look like when I finish. The best time in the studio is when the muse is there and the painting paints itself. Sometimes I can spend two, three or four months on a painting and then get rid of it.

Some of your public work has caused a stir. Tell us more about it.
I didn’t set out to be controversial. When Scallop [a 3.7m steel sculpture comprising two halves of a broken shell] was installed on the beach [in Suffolk, England], there was such a fuss about it. It got graffitied 13 times and I was rather hurt because I thought that it was one of the more beautiful things that I managed to do. But now, of course, the people who were so against it realise how many ice creams and fish and chips get sold off the back of it. I think that they would be quite cross if someone removed it.

For our full interview with Maggi Hambling, tune in to the latest edition of ‘Monocle on Culture’, which premieres this Monday on Monocle Radio.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Many happy returns

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: Jan Søndergaard, Soulland
Image: Jan Søndergaard, Soulland

Dear Concierge,

After a four-year delay, we will finally be heading to Copenhagen for four days for my belated 40th birthday. We like to walk, shop local brands and eat well. Can you point out some go-to shops and brands to look for? Also, do you have any suggestions for a day trip out of Copenhagen?


Roberto Pulido

Dear Roberto,

We are glad that you finally made it. This is also a good time to visit Copenhagen, which truly blossoms during spring and summer. The city is filled with independent boutiques specialising in anything from well-crafted garments to world-class design. Denmark’s economy has long supported these small, independent businesses and you can see that represented in the city’s streets.

In the city centre, we recommend Yonobi for an original selection of ceramics by artists from around the world. Try Soulland (pictured) for its sharp take on casual wear or Another Aspect for carefully crafted menswear. Don’t miss the towels and sleepwear at the recently opened Tekla flagship store, which is housed in a beautiful light-filled space.

The nearby neighbourhood of Vesterbro also has plenty to offer. If you’re looking for smaller design pieces to bring home with you, Dansk Made for Rooms is the place for you. Not too far away is the street of Vaernedamsvej, known for its Parisian atmosphere thanks to its many cafés with outdoor seating, which is perfect for a stroll.

If you have time for a day trip, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is a short train ride away. Beyond the exhibitions, the on-site restaurant serves a tasty menu and stunning views over the water, making it a relaxing spot to enjoy all-day long.

Image: Rimowa

Wardrobe Update / Rimowa Hammerschlag

Making a case

Since its inception in 1898, Rimowa’s masterful blend of functional design and expert craftsmanship has made the company a global leader in premium luggage. Its new limited-edition collection, Hammerschlag (a German term meaning “hammer hit”), is inspired by the company’s heritage and brings back two of its most well-known pieces.

The archival design of the Rimowa Hammerschlag Hand-Carry Case and the Rimowa Hammerschlag Cabin are inspired by Rimowa cases from 1966 and include textured-aluminium and matte finishes. “Our archives are a constant source of inspiration,” says Rimowa CEO Hugues Bonnet-Masimbert.“We are proud to be able to breathe new life into designs that have defined our legacy.”

For more seasonal styles and inspiring places, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue, which is available to purchase now. Or subscribe so that you never miss an issue. Have a great Saturday.


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