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Singular vision of Monocle's founder

Tyler Brûlé's new publication has a European sensibility, private backers and a hefty cover price.

September 29, 2007|Matthew DeBord | Special to The Times

The death of print is often lamented among media types these days, in the era of Google ads and the mad exodus of advertisers from dreary old ink-on-paper. But Tyler Brûlé doesn't buy it.

The London-based founder and editor of Wallpaper*, the definitive late-1990s design-travel-shelter-entertaining-lifestyle magazine, stopped over in Los Angeles on his way to Silicon Valley recently to barnstorm upscale advertising targets -- Apple, Lexus -- for his new publication, Monocle, which is targeted at the borderless global elite. Brûlé has mixed views on the city. "L.A. is full of extremes for me," he said. "I love the Modernist architecture but loathe the strip malls. And I want to see more neighborhoods where people walk and bike and get out of their cars."

A vintage Brûlé comment, and one that neatly summarizes his attitude about a life lived well and his ambitions for his latest magazine. Monocle, which has been available since early this year, strives to combine Brûlé's indefatigable cosmopolitanism with his desire to improve the world, one devoted reader at a time. In a media world where words are a vanishing species, Monocle practically wallows in its allegiance to a theoretically outmoded publication model: uncoated paper stock, precisely set columns of type and a smooth mix of photography, illustration and info-graphics. There's also a website, monocle.com, but it's thus far a rudimentary exercise. The not inexpensive print version -- $10 a pop in the U.S., published 10 times a year -- is clearly where his 38-year-old heart lies. In fact, Monocle is a dense, multilayered allusion to the heyday of a certain kind of serious printed enterprise.

Most new magazines these days do not boldly describe themselves, as Monocle does, as "a briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design." Nor do they take an avowed anti-celebrity stance (a "house rule," according to Brûlé). If Monocle's hybrid of the old-school news weekly and the Japanese "magalog," of which Condé Nast's Lucky is the best known version, can succeed, then there will be a strong indication that a serious youth audience for print continues to exist.

Brûlé is optimistic. "I have a personal passion for news and foreign affairs," he said, munching on breakfast bacon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. "I'm not obsessed with looking at someone's constantly updated blog." With his neat beard, Rolex and olive-drab blazer, he still looks the part of the foreign correspondent he once was.

Remember Time? Remember Newsweek? No, not in their current, etiolated incarnations, but in their 1970s glory, when the far-ranging weekly news digest strode large upon the media landscape. That generation of American glossies is just the tip of Brûlé's iceberg. His fetishistic inspiration for Monocle is the hard-core news weekly of his European youth, magazines like Germany's Der Spiegel and Stern, deftly covering culture, strife and political malfeasance with depth, insight and -- not incidentally -- great photography. Brûlé's model for Monocle embraces provocative, unapologetically self-important magazine-making, the sort of thing that has now migrated to the Economist and the New York Review of Books.

In many respects, Brûlé, who is gay and in a long-term relationship but seemingly indifferent to sexual politics, is the perfect Gen X media entrepreneur. Monocle, with its features on the "Top 20 Liveable Cities," stories on startup running-shoe companies, artfully composed fashion spreads and concluding manga comic, combines Brûlé's romantic view of journalism with an eminently futuristic vision of how the post-boomer cadre wants to live.

Like his fellow Canadian-born magazine impresario, Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter, Brûlé has managed to create -- twice now -- something of absorbing visual elegance that's also worth reading.

Of course, with Monocle, one also gets Brûlé's other passion: shopping. Readers of the New York Times "T" Style magazines will be familiar with this side of his personality, as over the years he has contributed globe-trotting speculations on how to obtain the perfect luggage and the most versatile sportswear. Stuff has always been on his mind: He runs a design firm in addition to developing magazines. After Wallpaper* was bought by Time Warner and Brûlé eventually departed, he revamped the Swiss national airline's visual identity. In fact, a preoccupation with a level of design esoterica accessible mainly to the international jet set of the Clinton administration was a consistent knock against Wallpaper*. The stimulating lifestyle proposed by the magazine came with an entry fee that far exceeded the cover price and implied a fairly lofty tax bracket.

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