Piers Fawkes: Is Monocle The New Louis Vuitton?

Tyler Brûlé has built a brand that has the ability to rival many European luxury companies across product categories.

As Monocle hits its 5th anniversary, I wonder if it’s time to re-contemplate the brand that that Tyler Brûlé and his team have worked so hard to build. Is Monocle still a magazine or is it now a brand with credibility that could rival any of the European luxury houses?

Monocle launched as a magazine and from the outset it was a hit. Brulé, a London-based Canadian, seemed to have outgrown his Wallpaper roots and had created a journal that from the outset fed a mix of play, work and world agenda to a creative class where social, business and politics had become just as blurred. As the magazine grew, it sprouted small shops across the world, created online radio shows, collaborated tirelessly with brands and started selling premium products. The About Us page on the Monocle.com reads:

Monocle has built an hourly, daily and weekly relationship with its readers to create an opinionated and predictive package that can be accessed anywhere in the world, at any time.

Breaking traditional media models, Monocle has also created a unique retail channel with freestanding shops in London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York – along with an e-commerce site. The shops sell a mix of limited edition collaborations with brands such as Comme des Garçons, Tomorrowland, Valextra and Drakes, plus Monocle’s own-designed posters, and notebooks. The best-selling Porter x Monocle series of Japanese-made bags and travel goods have become globally renowned.

 

Until very recently, I saw the product stuff as a bolt on to the publishing arm. It seemed to be a playful niche to have. Then I came across a link on a blog to a pair of plimsolls. Simple Japanese pumps that had been created in collaboration with Japan’s Moonstar. This “exclusive” pair of lightweight slip-ons sells for a boisterous $215.

I tweeted my surprise at such a high price during the downturn, but with a little contemplation I started to wonder whether my reaction was a little naive — as if I walked into the store of a high end luxury brand, found a nice white shirt and then was gobsmacked when I turned the label to see the price. In Prada or Tom Ford, things seem to me to be priced at a premium but they do that because that’s what the brand wants to charge their clientele. I probably find the items in those stores expensive because I’m not their target market.

 

Since discovering those Japanese slip-ons, I’ve started to realize that I found the product expensive because I’m not Monocle’s target market either. This epiphany has made me think about how the content has changed over the last few years: Brûlé definitely has developed an agenda to discuss the global political scene and the management of economies. It’s far less about the cool Korean band which featured on the cover of the first copy I bought — and much more about how cities can be planned so they can compete on the world stage. While I think I want to know about the latter, I think my interests still truly lie in the former. I, like other people I’ve recently spoken to, find in near impossible to get into the magazine anymore. This is because I’m no longer the target market. I’m not a high-end luxury consumer who worries everyday about the macro ideas that the Monocle team put forward.

Because of its history, it’s very easy to still think about Monocle as a publishing business. When I put a question out on PSFK’s Facebook page many readers insisted that the brand is still a magazine. But I’m not sure. I think Monocle has become a luxury product brand that creates content, and owns both online & offline media and retail channels. It has done this by spreading a message about itself by collaborating with other brands (advertisers and sponsors) and then collaborating with brands to create a broad range of premium products that it couldn’t have created alone in the short period of its existence. I would argue that the brand values rival those of Prada or even Tom Ford. And in terms of business-model, Monocle is leaps ahead. Surely a brand like Prada would love to have the magazine’s reach and engagement.

I’m not sure the people at Monocle would like their well-cared for magazine to be positioned as a luxury product brand — but it’s not always up to the people who work at a brand to decide what the brand is about. Today, many luxury brands feel manufactured and the holding company’s strategy of putting them through a BCG Matrix lifecycle of stars to cash cows must be plainly obvious to any premium product-buying customer. They want more. They want better. Brûlé and his team have not only had the opportunity to write about fashion, travel, automotive and jewelry — they have had the opportunity to create world-leading businesses in each market by leveraging a very 21st century top-of-the-market brand.

Monocle

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