Saturday 8 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 8/6/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Stitches in time

We touch down in Morocco for this week’s dispatch, weaving through the maze-like medinas of Marrakech, before jetting off to Hong Kong to learn about the fabric of the city with two innovative knitwear-brand founders. Then: we take a read of our favourite French bookshops and hit the trails in Ivy-league inspired sportswear. Plus: look out for our Art Basel special newsletter, which will arrive in inboxes at 15.00 today. First up, Andrew Tuck sets the stage…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

State of play

An end-of-day train packed with commuters, standing-room only. I had a more enjoyable reason, however, for being onboard the Windsor and Eton train than getting home. It was the official opening night for Accolade, a play written in the 1950s by Emlyn Williams about a to-be-knighted author with a penchant for brothels and sex parties that threatens to unravel his world. It’s at the Theatre Royal Windsor in a production directed by Sean Mathias. Better still, the other half is in it.

Windsor is dominated by the rising walls of the castle and the theatre sits on Thames Street, a road that wraps its arm around one side of the royal residence. And while Eton is just across the water, don’t get too carried away with painting pictures of genteel Britain in your mind – this arc of retail is dominated by burger chains and pizza joints. I was hoping that at least one of the kebab shops would have a royal warrant but it seems that the king has little hankering for a shawarma wrap.

The Edwardian theatre, however, has a nice façade, and is all red velvet and charming details inside. And, on a Wednesday evening, the hum of people having a swift G&T before a night of entertainment showed that it has a good following too. Anyway, this isn’t a column about improving British high streets or even a theatre review.

I have seen David in many plays over the years and have envied the ease at how a company of actors can come together, how they can develop a level of trust and connection that might take years to engender in some businesses, no matter how many team-building exercises on a windswept moor you drag them on. When rehearsals began in London, David knew none of these actors. Now, as I observed him at the first-night party, it was all beaming, genuine bonhomie (the show went very well, by the way, and is filled with talent).

And there’s something else: seeing people do the thing that they are good at. Being an actor can be a slow path to wealth and security but it brings people alive in a way that’s compelling to observe. In life it’s easy to drift away from your passions, to compromise, to let go, but seeing the other half so happy was a good reminder to be true to what you enjoy.

While I admire how a company of actors gels, I don’t want the rest of the world to follow suit with cheapened versions of fast-paced bonding. At conferences and summits there has been a worrying uptick in the number of speakers who start their talks with an activity that they imagine will stir you from a post-lunch slump, make you connect with the person sitting next to you, or just leave you all feeling as one.

In recent months I have been encouraged to hold hands with my neighbours, stand up to join in a merry song, close my eyes and think about a better future (not being here?). Is everyone reading the same how-to-make-a-speech book? Here’s my advice. If you want delegates to meet each other, throw a good cocktail party. If you want them to stay awake, crack open a window or, better still, give a good talk. You can see why I wasn’t cut out to be the actor in the family.

Accolade will be going on tour and David is booking up to stay in actors’ digs in Bath and Cambridge. I hope that there’s no repeat of what happened some years ago. David had reserved a room in an elderly lady’s house and while the first week went OK, she became confused about which days he would be in residence on week two. On the Sunday, he arrived at the house after midnight and let himself into the lodgings but when he opened his bedroom door and turned on the light, he was taken aback to see his landlady fast asleep in his bed. He shook her gently and she stirred. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were away tonight and this mattress is so much more comfortable than mine,” she said by way of explanation, while also retrieving a glass from the bedside table with her dentures in. And with that she was gone – and David eased himself into a body-warmed bed.

Me? I think it’s very important that one of us takes care of the very comfortable apartment in Palma over the coming weeks.

Image: Reuters

The Look / Flowery politicians

Planting the seeds

There are many reasons to wish that more women would contest elections for national office (writes Andrew Mueller). Absolutely the least important of them is that it vastly expands the sartorial palette of a nation’s politics. Most democracies still present voters with a selection of men in suits, which they hope look neither too expensive, nor too cheap. Mexico’s recent presidential election was not only won by a woman – former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum – but also saw a woman come second, former Miguel Hidalgo mayor and senator Xóchitl Gálvez. Both favoured outfits that made the most of Mexico’s fabulous heritage of Indigenous textile design: president-elect Sheinbaum deployed a floral theme throughout the election, launching her campaign in a maroon dress emblazoned with blue, red and green blooms, and accepting victory in something similar.

Splendid though Sheinbaum’s outfits are, they were not an entirely risk-free choice. A politician who adopts any of their country’s Indigenous motifs must do so carefully and respectfully, especially when they are not of Indigenous background themselves (Sheinbaum isn’t) and are running against an opponent who is (Gálvez is of the Otomi people of central Mexico). So far, Sheinbaum has enjoyed the blessings of Mexico’s Indigenous designers, who doubtless realise that her imminent prominence on the world stage is a potential boon. Perhaps the new president could become as powerful an ambassador for Mexican design as Frida Kahlo, from whose dress sense she is not a million miles removed.

Culture Cuts / French bookshops

Best in print

France: The Monocle Handbook is the third instalment in our series of country guides. Across its pages, we offer a tour of the nation’s most cherished cultural spots. Here are three bookshops to add to your itinerary.

Bonjour Jacob, Paris
A café as well as a magazine and record shop, Bonjour Jacob combines owners Hani Belahcene and Aurélie Galopin’s love of coffee, music and the printed word. Partners in life and business, Belahcene and Galopin launched the space close to Paris’s Canal Saint-Martin in 2021. The café sources its blends from roasters around Europe, including Amsterdam’s Dak and Berlin’s 19grams, and sells pastries from nearby Boulangerie Sain.

Librairie 7L, Paris
The idea that “to be informed is a great luxury” is what pushed the late Karl Lagerfeld to create Librairie 7L in Paris’s 7th arrondissement. The sleek and polished shop stocks a variety of publications from the 20th and 21st centuries, all displayed on high wooden tables or perched on shelves that line the welcoming space. The selection is mostly centred on photography, interior design and haute-couture, while the shop regularly hosts book signings and talks. Lagerfeld’s legacy can be seen in every aspect of the shop.

Librairie La Nuit Des Rois, Bordeaux
Translating as “The Night of Kings”, the shop’s name is a play on owner Laurent Desrois’ surname, as well as a reference to the French translation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It specialises in rare and secondhand books, which visitors can find by rummaging among floor-to-ceiling shelves and towers of books stacked in every corner. There’s also a good selection of magazines and comics.

Ensemble, Marseille
A temple of contemporary photography in the heart of Marseille, Ensemble was founded by London publishing house Loose Joints. Its mission is to bring together a mélange of creatives and photography lovers, as well as in-house titles and editions from independent publishers. Beyond its literary activities, it doubles as a gallery for new photographers from around the world. Check out its selection of fashion and homeware made by local designers and independent brands.

Pick up a copy of ‘France: The Monocle Handbook’, which is out now in select bookshops and online.

Image: Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek

How we live / Serbian gelato

Cool as ice

At the beginning of every summer, there is a quiet invasion of the streets and pavements of Belgrade (writes Guy de Launey). Low-slung freezers packed with ice creams and lollies stealthily take up prime positions across the pedestrianised main shopping drag, Knez Mihailova, as well as the paths of Kalemegdan Park and outside the kiosks that dot the centre of Serbia’s capital. Most of them peddle the products of Frikom – a Yugoslav-era company that is now British-owned – whose King Majestic won an industry award as the world’s best ice cream in 2022. But Belgrade can offer much more than just industrial ices.

Over the past decade the city has become a hotspot for high-quality gelato. Its soft, smooth, rich texture rivals the best that Italy can offer – and it appears there is no end to the appetite of Belgraders, with new names and branches still popping up all over town. A particular favourite is Crna Ovca. Its products are made on site and its success on Kralja Petra street has turned Belgrade’s old town into gelato central. You could also try Luff, which has a branch just up the road. Other high-quality options include Bacio, Maestro and the Museum of Ice Cream, where you can sample the quintessentially Serbian Plazma gelato. The only question – apart from how much gelato is too much – is why no-one is offering an ice-cream tour of Belgrade. Perhaps I should start one.

Image: Jardin Majorelle

The Monocle Concierge / Marrakech

Tickle the senses

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.

Dear Concierge,

I’m planning a holiday in Marrakech with my wife and sons in June. Could you please suggest a few historical sights to visit, some local experiences and vegetarian food places to keep in mind? Thank you!

Prashant Jain

Dear Prashant,

Marrakech’s immense souks are a maze of hidden gems and a great place to start your visit. Enjoy a bite of msemmen flatbread and a mint tea on the Café des Épices terrace before an obligatory visit to the Jardins Majorelle, designer Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic villa-turned-museum. Built by painter Jacques Majorelle and bought by the Saint-Laurent-Bergé couple in the 1970s, the space is a delight for all the senses and most enjoyable in the early summer months.

Stop for lunch at the Riad Dar Zaman for a quiet respite. Its excellent bowls of harira (lentil soup) and vegetable tagines are made with seasonal ingredients from the local farmers’ market. If you’re looking to delve deeper into the city’s history, head to the Dar El Bacha Museum in the old medina. The halls of this 18th-century palace have been walked by many of Moroccan history’s greatest figures and it’s one of the most striking examples of the country’s architecture.

As dinnertime approaches, a table at Le Marocain at La Mamounia hotel is an unforgettable experience where you will taste the height of Moroccan luxury. B’saha!

Image: Roni Ahn

Words with… / Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung

Spinning a yarn

Former Rag & Bone knitwear director Phyllis Chan and Hong Kong designer Suzzie Chung are the co-founders of premium knitwear brand YanYan. Their pieces are carried by Nordstrom in New York, Joyce in Hong Kong and Beams in Japan, and will make their European debut at London’s Goodhood in August. Monocle visited Chan and Chung at their studio in Kowloon, Hong Kong, to preview their forthcoming collections.

How would you introduce YanYan?
Suzzie Chung: We are a designer knitwear brand based in Hong Kong. We make fun, cool sweaters.

Talk us through your forthcoming collections.
Phyllis Chan: We have been around for four or five years now and we wanted to evolve our aesthetic. Our latest collection shows that design evolution, while also preserving some of the elements that make us who we are. We’re known for really beautiful lambswool. We try to make comfortable, lightweight products that challenge the idea of what sweaters and knitwear can be.

How does your hometown influence your designs?
SC: We like to celebrate our culture by referencing the festivals and colours of Hong Kong. We also like to explore Chinese history to find quaint little stories that we might not be aware of. This year we introduced the concept of the “five poisons”: the snake, scorpion, frog, spider and centipede. During summer, children used to wear these animal charms to protect themselves from being bitten.

Big-name retailers have played an important part in your success so far. Why is that?
PC: When we started our brand, everyone was talking about e-commerce and how wholesale retail was on the way out. But we didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket. We wanted to work with retail partners so that the experience of our brand in their shops could be special and unique. It’s pretty much impossible for us to reach a large amount of people on our own.

Tell us why you produce your knitwear in China.
PC: We have always been aware of having this particular conversation. Our approach is an honest one. We are based in Hong Kong and we are a Chinese-looking brand, so we make our clothes in China. Everyone talks about producing locally and we are doing that.

YanYan is five years old. What’s the next five-year plan?
PC: Slow fashion is a big talking point and we are so, so slow. It has worked out for us so far. Considering how the world is right now, we don’t want to overextend ourselves in a way that makes it difficult to deliver what we’re here to do. We’d love to have more customers but, honestly, our goal is just to create beautiful products that make our customers happy.

Tune in to the latest ‘Eureka’ episode of ‘The Entrepreneurs’ on Monocle Radio for our full interview with Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung.

Wardrobe update / Tracksmith

Right on track

Who will be cheering you on at your next finish line? If you’re wearing a Van Cortlandt singlet, then odds are that the Tracksmith crowd will be there to celebrate your latest personal record (writes Gregory Scruggs). Not everyone lives within easy reach of the Ivy League-inspired, premium running brand’s shops in Boston, London and New York. Enter the Tracksmith Envoy, a blue Citroën Type H van decorated with a signature white stripe. This mobile outpost offers coffee for fuelling up before the starting line, water to replenish after the race and the chance for fans and newcomers alike to try on the Eliot Runner, the company’s first foray into footwear.

Image: Tracksmith
Image: Tracksmith

The Envoy has already logged more than 40,000km across North America, from big-city marathons in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles to gruelling races such as the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado. This summer it will park up at the US Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, the San Francisco Marathon and Tracksmith’s own Twilight 5000 series, which takes place at local running tracks from Detroit and Oklahoma City to Vancouver. Having a reliable brand show up on race day, the apotheosis of many customers’ running ambitions, is a surefire way to build trust. Just don’t ask the Envoy to serve as your pace vehicle; ending up disqualified for breaking the rules is never a winning strategy.

For more sunny styles and destinations, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue or subscribe today. Have a great Saturday.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00