It's difficult to envisage the style guru Tyler Brule spying on shoppers from behind a pillar in a WH Smith. But one morning as he waited for a flight at Heathrow's Terminal 4 (the man haunts the better class of international departure lounge), he dabbled in some covert intelligence-gathering at the newsstand. What he witnessed there galvanised his vision for a new type of magazine.
The business travellers Brule was snooping on were, in the main, picking up an intelligent read such as The Economist but also treating themselves to a lifestyle title. It occurred to him that, unlike newspapers, no magazine fused current affairs and lighter subjects such as design. A gap in the market was noted and duly filled by Brule and Monocle - his upscale cerebral style bible that celebrates its third birthday this month.
Sitting in the elegant, wood furnished, cinnamon-scented Monocle offices in Marylebone, Brule is enjoying his first cappuccino of the day. The Wallpaper* founder and Financial Times columnist, once dubbed "the pope of yuppie chic", looks and sounds just as suave as one would expect. The Canadian's glamorous life inspires a great deal of envy and aspiration (he owns a private island off the coast of Sweden). But it hasn't just been one long whirl of designer holidays.
In his early career as a freelance war reporter, he was ambushed in Afghanistan and shot. He subsequently lost the power of his left hand (a double blow as he was left-handed) and had to learn to do everything with his right.
At the time, his flat in London was, he says, "a tip" and he and a friend planned to renovate it. After a fruitless search for an interiors title that "wasn't too frou-frou", he came up with the idea of creating a groundbreaking magazine that combined style, architecture and design. Something that would indulge his passion for travel and reportage, but that would keep him well away from the front line.
"I'd been shot. I just knew I didn't want to do that anymore. It was enough to get shot once. It doesn't have to happen twice," he explains.
Cue Wallpaper*, launched by Brule in 1996, the majority stake in which he later sold to Time Warner. Brule describes the title as "a great finishing school for business" but says Monocle, with its added business and political focus, was what he really wanted to do.
The typical Monocle reader is, not unlike Brule himself, a style-conscious, highly educated, high-earning jet-setter. "Maybe I'm the starting point," Brule admits. But, he says, readers can range from a diplomat in Aberdeen to a political science student in Tokyo.
Monocle's business model has been so successful that Brule gets calls from newspaper owners wanting to find out how he came up with his strategy. Monocle produces one single edition for its 60 markets round the world. This, according to Brule, makes the title a global one-stop shop for big multinational advertisers and also for brands trying to launch internationally.
It is a beautifully produced, weighty tome, with a high coverprice at £5. And it is selling around 150,000 copies at newsstands globally (Monocle's first ever ABC circulation figure will be published this summer).
Brule's unique subscription model goes against the trend for concessions, with subscribers paying £75 a year, well over the coverprice as the issue is out ten times a year. But a subscription gets you access to the monocle.com website, which contains an archive, audio and broadcast content, and is protected by a pay wall. There are more than 13,000 subscribers, a 44 per cent rise on last year. There are also Monocle shops selling designer branded products, which, Brule says, have proved very profitable.
"We wanted to be profitable in 40 months and we've done it in under three years," Brule proffers. "A lot of people are stumbling about trying to figure out how magazines make money, but this has done well for us."
Brule developed a branding and design agency in the late 90s called Winkreative, which sits in Monocle's offices, with the likes of Stella McCartney and Tag Heuer as clients. The agency is now also creating ads. Monocle clients migrating to Winkreative for their advertising tends to "piss off" ad agencies, Brule notes with a smile. The Monocle custom of sending back creative work deemed not good enough to go into the magazine can't endear him much to them either.
But the Monocle brand, whose weekly podcasts are an iTunes favourite, seems to know no bounds. He's currently working on a project to launch a Monocle TV show on BBC World News - a move that was probably always on the cards as Brule has had previous forays into broadcast, including The Desk, the shortlived BBC4 media show he presented and produced. Social media, however, is one platform Brule is yet to be convinced on: "Throwing great parties where readers meet; that's what social media is to us."
Brule rails against the mantra that print is dead. "Here, it is the opposite," he asserts. Monocle has multiple foreign bureaux paid for by revenue streams such as the shops. Investing in global correspondents is something Brule feels passionate about: "Getting an objective eye costs money. I believe it's our job to deliver those sorts of stories for our readers."
Ultimately, the key to the title's success, even in a none-too-stylish economy, is, Brule believes, always having lots of ideas: "We came out swinging from the beginning."
Lives: Switzerland, All Nippon Airways and Marylebone
Most treasured possession: My hand-scrawled sketch of Brasilia by Oscar Niemeyer
Must-have item: Vivane Schmitz, a German personal trainer
Interests outside work: Sledding at high speed with colleagues and searching for the perfect plot of land for a house in Tokyo
Motto: Never check-in luggage