Saturday 20 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 20/4/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Part of the furniture

We’ve had our designs on Milan this week as Salone del Mobile took over the city. First up, our editor in chief, Andrew Tuck, weaves us tales from the fair, while a Loewe lighting installation provides us with a few bright sparks. Elsewhere, our editors recommend three books whose pages pack a punch and the president of Slovenia teaches us a lesson in diplomacy. Ready? Let’s get started.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Chairs and graces

Last Sunday afternoon I flew to Milan to join the crew covering Milan Design Week. In the morning, however, I just had time to tackle a domestic task: removing a large, deceased jasmine from its pot on the roof terrace (a newer, alive one, was waiting to take its place). But, like a hermit crab in a shell, it did not want to leave its snug abode. There was an internal lip on the pot that also made removal irksome. At one point I found myself rolling around on the terrace – pot gripped between my legs, dead jasmine stump in my mitts – in a very unseemly sumo-style wrestling match. Then it finally gave in and popped out – and so did my back. When I went to stand up, it took several attempts to straighten myself out. Being heroic, I made it to Milan but as I traversed the airport’s concourse, I was grateful for the support provided by the extended handle on my suitcase.

There are a lot of great parties, fun exhibitions and, yes, new chairs at Salone but designers – the good ones – also find themselves tackling issues of our time. How and what we consume, how to make spaces that engender social interaction, how to create circular-manufacturing processes are all the responsibilities of today’s designers. And, hopefully, making some things that we can simply file under “gorgeous”.

Arriving at my hotel in Milan, I just had time to ditch my steadying luggage before joining my colleague, Nic Monisse, at a dinner hosted by Design Holding, which owns an impeccable portfolio of brands including B&B Italia, Flos and Louis Poulsen. I had good table neighbours. On one side was a celebrated designer and we talked about a chair that his company designed for use in schools. It’s devised to be comfortable, of course, but also has a modest rocking motion that has been shown to aid concentration – a chair that subtly makes it more likely that children will focus, learn, stay seated.

At the start of this week in Milan, we hosted a series of talks with Swiss appliances manufacturer V-Zug in the vast library of the Pinacoteca di Brera. I was impressed by the robustness of the panellists’ thinking, their pioneering attitudes, the responsibility that they felt to make beautiful pieces that changed lives for the better. Philippe Malouin spoke out against trends, Sabine Marcelis talked about how she created solar-powered installations that allow her studio to be totally off-grid and architect David Thulstrup pushed for design that lasts. Hosts V-Zug explained how they were running pilot programmes to make the company fully circular (no glues and materials returned to their original producers for reuse). It’s a step-by-step process but things are changing.

On Monday afternoon, I walked through the park in the sunshine to the Triennale Milano. It was hosting numerous events and exhibitions for Salone, including one of the smallest and most touching things that I saw all week. Milan-based Japanese designer Keiji Takeuchi had curated a show called Walking Sticks & Canes that took up a few metres of wall and featured 18 examples of these modest mobility aids, all made by designers. Jasper Morrison had crafted one from a length of bamboo cut from his own garden, Hugo Passos’s had a small woven basket nested around the shaft (handy for putting picked berries in while you garden) and Maddalena Casadei had designed hers with a handle that allowed it to be easily secured to a table while you rested.

When you think about reduced mobility, the need for a cane, your mind jumps to feelings of loss and melancholy – and solutions that are ugly. But here were 18 simple walking sticks that reinserted beauty and function into their users’ lives. Suddenly, feeling the pangs in my back again, I was tempted to ask whether I could perhaps take one for the rest of the day. And, perhaps, next year I could tempt Takeuchi to curate a similar show reimagining the plant pot. Then I would be sorted.

For all the fun from the fair, listen to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio, read this week’s ‘Monocle on Design’ newsletter and purchase our ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ newspaper.

Image: Topologie

The Look / Strings attached

Neck on the line

This week’s opening extravaganza at the Venice Biennale held a mirror up to the world (writes Robert Bound). It encouraged conversations lyrical, questions searching and aspirations intellectual, all while being inclined towards the beautiful. This column, however, must park the art and focus on the fashion. Aside from some very good scarf action and the return of the bold red lip, this week’s key look was the smartphone lanyard. It is worn draped around the neck à la glasses chain (aka “the librarian’s rosary”) and has been growing in popularity and funkiness since we all got hooked on crashing into each other on otherwise empty pavements because we simply had to ping our posse while walking.

In Venice, no pavement is empty, so the lanyard is used for instant phone access for the art world to: Whatsapp the gallerist offering that gorgeous little William Kentridge sketch that you must have; message the concierge at the Danieli to organise dinner at Al Covo; Insta the hell out of the De Kooning show at dell’Accademia; or simply reapply that bold red lip. Woof, you look good.

Some go sporty with a string in stretch fabric to match their phone case; some go chunky chain; others go fine. Best of all are the totally rad lanyards like a stegosaurus spine, or a row of teeth, or a string of mighty pearls. Or maybe they’re tennis balls or Fabergé eggs. Some might sling the string over the shoulder, tuck it into a top pocket or wear it like a big necklace. Maybe they’re in Run-DMC. It’s a whole universe out there! In the time before the lanyard, the jacket pocket would bulge, the phone would trill unanswered in the bottom of the tote or you’d miss that Slim Aarons moment as the heat shimmered over the lido. You snooze, you lose in this game. Strings? They’re very much attached.

How we live / Home swapping

Live like a local

Home swapping has been hailed as the next big thing in travel, though it has been a hit among devotees for decades (writes Mary Fitzgerald). I signed up after the coronavirus pandemic and can vouch for its appeal. My home exchanges this year have included Berlin, Copenhagen and New York. I’m also mulling over a Mexico City swap this winter. Staying in someone’s home, often for an extended period, means that you can explore places like a local, which makes for a more intimate and authentic experience.

I’ve exchanged homes with a range of interesting people, from designers in Barcelona to a writer in Granada who wanted to travel to Marseille for research. There are several home swapping sites to choose from. The market leader, HomeExchange, has more than 150,000 members in 145 countries. Then there’s invite-only Behomm, which describes itself as the first home-exchange community for design lovers and creatives. Unlike Airbnb, they share a common focus: to build community. Most exchange platforms have insurance provisions in case anything goes wrong but no money changes hands. HomeExchange sees its model as a travel proposition of the future by offering a more responsible way to discover new places and cultures. The platform’s soaring global membership is testament to that.

Culture cuts / Spring page-turners

Packing a punch

‘Headshot’, Rita Bullwinkel.
The appeal of a novel about teenage girl boxers risks being limited to those in and around the ring. But Headshot punches above its weight. Rita Bullwinkel’s second book – following her collection of short stories, Belly Up – centres on eight young women competing in a tournament in Reno, Nevada. It’s a taut tale of intimacy, violence, control, joy and desire.
‘Headshot’ is out now

‘Wandering Stars’, Tommy Orange.
Tommy Orange made a splash in 2018 with his debut novel, There There, which followed Native American characters in Oakland, California, the author’s hometown. Expectations are high, then, for Wandering Stars, which serves as both a prequel and a sequel. The book centres on multiple generations of a family and the fallout of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre, in which more than 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed by the US Army. 

‘Wandering Stars’ is out now

‘The Morningside’, Téa Obreht.
The third novel from the Belgrade-born US author of The Tiger’s Wife and Inland began as a short story in The Decameron Project, an anthology commissioned in 2020 by The New York Times Magazine. It unfolds in a not-too-distant future in a place called Island City and follows 11-year-old Silvia, who together with her mother is forced to leave their home and move into a high-rise managed by her aunt. There, Silvia begins to unearth a few troubling family secrets. 

‘The Morningside’ is out now

For more book suggestions and cultural recommendations, pick up a copy of Monocle’s April issue, which is out now.

Image: President of the Republic of Slovenia

Words with / Nataša Pirc Musar

Time to talk

Attorney and author Nataša Pirc Musar has been the president of Slovenia since 2022. She previously worked as a journalist and was president of the Slovenian Red Cross. Monocle caught up with her at this year’s Delphi Economic Forum in Greece.

A little more than a year into being president, what have you learned that you wish you could have told your former self?
I have gained a deep appreciation for presidents around the world. There is so much internal political work to juggle, while also attending events on international politics. I wish I could clone myself. Now that Slovenia is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, I have to be present and vocal on many different issues.

Smaller nations, particularly the Baltic States, are driving the discussion on how Europe should respond to the war in Ukraine. What do you make of this?
I am closely following what the Baltic states are saying because they know Russia intimately. They remind us that unity is crucial if Europe is going to be the power that it wants to be. However, it is not easy to make 27 member states agree on every single topic.

What is your view on the debate regarding Ukraine and Russia?
Peace is not being discussed enough. I am also hurt by the actions of the UN. They are supposed to be the beacon of peace and security – and for many years they were. When I was a young girl, whenever there was a conflict, the blue helmets would arrive, implement a ceasefire and generate discussions. Today we have a very high number of armed conflicts and the UN is not doing its job. Veto power is abused by the UN Security Council on a daily basis. We need to reform the whole organisation.

Taking the conversation closer to home. Do you think that the countries which used to be part of Yugoslavia could be playing a more active intermediary role between Kosovo and Serbia?
Yes. Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia for more than 60 years. We understand the mentality, culture and the reasoning that underpins Balkan politics. During my first year as president, I have tried to visit nearly every Western Balkan country. I want to gain insight into Kosovo-Serbia relations and get an idea of the bigger picture. Fundamentally, we have to keep talking. If dialogue stops then no solution can be found.

For our full interview with Nataša Pirc Musar, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio.

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Down to a fine art

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: Liz Kuball, Great White
Image: Liz Kuball, Great White
Image: Liz Kuball, Great White

Dear Concierge,

What are your recommendations for restaurants, shopping and art galleries in Los Angeles this spring?

Zeynep Kalayci

Dear Zeynep,

Spring tends to be clear-skied and clement in Los Angeles; a perfect time for exploring the city’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods by foot. Sycamore Avenue in Hollywood’s Studio District is home to smart, independent retailers such as Just One Eye, while a new furniture and collectables shop by BDDW is just a short stroll away on Highland Avenue. You can hop between an ever-growing number of global galleries, from Lisson Gallery at one end of Sycamore Avenue to Parisian art powerhouse Perrotin’s new outpost at the other. Stop off for a libation at Café Telegrama, a fresh-faced coffee shop with interiors by local artist John Zabawa, or venture to Great White (pictured, bottom) to have lunch alfresco. Then, continue shopping in the Arts District, where a new retail cluster called Signal is primed for perusal.

In the evening, head to Damian by Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, which is still one of Los Angeles’s best restaurants. For a martini, our tip is Dante, The Maybourne hotel’s rooftop bar, which is now a little easier to get a table at after the excitement when it opened last summer. Finish off the day taking in the ocean breeze with sundowners at The Georgian hotel.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Design update / Loewe

Lighting the way

Spanish luxury-fashion house Loewe’s lamp showcase for Milan Design Week opened on Monday in the basement of Palazzo Citterio in Milan and will end tomorrow. The presentation is the brand’s eighth showcase at the design fair and its most ambitious to date, with lamps created by 24 artists. Though the pieces demonstrate a wide variety of styles and approaches to lighting, their overarching focus on materiality and craft is what makes them stand out.

Japanese artist Hafu Matsumoto’s lamp is made from flattened strands of bamboo, while London-based artist Anthea Hamilton’s Kimono floor piece uses stained-glass panels. Alongside the exhibition, Loewe is also showing its new collection of homewares, which includes ikebana vases, paperweights and candles created especially for Salone del Mobile.

For more bright ideas and enlightening exhibitions, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue. Or subscribe today. Have a great Saturday.


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