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Tyler Brûlé: The Editor Who Changed the Conversation

For decades, this writer, editor, publisher, and tastemaker has been leaving an indelible mark on the worlds of design, fashion, travel, and media at large. As the founder of pivotal magazines Wallpaper and Monocle, Brûlé has forever altered the way we think about what’s good and proper.

Photo: Arata Suzuki


For decades, this writer, editor, publisher, and tastemaker has been leaving an indelible mark on the worlds of design, fashion, travel, and media at large. As the founder of pivotal magazines Wallpaper and Monocle, Brûlé has forever altered the way we think about what’s good and proper. On this episode, Dan speaks with the Canadian expat about his early career in broadcast journalism, how he took bullets in Afghanistan, why his magazine avoids social media, and why his takes on culture and society always seem to hit the bull’s-eye.

Listen to this episode


Tyler Brûlé: Why is every banquette in every bar teal velure, and why is there so much brass everywhere? Because everyone is looking at the exact same thing. Everyone’s looking at the five same feeds from the five same design firms, but then of course, that’s all captured by everyone else around the world. And then there’s a lot of very uncreative people working for brands who want to use the validation of social media to say, “Well, look at all these people that are posting. That’s what they like.” But it’s like yeah, but it already exists, so it’s time to challenge and maybe time to actually get off the screen and open some books or just be out in the world and find some originality.

Dan Rubinstein: Hi, I’m Dan Rubinstein, and this is The Grand Tourist. I’ve been a design journalist for more than 20 years, and this is my personalized guided tour Through the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, food, and travel, all the elements of a well lived life. For as long as I’ve worked in media, there has been one name who has acted like a North star in our business, combining creative virginity, journalistic bravado, and truck fulls of style. In his career spanning decades, this 50-something entrepreneur has at times felt like a lone outlying taste-maker in a sea of sameness. Tyler Brûlé.

Most of you will know Tyler as the founder of the magazine Wallpaper, which emerged in the late nineties as a design bible of a newly international set of creatives that mixed fashion and design in a fresh way that was completely new. Wallpaper set a new standard for the coverage of design and style, and continues to this day. After selling Wallpaper and moving on, Tyler focused on his creative agency Winkreative and eventually founded Monocle, the razor-sharp general interest magazine that used business and entrepreneurship and internationalism as a lens on the world, much the way that Wallpaper used design. Famously anti-social media, you won’t find them on Instagram, Monocle pushes back on so many trends in publishing and has been all the more successful for it.

In fact, their work on their digital radio station foretold the popularity of the podcast format and I’m not sure you’d be listening to this if it weren’t for him. But Tyler’s journey to the top of the luxury pyramid wasn’t preordained. Instead, he started as a broadcast journalist who found himself brainstorming the concept for Wallpaper from a hospital bed after taking bullets in Afghanistan. I caught up with Mr. Brûlé from his offices in Zurich to talk about his early life in Canada, how he met his broadcast hero, Peter Jennings, why he started Monocle, and his advice for any young journalist looking to make their mark.

I guess I just want to start from the beginning. I know very little about your early life. I know that you’re originally from Winnipeg, and I believe your mom was an artist and your dad was a professional football player, so I’m kind of curious how you describe the Brûlé household that you grew up in.

Well, first, thank you very much for having me. The Brûlé households, I think we’d have to say. I was born in Winnipeg, as you mentioned, but really pinballed not quite all over Canada, but certainly from the center of Canada back to the East Coast and back to Winnipeg again, and a couple of stops in between in Montreal or a small village outside called Hudson, and also in Kitchener, just south of Toronto, with a small stint in Ottawa, and then my last port of call in Canada was Toronto before I jumped over to this side of the Atlantic. But my father was a football player, then was with the Olympic Committee, and then stayed in the sporting world, and we moved where my dad was based. So obviously he was transferred between football teams and then was in Montreal, of course, for the ’76 Olympics.

I would say quite a normal childhood in the sense went to just normal public schools and had a very semi-suburban upbringing, sometimes living very much within the city, confines, sometimes a little bit further out as well. An only child, and also an only child, I guess sometimes the benefits that come with being an only child, probably being rather indulged by not just your own family, but certainly relatives as well. And had the good fortune of certainly seeing a lot of Canada and the United States in my younger years, and then I guess I didn’t make it over to this side of the world until the early eighties. But I would say yes, early part of high school time, certainly primary school was spent in North America, but then I think my first trip to Europe was in 1983, and I was of course hooked from that point onwards.

And I’m just curious, what drew you to journalism? What was the spark of that in terms of finding that calling before you moved to the UK? How did that happen?

I grew up in a household where there was always a lot of print. Now, I’m sure many, many other people who were children of the seventies and eighties would say the same, but I think it was maybe a little bit disproportionate in my household. There were so many magazines. My mother was always buying decorating magazines, partly I would imagine because we were moving around so much, but there were always copies of time and Maclean’s, which was the News Weekly in Canada, and where possible we were a two or three newspaper household. So there was just a lot of print around, so that was always, of course, a point of fascination. And I love looking through whether it was Sports Illustrated or it was a News Weekly or it was design magazines, this was just sort of a constant source of inspiration. And then likewise, there was never a budget when it came to buying magazines or books or comics as well.

It was every trip to the bookshop or down to the mall where there was a bookshop, of course I would leave with a couple of titles. So there was a sense that that was always indulge in a way, and was really part of my rhythm when it came to consuming things. Now, did that hook me to maybe have a path or to pursue a path as a journalist? I don’t think so. It must’ve informed something, but I would say that it was another type of print, and this is when I was spending more time in Toronto or visiting relatives. My mom’s side of the family are Estonian, and so when I would go to the Estonian relatives houses, many of them of course spent a time after the war before they ended up in Canada or Australia or the US or wherever they went, they all spoke German.

They were readers of Stern and Der Spiegel and those magazines really took me somewhere. So when I would go and visit my Aunt Anita, I just would park myself in front of a coffee table and just look at old copies of Stern. They weren’t that old. They were a couple of weeks old because I think you had to go to the German delicatessen to buy them. And those really, those transported me places. And again, I don’t think I looked at those titles and thought, “I want to be a foreign correspondent or I want to be a magazine editor,” but there was something about just being open to a broader world and there was a type of reportage that you didn’t see in Time Magazine or Newsweek or when I would open the Montreal Gazette. So there was a bit of a fascination there.

But I think about journalism and what was really the hook, it was television, and I was always fascinated. And I guess I grew up in a household which was very news hungry, so there was always the American newscasts on at dinnertime, the national newscast that is in Canada. Our national newscasts were always before bedtime at 11 o’clock or 10 o’clock, and that was where I saw myself. I thought that I would love to be able to sit behind an anchor desk someday. I would love to be out of the field as a correspondent. So that was probably the hook that sent me in the direction, or at least part of the direction where I’ve ended up today.

And I read somewhere that you were a fan of Peter Jennings on ABC. Was he your nightly American news voice from the television?

He was, and of course a Canadian voice, and that was I think part of the attraction, that I was able to see someone. I didn’t remember Peter Jennings before he made the jump to ABC, but of course he was very much a fixture in Canada and very respected. And it was remarkable to watch Peter Jennings in his early days when he was co-anchoring the news with Frank Reynolds was in Washington, I think Max Robinson was anchoring out of Chicago, Peter Jennings was sitting in London. I thought, this is amazing that you could sit down at 6:30 in the evening and watch the local a BC station from Buffalo, New York and you were taken around the world, and that there was this part of the newscast that came from London every evening. And I saw that, I thought, “This is where I need to be.”

And there was a moment actually when I was in New York, and this was in my college years, and I wanted to go and watch a broadcast of World News Tonight. So I wrote to ABC news, to their public affairs office, and I said, “I’m studying journalism in Canada. Gave them the whole spiel and they found a slot for me to come and visit, and it was amazing to be on set before the newscast started and then sit in the control room. And again, it just sort of reaffirmed that this is something that I wanted to do. And I remember I asked, I guess it was the intern who was in charge of looking after students like me who traveled from afar who wanted to sit on the newscast, and I said, “Would it be possible to meet Mr. Jennings?” And she said, no, absolutely not. He’s very busy and that was not part of the deal. You need to leave the building now.”

And I thought, there’s absolutely no way that I’m going to leave the building without this happening. And so I could tell this woman, she had somewhere to go as well. And so she was escorting me out of the building. And just as we, this is before there was a lot of heavy security, but got to the lobby, I said, “Oh my goodness.” I said, “I forgot something upstairs,” and she said, “I can send it to you.” And I said, “No,” I said, “Listen, it’s my graduation pen. It’s a Mont Blanc.” I said, “I really need to go and find it.” She said, “Look, do you remember where the lift is?” She goes, “Just go and get it.” She goes, “I’ve got somewhere else to go.” So I went back up to the newsroom floor and there was Peter Jennings sitting in his office, and I went and knocked on the door and introduced myself, and we ended up having a fantastic chat and of course, just complete boy’s dream.

Then as he walked out, he said, “Where are you going?” And I said, “Well, I’m staying on the Upper East Side with some friends,” and he goes, “I’ve got to go here,” he goes, “But I will send you with my driver. They’ll drop me off and my car will take you to where you’re going.” I thought, okay, it really doesn’t get better than this. It was great because I remember when we said goodbye, I said, “It was so fascinating talking to you.” And he goes, “I’m just going to leave you with one little tip.” He said, “Young Canadian, obviously you’re ambitious. You want to be out in the world.” And he said, “Just make sure you leave the country.” He said, “Canada’s great. It’s a land of fantastic opportunity.” But he said, “You have to go out and the best education you’re going to get is to be out of the world.” So he said, “Academic’s important,” but he said, “Your future is about the exposure that you’ve had, the people that you’re going to meet, and that’s the best advice I can give you,” and he was right.

The July/August 2024 issue of Monocle. Photo: Courtesy Monocle

And so instead of going to New York, you went to London?

Well, I thought I was going to London. I ended up going to Manchester. Wasn’t quite as they advertised on the label. There was a little bit of time in between, but I decided that there’s a couple of places that I could go in the world, certainly as an English language journalist, and I wanted to be in broadcasting, and one option was to go to Australia. I did go to Australia and spend some time at Channel 9 and Channel 7 and Channel 10 in Australia, looking around and thinking could this be a start? And it was interesting and had fantastic meetings, but then there was a series of jobs going with the BBC in Manchester, and there was a position for an entry level researcher and I applied for that position on a national news program, a weekly, somewhat sort of 60 minutes-ish, 2020 style program, five or six themes in a one-hour show. To my surprise, got the job.

I had to fly over an interview and everything, but some days later after doing the interview, I was given the post. That was going into my third year of university, and so I told my parents, I said, “I’m deferring my last year and I will be back.” And the show had a six-month run for its season and started on the program. And then I would say by the second or third week before they went on air, this is sort of the early days of thinking through what diversity was, the was a diversity of accents. They thought, “Okay, we can’t just have British accents, but let’s get an accent from somewhere else in the Commonwealth. Oh, there’s a Canadian.” And so I did a screen test and I thought it was just going to be to do the odd voiceover. I wasn’t really sure why I was having this test. And then they said, “Actually, congratulations. We’re making one of the correspondence on the program.”

Oh my gosh.

So I was vaulted from applying for a researcher’s position and was given an on-air job as my first job in journalism.

Amazing. And obviously, fast-forwarding a little bit, I think it’s early or mid-’90s, you find yourself reporting for a German magazine in Afghanistan. It’s kind of an episode that changed your life. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about that story. How did that come about?

Well, I did my period of broadcast journalism and thoroughly enjoyed television, and moved into doing some more radio work and was primarily with the BBC, with the World Service, just working freelance. But during that period, I also started writing not for broadcast, but for newspapers and magazines, and eventually sort of moved out of also having these longer assignment freelance gigs and just being a proper freelancer and just pitching stories to newspaper editors and magazine editors day in and day out. I went to Beirut. This was this one of these sort of cut through moments, but as soon as the conflict had stopped and now we’re in the early nineties, I went and did a piece which was dubbed Beirut 90210, and it was about the return of the Lebanese diaspora and young Lebanese coming back from Dakar and Lagos and from Paris and Sao Paulo.

And it was just really this boom that occurred in terms of young Lebanese finding the roots, being back in a country that they hadn’t been able to return to, and just this hedonistic summer that was there. And we just documented all of these kids driving around in convertible Ferraris and driving extraordinary boats or high-speed pleasure craft, you could say, and everything that went with it. And that was a story that just became so widely syndicated, and it was one of those things that I guess you write a story like that and people are looking for more. So I then was on a bit of a track of doing this sort of sociocultural, exotic reportage, and that took me to many places and became a bit of my patch. And then I went to Afghanistan in ‘94 to do a piece, it was a piece on Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders, and the piece looked at the forgotten war. This was a time the Russians had left Afghanistan, it was pre-Taliban.

The country had descended into multiple different factions fighting for control of various parts of the country, but it also had been forgotten by the NGOs and the aid agencies. There were very few organizations out there. And so I wanted to go and report on the doctors and nurses and engineers, the logistics people working for MSF, and had been in Kabul for I guess two days and had the misfortune of the day that we ended up coming under attack near a market in Kabul and our car was hit multiple times, and I was shot twice and my interpreter was shot. So the two of us in the back of the vehicle were both hit. The two gentlemen in the front, our driver and the photographer Zed Nelson, who I was traveled to Afghanistan with, they were lucky that they weren’t hit.

And of course, a very transformative experience, you could say, to be shot and be in a Kabul hospital where I sort of rather snarkily said the day before when we were photographing that hospital, I remember whispering to Zed, I said, “Can you imagine?” I said, “I wouldn’t get treated for a cold in this hospital,” and there 24 hours later, I was stretched out on a rusty trolley and bleeding from both arms. And then was actually taken out of the hospital immediately because they said in a way, it was actually not the place to be for sure from an infection point of view, and then was spirited away to the basement of the French Embassy.

And then they organized an evacuation out of Afghanistan, which when you hear evacuation, you of course think helicopters and gulf streams, but the Afghan airspace was closed, so then it was a journey over land for two days to get to the Pakistan border, and then from the Pakistan border to Islamabad, and then Islamabad to Dubai, Dubai back to London. And so of course you had a lot of time to think and be delirious on drugs, and then I was about a month in hospital for some reconstructive surgery, and then it was about a half a year of physio and occupational therapy and all these things you have to do. And that was a period when I thought about what do I want to do next? And I’d certainly done my time in frontline positions and maybe I should start my own thing.

Part of the legend is that you kind of were reading magazines in a hospital bed, and then maybe that kind of spawned or created the spark of what would become the idea for Wallpaper. Is that how that happened?

Pretty much. It was I think a classic situation of trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It wasn’t that I left hospital or emerged from my house thinking that this is where I wanted to be, but it was a convergence of a variety of things. My mom had found quite a cool little house in Chelsea in London, but it was super twee and I started thinking about how could you modernize something like this? And I didn’t own the house, I was renting it, but what could you do in terms of a soft touch? And then of course, I was feeling also what was going on in London as well at that time and there was this real urbanization of the city, and I was thinking who’s chronicling this?

So there was, again, just a variety of touch points that I felt no one’s capturing a few things that are going on editorially here. I want to decorate this place, but what magazine would I buy? We have a urbanization story going on in this country and many other cities around the world that’s not being captured. And also the occupational therapist said, “You should really start to cook because it’s good for your motor skills.” I lost the use of my left hand and had to become right-handed as part of the whole process. And so I was also looking for magazine was just a bit maybe a bit more male-focused and was speaking to me and that didn’t exist. I thought what if you threw all of that into one magazine? And started to think about it, and I spoke to a couple of friends and eventually found myself at Barclay’s Bank talking to a bank manager and saying, “Could I secure a small business loan?” And I’ve got a loan for 132,000 pounds, and two months later there was Wallpaper magazine.

Oh gosh. And why do you think it took off? We know why it took off from a cultural point of view as you just talked about, but why do you think it was kind of a success in that kind of publishing environment at the time?

I think it captured a moment, which was all eyes were on London. That was one part of it. But then I think it had a layer of art direction and support underneath it. The magazine was all developed in Vienna. It was laid out, it was sub-edited by three or four of us in Vienna, so then there was a little bit of exoticism. Okay, the magazine’s, it’s seen as a British magazine. It’s sort of based on Radnor Walk in London, but yet it’s all been developed in Austria, so that was kind of curious. Then it got printed in the UK. And then I guess there was enough of a period as well where I was doing broader pop culture stories, et cetera. I’d met a number of course different brands and of course PRs. And probably at the time, rather naively, I didn’t realize that so many of those people who were looking after PR for the Gap or they were looking after PR for Gucci at least had a say in the advertising.

So when I went out and was looking for contacts and would speak to Victoria at Gucci, let’s say, and say, “Okay, who do I need to speak to at the office in Milan or Florence?” And she said, “Well, you can speak to so-and-so. Why do you want to speak to them?” “Oh, I’m launching a magazine.” “Oh, fantastic. And what’s it going to be about? I’m sure we will make sure that we can secure some budget for you to launch.” And if you look back at that first issue of Wallpaper, it was quite an amazing lineup of advertisers that we had for a debut issue. And so that I think also helped, too, that we were able to blend not just fashion advertising, because you could also say that many magazines were still quite linear then, but this was a title that was able to have travel, and it was able to have the budgets of the design community as much as fashion and fragrance as well.

Why did you call it Wallpaper?

Wallpaper because I was absolutely trying to figure out what should this thing be called, and I was challenged by someone early on and they said, If you had to define this thing,” and I said, “Well, the magazine is about the stuff that surrounds you.” And that stuff can be the trappings that you’ve picked up and helped define your space. It is the hotel walls, it is the bulkhead of the aircraft. It’s the people that around you. And I was provoked like, “Well, what is that? What surrounds you?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Wallpaper surrounds me,” and it was like that was it. And we went off and tried to register, and it’s still around today, as we know.

When you mentioned a playfulness to the reporting and to what you guys were covering, I do remember that like you did later with Monocle, you kind of created a world that maybe didn’t really almost completely exist. But I remember a travel article about why you must go to Baghdad. You would suggest things that were so exotic to anyone who was just sort of a fan of design or something like that. Was that something that you kind of pushed or you felt like it really was just in your world and you were just sharing that with people, or do you really think that you intentionally went out on a limb to suggest these incredible locations with the travel journalism and to be different in that sense?

I think there was always a component, or maybe actually a frustration of creating Wallpaper and that it was very much in this design world, and it was seen as a design magazine and a fashion magazine, and yet I was still probably working to get a number of things out of my system, which is I’ve always enjoyed hard news and I’ve always enjoyed international reportage, so that always sort of crept in. And I think maybe because it was through the prism of Wallpaper, did we need to go and report from a hidden secret submarine base through the forest and on an island south of Stockholm? Absolutely not, but it was amazing that we could call up the Ministry of Defense in Sweden, and everyone knew who we were.

It was actually, “We want to come and want to come and photograph your submarine base because we think it might be architecturally interesting, and we’ve heard that there’s a hidden underground three story hospital that’s built on springs.” “Yes, there is. Come and see it.” And this happened time and time again and again. As I say, I think you could read the magazine on a variety of levels and I think some people just liked the fact that there was this audacious to it that we would show up in extraordinary places and do these stories, which of course would have architectural and design merit, but they were also just really interesting, almost political thrillers on page as well.

And was there a feature or an issue that you worked on in those first few years that stands out to you as maybe a particularly proud publishing moment?

It’s curious, when I look back, and this I guess has to do with youth, it felt like I was the editor of Wallpaper for a lifetime, but it was only what, a six year run from 1996 until 2002 until I left. So whatever, five and a half years. It’s not that long. I’ve been at it for 17 with Monocle. And so first, it’s a long time ago. I guess always, it was something about a first issue. So I think back to the guy and girl on the cover and the white Flokati rug, and I think they were both wearing Gucci, in fact. And that just the tagline, he cover line Urban Modernists, and it just sort of encapsulate what we were trying to do and represented a real moment in time. And I think to your earlier question that we just managed to capture it, which was important.

And then I think there was obviously a real level of provocation. It was very tongue in cheek. It was very sexy at many times, I’m sure, but I think there was always a twinkle. I think that there was something about the magazine which was even though it might’ve looked sexy, there was always a playfulness to it as well. And of course, I think the magazine was written on a number of levels. I think it could be very factual and very dry if you just wanted to read about great architecture, but I think if you go back and read some of Edward Peacock’s early pieces when we sent him around the world, when he went to Gabon and we sent Edward to Africa just with Jordi Labanda to illustrate the stories, it’s just brilliant reportage and going far beyond being good travel writing. So many things stand out. I guess I’m always thinking about covers based on cover lines.

I can remember, I think we had Megan Douglas on one cover. She was never I guess one of the big supermodels, but she was always one of those close runner ups in the late ‘90s. And we did an entire cover where we had cushions, I think she had a dress and then the boy on the cover had just a great shirt and trousers, but it was all printed at the same 100 fabric. And it’s interesting, at that point, covers were so important because newsstand was key and magazines really had to stand out. They had to perform in a very, very different way. And I think that’s always been the difference a little bit with European titles versus American titles where the newsstand, and it still is very important because Europe, it’s not a market of subscribers or subscriptions. It’s changing a bit as the newsstand is challenged, but I always used to think about just the amount of time and effort that went into just absolutely nailing an amazing cover that you hope was going to fly off the shelves.


And after that and before Monocle, you started and you still have Winkreative, the creative agency. And so I’m kind of wondering at the time, it was kind of a radical thing to do to go from a print journalism to crossing over into advertising and being sort of a creative agency like that. Did it feel like a big leap for you at the time, or was it just something natural from the Wallpaper years as it was also such a kind of an inventive platform visually?

I think the notion of the visual platform I think was the leading component of why the agency came to be, because we had a number of advertisers in Wallpaper who we’d be contacted by the marketing director or someone from maybe their internal art department who would say, “Look, we’ve been talking to our current agency. We were trying to get them to fix our sneaker ad to make it look more in step with what you’re doing, but they’re not nailing it. Would it be possible for us to work with your team to do it?” And there was many conversations like that, and no one was really in the world of advertorials, and no one even knew what native advertising was then. But I said, “Look, it’s a bit of a conflict of interest if I deploy my current team to work with you.” I said, “However, maybe we can do something else and we can have another type of arrangement.”

That’s why I spoke to Time Inc. and I said, “What if we set up a small office next door and we can of course leverage all of the production skills and the scale that we have, but we have dedicated creative people and we’ve dedicated account managers to deal with,” and they said, “Fine, go for it,” and it built from there. That started in 1998, and as you said, the agency continues to thump along today as well. And it’s a really interesting bridge because when it came time to separate with Time Inc, well, they started off by letting me take the agency and then they didn’t want me to take the agency, or at least not at a good price, so we locked horns for a while and we eventually came to an agreement and I was able to take the agency back. And part of what happened in that period, this was 2001, and so of course September 11th happened, and then we saw what happened to global aviation and the bankruptcy of Swiss Air.

And this was always an airline that I felt very passionate about and it’s the reason why I’m talking to you from Zurich today, because I felt this was an airline that had to endure. It had to not just remain, but Switzerland needed a national care that was even better. And I wrote an oped piece in one of the newspapers in Switzerland, and that of course caught the tension of the then CEO who was there to mop things up, and he invited me to lunch and told me that I had no idea what I was talking about. And he was probably right, but I think he saw that there was a conviction and a passion, and he said, “Look, we’re going to have to create a new brand and Cross Air is not going to be,” because this was the airline from which Swiss as it is today was built from. And some weeks later, not him but one of his team got in touch and said, “We’re putting out a tender and hopefully you’ll throw your hat in the ring,” and we did.

It went from 20 agencies to 10 to eight to four to two, and it was televised when they announced it. And it was one of those moments where I got the one-minute warning, so I found out just before that they announced it. And sort of the funny side story to all of this though was then when it came almost the next day to really make it official and do the legals and everything, and they said, “Obviously your tax details and everything is in Switzerland,” and I said, “Well, I’m not based in Switzerland.” I said, “We’re based in London. What did you miss? You’ve been paying for us to fly back and forth all the time.” They’re like, “You can’t be serious.”

I said, “No, we’re not a Swiss entity.” And they said, “Well, this cannot be.” They said, “We cannot give you this assignment.” I said, “Well, it’s a bit late for that now. It’s been televised it. It’s in the public domain,” and they’re like, “We have to fix this now. And in efficient Swiss style, I became a Swiss resident the next day and I had a Swiss company and I had an airline that needed to be rebranded or to create a new brand, and that’s why I’m in Zurich today. And that was really the turning point for the agency that just at that point, we really started to, of course, cruise at 10,000 meters and we built from there.

Fast forwarding a little bit when we get to the era of Monocle, I’m wondering if you could explain Monocle as a concept to me the way that you explained it to people when you first had the idea. I’m curious what that reaction was like. Did people think you were crazy, especially in an era where magazines were really not doing so well? I think you started in 2007, so I think that’s when the crisis is happening. Tell me about that first elevator pitch for this concept called Monocle.

So the idea really started to form in about 2005. We had a rough mockup for a magazine, it was called The Edit, and it was built around this A, B, C, D, E format and I would say lineup, A for affairs, I.e. global affairs, B for business, C for culture, D design, and then E was for edits, which was of course just the best of everything from around the world, from hotels to airlines to restaurants, et cetera. So it was all wonderfully packaged up and ready to go, and I wasn’t so keen to go and raise money, and I just thought, “Can I just take this to Conde Nast? I’ll just take the idea. Maybe I’ll get paid a founder’s fee for it, but I want to be an employee and do this,” and that was that.

And I can remember going and seeing a number of people, Conde Nast included, and I was told very early on, and probably maybe my pitch wasn’t that great, but I was a little bit like, “It’s a magazine that I want to read and it’s a magazine that you want to read, Mr. Newhouse,” and Mr. Newhouse said, “Well,” he goes, “I would read it and my friends would read it, and of course you would read it, but no one else will read it.” But I said, “But if you multiply everybody, that’s a lot of people actually.” And it’s like, “No, no, it’s not right, and it needs more focus.” And so I knocked on a few doors and it was very frustrating and no one was interested. And this goes back to the agency. We’d taken a new building in London. One floor was the agency, and I already knew that some way somehow I’m going to do this magazine. And we furnished the downstairs the same as upstairs, but it was just lots of Tolomeo lamps and lots of phones on the desk, and it was beautifully lit and looked great.

And one day, one of our clients from the agency came through and she’s like, “What’s this ghost town? What’s happening down here?” And I said, “Oh, this is where we have a magazine idea that we want to launch.” She said, “Oh, fantastic.” She said, “Are you buying Wallpaper?” And I said, “No, no.” I said, “Did that.” I said, “Something much better,” and I went through exactly what we wanted to do. And the pitch was, I said a little bit like magazine you want to read, I want to read, but I said, “This is a title that informs you and makes you work very hard in the beginning, and it’s going to take you around the world, but by the time you get to the back, you’re going to be completely rewarded because it’s going to be indulgent and beautiful.”

But I said, “It starts with a comprehensive briefing on where the world is, and by the end, you’ll sort of see your place in the world and have all of the things that you might want to live with and want to travel to.” And I said, “Think about it as a newspaper. It’s like a good Sunday newspaper, but it’s a magazine that’s going to come out monthly.” And she said, “Do you have a business plan?” And I said, “I do,” and she said, “Can you give me a copy?” She said, “I’m going to give it to my CEO on Monday.” She was a Catalan woman, and she said, “When I go back to Barcelona, I’m going to give it to my CEO and let him look at it.” That was Saturday, and on Monday he called and he said, “Maria loves the magazine and she won’t challenge your valuation, what you’re asking for, so she’s going to put in a million pounds and just one condition though. The condition is no big institutions around the table. She just wants to have other families as investors, just like she is.”

And I was like, “Okay, tricky challenge.” All of this came together on a Saturday afternoon, but it took then probably 18 months to go and find other investors around the world, just friends of friends. But eventually it happened and we had 3 million pounds in the bank and this 10 million valuation and off we went, and built it from there. And very much from this idea of that I say people, but other media companies and even advertisers too said, “Not focused enough. It’s too general interest.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s general interest at the most pointy, pointy end,” but step-by-step if people have issue one, it was rammed full of advertising and people got it. And it’s interesting because as we’re speaking, that was pretty much I would say almost 17 years ago to the day almost that we were probably sending this magazine to press.

And you took a stand early on with Monocle when it comes to not being on the web, really not putting things online, avoiding social media later on. I’m assuming it wasn’t really around at the time, more or less. Tell me about that decision and why did you feel so strongly about it?

I guess there was a couple of things, but for sure when we were out taking the magazine to market and speaking to advertisers, also trying to raise money, everyone was like, “Well, the world is only going to be digital and why would we look at print?” And paper is finished, et cetera, et cetera, so that’s interesting. So you think back, that’s coming on two decades that I’d been hearing that. And I said, “That may be,” but I said, “I believe in the power of the printed word, but also the notion of this also being an object that people want to hold onto, but not just hold onto, they want to be seen holding onto it.” And I think we can come back to that, but that’s become truer than ever. I guess that I already, by what, by 2000, 2008, we’re getting up and running.

We have the financial crisis though amidst all of this. And already though we saw that there had been quite a few digital stumbles already that had happened, so I felt that we were in the right place. I think there was always a little bit of a mystery, and hopefully there continues to be a little bit of mystery around what we do. We try not to do too much backstage. And it’s interesting, I think still when you just talk to people, they don’t really know where we’re from because we speak with a variety of different accents. Are they based in London? Oh, they’re a Swiss company, but there’s a lot of Japan in it, and that’s deliberate. We have a legend for our writers’ initials. It’s not the world of the economist where everything’s pretty much anonymous there. You can track down of course where people are, but we’re not big on having contributors bios. I look to New York, there was that real cult, and it was very much engineered by Hearst and Vanity Fair, just the cult of the writer and the contributors’ pages with photos of contributors by Herb Ritts, really indulging these.

We were not in that territory and still aren’t. So I think there was also this overlay of mystery and maybe as social media started to arrive, et cetera, we just wanted to create a bit of silence around the brand, and also that the brand comes first. Monocle, of course writers and photographers and illustrators and everyone, this is a collection of great talent, but the magazine and the brand comes first, and that’s how we’re able to propel it forward. Yes, if people create great careers along the way, wonderful, and that should be the case, but the brand still leads to lead. So that was also partly why I think I’ve always been a little bit skeptical and remain skeptical about social media in not all of its forms, but many of its forms. And I’ve probably softened in certain aspects, or at least publicly softened, but maybe my resolve is still the same. I’m not a huge believer in it.

The summer issue of Konfekt, a spinoff lifestyle magazine created by Monocle. Photo: Courtesy Monocle

And there’s so much talk today about the state of fashion and how the industry is evolving away from being really more about the design of clothing and more towards a marketing lifestyle in a sense, more about spectacle and less about clothing oneself. Do you think that this kind of shift is here to stay? Do you think that this is something that will only continue to move in that direction for fashion weeks in the next decade or so?

For sure there’s a lot of spectacle and fashion shows have become so super sized. I think back to I was talking to a PR who worked with Prada very early on, and we were recalling I think the first show that she was working for Prada and I was a journalist invited along, and it was held in a two room salon in Milan. And you of course had all the big girls in the show and everything, but it was a very intimate, intimate affair, and of course now they are really in a sort of stadium territory with fashion shows. And I think of course there are a number of houses and brands which indulge that and maybe don’t have the quality of design to go with it. I think one of the challenges is it’s not the cult of the designers, it’s the cult of the creative director, who’s the creative director at the brand right now?

And I always think it’s a bit odd that as soon as a new creative director comes in at a time when we’re supposed to be talking about sustainability and everything, they can go and issue a press release about, “Our new creative director has come in and has put sustainability at the forefront and we’re recycling this and we’re upcycling that and we’re reusing all of these things,” but at the same time, they have a completely new logo and they’ve brought in a new architect, and so all the stores have to get refitted. And I would say there’s probably a pretty good chance that all of that stuff that has to then be refitted across 70 or 80 outlets, I don’t think that’s all being so sympathetically recycled and at the same time, did you really need to do a new logo?

So there is also a bit of, I think, conflict over there. There are brands which I think want to be able to cash in on the moment, and then of course there are other companies who are getting the message and are investing in craft and also investing in the next generation of tailors and shoemakers and milliners, but they’re fewer and fewer. And then I think there’s a whole other world of just people who don’t look at these shows and manage to get out of bed in the morning and get dressed and you don’t see a logo, and they look completely desirable and seem to just move in their own direction, still buying from big brands or small brands or emerging brands and also look [foreign language 00:51:05] as well, but it has nothing to do with what we’re seeing out of shows in Milan or Paris or New York.

Obviously for the A for affairs part of Monocle, the magazine seems conceived for people who travel and do business internationally and who are international citizens in a way. But today, both in Europe and the United States and elsewhere, we’re now in this period where the term globalist, which I think is the name of also one of the Monocle radio shows, is almost becoming a kind of slur in a sense. And there is this kind of backlash against this sort of, “international elite,” quote, unquote, culture that I would put Monocle as a poster child for in a sense. Do you think that this world and this lifestyle that Monocle is so closely associated with is under a threat today?

No, I don’t think it’s under threat. And I think to those who have a problem with those with a global view and who are engaged and interested in the world, and most people can be on I think both the right and the left politically, I think that threat and danger because then it just shows you have no sense of engagement, there’s no sense of curiosity. And I always find it’s kind of fascinating that you might meet people who are more from a technocracy who think, “Well, but why do you get on a plane, because you can just do it all digitally? Or what’s the point of actually sending a reporter somewhere, because we’re doing our interview right now. It’d be great if we sat in the same studio doing it, but they see this as a bad thing. Of course, on it goes, or you’ve got the money to travel, that you’re seen as an elite.

I find the narrative, as you can tell by my voice, tiring. But I think also, that’s dangerous in fact because I think what have we learned from the pandemic and I think what have we learned about just the current state of the ongoing narrative of our mental health and all of these types of things? I think a lot of it’s because people are isolated and they’re not able to be across a desk from their colleague. They’re not able to talk to their boss face-to-face. They’re not able to engage with their customer face-to-face. And to me, that sense of being there in the moment physically to report, to consume, to be inspired, to enjoy, that’s all part of being a global citizen and being part of a wider world. So it’s always a bit odd if people think that there’s something problematic about that.

Do you get that a lot? Do you get that kind of criticism out and about in the world when you try to talk about Monocle?

I don’t hear it firsthand. I’m sure there’s probably a lot of chatter below the surface, but I don’t look at the chatter. But with the people that we engage with, it doesn’t come up. And of course you might get letters from time to time, but the letters that we get about reporting and things like that, it might be more someone disagreeing with a tone of a story or something, but are they questioning the value of journalism and being out in the world? No. The one I get is, “Why do you make a magazine when reading on the tablet or the phone is so much more ecologically friendly?” To which I say, “Well, this magazine sort of exists, but it’s not drawing any power now. But you are in the cloud and your device will get plugged in and we’ll end up, again, no matter how responsible we try to be, probably many of your devices in your household are going to end up in landfill. So if you’ve got a formula to tell me that digital is more sustainable, happy to look at the numbers.

Is there are anything about Monocle this year that you would love to plug or to chat about that I didn’t perhaps know about or think to ask?

I guess we look at the year ahead, 2024, 2025, we’re in a bit of expansion mode. So of course we have our sister magazine and that is growing at a pace. You’ll see a book coming out from Confect, so Sophie Grover editor will launch her first book spinoff from that. We’re looking at Monocle Radio and how does that become more of the conversation, not just in an election year in the US, but just I think in the same way that we’ve established something interesting from a print point of view, I think there is something that we can do much more round the clock. And I say round the clock, I think we’re pretty good European mornings and afternoons, but I think we forget our friends a little bit in the US, and the US is our biggest market in the world. We could be better at Asia as well, so you’ll see us I think upping the game there.

And oddly, here’s one, we’ve never really promoted ourselves. This is the curious thing. We’ve never had an ad campaign, we’re not really on social media. We’re growing and we’re 17 years into this, so you might see some ad campaigns and you might see some bus shelters, and you might see us just more present on a few screens as well. So it’s something I’ve tasked my creative director to look at as well because I think we have an opportunity. I think we’ve seen that the conversation is not just polarized in the US and the UK, but many other places. But I think we have the luxury as an English language brand that we don’t just reside in London, that in a way, we’re all over the world. And we’re very conscious of not getting sucked into the Anglosphere, which is having one view or maybe two views in terms of the way the world should be running, but actually saying, “Let’s be properly inclusive.”

Which means actually taking the views, and they may not always jive with our western perspective or our liberal western perspective, but these need to be respected. And they may not be either part of the political agenda of the day, but these are the values of other countries and other societies, and that needs to be respected as well. And I think this notion of imposing a London, New York worldview on things is actually not so modern, and yet somehow in many newsrooms and of course in political corridors, people believe it’s the way it should be, but I think the world’s tilting in a slightly different direction and we want to be able to capture that.

And if you could go back in time and visit a young Tyler in a Dubai hospital after being shot in the arm a few times, what kind of advice would you give that young journalist?

If I had to look back and speak to myself circa 1994, what would I say? We certainly haven’t nailed it. We don’t have everything right, but I would say be careful or maybe just I think take your time when it comes to your investment partners. And maybe it goes back to what we were just saying a little bit earlier, maybe it’s the value of spending a little bit more time face-to-face with people. It’s great to see that business plans and potential partners have the financial ability to support you, but are you on the same page socially, politically, et cetera?

So I think it’s maybe a little bit of just take your time, I think breathe a little bit. I should have given Zurich a chance maybe a little bit earlier in life. I tried it early on when we started with Swiss, but I think either that I wasn’t ready for the city or the city wasn’t ready for me, but I probably should have bought something here much earlier than I did now. But I didn’t get on so well with Zurich in the early days, but very happy to be here. And maybe again, I guess lesson to self that is to maybe give things a chance, let them breathe a bit.


Thank you to my guest, Tyler Brûlé, as well as to Craig Markham and entire team at Monocle Radio for making this episode happen. The editor of The Grand Tourist is Stan Hall. To keep this going, don’t forget to visit our website and sign up for our newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at, and follow me on Instagram @danrubinstein. And don’t forget to follow The Grand Tourist on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen and leave us a rating or comment. Every little bit helps. Til next time!


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