You might not know what type of stories are contained in a mook called Monocle. You might not, but Tyler Brule does, because that mook -- a magazine crossed with a book, for you backward-lookers -- is his baby. It is a starkly designed, 244-page package delivered this week, with a laser-guided precision the Pentagon would pine for, into the hands of the global cultural elite.
Brule is 38, a tastemaker whose company, Winkreative, has helped develop the brand identities of Stella McCartney, Swissair and Toronto's Porter Airlines, among others. Winnipeg's most stylish son -- although this is perhaps not a crowded field -- he is best-known as the creator of Wallpaper, the magazine-as-lifestyle-primer that he founded in 1996 and left six years later. Wallpaper had its asterisk, emblem of the decade of irony; Monocle has gravitas, emblem of the decade of fear, or big thought, or self-importance. Or perhaps all three.
"This is a very Monocle story," Brule says, more than once, as he walks past the mock-up of the magazine pinned to a wall in the offices shared by Monocle and Winkreative. Tucked away on a side street in elegant Marylebone, the office is all pale wood and light. The magazine's first issue hit the printing presses that morning at 8 a.m.
Pointing to a business story about the Mexican town of Ensenada, Brule says, "We're always going to be profiling cities that are on the up." On the up, hidden away -- Monocle's mission is to introduce its savvy readership ("well-heeled, well-informed opinion makers," according to the magazine's promo materials) to overlooked business, culture, news and design stories.
The first issue contains a story about a Kabul radio programmer, an interview with Lego's CEO about outsourcing, a satirical dissection of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's wardrobe and a profile of Andres Velasco, Chile's Finance Minister. Brule stops in front of Velasco's moodily shot portrait and drawls, "The incredibly handsome Chilean Finance Minister." Substance may be in the driver's seat, but style is clearly still whispering directions in its ear.
Brule, as befits a man who has made a living telling people precisely which cashmere V-necks and Japanese slippers to buy, is trim, handsome, neat. If a brief trip through London leaves most people covered in a patina of grease, Brule seems, through a miracle of reverse chemistry, to actually repel dirt particles. And that, of course, is part of his successful brand.
Andrew Tuck, formerly of the Independent newspaper and now Monocle's editor, arrives to expand on the company vision: "The writing is quite clipped and tight. It's not about celebrity journalism -- it's about the Monocle story." That story will be told from around the world, including bureaus in Tokyo, Zurich and New York; a map in each issue indicates the places writers visited for their reporting.
Are there any stories about Canada in the inaugural issue? Brule smiles, a cat who had canary omelette for breakfast. "There's a dig about Calgary, something about it not being the Dubai of North America." It's fair to say Brule has an issue with his homeland, which we'll come to later.
"This is a very Monocle story," Brule says, pointing to a spread about a moccasin manufacturer in small-town Wisconsin. While on a trip to his beloved Japan, Brule had noticed fashionable kids wearing a particular type of moccasin; mad for authenticity, the kids had chosen this brand because it was still made in a mom-and-pop outfit in the Wisconsin woods. "It's a design story, it's a business story and it's a comment on where the global business industry is going."
This spotting of micro-trends is not so much a cool safari, Brule says, as an effort to tell the jaded business traveller something he doesn't already know. That the whole enterprise could teeter on parody is evident in the first issue of Kita Koga, a manga (or Japanese comic book) that will be included with each issue of Monocle.
The hero of Kita Koga is Niels Watanabe, a chiselled half-Danish, half-Japanese industrial designer by day . . . and spy by night: "Code name Koga." In other words, he's a hyper-cool citizen of the global world, with not one, but two kickin' jobs. The typical Monocle reader, perhaps?
"I think," says Tuck, "that he's already got a subscription."
Brule was born (birth name: Jayson) in Winnipeg, the son of an artist mother and football-playing father, but the roots of his new magazine lie in the suburbs of Toronto. There, on his Estonian aunt's coffee table, he found German newsweeklies such as Der Spiegel; the idea of a creating an English magazine like them stuck in his head.