Dior’s Tale Of Lesbian Awakening

Another side of Dior, even if only in a tarot-based fantasy?

Are we taking everything too literally when we say that this is a tale of same-sex discovery? Or are we narrowing our thinking, the result of staying too much at home? There is the bath scene. What was that all about? What is it doing in a fashion film? Or, perhaps some might say, why shouldn’t it appear in a fashion film? But isn’t fashion about putting on clothes, rather than taking them off? And what fashion can be discerned when making out in a bath tub? Where the two characters, male (er, masculine should be the better word) and female, played by the same actress, the Italian-French Agnes Claisse (most recently 2017’s Blue Kids) really, in the end, just a union of the ying and the yang, the opposites that exist in us all? Is it possible that loving both our masculine or feminine side is, in fact, just the narcissism we have always denied? Or, is this the love that dares not speak its name—forbidden colours, to quote Yukio Mishima? If the non-utterance and forbiddance is so not now, isn’t it because the film seems to depict medieval times? Don’t you hate it when films, long or short, leave you with more questions than answers?

Fashion is, of course, about fantasy, the faraway, the stuff that exist in dreams until some designer takes it out of there. In hard times, fantasy and dreams are good, some seem to think. While many designers have reacted to the current still-pandemic-stricken situation by reflecting what the mood among fashion adopters is, Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri prefers to take the contrary position. Her latest outing takes us to an imaginary Le Château du Tarot (actually a Tuscan residence) in a time that is believed to be when the tarot cards were invented and used the way we know them now. Divination is not alien in the history of the house, as, reportedly, Monsieur Dior himself had often resorted to the reading of tarot cards to help him move forward in hard times. This superstition and the illustrations found on those cards, in particular, the ancient ones, are the basis of the visual positioning of Dior’s spring/summer 2021 haute couture collection.

For now, Ms Chiuri has retired her political/social/feminist statements. The replacement is a moody dreamscape/fantasia that is alive with assorted characters found on tarot cards: the women and feminine representations, such as the High Priestess, Temperance, Justice, and, inevitably(?), Death, appearing in the film by Italian director Matteo Garrone, who had also directed last season’s Dior couture presentation, set among nymphs and fairies in the woods. The dreaminess and soft focus are, therefore, visually recurrent to better recreate a magical realm and, as Dior states, “tarot cards are among the keys to accessing” it. The storyline, as you watch the film, is not immediately clear. It takes place among the many rooms of the said château. The protagonist arrives, she goes in, and is led through multiple rooms by different inhabitants (or are they, like her, visitors too?), one of them laughing dementedly (or eerily?). She sees a masculine character and is lured into seeking him-her. She is given directions by the splendidly-attired that she meets. A few have head-dresses to equal Maleficent’s. Apart from playing ushers, what were they really doing? The climax is the bath, where she who seeks finds he-she who lures. There was the disrobing and then the inevitable kiss. Two become one, to paraphrase The Spice Girls. The masculine absorbs the feminine, and the change of hair colour confirms the union.

The clothes—it’s always about the clothes—hint at her years with her former employer, Valentino, where she co-designed the collections with Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose “reign in the House of Valentino,” Frances McDormand wrote in Time, “has been a lesson in grace.” Ms Chiuri has brought a vestige of that grace to Dior couture, specifically the decorum linked to medieval times, which both designers explored when there were colleagues. There is a palpable modesty to it all, as if to negate the skin bearing or hinting that she has introduced to the RTW. Or are all that fabrics necessary to show off the skills of the atelier? The luscious gowns, without doubt, represent the epitome of dressmaking done mostly by hand. The recherché classicality deliberately illustrates the exquisiteness of couture, in case you didn’t know. It is difficult to position custom-made collections these days. Does a house celebrate craft or design? Can both coexist? Despite the dreamy and fanciful filmic musing, Dior has not really answered the question.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Dior

Through Snow And Ice

Performance wear right where it is needed

White Mountaineering has largely been, since its inception in 2006, an outdoor-wear sort of brand, but not in a hardcore sense, although, to be fair, designer Yosuke Aizawa has imbued much of his output with what adventure-seeking fashion types might wish to wear, whether hiking on a verdant hillside or a snowy slope, and Helly Hansen—or the like—isn’t calling (or, Gucci X The North Face). For the brand’s autumn/winter video presentation, Mr Aizawa availed a compelling and beautifully-edited video, shot in Hoshino Resorts (including their famed Ice Village) on Mount Tomamu, which sits in the heart of Hokkaido, and modelled by those who appear to be professional snowboarders and snowmobile racers. It is a sleek amalgam of scenes reminiscent of the 2014 documentary The Little Things, interspersed with fashion snaps, featuring those who might actually wear these clothes in a setting that would really require them. Few fashion films unite stunning action photography and runway against a rugged, natural backdrop so seamlessly. One just wishes to rush out to buy a parka and head for the (even if white-out) hills!

The thing is, even with its fashion-forward designs, White Mountaineering is also known for their high-performance wear. Mr Aizawa himself is a recognised and ardent fan of the great outdoors. The name of his label is proof of his mountain-sports leaning, as well as his desire to blend fashionable clothing with the usability of high-altitude gear. Or, using details found in, say, ski wear in city clothing (for serious mountaineering gear, there is the collaboration with French brand Millet Mountain). Fans appreciate the Junya Watanabe alum’s use of unexpected textile pairings as well as touches, such as hardware to create a decidedly forward style (carabiners, a/w 2018!) that straddles rather than distinguishes regions and climates that may be poles apart. Although this autumn/winter collection is shot in sub-zero conditions, the clothes don’t just look like they belong up there, between the powdery slopes and the log cabins; they are as suitable for exploring the towns at the foot of the mountains.

It is hard, in fact, to pin the pieces down to mere winter-sports wear. We are drawn to, for example, a plaid wool shirt-jacket with practical patch-pockets of different fabrics (but in the same tone), three in a row on each side, worn with trousers with a lighter shade of similar plaid, an ensemble that would not be out of place in Tokyo’s fashion-centric areas, such as Marunouchi or Daikanyama, where the White Mountaineering flagship is situated. Or any of those utility jackets, with the yoke that appears to be extended forward in the front (or is that to give the effect of a trompe l’oeil vest?), so effortlessly smarter than, say, a chore coat. In fact, with the cold-season collections, many pieces of Mr Aizawa’s outerwear, year after year, are as collectible as the other favourite labels for-extreme-weather gear, such as compatriot Eiichiro Homma’s Nanamica.

Japanese designers have, for years, been adept at adapting classic American-style outdoor wear to their own street-tinged (but not necessarily streetwear) looks, just as how they have been able to similarly rejuvenate denim jeans even earlier. They have also the particular skill in striking a balance between the performance ability expected of outdoors clothing and the stylish aspects so needed in the selling of fashionable garments. And if certain technical aspects require professional supervision, they won’t hesitate to collaborate. White Mountaineering, apart from working with Millet Mountain, has also paired with the Italian brand Colmar A.G.E. this autumn/winter season. No matter who Mr Aizawa teams up with, or whether he keeps his brand on the slope or down below, White Mountaineering continues to provide, within the shape of recognisable garments, elements not usually found in menswear destined for mundane city life. And therein lies the mountain-high some of us often happily derive.

Screen grabs (top) and photos: White Mountaineering

The Sum Of Its Fascinating Parts

Kolor’s Junichi Abe, the master of hybrid styles, offers a master class in mixing and patching things up

At Kolor, it was a rare IRL presentation for the still mostly digital autumn/winter 2021 Paris season. There is a runway, set in what looks like an outdoor space that, in the darkness, bears some resemblance to the Midtown Garden of Tokyo Midtown during their year-end festive light-up. But, in fact, the show is staged in Happo-En Garden in the affluent residential neighbourhood of Shirokanedai, Minato. There are attendees too, appropriately socially distanced, as can be made out. The models, both men and women, walked the runway in the manner models walked when they are watched: aloof and indifferently, or impossibly cool. It helps that the clothes are able to augment the in-person attitude. And, how they are worn—often with indefinable mash-ups that never leave the effect we still know as elegance. After last season’s on-set, topsy-turvy headache inducer, the runway show allows, once again, Kolor’s riveting patchworks within recognisable wholes to be appreciated without the interference of distracting camera work.

Fans of Kolor and its low-key designer Junichi Abe look out for the season’s “accent” pieces, usually outerwear for autumn/winter. And, they won’t be disappointed. Wearing one of these delightful pieces would continue to invite the inane question from the clueless, “did you they have not have enough fabric to finish the other side?” Case in point: A slouchy blazer looks perfectly normal on the left side, but to its right, there is no corresponding other half of the notched lapel. Instead, you get the button side of a strip of cardigan! Or another: A regular crew-neck sweater that is not so regular when you spot the sleeve of a Harrington jacket on the other arm, and its tab collar on half the neck. We could go on, but detailed description takes the fun out of looking at the clothes and be captivated. Mr Abe not only pulls together disparate elements to complete a garment, he marries genres too. Athletic wear, in particular, is spectacular incorporated into more traditional menswear staples. A vintage-y track top, for example, could magically be worked into a classic bombardier jacket.

Hybridising has always been Mr Abe’s particular forte. Through the years since Kolor’s founding in 2004, he has been able to perfect the mixes and pairings, which, despite the increasing complexity, never felt contrived. This season, as stated in the show notes, Mr Abe tries to forge, in the light of the world’s present troubles, “a new style of simplicity where complexity also coexists within.” This is not immediately obvious if you allow the complexity that evidently exists to carry you away. Perhaps simplicity comes in the final product, when all the different parts have settled in their respective places to yield their intended effects (such as when elasticised in-seams in this season’s pants settle with regular out-seams). The womenswear, shown alongside the men’s, appears to be more composited—with some pieces, you can’t be sure which is part of the garment, which is accessory. Perhaps it is in bafflement that interest is sustained.

Reaction to Kolor, in fact, borders on the fanatical. It is considered one of the most successful labels in Tokyo, heightened by their collaborations with sports brands such as Adidas and Puma. Like Comme des Garçons, Kolor’s key pieces from past seasons fetch a high price with sellers of the pre-loved. As Junichi Abe continues his deep, deconstructive pulling apart and then bringing together of classic styles and opposing categories of clothing, and applying textures and colours (in order for its name to retain its meaning?) to the results in unexpected ways, there will always be a strong following of his style of simplicity that happily allows complexity to coexist.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Kolor

Priming The Pomp

Dior salutes “the masculine extravagance of ceremonial garb”, as the show notes state. Are you ready for band leader schtick?

For the latest Dior collection, Kim Jones collaborates with yet another artist—Scot-in-Trinidad figurative painter Peter Doig, contemporary of the milliner Stephen Jones (they where schoolmates at Central Saint Martins). The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones’s impression of Mr Doig: “Amid all the nonsense, impostors, rhetorical bullshit and sheer trash that pass for art in the 21st century, Doig is a jewel of genuine imagination, sincere work and humble creativity.” In the first part of Mr Jones’s comment, he could have referred to fashion as well, but we are not sure if Kim Jones (no relation to the critic) is offering anything in his work for Dior that can be characterised as “humble creativity”. If anything at all, the Dior designer has infused the brand with considerable measure of grandiloquence, which is really how some luxury brands are moving forwards theses days, as counterpoint to the the mundane and the necessarily practical that have come to dominate the world, much of it in various guises of lockdown and reduced social interaction. Dior projects that this will all be over by Q3, and we’re all ready to rally around the bandstand and watch society and everything around us bounce rhythmically back.

According to Dior, the collection is a nod to “the ceremony of the everyday”. That is, of course, diametrically different to what we’re used to these days since formal activities conducted in public with some measure of solemnity—or importance—are far and between, or even discouraged. Many pieces in the collection allude to uniforms of brigades ready for a parade. Or, intended for evening dress. Mess dress redux? Our NS men would recognise them as No. 1 dress, although the silhouettes are a lot more relaxed, and the details more akin to the less regimental versions of Calvary uniforms, be they reiterations of the shell jacket or the frock coat. The details—without lapels in some instance (stand collar instead), contrast piping, and brass(?) stud buttons—have the air of the ceremonial, but where do they stand if the occasion were to be decidedly less, say, inaugural, to cite one recent event that’s still fresh in our minds?

These are nothing like those military uniforms that rock stars of the past used to wear—clearly ceremonial, such as the red Grenadier drummer’s jacket that Mick Jagger wore in the ’60s or the authentic hussar’s uniform (believed to date back to 1850s) that former soldier Jimi Hendrix wore, or those braids-aplenty sets adopted by the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers era. These are, of course, more modern, more cool, as Mr Jones designs are usually tagged. And to augment these two crucial elements, he has added extended/exposed pocket bags to the front of the jackets and appliqued ribbons and stars emerging from the yoke, and tweaked the traditional stripes down the outside leg seams of military trousers—also known to the Germans who popularised them as lampasse—by leaving them stitched up to the knee or up to the calf and flapping like the ends of notched or pointed ribbons respectively.

Yet, theses could be the look of teenagers incorporating drum major uniforms into their anti-establishment stance. Or, as we see them, the mimicking a bell hop’s at-work look. Seeing the clothes this way may obliterate their haute couture bearing (Dior’s petit mains are, again, involved in some of the pieces), but it is precisely this perception that, to us, takes the haute out of the equation. To be sure, these Dior ceremonial coats are, according to Mr Jones, inspired by what artists in France wear during the ceremony when they’re inducted into the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But how many of us enjoy occasions such as those these inductees partake? Or, the chance to just play dressed-up in looks reminiscent of military folk of yore?

And there is the art collaboration; art being the incorporation in luxury ready-to-wear now that attempts to elevate the ho-hum to high art. Mere graphic design isn’t enough (although Issey Miyake Studio has done wondrous work with the estate of Ikko Tanaka, with such well-received output that there’s an Ikko Tanaka Issey Miyake sub-brand). Art has a long history with haute couture (at present, we’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent and George Braque). Mr Jones’s previous pairing with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, Portrait of an Artist, yielded a “celebration of identity, of power of creativity”, visibly, not necessarily or convincingly, so. This time, with Peter Doig, the application of the artist’s distinctive brush strokes is more subtle, less plonked-on, less museum shop, and, in some outerwear, the monochrome washes, more textile than canvas, distinguishing themselves as wearable rather than exhibitable. It is not yet clear how successful such collaborations are. Artists, for most, do not paint with the aim of being assimilated into fashion design, which, in the end, is destined for the body, not the easel.

Photos: Dior

Post-BLM Fashion?

When black style dominates, are we talking about a fashion moment or a cultural shift?

No matter how delicately we put this, we will be misconstrued. This is not the Louis Vuitton we know or remember. There is no good or bad, no better or worse. It is different and we have to acknowledge it. Under the stewardship of Virgil Abloh, LV is increasingly reflecting what he told British Vogue last year, “My power is to show Black talent, Black people, and Black people inside of my output.” And that power is expressed in full force this season: blackness has not been so obvious in an LV collection, so mightily expressed, so explicitly articulated, so evocatively styled, leaving no doubt that a black American creative director now helms the 167-year-old label. This is, perhaps, response to a burgeoning black clientele, or the ever-more surefooted stride of black creatives. Is LV, however, ready for such a massive aesthetical shift?

It is really hard to say. When Mr Abloh was handed the creative reigns of the house, surely it was foreseeable that he would create a strong identity that deviates not from his own. Mr Abloh has shown talent in deeply referencing from a whole lot of sources, but the exercises always come through from a very specific lens: black experience. This is most evident in the current show or, more specifically, film, shot by the transgender, half-Chinese-half-Swedish, American artist-and-indie-filmmaker Wu Tsang (such as the 2012 documentary Wilderness or 2019’s One Emerging from a Point of View, shown at the Singapore Biennale 2019). At 13 minutes long, this livestream event is an opus, given the general brevity of most phygital presentations now. From its opening snow-covered mountain wilderness to the interior of what looks like a subterranean space that’s evocative of a posh subway station (actually Tennis Club de Paris), with commuters, wanderers, voyeurs, and sleepers—all men—sharing the interior, the film seems to be conceived to appeal to those with a fondness for the pretentious or to video-savvy TikTok stars, such as Noah Beck, he with a bankable legion of 24 million followers, and now an LV-aligned KOL.

Titled Ebonics (the English spoken by black Americans, and considered to be a language in its own right), the collection is probably Mr Abloh’s most ambitious, covering men in suits, men in skirts, men in bulky sweaters, men in (fake?) fur, men in padded-shouldered shirts, men in hoodies, men in motocross gear, men in Calvary officer uniform, men in work wear, men in gym wear, men strapped with architectural models, men with Carrie-Bradshaw-worthy rosettes, men with Gaddafi drapes. In all, a relatively large collection of 70 looks (Prada showed only 42, and they have two designers working on the collection), which in sum, is a bit (Berry Gordy’s) Motown, a bit off-the-courts NBA, a bit Kanye West and co, a bit RuPaul when not in drag, a bit Laurie Cunningham, a bit Iceberg Slim, a bit Harlem-flashy, a bit Congo dandies, a bit Wakanda royalty; really a whole lot to unpack, and you may not want to.

As with most of Mr Abloh’s designs (or the lack of it, some might say), styling is key to setting the looks. A regular suit jacket, for example, is mis-buttoned to yield an asymmetric effect. Or, topcoats given extra-long tails so that they drag on the floor, like the trains of gowns (to excite Billy Porter?). Aplenty are knife-pleated skirts, but we’ve seen them elsewhere before—even when worn over pants (not that this will make the skirts more masculine). As well as the show-off pieces: urban armours, composed of buildings that could have been made with Metcalfe card construction kits (to better remind us Mr Abloh is a trained architect?) Despite the myriad looks, the black aesthetic is unmistakable. Could this be artistic taste that is palpably and necessarily stronger, following the Black Lives Matter movement? As Mr Abloh told the media, “Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” He sure did—13 tedious minutes long.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

When Art Slips In

Undercover’s Jun Takahashi combines art and fashion so effortlessly

Fashion may not be art (we’re not initiating a debate), but art can sure work its way into fashion. Jun Takahashi has always been a designer with a strong graphic sense, which explains why Undercover T-shirts, with their offbeat illustrations, are massively popular at both the Madstores anywhere and the brands flagship in Aoyama, Tokyo. And, the collaboration with Valentino two fall seasons ago, seducing fans of both labels with a curious and compelling mix of flying saucers, alphabets, Beethoven, and Edgar Alan Poe in thoughtful collages that are really more arty than it is, as some KOLs thought, street. The subversive bent that Mr Takahashi is known for was ever present too.

But there has never really been art, as defined by the art world, until now. For his latest collection, Mr Takahashi collaborates with the Swedish painter, Markus Åkesson, known for his photorealistic portraits of persons completely wrapped, up to the head, in floral fabrics that would give Richard Quinn an orgiastic thrill. The anonymity of the subjects and the fashion-worthy cloths for both model and background makes for compositions that are odd and beautiful, or oddly beautiful, which may also describe Undercover’s unconventional application of graphics in clothes that are, well, oftentimes conventional. This is one of the most synergistic collaborations between artist and designer, something not always evident with those who have previously tried.

Art on clothes—that are often described as streetwear—in the hands of Mr Takahashi is beguiling. Most of the garments are Undercover on familiar territory: pullovers, hoodies, blousons, parkas, and such. But the application of the art, composed without loss of the visual impact of the original, elevates the pieces. as elevation is meant to transmit. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the everyday becomes occasion-worthy. While not many might wear a poster-size delineation of an unknown on their front or back, there would be those who has no qualms in striking portraiture as part of their sartorial expression. Mr Takahashi, like many of his compatriots, has also a weakness for workwear, for utilitarian details, and this season he does not disappoint. One standout detail: a bag attached to outerwear, which we suspect is used to also house the garment itself when folded for compact transportability.

Undercover is one of the most popular menswear labels in Japan. One of the reasons why they’re so esteemed and followed is the immediacy of everyday usability in their products, without sacrificing design. And all the while not losing the punk sensibility that still filters through from his early days as band member of The Tokyo Sex Pistols. Jun Takahashi may not consciously position himself as a streetwear designer (his underrated womenswear is proof), but fans won’t think otherwise. Accessibility has always been his strength. Even when there is the application of art, as is the case this season, the pieces do not distance themselves as objects so rarefied that they’re untouchable.

Photos: Undercover

One Colour Each

Tone-on-tone is the chromatic choice among the women attending yesterday’s US presidential inauguration

Topcoat day: (from left) Jil Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obamam, and Jennifer Lopez. Photos: Getty Images

It looks like the women attending the inauguration of the 46th US president Joe Biden received the memo: go in a single colour. And wear a topcoat. That’s certainly the case with the office-holders and high-profile women who attended the Washington DC event. Could they have also been inspired by one of the key trends at the recently concluded Milan Men’s Fashion Week—monotone? Or, is a single colour a lot easier to deal with than coordinating with different colours and prints? National-level political events are probably not the time to take a gamble with fashion. Staying safe in a single colour not considered challenging (or worse, controversial) is the best strategy. Few women have the sartorial guts of Lady gaga, who sang the national anthem in a custom-designed Schiaparelli (by Texan Daniel Roseberry, for those nationalistic fashion watchers!) of fitted, navy, wool, lapel-less jacket and froth of red silk-faille skirt. Oh, there was also that distracting gold dove.

Peace may have been on Lady Gaga’s mind, but unity seemed to be on the other women’s. A single colour is perhaps an unambiguous message about how good it looks to be united. As the president himself said, “without unity, there’s no peace.” And to show unanimous support for America (or to express national pride?), they wore American designers, all largely unknown, at least outside the US. Jill Biden wore Makarian, the four-year-old New York label by Alexandra O’Neill; Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers, the New York-based black designer-du-jour, who founded his eponymous label in 2016; Michele Obama wore Sergio Hudson, another black designer, whose seven-year-old label had a kick start at Bravo channel’s Styled to Rock, the reality fashion TV, executive-produced by Rihanna. Well, except for Jennifer Lopez, who sang in, surprisingly, total Chanel.

Outgoing FLOTUS Melania Trump, too, was in a single colour. But it surprised no one that the one-term Slovenia-born first lady emerged from the White House for the final time in not a shred of designed- or made-in-America. She was in telling, mourning black—the separates comprised a Chanel jacket and a Dolce & Gabbana dress. It was a silhouette that was similar to the Ralph Lauren suit that she wore to her husband’s inauguration four years ago. But now that she no longer needed to show that she supported American labels (not that she really did; the relationship was mutual), it was back to her usual enthusiastic nod for her favourite European brands. Towards the end, as with everything Trump, disconnected she happily stood.

Raf Prada!

Has Miuccia Prada become more hands off sooner than we think? Or is Raf Simons merely asserting himself? Would this turn out be the best menswear collection of the Milan season?

If you love Prada and you love Raf Simons, you would love this collection. If you love Raf Simons more, this would totally grab you by the collar. The world was deeply curious when Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-designers was announced in February 2020: How would the “balance of power” work out? These two designers do have distinct voices. Will they harmonise? The answer came in the form of the spring/summer 2021 women’s collection shown last September. It was as much Prada as it was Raf Simons—the best of both worlds, some say. But, with the pair’s first men’s collection for autumn/winter 2021, Mr Simons seems to hold sway. It was all rather familiar. Those of us who have been following the work of Mr Simons will recognise many of his touches. But more importantly, it’s how everything comes together, including Prada’s unmissable inverted triangle (now more symbolic that the straight-on enamelled logo)—there’s no mistaking Mr Simons has a strong hand in all of it.

Called Possible Feelings, the possibilities can indeed be felt. This is not a collection (or the thinking behind it) circumscribed by the four walls of your home because you are WTF. It isn’t a deliberate and conscious reaction against what is considered far from normal, which, as we know, is being redefined. Possible Feelings are what you, the individual, feel, and people do not feel alike. This open-to-interpretation approach is also reflected in the Rem Koolhaas/Amo-designed set. Although presented as a ‘show’, it isn’t on a regular runway, as the entire Milan Fashion Week is an online affair. We see the models walk into rooms, sans audience. Prada calls them a “non-space”. But they are physical confines, even if empty. Each with surfaces differently coloured and textured. Could they be separate realms? How do we possibly feel? Raf! The faux fur walls! Did they not appear in Mr Simons’s website History of my World?

It all starts with a sort of base garment: a knitted, patterned body stocking of sort, be it a top, a legging (the media calls it “long johns”), or both. Against the hard and grinding sounds of Plastikman’s soundtrack, the models appear in silhouettes that are generally lean. Raf! (We’re not getting into the argument of who did skinny first although we know.) The patterns recall Prada’s notorious but welcome “ugly” geometric shapes, in the colours of ’60s wallpaper. But these were not restricted to the close-to-the-body wear; they are in the form of cardigans (or all-knit cardi-suits!), coats, and, in what appears to be the lining of outers. Sometimes underneath all these is a turtleneck pullover. Raf! The slightly oversized sweaters, bombers, coats (those lapel-less pea coats!), shaped longer than the standard issue, contrast appealing with the lean separates worn underneath. Raf!

If you look at the pieces individually, you can’t really describe them as out there. Even with the addition of a co-designer, Prada keeps to the merchandising approach characteristic of the brand. Make a great coat, for example, with perfect proportions, of a familiarity that even non-fashion guys can accept, only make it in a blistering yellow or the softest of pink so that fashion folks cannot resist. Also Raf! There seems to be a push for textures, and the pairing with the smooth. A Prada collection is incomplete without nylon, and here, it goes with boldly patterned jacquard knits. There are also the matte turtle-necks and just-as-shine-free slim pants teamed with slouchy bombers with a soft sheen—almost lurid (the purple in particular). Prada calls these “sensory stimulation”. Given how our surroundings have been last year and would be the year ahead, such a stimulus is very much welcomed.

But it isn’t just the individual pieces that come together to show a Prada that’s delightfully not quite the same as it was before. The styling, too, speaks of the newer half of the designing duo. The models are thinner than ever (“all new models,” as The New York Times reported Mr Simons saying in a dialogue with Ms Prada). There’s the bowl cut of the hair—a reference to the Mods, although sartorially, the total is not quite the ’60s and there is no rebellion against the austerity of a previous generation. Raf! Or, could this be Prada’s style-aware otaku tribe, as opposed to the dandies seen elsewhere, such as at Fendi? Some of the guys walk awkwardly, some dance. They’re in their own world, kitted in their own vision of what is fashion in a world when fashion should not matter, at least not to the extent it deserves something as inane as Zoom meeting wear.

“Fashion became pop,” Mr Simons said in that dialogue, “and the winners now are the ones that scream hardest, not the ones that speak most intelligently.” Was that a prediction that having a vestige of intelligence in speaking, or communicating a design language or aesthetic, as is (always) evident in Prada, may result in not winning? Even when it was reported that Prada has been doing well, especially in Asia? It is unthinkable of a debut Raf Simons collection that does not emerge from speaking intelligently. Although Prada’s newest collection does not scream, it is audible in its tactile sumptuousness, pattern-strong pep, and off-beat pairings. How Raf.

Screengrab (top) and photos: Prada

And The Luxe Goes On

Despite what’s going on around us right now, Silvia Fendi does not believe in an abstemious life. Her latest collection for autumn/winter 2021 continues to pile on the luxe and is not short of ideas, proving that her strength is in menswear

“Hello,” goes the matronly voice above the not-yet-loud electronic beat, “it’s Silvia calling. I just wanted to tell you about humanity, colour… about what is normal today, about light… and darkness…” That’s how the Fendi show started. These days, the creative heads behind luxury houses want to speak to you directly. Silvia Venturini Fendi does so through the soundtrack by Not Waving, the London-based Italian “musical artist” Alessio Natalizia, for the live-streamed men’s show. She does not sing. Instead, she speaks as if through a phone, or Zoom without the video turned on. It is reminiscent of Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1989 dance single How To Do That, in that he too didn’t sing, but Mr Gaultier sounded like he was having fun, rather than encourage a discourse on what matters now. Ms Fendi’s wanting to tell you about “what is normal today” could be prelude to what her Fendi men’s might look like.

But only, it isn’t really. This is not some elevated athleisure or loungewear 2.0 frippery; this is whatever you wish to call it, with extra doses of the deluxe. Not quite the fashion of WTF, unless you live in a country estate in, say, Buckinghamshire, England, the look that reflects a still-precarious time. We can’t place exactly where these clothes might be worn to or where they might feel right, but we are drawn to them, if only because they look like we might be able to snuggle in them or turn one of the quilted coats into pillow or blanket. These are not exactly clothes for a lockdown (or for retiring, socially); they look like they would want to be worn somewhere. And clothes have such appeal if they are destined to be seen outside, in the world, no matter how awful or lamentable it is. What’s normal for Ms Fendi, as it turns out, is not quite so.

Such as shorts in winter. Although quilted, they might be insufficient for, say, Sapporo. Or too much for Hong Kong, where winters rarely warrant quilted garments. So they will be a fashion item, distanced from the practical obsessions of a now-different world. The head-to-toe knits too (we like the overalls with the turtleneck sweater), which could be for a log cabin apres ski (who really wears sweater-knit slacks outdoors?). Or, for that matter, the quilted dressing gowns? The dandy vibe is not lost, although it’d be eye-opening if there are, at this time, or nine months later, men who’d want to express their predilection for clued-in elegance by adopting such symbols of deep refinement and eccentric aristocracy. But it is the unlikely, by way of the practicable or visual, that we find this collection compelling.

The first look sums it all up. Two quilted coats together is unusual enough, but it is the cable-knit sweater worn underneath that draws our interest: it has a collar (if you can call it that), seemingly made from two joined sleeves. The styling allows these two ends to just hang down the chest, but we suspect that, for the more fashion forward, they could be tied into a pussy bow! Ms Fendi, as head of menswear, kidswear, and accessories, has, in these past years, made Fendi men a considerable force. Her women’s line, after Karl Lagerfeld’s death, banked too much on Roma retro, and did not quite excite, which may explain Kim Jones’s taking over in the upcoming season. Whether extreme or conspicuous luxe for menswear shall stake its place in a pandemic-ravaged world remains to be seen, but Silvia Fendi has positioned the now-LVMH-owned brand well, and with wit to boot.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Stepping Up

Design Orchard, in the month of its second anniversary, is finally stocking ‘designer’ clothes. But is it enough?

Thomas Wee gets a street-facing window and dedicated space for his first collection at Design Orchard. Photo: 路人甲

After close two years in business, Design Orchard is upraising its positioning. At a media event yesterday evening, when operator Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF) announced their “exciting plans in-store for 2021” and to “unveil” their Chinese New Year windows, one sensed that the operative word ‘design’ is finally taking tentative root in a store conceived to showcase what Charles Eames called “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”. It is still not yet clear what purpose Design Orchard has set out for themselves other than to foster the spirit of “Shop Local, Grow Global”, but the current mix of names could portent well for a store that has not quite found its footing.

After protracted grumblings that there were no true designer styles in their merchandise mix, they have managed to invite some recognisable names to their fold, even successfully coaxing veteran designer Thomas Wee out of his serial retirement to present his first collection for Design Orchard. To be sure, at the 2019 opening of TAFF’s Cocoon Space, also in the building that houses Design Orchard, formerly operated by Naiise, Mr Wee had shown a selection of past fashion-show clothes. But as we understood at the time, that was a static display to fill the empty nooks of Cocoon Space, not a prelude to the availability, at Design Orchard, of our city’s premier designer line. Now that Thomas Wee is finally in the store and an “anchor label”, as one fashion buyer called it, would this be the charm to draw other revered names and to elevate Design Orchard’s standing among the design and retail community?

As the grand elder of Singaporean fashion, Thomas Wee gets his own private corner. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

The sizeable Thomas Wee collection takes up a space in an extreme corner of the store, on the opposite end of the main door, at what was another entrance (or rear exit) until the COVID-19 social-distancing mandate required stores to have a single point of entry and exit, to better control and monitor shopper movement. What Mr Wee is assigned is rather unusual in that, based on our earlier understanding, brands are not usually allotted their own designated spot. Within the roughly 50-square-metre corner, with a street-facing window, Mr Wee has set up shop in a layout that feels familiar: simple racks, headless mannequins (five of them—more than the other labels), the largely monochromatic scheme, a bench, which appears to welcome resting—a sum that hints at the elegant simplicity of his clothes. If not for the distracting UOB logo on a lightbox from next door, this would be a corner that could easily induce the appreciable description, cosy.

The familiarity extends to the clothes too. On the five mannequins that line the window, we could discern the discernible silhouette: relaxed, slightly voluminous, with drop shoulders, and a flare towards the hems (for both tops and skirts); the sum of which would not be out of place in today’s preference for a more relaxed approach to dress. Upon closer inspection, many pieces—some are tweaked or updated—have had their place in past collections. This could be, yet again, The Best of Thomas Wee fashion mixtape—a boon to those who are fans and for those who collect his designs or wish to replenish well-worn favourites. It is to the designer’s advantage that his clothes are situated away from the other labels. Mr Wee designs for a specific customer, a woman of a certain age, who is unconcerned with what’s trending, who has every reason to be dressed, attractively. But would the typical Design Orchard customer, weaned in the last two years on the store’s ho-hum offerings, be enticed? One attendee at last night’s event told us, “Only Thomas Wee’s things look and feel nice. They are really classy. Wear his designs and you will straightaway look ex.”

As the darling of the local designer pack, Max Tan gets the best spot to showcase his dramatic lines. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Mr Wee is not the only designer invited to showcase and sell here. Close to Mr Wee’s space is that of Max Tan, the Boy Wonder of Singaporean fashion. Mr Tan has not been this visible—and strikingly so—since closing his first free-standing boutique and exiting Capitol Piazza in 2016. He continued to sell in various pop-ups and to export. In the mean time, he earned his BA (Hons) at NAFA through a joint programme with the University of East London. Max Tan the label is in its 21st year, and there are some hints of maturity of thought and sophistication of execution, although his insistence, till today, on what he continues to call “quirk cuts” has somewhat hit the breaks on his progress. His collection at Design Orchard is appealing at first sight until, as is often the case with Mr Tan’s work, you come up close and touch. Refinement is still elusive. One round neckline stands out: it is gathered with a rather wide tape and, given the fabric’s inherent weight, forms a rather thick ring round the neck, as if with the intent to choke, if not to wring it.

Another name that’s new to Design Orchard, but not an unexpected one, given the approach of Chinese New Year, is Lai Chan by Goh Lai Chan. Although Mr Goh is a popular designer of occasion wear and a name bandied about among some society women, he is still the go-to name for his unchanging retro-modern cheongsams. A profitable sub-line, the cheongsams are reportedly in demand among women who favour this dress style, as well as among stockists that bank only on products that move, especially with the lead-up to CNY. The close-to-forty-years veteran provides Design Orchard with his usual, neatly sewn, not-too-constricted cheongsams, distinguished by the row of coloured spherical stones of indeterminate gemological value on the right, in place of Chinese frog buttons—an aesthetical sum Mr Goh seems to have churned out forever. These will likely sell well for the store, although if you already own one—or two—of this particular style, they may have less subsequent pull, however floridly vintage-looking some of the fabrics are. Nostalgia has its limits too. Change might inspire a more bloom-ful present than a mirrored past could.

Rows of Lai Chan’s signature cheongsams. Photo: 路人甲

Two unexpected names appear. The first, national-song-meister and occasional designer Dick Lee, with a new shirt line, put together in collaboration with custom tailor Pimabs, the brainchild of Leslie Chia, previously of Haberdasher (and, later, Haber) and the oddly named The Clothes Publisher. The “limited-edition” Dick Lee X Pimabs is really more the former than the latter. Mr Lee’s weakness for florid prints, which he often recounts (in his concerts too), harking back to the days when he went shopping with his mother at the first Metro department store in High Street, is again in full display, recalling his last menswear collab with the short-lived The Modern Outfitter in Tiong Bahru in 2014. Back then, shirts with micro-floral prints dominated. Presently, they still do. Only now, as Mr Lee boasted on Facebook, they’re “in mixed-up Liberty prints”. A la the Mad Chinaman. Although a trained designer, he seems to have overlooked the overall aesthetics of the line.

The shirts—especially those with open collars (some with an odd crease above the notch)—could be kin to the auntie blouse. The “mix-up” means a clash of prints (at least two different florals in one shirt), but it is hard to find in them print pairing that hints at something more contemporary. Loud is all that matters. In addition, we find it odd that with the use of silk and ultra-fine poplin in shirts that are mostly casual, there is a need to have fused, rather than unfused stand collars, with the interlining unnecessarily stiff. We expect more from the input of a experienced tailor that Mr Chia is. Is this Mr Lee’s contributive follow-up after criticising Design Orchard in a remark published by The Straits Times last June: “I went into Design Orchard and it’s shocking, the standard of clothing stocked there. Things are so basic and there’s no nice fabrication or nice finishing”? Is he showing us what “nice” is?

The other name new to Design Orchard that will surprise is Yang Derong. On hindsight that shouldn’t, in particular when Dick Lee is in the picture. Both of them are the best of friends, and Mr Lee’s song Follow your Heart (from the 1991 compilation album When I Play and, later in the OST of the 2017 autobiographical film Wonder Boy) was said to be written for Mr Yang. It is, therefore, not immoderate to assume that, this time, Mr Yang was roped in by Mr Lee. A designer who hails from the late ’80s, and who is reportedly retired from fashion, Mr Yang has, in recent years, made a name for himself as the creator and sole model of the quirky and unapologetically outrageous Instagram page FaceOfTheDaySG, which was followed with a 2019 exhibition at the National Museum, and also as the makeover stylist on Channel News Asia’s Style Switch. But rather than design clothing that many still remember him fondly for, he created a “lifestyle” line to appeal to not-yet-returning tourists. The refinement-lite collection of T-shirts, bags, face masks, cushion covers, and greeting cards are based on the Chinese zodiac. Labelled Sayang Sayang, the manja-ish name and the kitsch-driven products have Mad Chinaman written all over them.

A new collaboration between Dick Lee and custom tailor Pimabs. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Yang Derong’s Sayang Sayang collection. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

It is heartening to see familiar names with a storied past in the history of Singaporean fashion appear in Design Orchard, but are these individuals still able to pull in shoppers and, perhaps more pertinently, are they still relevant? Since its opening, Design Orchard has mostly availed easily accessible designs, such as those by Weekend Sundries and Little Match Girl, to their not-necessarily-in-the-know customers. Weaned on these not-artful labels (even when actual painting is involved), shoppers are not likely able to put themselves up to the level the new (old?) names are hoping to effect. That these names may give the store the directional heft it lacks is a plus. Young brand owners may feel a sense of pride to share the same platform as the established brands, but some may use the opportunity to be seen in the company of those they do not belong. Just a look at the window displays that TAFF has so proudly unveiled: the evidence is clear.

Despite all the efforts on the part of TAFF, mistakes (or oversight?) appear to dog Design Orchard, even in the digital-sphere. Yesterday afternoon, before the Cocoon Space event, we clicked on the store’s flat website to confirm the new names already talked about among those interested in such matters. To our astonishment, two captions incorrectly paired to two photos stared at us*. A picture with a model languishing in a recognisable cheongsam was attributed to Max Tan, while another woman looking haughty in a military-style trench coat to Lai Chan! As we write this post, no corrections are made or erratum published. One editor told us that the mis-match is “likely an honest mistake”. We are certain it is, but errors as easy to spot as these should not have their share of exposure online (or even off) when Design Orchard is positioned as the premier destination—the “hub”—for Singaporean labels. Or, perhaps, no one knew any better. One designer said to us, “Do you think they can tell what is Goh Lai Chan’s signature look or that Max Tan probably never made a qipao in his entire career?” We’re not referring to being intellectually fervid about the power of image and text coming together. Captioning is a marketing necessity, as well as an informational opportunity. If some of the Design Orchard brands are to be “featured”, such erroneous descriptions is palpable disservice.

The opening page of the Design Orchard website, with the incorrectly captioned photographs (blurred text inherent). Screen grab: designorchard.sg

This should not be mistaken as casting the proverbial wet blanket on Design Orchard. In the bleakness of the present, not-yet-post-pandemic time, what TAFF continues to strive for is laudable. But sometimes, we wonder if they truly have their heart in this and if the right people are recruited to see Design Orchard rise to greater heights. Design Orchard, unlike during Naiise’s watch, is now supposed to benefit from TAFF’s experience and industry leadership. If TAFF, with the resources (perhaps, not, as we’re repeatedly told, financial), does not discern, filter, or guide, who would take on the role? Who will be able to distill the essence of the work of those who are truly creative and encourage more from whence it came? Who will spur the vitality so necessary in growing a design community? How different is Design Orchard from, say, The Editor’s Market if they do not distinguish themselves with turbo-ed enthusiasm and intellectual might? Or are they just content with giving whoever’s interested in setting up a fashion (or lifestyle) label a hotchpotch confine to do their thing, and fizzle out within?

Even if we do not play on an international stage, we can aspire to play to an international audience. Design Orchard needs to go beyond its Singapore tag. Singapore Tourism Board’s “Made with Passion”, which Design Orchard yokes itself to, is good, but is geographical limitation encouraging designers to look beyond our front or back yards to scale higher? The view, as any climber or apartment hunter will attest, is always more impressive and inspiring when we’re aloft. But the trend seems to be for many to stay grounded: look back and dwell in the past, the more conspicuous and kitschier the better. Do we, therefore, invite committed and skilled designers to participate in the conversation of what fashion is now and will be in the future, or do we request the participation of those on/off practitioners who can’t give up living in their teenage years? The answer really lies with TAFF, and Design Orchard.

*Update (16 Jan 2021, 11.15pm): The content on the Design Orchard website has been amended to show the correct captions

Sing Sing, Shake Shake

It’s true, some magazine editors have to TikTok themselves to the top

By Raiment Young

It isn’t easy being a magazine editor. With print media on a veritable decline, the magazine editor, these days, has to try harder. Now that many also have to play an active role in the digital version of their respective titles, editors have to be masters of more than one medium. In the past, they needed only to be adept at putting together a print magazine—fill the pages with engaging stories and striking photographs. A flair with pagination and packaging (stories), I was told, is a plus. Then some editors adopted Instagram, and they gained visual competency in not only selling products, but themselves too. Personal branding, as with OOTD, became a thing. Once an editor needed only to be good with text, now they’ve gone from shooting photographic selfies to video selfies. The journalist, not to be outdone by influencers, happily and actively becomes one.

A magazine is no longer the sum of its editorial pages or parts, or running heads. The content is not any more merely the editor’s signature. With digital iterations of print and the necessary attendant social media pages intersecting, I see editors have to be able to generate lively content across platforms. And then some: They also need to create personal pages as extension of their paid work, to spin-off the otherwise one-dimensional print page into something that engages so that the editor is then able to personally find new audiences—those who don’t read but view— and, in return, monetise what he/she posts, brilliant or banal, seemly or trite. By extending themselves, editors are also extending the brand. Mastheads need a digital life too; they sent out tweets and social posts, and these do not necessarily promote the content of the original medium. They are not merely a title; they are brands, and, as such, they can be a magazine, as well as a social-media page, a blog, a Youtube channel, a shopping portal, the merchandise, or even an app.

Editors need to be as multi-faceted, switching from the pages of a magazine to the pages of a website, or the tiles of Instagram. They have to show their audience what extracurricular talents they have, too. This is where TikTok comes in, with tremendous might. While fashion’s one-time favourite platform Instagram allows perfectly composed photos, they do not necessarily reflect the subject’s special/natural ability or aptitude. Sure, we can usually see an attractive face, but we can’t hear her voice (and even less in text form of, say, the editor’s page or letter or whatever they like to call it these days) or see his limp wrist limping. Who knows they can cavort so zestfully?! With TikTok videos—even just 15 seconds long—we can have a deeper impression, all the while enjoying, or not, the lowbrow or the high jinks (or high camp). The magazine editor comes alive.

Some editors reveal themselves as natural comedians and lip-sync talents, all packaged with intense fashion—sometimes, thanks to editing apps such as InShot, with multiple OOTD changes, accompanied by It bags, just by snapping fingers or jumping. They have the time! It isn’t clear to me if this is a case of old-fashioned showing-off or more-in-fashion-than-ever funded partnerships with brands. Either way, it’s an I-can-wear-this-many-trendy-and-expensive-clothes-and-you-can’t video brag. Some editors do this so well, I’d never guess they’re not entertainers or jokers by profession. Once virtually unknown, they are now the song-and-dance editors among the other singing and dancing zombies that populate TikTok, but they do it with better clothes or with more pronounced proclamation of their love for a brand. Nothing, as Oscar Wilde said, succeeds like excess.

Editors I spoke to admit that there’s no more downtime to their work, such as the period—even if short—after they put an issue “to bed”. One editor told me how, during her supposed own free time, she has to monitor social media content and create her own posts for her personal accounts that bear her own name. WFH makes it worse. So shackled to the demands of the digital life, professionally and personally, that her husband was convinced she is married to two: he and an indestructible entity that is pulling her further and further away from him. “Social media can really consume you,” she told me. “And we allow it.” It is not surprising then that there are many more addicted to TikTok than those to porn.

The suffix porn, as in food porn (or choose your favourite. Mine, word porn!), is very much a digital-era preoccupation/description (although food porn is said to date back to the late ’70s). Porn, from the Greek porne (which means “whore”), and now quite stripped (pardon the pun) of the intense and pervasive sex that it used to evoke, is an intensifier of the noun that precedes it. Food porn, the most used, and probably the most relatable, usually describes those photos that are exaggerated in their appetite-arousing appeal, with a fidelity that amplifies their sometimes unreal perfection, which, ironically, is un-erotic. Tiktok porn is alike and is not racy, but is more addictive. As reported by App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020, Android users clocked up 68 billion-plus hours using TikTok in 2019. That’s pornographic enough. And one magazine editor I chanced upon, who offered seven outfit changes in one 15-second video post, is without doubt a porn talent, even if he’s no stud, unveiling his cloth-based assets as the pornest of fashion porn.

Illustrations: Just So

Theory At Uniqlo

The American brand, Uniqlo’s sibling, appears with its own little space in the Japanese fast fashion’s new global flagship in Ginza, Japan

Uniqlo in Tokyo is offering the more upmarket label Theory, its sibling brand under parent company Fast Retailing, alongside its LifeWear offerings, at its Yurakucho/Ginza store, which reopened last June after a refurbishment (and expansion), reimagined by the Swiss architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron. Theory in the bright spanking space in Marronnier Gate 2 building is a surprising addition to a store initially dubbed Uniqlo Tokyo, which, according to a company media release, was “created as the new global flagship store to embody the LifeWear ideal.” It isn’t surprising that Theory, with its clean lines and generally neutral palette, fits the bill and the retail environment. The collection could have been, upon a cursory glance, Uniqlo U, the sub-brand presently steered by Christophe Lemaire in Paris.

Launched last October, Theory at Uniqlo takes up about 60-odd square metres on the first and second floors. Unless you seek it out, there is a good chance you might actually miss the relatively small collection. With the branding built into the industrial-looking fixtures that go well with the exposed beams of the four-level store’s central concourse, the corner is somewhat discreet, and is overwhelmed by Uniqlo’s own larger and more colourful offering. It could be assumed that Uniqlo is hopping to underscore its versatility, that their LifeWear, however basic, could be easily and stylishly teamed with other more ‘elevated’ styles, especially those under their family of brands, which includes the French label Comptoir des Cotonniers, also available here. But one thing does stand out: the price difference. Theory is many rungs up the price hierarchy. One Theory hoodie was going for JPY23,000 (approximately SGD294), while Uniqlo’s could be had for JPY2,900 (approximately SGD37).

It is inaccurate to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy cheap merchandise

Fast Retailing’s pulling together two of its brands on the different side of the price scale is, from a retail perspective, a refreshing arrangement. It is inaccurate—even parochial—to think that just because one shops in Uniqlo, one only wants to buy inexpensive merchandise. A discerning eye, as Uniqlo possesses, is not trained on price alone. Perhaps this will work only in Japan. No news from Uniqlo SG yet if Theory will be introduced here. We know, of course, that our shoppers have a tendentious habit of seeking the cheap. Since its arrival on our shores in 2009, its visitors mostly associate the brand with low-priced fashion than fast fashion, often overlooking its design value. In a statement prior to the launch of Theory (and Comptoir des Cotonniers) at Uniqlo Tokyo, Fast Retailing stated that the step towards a multi-label store “allows customers to handle and purchase items with the same high quality and comfort of Uniqlo [and] offer customers the opportunity to freely coordinate items from the three brands”. This obvious plus, we suspect, would have weak acceptance on our island.

Theory was born in New York in 1999 when former Anne Klein CEO Andrew Rosen teamed up with the Israeli designer Elie Tahari to create a line that was widely known then to cater specifically to professional women. The clothes associated with Theory were—at least initially—pants: in particular stretch pants, but cut and styled in a dressier way. That one item become the driving success of the brand. In 2003, both Mr Rosen and Mr Tahari sold Theory to its Japanese licensee Link International (before becoming Link Theory Holdings or LTH) just after compatriot company Fast Retailing acquired an “equity stake” in Link. Two years later, the American arm of LTH bought Helmut Lang from the Prada Group. In 2009, LTH was fully owned by Fast Retailing (after which, they acquired the jeans label J Brand in 2012). Under the new ownership, Theory enjoyed reasonable success. Between 2010 and 2014, it was designed by the “Prince of Goth” Olivier Theyskens. Mr Rosen even allowed the designer his own imprint, Theyskens’ Theory (at first a test capsule Theory by Olivier Theyskens). While the global profile of Theory at this time was raised, it was reported that the sale figures that Mr Rosen had craved for never materialised.

Theory and Uniqlo’s relationship on the selling floor goes back to 2016, when a collaboration between the two yielded a men’s admittedly conservative capsule collection. It was marketed with a catchy phrase: “Japanese Engineering, New York Style”, perhaps reminding shoppers of the brand’s Big Apple origins. This collab came back again last year. It is not clear how successful this co-branding is, but the repeat season and, now, a Theory corner in a Uniqlo flagship are indications that Fast Retailing has big plans—and high hopes—for a name that is, for many, an unshakeable reminder of the 2000s, when, way before the (fortunately ending) tumultuous Trump era, American labels had some appeal, if not cachet.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD