Twice a year Monocle hosts a drinks event during the menswear shows in Milan that lets us meet up with the brand owners, retailers and writers we like. Some of the conversation is about trends and the week’s parties, a few times it’s just a social catch-up about friends and families. But other times these fashion folk talk global politics and in a very astute and revealing way.
Back in January I was catching up with the representative of a large Italian brand who told me that he had been watching carefully the progress of the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme. His feeling was that if they went well and sanctions against the country were dropped, the country would be the next place for investment by all the luxury firms. Indeed, believing that things were actually quite positive, he’d already done a scout of the nation and met up with potential partners. His on-the-ground perspective – and his dealings with businessmen there – was fascinating and his views far more informed than anything you’d see in most newspapers.
We were back again a week ago and this time the talk was about Greece and what happens when a nation teeters on the brink of economic chaos. The topic came up again and again; brands were having to balance taking care of long-established relationships with store owners in Athens and the wealthier Greek holiday islands with the fear that they might not get paid. Many of them had had to negotiate similarly tricky times in Cyprus and Ireland and had developed a clear idea of how events might unfold.
As the prosecco kept coming and the canapés did the whirl, I found myself standing in front of one dapper fashion leader after another and was struck by how their conversation was to a fault as wise and nuanced as anything you’d hear at a think-tank’s gathering. Because to sell a great shirt is to be linked to Egypt’s cotton trade and that nation’s turbulent politics, to open a shop in Moscow is to second guess Putin and to run a business in Italy is to be skilled at dodging problems with the political machine and clever at working out how successful Matteo Renzi’s premiership will ultimately be.
So next time you really want to know where the world is headed, turn to the fashion pages. Woven into that nice jacket is a world of politics, economics and culture, not just an elegantly cut pocket. The well-dressed are wise to the facts.
Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor.