Interview: Tyler Brûlé, the founder and editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
Mr. Tyler Brûlé is a writer, an entrepreneur and the founder of Monocle magazine but he is also a frequent visitor to Helsinki. Brûlé has been travelling to the Finnish capital since the early 1980’s and mentions that he seen many Helsinki Moments (of global interest). His personal history with Finland gives him unique understanding of the country, its design and the people. In the first-ever Glasshouse Helsinki Q&A his answers reveal a deep understanding of Finnish design and culture.
“There is still magic to retail”
Helsinki has seen the rise of new areas outside the historic center. Why is it important to keep the city center lively? Or is it?
TB: “There is nothing wrong with a dispersed city. It is common that areas outside the center are developing. It is the rhythm of a living city. Of course, if we think about what happened in the US in the seventies with the rise of suburbs and malls - the cities hollowed out. But Helsinki has density, so it is not likely to happen.
For businesses it comes down to how relevant you are to to locals. A city can’t be built just for tourists. Think about The Academic Bookstore in Helsinki. Fifteen years ago Akateeminen felt like it was woven into the city. Before the Starbucks they had the giant magazine department that was amazing, although I might be biased since I am in the magazine business. Now it seems to have lost that feeling and with that: relevance.”
Glasshouse Helsinki is building an e-commerce platform for sustainable design and also opening a concept store in the center of Helsinki. How do you see the future of retail and the importance of the physical store?
TB: “Even I was shocked in London to see how many shops have closed permanently. Maybe in some way we have become over-stored and over-restauranted? One question is: do we need so many H&M or Zara stores? Probably not. And obviously that is not where the pandemic hits. Mom-and-pop stores and small businesses are the ones taking the hit. The road is long but streets will come back.
I recently visited Lokal Kansallissali in Helsinki. That is a good example! It was an experience. As a customer you are immersed in it. This is something online store cannot do. So there is still magic to retail when it is done well. The stores just need to be better.”
Glasshouse Helsinki is discussing ideas about the idea of post-Covid city. How do you see the city after pandemic?
TB: “Switzerland is similar to Finland in many ways. They have taken a pro-business approach to the pandemic. We already saw for a while in the summer and in August in Switzerland how quickly people want and can get back to normal. I mean, memories are short. For example, I don’t see cities hollowing out with people doing remote work. I believe in the rhythm becoming the same as it was before.
I have been fortunate to live in Zurich during the pandemic. The Swiss government has worked hard and fortunately Switzerland has had an active, heated debate. After all, Switzerland is the home of direct democracy. Hopefully other countries take notice of the discussion and debate that keeps things moving forward. I hope all this time spent in lockdown will get us all into appreciating the in-person discussions. In a way this thought takes it full circle all the way back to retail. Algorithms are boring: sure, they know what you might want to buy. But the experience is when you go into a store and someone says: 'we also have this in pink gingham' and you end up buying fifteen.”
Sustainable investing is trending. How do you see this trend developing?
TB: “Sustainable investing is important and fashionable but it is still in its infancy. In a way you are setting yourself for scrutiny when you are talking about sustainability because we are using the term as a shorthand. Sustainability can still mean different things to different people. The real challenge is to create a framework that everyone understands.”
Finnish design has sustainability in its DNA. Yet Finnish design brands often have trouble breaking into the international market. What advice would you give to Finnish design brands and designers?
TB: “It all has to do with marketing. On one hand Finland is known for Slush and technology but sometimes the country moves in glacial speed. This way it is similar to Japan. You move in the same speed - that is counted not in days but in centuries. That needs to change.
Speed is an issue. So is marketing. Finnish design companies invest in research and development. You don’t need to, you got it already! They need to invest that money in marketing.”
What are the Finnish brands that you are currently excited about?
TB: “I really like Johanna Gullichsen, she is a very classic player. You see her products in their element in Helsinki or Tokio. When I have them in Zürich people cant’t place them and ask: "what is that". I also really like the shoe brand Tarvas. I recently bought a pair and hopefully we get to work together with them soon."