Tastemaking magazine Monocle opens Singapore outpost with shop, mini cafe

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This article was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 12, 2014

Global affairs magazine Monocle is sinking roots in Singapore for the first time. The hip, design-centric magazine for the stylish intellectual is launching its first retail shop and mini cafe in Singapore.

Says Monocle founder and editor-in-chief Tyler Brule (photo), in a phone interview with Urban last week from his London headquarters: "South-east Asia is growing at an incredible pace. Our strategy has always been to have hubs to service all of the regions and it really made sense."

The newest Monocle outpost, which opens for preview this weekend and for permanent business on Dec 20, is located at 74 Jalan Kelabu Asap in a 1950s townhouse in Chip Bee Gardens.

The 62 sq m ground floor unit houses the shop and mini cafe, while the 71 sq m second floor will house the Monocle bureau and Internet radio station, due to begin operations early next year.

Mr Brule, 46 and a Canadian, says the traffic of The Monocle Shop in Hong Kong, which receives visitors from around the region, was an encouraging sign. That, and the fact that Singapore has always been one of the magazine's top 10 markets, got the ball rolling.

The Singapore store joins existing Monocle stores in London, New York, Toronto, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Like the others, it will sell the magazine's selection of fashion and design collaborations, including those with Comme des Garcons, Porter, Mackintosh and more.

Exclusive products for the Singapore launch include a Delfonics travel pouch, Monocle x Revo M24 black radio and a Monocle Poster collection.

Asked about the shop's unusual location, the editor mentioned practical and aesthetic concerns. The company was looking for a space that would not need too much costly renovation, he says. "We also like the idea of being in more of a residential area, a little bit off the beaten track."

However, due to licensing restrictions, no cooking is allowed. True to the brand's entrepreneurial spirit, this led to the creation of a coffee bar with La Marzocco beans from the New Zealand company Allpress. Shoppers can leaf through copies of Monocle and enjoy their cuppa in an outdoor garden setting as well.

While the hefty magazine, which comes out 10 times a year, is "the heart of the business", The Monocle Shop and cafe are growing in importance too, adds Mr Brule.

The expansive Monocle group also produces books, radio programmes and annual publications such as The Forecast, a report on the people, places and currents shaping business and politics.

"Retail now accounts for over 10 per cent of our total turnover. If you rewind to five years ago, it wasn't such a significant part of the business then but now it's a proper organisation, with staff to match and a metabolism that very much takes on a life of its own."

The retail operations help pay for the journalists, he notes. The Singapore bureau will probably eventually have three staff, including an editor, researcher and intern. It joins other bureaus in Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, Zurich, Toronto and Istanbul.

Founded in 2007, Monocle has become known as a chic guide on issues spanning travel, design, politics and more.

This month's issue (retailing for $19.90) focuses on topics such as soft power rankings of nations, Christmas hot spots in Belgium, a review of the best airlines and hostels, and designer Karl Lagerfeld's take on Berlin.

Mr Brule, a Financial Times columnist, also launched fashion-forward Wallpaper magazine in 1996 .

Though Monocle has grown into an empire extending from shops to radio, he says the brand is actually driven by a certain "conservatism".

"We've never promised meteoric numbers to anybody in terms of what we want to do," he says, on their steady and satisfying 7-per-cent year-on-year growth.

And forget about jumping on all the new online platforms - it is just not Monocle's style.

"We don't do a tablet edition, we don't have to be on every social media channel. We don't believe in contributing to all the digital chatter," says Mr Brule.

"People come to us because they want our editor's view on paper. I think most who know us well enough know we chart our own course."

llim@sph.com.sg