For the New Emperors
Monocle, the bible of cosmopolitan elites, turns seven.


Kevin D. Williamson

There’s an old joke about what the newspaper you read — remember reading newspapers? — said about you: The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country, the New York Times is read by the people who think they run the country, the Washington Post is read by people who think they should run the country, the Boston Globe is read by people whose grandparents used to do a damned fine job of running the country, the San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure whether there is a country or if anybody’s running it, and the Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country. But running the country is a modest ambition — what do you read if you want to be one of the people who run the world?

The answer, for many years, was The Economist. It was what you read, and where you read it was the airport. Nobody has ever read a copy of The Economist cover-to-cover anywhere but an airport. There are people who subscribe to The Economist, and about once a year one of them will take to the pages of the New York Times or the Financial Times or some such with an essay about the guilt he feels as unread back issues of The Economist stack up on his Noguchi coffee table. Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” to describe the class composed of the sort of people who attend the World Economic Forum, regardless of whether they are the people who attend the forum in fact. The main attraction of the phrase “Davos Man” is that it is much more economical than “Man with an MBA who reads The Economist at the British Airways lounge while awaiting the business-class flight that will take him from Washington or New York to a financial-regulation conference in London or a trade show in Dubai.”

But The Economist, a venerable publication founded in 1843 for the purpose of advocating repeal of the Corn Laws, has some competition, in the form of its considerably hipper seven-year-old cousin, Monocle, founded and edited by the Canadian journalist and entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé. It is a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism, the go-to source for articles on the soft power of native Finnish people (“On top of the world: Why the Sámi people are in pole position”), how not to be a bad tourist (“Indonesia’s significant attractions seem to have been overlooked by tourists who flock to Southeast Asia. And that’s a great shame, says Monocle’s Aisha Speirs”), such new-urbanist obsessions as bicycling (“Kenji Hall goes for a little bike ride — in the middle of traffic-clogged Jakarta with the city’s governor, a Spanish MotoGP world champion and the ambassador of Denmark”), second-tier global cities (“Evolution theory: There’s more to Darwin than cyclones and crocodiles”), etc. It can be a little precious at times — Monocle doesn’t have bureaus, it has bureaux — but Mr. Brûlé and his colleagues have something that is notably lacking in many publishing concerns, that being a sense of how to make money and what to do with it, and an admirable entrepreneurial spirit. Rather than simply selling advertisements for high-end goods, it sells goods itself, funding the opening of its Hong Kong bureau from sales at its London retail shops. It operates a radio station and cafés, and partners with like-minded designers to market goods directly to its readers. It commissions short films and shows them on its website. The result of this large-minded entrepreneurship was a 2013 operating profit of 48 percent and $3 million worth of traditional advertising in its December-January 2013 issue.

No modern publication is complete without a branded list, and for Monocle that takes the form of city rankings. American cities, lacking as they do such traditional European comforts as walkability and effective mass transit, generally do fairly poorly, not one of them cracking the top ten on the 2013 list (Copenhagen, Melbourne, Helsinki, Tokyo, Vienna, Zurich, Stockholm, Munich, Sydney, Auckland) and only three making the top 25: Honolulu at No. 17, Portland at No. 23, and San Francisco at No. 24, barely edging out Düsseldorf.

And who am I to contest the charms of Düsseldorf? But reading the features in Monocle, I have the same feeling that I have reading the famous classified advertisements in The Economist: Who, exactly, is the target audience? In the case of The Economist, it seems to be somebody with an advanced degree in economics specializing in agricultural-credit policy looking for a two-year appointment in Lagos at £83,000. The ideal Monocle reader, so far as I can tell, is a city-planning executive who shares a Variér-furnished apartment in Helsinki with his successful gallerist wife, retreating occasionally to the seaside villa outside Burgas they inherited from a beloved uncle, the 18th Viscount Hurdy-Gurdy. It is a magazine whose concerns often are literally pedestrian, but the first dozen advertisements in the most recent issue come from: Cartier, Louis Vuitton, BMW, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Dior Homme, Hermès, Ermenegildo Zegna, Valentino, Tod’s, B&B Italia, and Kiton. Because when you land in Stuttgart wearing your $11,000 Kiton suit, you’re looking to carry your $5,000 Bottega Veneta weekender to the metro, rather than to a taxi. Monocle is perhaps best described the same way that DeWitt describes the watches it advertises therein: “For the new emperors.”


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