One of the world's leading style gurus is turning his eyes towards the UAE. Tyler Brűlé, the publisher of Monocle, the international culture and style monthly, is expanding the magazine's coverage to include the UAE and the Gulf region. He visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi last week to speak to six of the UAE's most prestigious brand names - Nakheel, Emaar, the airlines Emirates and Etihad, Istithmar and the Emirates Palace hotel - and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority with a view to winning lucrative advertising contracts.
Brűlé has also appointed a freelance writer, Carole Corm, to cover the region from Beirut. "The addition of Carole Corm gives us a full-time presence in the region as she'll be travelling for us throughout the region," he said. "As for our commercial discussions, all were very successful and I think the brands discussed really understand what we're doing." Until now, he said, the magazine had not focussed on the region: "The markets where we have traditionally done well are Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Europe and North America, but we've been publishing for a year and a half now and we're happy that we've laid the appropriate foundations. So it's time to broaden our focus."
Monocle was launched 18 months ago with the backing of five wealthy families from Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Australia and Japan, who between them own 30 per cent of the magazine. Brűlé's holding company, Winkorp, owns 70 per cent. An annual subscription for 10 issues costs US$150 (Dh551) and Brűlé is happy to defend the high cover price. "It is a niche market and we are aiming at international business people who want a bit of opinion, good reporting with a little bit of edge and sass as well."
Currently, 150,000 copies are sold on newsstands worldwide and there are 7,000 subscribers. The magazine has yet to make money but, says Brűlé, it is on target: "We had a board meeting three weeks ago where we reviewed the business plan and we are well ahead of that, which is great." Monocle is a mix of edgy journalism, politics and style with an emphasis on high-end luxury, and a particular focus on urban planning in the major cities of the world. It will be distributed in the Middle East by Seymour International.
Brűlé, who also founded the iconic Wallpaper* magazine, with its distinctive asterisk, in 1996 and was its editorial director until 2002, says he has mixed feelings about Dubai. He admits he was prepared to dislike the ostentation of the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel, but he was impressed despite himself. "I wanted to react against it but everything was such good quality," he said. He is, however, concerned about what he sees as the apparent lack in Dubai of urban planning, which he thinks is necessary to foster a feeling of community.
"There needs to be more glue to hold these places together and that comes from having communities at ground level. If you look at what was the old downtown, it did have an intimacy that was much cosier. "A lot of the architecture here is the architecture of engineers and not true architects. I think they need to be more critical in Dubai. I would shrink the scale of everything by 30 or 40 per cent."
But he is in no doubt that Dubai is a global brand. "The branding of Dubai is pretty faultless. You go to San Diego or Kyoto and people know about this place." Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, has more of an urban vibe about it and he is particularly impressed by the city's Plan 2030. "It's quite impressive because of the range of rail options that are being put into the mix, light rail, trams, high-speed trains, connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Also, what they want to do at street level as well, encouraging people to walk and use bicycles. I like the way they are taking it slowly."