About ten years ago, Tyler Brûlé decided to start his own magazine. He was waiting for a flight and kept seeing people at airport newsstands struggling to choose between the Economist and GQ. Why not combine the two? The result was Monocle, “a magazine briefing on global affairs, business, culture, design and much more.” From GQ it has borrowed and refined the aesthetic of domesticated masculinity; from the Economist a sense of utter certainty about world affairs. Brûlé has described the magazine’s readership as “predominantly male (70 percent)” and working “in finance, public policy, assorted academic fields, media and assorted travel sectors.” It’s a demographic that has proved remarkably receptive to his brand. The magazine has a circulation of roughly eighty thousand despite going for $12 per issue on newsstands and £100 (about $130) for an annual subscription. All this at a time when print is supposedly dying.
All lifestyle magazines project an ideal of what the world of its readers should be like. Monocle is part of a long tradition of men’s publications that perpetuate, as Andrew O’Hagan once put it, the “old fantasy of men having everything they want to have and finding a way to call it their destiny.” But Brûlé’s version of this fantasy is also period-specific. “By the time the markets collapsed in 2008,” he has written, “we found our inboxes full of correspondence from readers who were using Monocle as a guidebook for setting up their own enterprises—or at least daydreaming about them.” In the years since the financial crisis, it has been increasingly common to hear of a crisis of masculine identity. In the United States, over seven million jobs were lost by men during the recession, and some of the most affected industries, such as construction and high finance, were overwhelmingly male. But even those who didn’t lose their jobs—who remained, like most Monocle readers, relatively financially secure—have needed to come to terms with the increasingly low esteem in which traditionally male industries are held.