Mid-economic meltdown doesn't seem like the smartest time to launch a new retail concept, much less one that's an offshoot of a print magazine. Then again, maybe it is.
Canadian-born Tyler Brûlé has been prognosticating about globalism, materialism and design since he founded Wallpaper magazine in 1994. And now he's at it again, challenging the prevailing logic of cutting back by opening a stylish store as a platform to sell copies of Monocle, his high-end (that's $10) business and cultural affairs glossy.
Opening Monday in Brentwood Country Mart, Monocle the store covers just 115 square feet. The interior's modular Vitsoe shelves are meant to echo the magazine's modular black-and-white design, while the merchandise -- designer collaborations from around the world -- communicates the magazine's international editorial mission. Comme des Garçons Hinoki fragrance ($120, Japan), John Smedley cardigans ($195, Britain) and Artek stools ($280, Finland) will be sold alongside all 22 issues of the magazine, which began publishing in 2007 and has 10,000 subscribers worldwide, as well as newsstand distribution of 150,000.
"Magazine retailing is one of the only elements of the retail experience that had yet to be rethought," Brûlé said by phone from Japan, where he's scouting locations for a third store to follow the London and L.A. outposts.
He found the Brentwood space by accident while visiting L.A. in December and liked the community feel of the mart. "There is fatigue on both sides of the Atlantic with chain stores," said Brûlé, who also runs his own London-based ad agency, Winkreative. "In the U.S., the retail footprints are too big. That's part of the problem with department stores, and why it's the hour of reckoning for so many specialty stores. It's hard to connect with customers when you have 10,000 square feet. Another problem is the [merchandise selection]. At retail, people who are doing well offer something different, something tactile and human."
A story in the January issue of Monocle that named Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments and Woolrich Woolen Mills one of 20 people worldwide who deserve a bigger stage in 2009 led to a collaboration on ripstop cotton "travel blazers" ($550) for the store. Brûlé's need for the perfect 72-hour travel bag resulted in specially designed bags ($221 to $400) by Japanese brand Porter. "We have a pretty specific point of view. Manufacturers and crafts people can use us as a platform," he said. "It will be interesting to see who comes out of the woodwork in Southern California."
A seasoned traveler, Brûlé has become a branding expert over the years, addressing the subject regularly in print and on TV.
Critics contend that his magazine, which appears 10 times a year, is an advertorial for his advertising clients -- which include Porter, BMW and James Perse. But that doesn't seem to be true; the March issue was a compelling read with a story about the resurgence of the Falkland Islands as a destination for business and tourism, an interview with the Danish prime minister in advance of the United Nations climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen later this year, and a tour of a Norwegian hospital that is trying to prove that good design can lead to good health.
Perhaps Brûlé's Monocle is an eye to the future. Unlike so many naysayers, he hasn't given up on print media. And he's doing well -- Monocle's advertising is up 8% since the start of the year and up 18% for the next issue.
"We do subtle tricks that demand people pay attention to paper," he said. "The second the new copy of Monocle comes in, the previous month's issue doubles in price. We have an active and innovative website [monocle.com], but we also want to correct the notion that the Web is to blame for the decline in anything printed on paper. A lot of it has to do with publishers downgrading paper and moving to digital photography before the quality was there. Print should fight back by adding richness."
And apparently by adding shopping.
The Monocle Shop, 225 26th St., 19b, Santa Monica, (310) 395-4180. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun