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.
But by the time he got around to creating one, the world was spinning on a new, digital axis and the newsweekly's day had waned. On his many trips through airports, he'd see men buying a business weekly, a travel magazine, maybe a lad mag. His career as brand maestro and columnist for the Financial Times, where he acted as a kind of cool hunter for the business traveller, led him to the idea of combining the newsweekly and the style or travel magazine. (His citing of obscure brands in the now-defunct FT column, combined with his unusual name, prompted at least one letter-writer to suggest he was not an actual person, but the figment of an overheated satirical imagination.)
"You can read about political affairs and business," Brule says, "and it doesn't have to be isolated from where you might want to go next weekend." And so we have Monocle, which Brule and his creative director Richard Spencer Powell originally wanted to call The Edit, but the name was taken. He likes how the word Monocle looks on the page, likes that it suggests "a single vision," and that the name is an anagram for "cool men." This last he says with a smile that suggests he's willing to mock himself before others get there first.
On this morning in London, Brule is wearing a slim-fitting grey jacket over a navy V-neck (cashmere, I presume) over a shirt striped in various shades of blue. His salt-and-pepper hair is artfully razored, and he has a density of stubble that suggests a precise growing season. (How do men achieve this exact length of facial hair? Is there a device called the Stubbilator?) He's wearing two silver rings on his right hand; his left was rendered largely useless after he was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan in 1994 while on assignment for the German magazine Focus.
That's the paradox of Brule: He has covered a war, but will tell you where to find the coolest band in Sweden. He believes his readers will be intrigued by a dense piece on the Japanese navy -- the cover story in the inaugural Monocle -- but are also "obsessed by luggage."
Would he be offended to be called a snob? Brule raises an eyebrow. "No, I wouldn't be offended. But I don't think I am a snob."
Let's say elitist, then. The magazine and its website (featuring different digital content) will be distinguished from the competition not only in global outlook, Brule says, but also in that they're an oasis in a desert filled with Brangelina and Paris. "It's 100-per-cent celeb-free." There's a rigorous aesthetic at work: Brule insists that there will be no free copies of the magazine given out to hotels or airlines, no writer will accept free trips, and no editorial control given to even the most persuasive advertisers.
"The luxury-goods sector has really changed," he says. "The brands are much more powerful and too many publishers have sold their souls in the past five years, in terms of the control they have and the way some brands have bullied and won against magazines. . . . We had some pretty firm discussions with people early on -- and [those advertisers] are not in." (However, there is product placement: In the manga, the new Audi TT and the Prada cellphone both make an appearance.)
So how, exactly, do you get people to part with their $12.50, especially when there's no boobs or Britney on the cover? The answer, according to magazine expert Samir Husni, is that readers -- the ones who followed him through the Wallpaper years and stuck by him through two short-lived magazine ventures since then -- are buying the Brule style. "He is the brand," says Husni, chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. "But that's where it's a sword with two edges. Everyone will be watching him with hawk eyes, and they'll be critical of every move . . . he's a trend-setter and that's why people will be looking to see what happens next.
"If you give him the freedom and no financial constraints," continues Husni, "he can create a product that will attract people and that they'll want to hold in their hands."
Famously, Brule once told Toronto's Shift magazine that he was "terrible with money," but he dismisses that as ancient history. He's got 22 people working at the magazine, more at the brand agency, so "I need to follow a budget." Monocle was financed with £5-million (or $11.3-million) from Japanese, Swedish, Australian and Spanish investors. The magazine charges $23,000 for a full-page ad, and $170 for a year's subscription of 10 issues. (By contrast, Conde Nast is offering subscriptions to its new business glossy, Portfolio, for $13.)
Yet not enough of those subscriptions for Brule's liking have been taken out in his home country. "We have as many subscribers for our project in Monaco as we do in Canada."