A Branded Wedding

Kourtney Kardashian married Travis Barker in Italy, at a lavish, “sponsored” event. A win-win for the Kardashian family and the fashion house—Dolce and Gabbana

American bride and groom in Italy: Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker, outfitted by Dolce Gabbana. Photo: kourtneykardashian/Instagram

At the Balenciaga cruise 2023 show, staged on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange last Sunday morning, one supporter/model of the house was conspicuously not present: Kim Kardashian. The SKIMS founder was MIA because she was unable to attend; she was in Italy, specifically the resort town of Portofino, to witness sister Kourtney Kardashian tie the knot with fellow Californian, the Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. According to media reports, the wedding was to be a weekend-long affair. As expected, the paparazzi attended too (including the fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth), ensuring that the Kardashian-Jenner clan in attendance was well shot. For a celebratory occasion, the family members, expectedly, were bedecked to the nines, and tens. Kim Kardashian was not in a semblance of a head-to-toe bodysuit; she was her usual Instagram-worthy self: Sexy. As more photos emerged with accompanying credits, it became obvious that the wedding turned out to be a resort-wide fashion show for a single brand: Dolce and Gabbana (D&G).

Soon, talk emerged that the bride and groom’s big day was “sponsored” by the Italian label, so were the outfits of the couple’s guests. According to an opus of an “exclusive” in the Daily Mail’s digital edition, MailOnline, Dolce and Gabbana and the couple agreed to “a deal set to give millions of pounds worth of free publicity to (the) controversy-hit luxury fashion house”. D&G was embroiled in a series of scandals pertaining to their opinions, as well as their marketing exercises that, in one case, angered an entire nation: China. It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars, and revered by journalists such as Suzy Menkes. According to a report by CNN last June, “D&G is still struggling to win back China”, and their store count in the world’s most populous nation dropped to 47 from 58 (before the fallout). But things did pick up, modestly. In March, Dolce and Gabbana opened in Shanghai’s CITIC Pacific Plaza, giving the total in China a boost by one. Jing Daily shared that by the final quarter of this year, D&G would “open new men’s, women’s, and junior stores in fashionable Chengdo”, quoting the brand’s group communication and marketing officer Fedele Usai: “The company has always carefully paid attention to the potential and demand coming from emerging areas (of China).”

It is not clear if the brand’s image has been totally salvaged, even when they are still the go-to label among attention-adoring film and pop stars

It is conceivable that the brand still needs some help, and that the Kardashian-Jenners could be crucial to D&G’s protracted rehabilitation. A D&G-branded wedding for one of the world’s most recognisable family-brands could be the genius stroke in getting the visibility of the meretricious fashion raised, further. But a spokesperson for D&G denied that any sponsorship was offered, telling Business of Fashion that the former was merely “hosting this happy event”. MailOnline said that they “can reveal that the Italian fashion house has been closely involved in organising every aspect of the lavish wedding celebrations”. Apart from outfitting the attendees of the wedding, the couple reportedly stayed in a mega-yacht—the Regina d’Italia, believed to be owned by Stefano Gabbana. The entire entourage was ferried to the wedding venues in Portofino—the L’Olivetta, a villa owned by Dolce & Gabbana and the 16th-century castle Castello Brown—in luxury speedboats by the Italian yacht builder Riva. Published photographs showed the vessels furnished with D&G accessories including cushions, throws, and towels in the house’s flashy animal prints or colourful clash of patterns (think: the D&G X Smeg home appliances). On land, a pop-up store, Galleria d’Arte, offered D&G merchandise for the wedding guests needing to buy a gift or memorabilia, as well as for tourists gathering to watch the Americans-marrying-in-Italy spectacle.

At the altar, the bride wore a white mini-dress that was unambiguously corset-meets-negligee. It spoke volumes when the the dress was staggeringly shorter than the cathedral-length veil. All around and beyond, it was an orgy of Dolce & Gabbana frocks (including the matriarch Kris Jenner’s one alto moda fluff among other gaudy outfits worn throughout the celebration) and suits, including the children’s. D&G’s willingness and eagerness to caparison the whole clan was consistent with the founders’ love of la famiglia and the brand’s repeated depictions of multi-generational families in their advertising. It was reported that this massive exercise was “a first for the luxury and marketing industry”. Those who follow influencers on social media would know that a sponsored wedding is not unusual, although by one brand for practically the whole shebang is less so. In a Dolce and Gabbana/Kardashian-Jenner tie-up, it is hard to discern who needed the publicity more, but there is, in our present day, no such thing as too much hoopla and attention to selves. The brand and the family needed each other, and therein we find the contrived, even crazy happy ending.

Balenciaga Is Bullish

Demna Gvasalia showed his Balenciaga cruise show at the New York Stock Exchange to the suggestion that the brand’s strength is still on the rise. More face/body obscuring looks, anyone?

On Friday, the day before the New York Stock Exchange closed for the weekend, during which Balenciaga could prep for their show on Sunday morning (New York time), Wall Street teetered disconcertingly to the rim of a bear market. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both showed figures that were their seventh straight week of losses—their most protracted defeating streak since the end of the dotcom bubble in 2001. But inside the NYSE two days later, the mood was rather different, bullish even. The Balenciaga cruise show was staged here, on the trading floor, with their attendant screens ominously flashing what appeared to be trading numbers, as if hackers had struck. Some screens showed the logos of enterprises as diverse as The Disney Company and Pfizer. Whether this was a commentary on wealth or greed, it is hard to say. Or a vote of confidence in the US market? The music pulsing through the space was not the usual clatter of a trading day. Rather, it was urgent techno thrust (there was the opening bell, of course) sandwiched between what sounded like Carey Mulligan’s rendition of New York New York on the 2012 film Shame.

But it was not guilt or humiliation that emanated from the models’ totally obscured faces, via full-cover masks or bodysuits. It was a show of terror. Or, as Demna Gvasalia said to the media, “We live in a terrifying world, and I think fashion is a reflection of that.” On a regular trading day, we doubt anyone so extremely covered would be allowed into the NYSE building, let alone the trading floor. But there they were, in full-face/head masks, not mere balaclavas, strutting to the pulsating beat, like a bunch of rookie robbers filing into a bank to execute a heist. Or, walking mannequins. Has fashion become so visibly accessible and democratic that we must now obscure the wearer’s very being in order to stand out, and be apart from every pretty face on social media? Or do we now have to look macabre and menacing (even pussy bows could not soften the looks) to forge an elegance that’s so terrifying that fashion can be really reckoned?

By now, what Mr Gvasalia proposes for Balenciaga is, of course, not frightening. Or even threatening. His severe aesthetics have, after all, survived the red carpet. At the Met Gala last year, Kim Kardashian, you’ll remember, “rewrote the red carpet’s rules” (were there any?), according to Vogue, when she appeared in a Balenciaga-conceived, (literally) head-to-toe outfit that covered every centimetre of her unmistakable body. Three days earlier, she, too, was just-as-encased in a leather bodysuit with attached face/head cover under a matching trench coat. If Ms Kardiashian, who has no qualms about baring her body publicly, would be willing to be so tightly sheathed, it is possible that many women would just as gladly be so utterly covered. So Balenciaga, anticipating its influence, put out similarly wrapped looks for its latest collection. The clothes really require no description or introduction. All the Balenciaga tropes that Mr Gvasalia have introduced, from shoulders to shoes, that you are familiar with are there. They continue with the designer’s conviction to anti-fashion, ant-fit, anti-genteel, anti-subtle, anti-girly, anti-sexy.

And then there was the more real and less intimidating Balenciaga X Adidas. It is not known what deal Adidas has struck with Kering, but this would be the second of the conglomerate’s brands to collaborate with the sports name, after Gucci. While Mr Gvasalia remained true to his preference for the oversized and the baggy, and the less retro, the pieces do share something common with Gucci: the look-at-me sportiness, now considered the true achievement of performance wear. Even sports clothes need to be elevated. And just in case interests in these wane too quickly (and they just might), some 34 pieces from the collaboration are available for pre-order, from now to 29 May, with the lowest asking price of SGD275 for a pair of socks (the cheapest T-shirt, you may wish to know, is USD995). These days the ‘entry-level’ is shown alongside the main. Marketing cleverness has a legitimate space next to design excess. That is seriously bullish. In a money pit, no less.

Screen shot (top): Balenciaga/YouTube and photos: Balenciaga

Two Of A Kind: The Sheer Black Dress

If you are proud of your body, show it, even if under a dress

Sheer power: (Left) Rihanna in Dior at the Dior show. Photo Getty Images. (Right) One of the looks at the recent Gucci cruise 2023 show. Photo: Gucci

Now that Rihanna has given birth and the sartorial baton is passed to Adriana Lima (see her appearance at the Cannes Film Festival), stomach-on-full-display is on track to be the maternity look of the pandemic era. Rihanna’s “lingerie moments”, as we know by know, have been widely lauded as “stunning” and “redefining”. If Beyonce made the naked dress acceptable on the red carpet, Rihanna was certain to affirm the naked maternity frock’s commitment to a very public existence. No wonder Alessandro Michele was quick to offer one on Gucci’s latest runway that is rather similar to the Dior dress that the star wore in Paris, even if the Italian house’s version was designed first as a sheer dress (Rihanna reportedly had the Dior’s lining ripped off) worn on a braless (not-skinny) model rather than an expectant woman. Could Gucci be targeting expectant customers now that there is no doubt how nude some are willing to go?

These days, the encouragement is dress to ‘celebrate’ the body, not to hide it, pregnant or not, slim or otherwise. Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone. Immodest, when it comes to dressing to go out, whether pregnant or not, is preferred because every body has to be exalted. In the ’60s, American civil-rights activists wore their “Sunday best” to show that dignity is not the reserve of the non-whites and they are not by default relegated to the lowest rung of the social order. Today, the “any-day least” allow wearers to demonstrate that the skimpiest clothes need not be just for the pool or beach, and less so for the confines of a bedroom. And baring is really not restricted to exotic dancers.

Conservative attitudes towards a woman’s bare baby bulge (or any bulge) has no place in today’s society, just as Harry Styles in a dress should not have to threaten anyone

Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, if you remember, stripped away all the pre-natal dress conservatism that the Victorians left behind since the 19th century. Sure, we had many women wear clothes that hinted at nudity since the Sixties, but those in diaphanous dresses that substantially show the body are mostly latter-day individuals with specific interest (obsession?). The easy shift to near nudity has been attributed to the need to show individuality, boost confidence, embrace empowerment, gain attention, express sexuality, and simply because they can. On our shores, the weather. Could it also be because it is still provocative, and provocation is fun—let you see, but not touch? Gucci’s sheer black number was simply answering to today’s needs.

In both cases, the naked dresses—an oxymoron if you think about it—have fabrics acting merely as a sort veil for the body. Like the silk screens Empress Cixi sat behind from, where she ruled in the 19th century, these dividers are not there to conceal the wearer or make them inscrutable (are women today as manipulative?). They are there for a peekaboo effect. Tease is very much a part of modern fashion’s commitment to overt shame-free self-expression. Even the retired Victoria’s Secret Angels were more modestly attired. Trenchant media support for Rihanna’s near-nude maternity style and Emily Ratajkowski’s unconcealing every-day wear would only boost Gucci’s desire to send other sheer black dresses down the runway. There would be more to come.

A Showy Amble

Walking on the path Gucci paved, Dior is showing its gaudy side.

The Dior Men’s spring—also known as resort or cruise, in case there’s any confusion—2023 season started rather straightforwardly enough. Like those of other luxury brands, Dior’s inter-season show is staged away from home, in Los Angeles, specifically the neighbourhood of Venice, in what is known as its “heart”— Winward Avenue, a flashy and touristy thoroughfare that cuts right to the famed Venice Beach Boardwalk. This could easily be the equivalent of Bangkok’s Khao San Road, if not visually, definitely in spirit. The runway, not flanked by buildings of architectural value or set against the Pacific Ocean (the Dior show is the second LVMH-owned brand to show in California this season after Louis Vuitton), is done up as if for a beach bash (complete with surging waves!). The clothes correspond to the waterfront party vibe, but with considerably more bling than one might be comfortable wearing to a littoral event with no guarantee that the sand won’t somehow get into shoes and clothes. Then we remember, this is California. The Californication of Dior.

It is open to view that Kim Jones is pandering to a Californian crowd with his California Couture, as the season is themed. Like other designers of European brands, such as Hedi Slimane, Mr Jones seems to have a thing for America (another collection for Dior was staged in Florida: Fall 2020), and this time, the clothes seems targeted at California’s most recognisable metonym for entertainment: Hollywood. And, of course, music. It is, therefore, easy to connect the styling to what stars operating out of this city would wear to go out to dine at high-profile restaurants, on date nights with equally famous other-halves, jam in a recording studio, attend movie premiers and music awards presentations, and, of course, to buy milk. This being the West Coast, the looks have to project unambiguously Californian Casual and Cool, if not exactly Couture. If Californian fashion has not been convincingly defined, what is California Couture, other than plain puffery? Or, perhaps the show is best described by the opening track: My Bloody Valentine’s Only Shallow?

By Mr Jones’s definition, French urban polish will look out of place in California. So the surf and the skate must come rolling in. There has to be commercial American staples, such as hoodies, pullovers, and hang-loose shirts, but being a tribute to Venice Beach’s “seedy glamour”, as described by Mr Jones to the press, all are given a meretricious makeover, in a manner we are already familiar with at Gucci: Their spring/summer 2022 show also in California—on Hollywood Boulevard—still so fresh in our mind. The blatant retro-ness may not be cresting at Dior, but the push-femininity-as-far-as-you-could ostentation is there: pearl-studded fisherman sweaters, jumpers woven with sparkly metallic yarns, mixed-media appliqued cardigans, newsprint tees, satin trousers, those with the cannage-quilting of Lady Dior bags, furry shorts, those with sequined hems, all teamed with the, frankly irritating, laces-untied sneakers. Dior is in California!

What we found starring at us, too, is Dior seemingly mocking itself. Could this be the label doing its own bootleg clothes. Before the counterfeiters strike? It is hard to say this of possibly one of the most-loved menswear lines in the luxury sphere: Some pieces are evocative of what one might find on Taobao. One really stood out for us: a long-sleeved cycling top with a triple chevron underscoring the four-letter brand name depicted in a font layout/placement we are desperately trying not to call cheesy. This season, part of the collection (those hoodies and puffers, for sure) was “guest-designed” by Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL, the much feted brand, especially among hip-hop circles. Mr Linnetz, a Venice Beach native, moves glowingly in the orbit of Kanye West; he directed Mr West’s Famous (yes, the one with recognisable stars in bed, naked) and Fade (yes, the one with Teyana Taylor dancing alone in the gym, quite naked) music videos, and dipped his hands in the now-untalked-of Yeezy line. In 2018, Dover Street Market came acalling. The rest is history, and, now, Dior. California is not dreaming.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Come Shine, Not Rain

Good news for this who love impractical things: Gucci’s umbrella won’t keep you dry

By Ray Zhang

If I go by the definition that I had learnt in school, the umbrella is a cover that is used to protect us from the rain. I have never really owned an umbrella until I started working, and bought one for myself. At that time, if my memory serves me well, I bought the foldable umbrella because it was raining. I never thought of an umbrella serving other function until my mother once asked me to buy one for her in Tokyo (where I was holidaying one Christmas season) because she wanted a “nice shade” to shield her from the sun. Which means, she reminded me, it must come with a UV layer or coating. But, for me, the umbrella is synonymous with the rain. I am, therefore, able to understand the thunderous outrage in China when Netizens found out that an umbrella, marketed under the much-hyped Gucci X Adidas collaboration, was described as “不防水” (bufangshui) or “not waterproof”.

Drenched with curiosity, I hit the SG Gucci website and was surprised that the said umbrella was not among the 147 items listed that would be on sale from the 7th of next month. A quick check at the American pages showed the brolly with the accompanying encouragement, “join the wait list for this item”. I did note that Gucci was careful to describe the product as a “sun umbrella”. Prior to the uproar in China, it is not clear if this phrase was used, but the Chinese equivalent 阳伞 (yangsan) was not seen. Instead, “雨伞 (yusan)” or “rain umbrella” appeared online. Is it a wonder that those interested (and those not) are angered and resentful that Gucci would charge 11,100 yuan (or approximately S$2,280) for the yusan and not make it waterproof? Gucci was quick to react to the derision: On their webpage, they changed the description by deleting the 雨 (yu), leaving the less specific 伞 (san).

Is it a wonder that those interested (and those not) are angered and resentful that Gucci would charge 11,100 yuan (or approximately S$2,280) for the yusan and not make it waterproof?

Some members of the Western press chose the more suitable (17th century) ‘parasol’ to describe the Gucci X Adidas offering, presumably not to offend both brands. But in China, no euphemistic efforts were discerned. The hashtag #售价11100元联名款雨伞不防水# (the collaboration umbrella sold for 11,100 yuan is not waterproof) started trending and quickly attracted more than 140 million views on Weibo alone. When the local media picked up the controversy, a Gucci spokesperson was quoted saying that the umbrella (I’ll just stick to this unambiguous word) “适合人们日常搭配造型,但并不建议当做日常晴雨伞使用 (is suitable for everyday styling, but is not recommended for daily protection from rain)”.

Now that it is clear the umbrella from the Gucci X Adidas collab was not conceived with inclement wet weather in mind, I wonder if it is still enticing to those for whom high-low pairings are their obsessions and the yushan and the rain are a pair made in heaven. Why had Gucci not considered what the French called en-tout-cas (or “in any case”), combination of umbrella and parasol! Truth be told, I am not impressed with the collaboration that Gucci describes to compose of “silhouettes inspired by collegiate style unfold through a retro colour palette and reimagined sports clubs’ uniforms”. How an umbrella with limited function fits into Adidas in a revivalist mood, materialised through retro-bent Gucci is rather beyond me. When in bed, two can have fun without, you know, climax.

Illustration: Just So

Nike’s Next

…designer collaboration will be with Jacquemus

It really is not surprising that Simon Porte Jacquemus of his eponymous label would choose to collaborate with Nike, but it is rather unexpected that he has opted to present a woman’s-only line. Nike announced two days ago that the Nike x Jacquemus apparel and footwear (interestingly, available for guys too) will debut next month, on the 28th. The collaboration is aimed at what both brands call “integrated aesthetic”, not just between the two names, but also clothes and shoes worn on courts, track or field that are also suitable for those times that are off them. It does not sound too differently from what Nike has achieved with, say, Sacai.

According to a Nike media release, the collaboration “invites sport style into everyday life” too, something that the sportwear giant is already doing, regularly and with considerable success. How else can we describe their work with Comme des Garçons and Undercover (excluding the for-running Gyakusou line)? As the Swoosh further expounds, “Nike x Jacquemus follows a belief that sport isn’t simply about performance, it is also an expansion of style and self.” It is not yet clear what that would look like, but Jacquemus is very much a trending brand, so expect a craze to follow.

Nike X Jacquemus will be available on 28 June at select Nike stores and online. Watch this space for more details. Photos: Nike

Practically Nothing

If little is worn and clothes matter not, is there fashion? Or, will we have another word?

Julia Fox in Alexander Wang out grocery shopping. Photo: Rachpoot.com/Splashnews.com

We call ourselves a fashion blog. But more and more there is treasured little left to write. Fashion is reduced to a veritable nothing. Increasingly, there is more skin shown by wearers than cloth. Fabrics are inconveniences, hindrances, barriers, and, if their use necessary, too opaque. Little bits are a lot simpler. Pasties are easier to design and produce than brassieres! A narrow bandage has more potential than a full-form bandeau. Once-upon-a-time-private parts are no longer completely undisclosed. Free the nipple is very near reality. In fact, if what are worn by many well-followed stars are to be noted, clothing as we know it—with the fundamental purpose of covering (which is sounding oddly dated)—would no longer have a future, or, if we were to be more hopeful, a dim one.

A recent photo of Julia Fox—in head-to-toe Alexander Wang from his recent autumn/winter 2022 presentation—shared online truly made us realise that there is nothing we can say about her clothes: She was not wearing much; she was basically in underwear. Is this fashion? Or, has fashion come to this? Her fans would say she was not entirely nude (she has, of course, worn a lot less). There was the denim blazer, but was that even a jacket worth talking about? Or should we compliment how destructed and crappy it looked? Or that she was carrying a beautiful jurse (jeans-as-purse!)? Ms Fox has, of course, mostly dressed (admittedly, a poor choice of word) like that since she came to public attention for her brief, for-all-to-see affair with Kanye West. And that’s the daunting and unnerving prospect: the near-nudity is here to stay.

As one fashion designer told us when we showed him Ms Fox’s photo, “I am thinking, since so many pop and film stars are flashing themselves for the world, they have, naturally, created a new normal. The public, who looks up to them, will think, if their favorite stars can do it, so can they.” But the question is still unanswered: Is it fashion? The designer replied indignantly, “Of course not, not to me. It is purely styling; it is not Gaultier doing innerwear as outerwear!” A follower of SOTD, who formerly worked for a luxury brand, agreed. She said, “It’s just ludicrous and I think these women wear such rubbish on purpose to get attention. It’s really looney bins and not fashion at all—their own invention of fashion and the press lapped it up.”

“It is purely styling; it is not Gautier doing innerwear as outerwear!”

We have, indeed, been wondering, too: Has the media encouraged this stripping (not merely revealing)? For every star baring herself—from Doja Cat in gold pasties under mere chiffon at the Billboard Music Awards two days ago to Kim K in nude bra and panty for Sports Illustrated’s current swimsuit issue—the press gleefully say they “rock” or—our extreme peeve—“stun”. If readers needed to be told that a certain actress or singer in close to nothing astounds, they already know she is not predisposed to, without the without. She needs the costume of a stripper. In fact, when she “stuns”, there’s a good chance she is as bare-skinned or as bare-breasted as it is legally possible. And that she is satisfying her (insatiable?) hunger for attention than fashion. Why would a lover of clothes not wear them?

The press not negating the lewdness once associated with strip clubs is operating within present-day necessity: The imperative embrace of inclusivity, now considered conducting oneself in a conscionable manner. Julia Fox in a narrow strip of fabric across her chest must be accorded equal opportunity to raves as Thilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann, if not more. Inclusivity is so compulsory in the business of fashion, as well as among adopters of fashion, that the unattired can be free of disapproval. Criticism is unacceptable because it would be shaming. We can’t say Ms Fox isn’t dressed for she can, as we are often reminded, wear whatever she wants, or omit. All women can, including the expectant. There is so little to say about what is worn these days since hardly any is; it’s no wonder more columns go to sneakers or meta-clothes.

To be certain, we are no prudes. Scanty dress as desirable dress is so omnipresent that anything that does not, in fact, amount to a dress is hardly terribleness of epic proportion. One fashion writer told us, “Nudity, in a post-OnlyFans world, is not sin, it’s just skin. Skimpy clothes is the future. Designers now need to go to school to learn how to make barely-clothes, but we may have soon another word for ‘fashion’. How about unfashion?” Come to think of it, un is a prefix of profound relevance. It’s skimpy too! Just two letters, yet with such descriptive power. So much of fashion today can be described with the simple un and so effectively: unattired, unclothed, undressed, unclad, uncover, unravel, untie, unline, unfuse unzip, unpick, unpin, untack, unsew, unseam, unseemly, unsuited, unfixed, unveiled, unfolded, unfurled, unrolled, untidy, and, of course, underwear and undies. Oh, for sure, unlovely and, definitely, underwhelming.

Gucci’s Cosmos Not

The cruise show might be themed along the lines of the origins—or structure—of the universe, but that does not mean there is reference to an orderly, harmonious system. As usual, bright was the flashy chaos

The cruise collection is increasingly less about the clothes that one can pack for a holiday than what can be kept in a wardrobe for the day when a statement-making outfit is needed. Gucci’s latest offers scant semblance of what might be reserved for the Viking Orion or anything akin to a holiday in the sun (perhaps, some of the sheer pieces could be worn down at the beach?). But, based on its theme, Gucci Cosmogonie, could these clothes be offered to the suitcase destined for the SpaceX or even the International Space Station, if it could one day be a tourist hotspot? Frankly, it is hard to say. For all the cosmological references and whatever could be up there, the clothes look decidedly bound for some corners of our earth, where burlesque is the main business. Or, could the substantial near-nudity be at one with the universe?

Staged in Castel del Monte (Castle in the Mountain), Andria, southern Italy, the show— soundtracked by mixes of the recording of the first moon landing and Abel Korzeniowski’s Charms (from Madonna’s 2012 film WE)—is a moody celebration of meretricious Gucci, presented against projections of old constellation maps. The Castel was established in 1240 by the medieval emperor Frederick II, who reigned over a court of elites, from artists to astronomers. It is not really determined if this was a spot to observe and study celestial bodies, such as the Castillo in Chichén Itzá, Mexico was, but its very geometry (octagonal) and symmetry, with corresponding eight towers, even on a mount, seem to suggest something more secular. “Castel del Monte”, according to Gucci, “perfectly represents a crossroads of the different peoples, cultures, civilizations, and religions that have shaped the Mediterranean.”

The collection sure seemed to be for a melting pot of different people—or, to be more precise, characters. In his early years at Gucci, Alessandro Michele had proposed a sort of sexy-prim: the off-duty librarian look (some say secretary). Through the years, while he has given the impression that his mind is among books, his designs target less those with a penchant to visit a serious bibliotheca than someone else with a far more hedonistic or sensualistic pursuit on extra amusing and entertaining grounds. The librarians have become party girls, disco dollies, sexy starlets, exotic dancers, nocturnal adventurers, red carpet walkers, hookers, rapper-as-hookers, gleeful exhibitionists, and more. Therein lies the beauty of Gucci, if not in the design, definitely in the looks: eternally hedonistic. Now, hedonism is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if we go by the Greek definition—looking to get as much enjoyment out of life as possible.

It is, of course, preferable to dress as if an individual’s life is one of delight and pleasure than misery and depression. And Gucci offers clothes that project that plentifully. If Mr Michele has toned down the overt retro-ness of previous collections, he has also turned up the ostentation, augmented by faces underscored by ruffs, necks adorned with ropes of pearls, and faces marked by Indian naths (nose rings), except that the chains appear to be attached to the mouth. It is the flashy and the fleshy. One outfit, in particular, would delight Nicki Minaj and her rapper-sisters, even if somewhat belatedly: a one-sleeve top that covered half the upper body diagonally, leaving one nipple the protection of a pastie. In fact, much of the outfits ask for the dispensing of the bra.

Apart from the many sheers numbers (which, to be sure, have been there since Mr Michele’s first collection for Gucci in 2015), Mr Michele has offered, modestly, the opposite: construct of something measured but no less exquisite and polished. One ecclesiastical gown (worn with a choker made of strands of pearls and a necklace that could have come from some papal stash) would not alienate even Lily Tomlin. There’s a tailored, long-sleeved Op-Art dress (with ruffs for cuffs), the oblong, cinched-at-the-waist blouse (worn with a pleated skirt) and the ’40s-looking skirt suit (with the red shoulder piece) that an ex-wife might wear to court to (counter) sue her former husband. But, these are, as you would agree, few and, celestially far between.

Screen shots (top) and photos: Gucci

Clean Cut

The latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Salomon collaboration is a beautifully simple silhouette

As if to mock the purposely-filthy ‘Paris’ sneaker launched by Balenciaga last week, Comme des Garçons released a very pristine version of a Salomon’s trail-runner, the SR90. The ongoing pairing (second, in fact) between the French sports/outdoor brand has yielded a surprisingly clean silhouette, sans CDG’s usual eye-opening redefining of what is considered acceptable for sneakers (SS19’s Nike Air Presto Foot Tent!) and still appeal to sneakerheads. Of course, no one seriously puts on a pair of CDG—or co-branded—kicks for sporting pursuits, so whatever tweaks or add-ons they introduce to a sneaker, fans will lap them up because they won’t look standard-issue. But, with this Salomon, CDG is suggesting that looking near-OG is on the right side of edginess too.

We are not a major fan of all-white sneakers (or, for that matter, all-black). Regular SOTD readers would know that. But the Comme Des Garçons X Salomon SR90’s whiteness is not nothingness, or too much a part of a school uniform. A trail sneaker that looks like a retro runner, the SR90 sports a contemporary sense of minimalism that is more akin to what might be offered at Jil Sander. But there is nothing basic about this shoe. Salomon’s much appreciated tech, the Contagrip sole (mixed compound for different terrains and better traction) and SensiFit mid-sole (for customised and secure fit), are there. So is a water-repellent synthetic upper. The sum: a handsome sneaker, if not to go with a set of tux, will definitely pair well with anything less pristine and neutral from CDG’s main line.

Comme des Garçons X Solomon SR90 sneakers, SGD450, are available in black or white at Comme Des Garçons and DSMS. Photo: Comme des Garçons/Solomon

The Imaginarium of Louis Vuitton

Unfolded between the Brutalist buildings of the Salk Institute, and backgrounded by the setting sun on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Other-planetary? The clothes sure are

Chanel’s cruise collection, shown in Monte Carlo last week, marked the return of the inter-season line often staged in far-flung places. But there was nothing to say about that collection. Fast forward to yesterday evening (our time), Louis Vuitton’s cruise is a journey to some unknown desert planet (or known—how about Mandalore or Arvala-7 or Tatooine, for Star Wars nerds?) although the runway was winged with the Brutalist buildings of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in Southern California. Against the stark setting with nary a plant in sight, the models are attired as if filming a scene of some movie not set on this earth or surrounded by earthly tech. Inter-galactic vagabonds, mercenaries, resistance fighters, or even Jedis? Some people say they saw Amazonians, but we doubt Nicolas Ghesquière, who, although reportedly used the word “goddess” in relation to this collection, was thinking of Paradise Island, home of the Princes of the Amazons, aka Diana. Yet, the Bracelet(s) of Submission made their visible appearance!

These are not clothes that many would immediately call “pretty”. There are enough pretty clothes in this world—a surfeit, in fact. What Mr Ghesquière has proposed do not even look like they are destined for a holiday wardrobe (let alone be considered for a cruise). Battle-ready? Or for climate change? Who knows? This isn’t Mr Ghesquière writing the story of LV in plain hand. There is exaggeration beyond the paniers of the current spring/summer season (Gemma Chan wore one of them at the Met Gala, looking somewhat mis-clad and misplaced). Mr Ghesquière has offered aesthetically-challenging clothes before, but this time, they are extreme to the point of being, strange, otherworldly. As one stylist said to us, many women here who buy French RTW are not into such looks as they do not make them look feminine, like Dior does. And the very straight shoulders of the shell tops, for example: “too aggressive”.

The clothes are not hostile-seeming in a way military fatigues (or the mish-mash of them worn on the Mad Max movies) could be. The show opened and closed with three silhouette-curious looks that seem to serve as eye-opening parentheses, within which the more accessible but no less convention-defying outfits arouse the imagination. The first three, with their tented shapes and floor length, are no gowns we imagine any film star would wear to a movie premiere or on a red carpet. But they are no doubt gowns, as well as some ceremonial robes of an unknown religious order. Glamour is not the intended effect. The last three have even less spots to be seen in: the considerable tops with what could be some flying saucer landed on the shoulders, under which a possible geomagnetic storm raged, would be for parties where the stranger you dress among strangers, the better.

Discounting those, the collection has a discernible wearability about them, but probably just so. The above-mentioned shell tops, cropped (to better fit the squares of the Instagram grit, assuming you still crop your photos to that shape?) and looking anything but sexy. A few are composed of ‘scales’, (some matte, some irridescent. The idea appear as trims too), and are draped with scarves or throw-ons (some with one sleeve, worn), all a tad ancien. The are also the X-shaped tops and those dresses and skirts made of strands of assorted shapes that gives off something gladiatorial. To augment the fierceness of the looks, there is a suggestion of something vaguely dominatrix: The grommeted leather belt worn on the bare skin of exposed stomachs (and the loose end hanging between legs) hint at something that might be construed as S&M. It’s hard to pin the looks or decode them, and therein lies the frustration and the thrill (or, perhaps, just a tingle). We are of two minds about the collection: Not (yet) sure if we like it or do not. The dilemma stems from the unnecessary showiness of the designs (or over-designs?). As one headline went, “Eve Jobs Holds Court in Thong Sandals, Bralette and Skirt at Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 Fashion Show”. These days, you don’t hit the scene, you make it. That is annoying.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

Battered At Point Of Purchase

You can pay Balenciaga to wear out your shoes before even wearing them. Is pre-mature ageing the new cool?

Why wait till your sneakers get dirty and beaten up to wear them vis-à-vis current trends? With the rotations we give to our kicks, few— if ever—get really worn beyond fixable or recognisable. If you want your shoes to look like that have barely survived everything thrown at them, Balenciaga has just the pair for you. Their latest iteration of their Paris high-cuts are deliberately dirtied and ripped in the manner similar to how some new jeans looked severely soiled, like they were retailed after first allowing mechanics to wear them in their grimy workshops. Or, in the case of the Paris kicks, a chance with contestants in a dirt bike race! That Balenciaga would do this to its otherwise unblemished sneakers is understandable: They have a recent history of making ugly cool.

To be sure, Balenciaga is not the first to offer new dirty shoes. Back in 2016, Raf Simons released a pair of Stan Smith in collaboration with Adidas that was intentionally unclean. But they were not this soiled and tattered. Balenciaga’s remake of the cotton canvas, made-in-China Paris trainers are self-touted to be “fully destroyed”. For certain, the actual shoes do not look as down-at-the-heels as those seen in the publicity images now doing their obligatory online rounds. The worn-out pairs for sale are actually more descent and in a wearable state, although we do find the destruction a tad too calculated, even meticulous. That the Balenciaga name had to be inscribed on the mid-sole like a graffiti by a novice, and then smeared is really rather studied.

It is interesting, though, that Balenciaga has chosen the Paris sneakers to soil. The French capital was, from the 17th to 19th century, a filthy city, by many accounts of the time. According to Holly Tucker, author of City of Lights, City of Poison, “The filth of Paris was inescapable. It attached itself ruthlessly to clothes, the sides of buildings, and the insides of nostrils.” Why was this so? “Slosh from chamber pots thrown from windows mixed with dirt in the city’s unpaved streets to form a sulfurous-smelling stew”! The rues of the city were such an indiscriminate brown that even fashion was inspired by it, as well as the bugs that lived happily in the nasty grime. As one story went, a chestnut brown was popular in the summer of 1775. When King Louis XVI saw it, he exclaimed, “That is puce!” Or, (the colour of) fleas. Puce became the veritable fashion. And, now, Balenciaga’s Paris too.

Balenciaga ‘Paris’ sneakers, SGD895 are available in stores and online. Product photo*: Balenciaga. Photo Illustration: Just So

*Actual product differs

Facing Fendace

Up close with the curious collab: It is as terrifying as imagined, even when not much is available

Fendi and Versace equal Fendace, a name that rings of Pantpong of the past. We still do not know what to make of this collaboration (we were, in fact, reminded not to call this as such. It is a “swap”). Is it a joke that we do not understand and, therefore, can’t laugh along? To be sure, Fendace speaks to a very specific target: those who are nostalgic for Versace loudness pied-pipered by the house’s Medusa head, those who have never enjoyed the ostentation, and those who would wear anything that scream something. For those who have lived through the garish-florid excess of the ’90s (before the demise of Gianni Versace), this is very much a revisit. It certainly was for us.

We went to the Fendi store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre this afternoon to view the brand’s take on the Versace aesthetic (we skipped the Fendi looks at Versace as they are, to us, too Donatella Versace). Except for two mannequins flanking the entrance, there were no others in windows featuring the Fendace merchandise, nor any lightbox announcing its launch today. The two mannequins—female on one side and male on the other—were not togged to the nines, as we had expected, just simple pieces you’d have missed if you, walking pass, did not pay attention to the dummies’ attire. There were stanchions and rope outside, but a queue had not formed. We walked straight inside.

A beaming sales staff came to ask if we needed any assistance. The only Fendace merchandise we could identify were the bags, so we asked her if the full collection was in store. “Is there anything you want?” She sounded eager to help. Not specifically, we want to see the pieces first before we decide. “Actually,” she continued with a hint of regret, “most of the items are sold out.” We were taken aback. She then showed us a rack the width of a large armoire: Only three items were hung there. “Is there anything you want? Do you have a picture?” We were really surprised they were this low on the Fendace stocks, this soon. “We brought in very few pieces each—one or two.” Why is that so? Is it because our market is too small? “Yes,” she agreed with a smile. “We think the prints may not do so well here. Our buyers feel they will do better in China.”

Not long after the Fendace show in Milan last September, the hashtag #Fendace was followed by 80 million Chinese on Weibo, according to Chinese media reports. In a Jing Daily (精奢商业观察) editorial, it was noted that netizens were divided when it came to how appealing the high-high coupling was: “Some believed it was simply a marketing stunt and even found them “ugly,” yet others saw them as great value.” China is a huge market, even if there are more of those who find Fendace unattractive, those who think not would still be a larger number than any sum here. The sales staff added, as if sensing our skepticism, “it is also popular with the Chinese (residing) here.”

If the proclaimed sell-out is based on the “very few pieces” availed to the store, it would be an exaggeration to say that the collection was met with great success here. But with so little to see merely four hours after the store opened, it was perhaps good optics for Fendi and Versace. “Sold out” is the best marketing strategy and catch phrase. We were also told that there was a private session for VIP customers to pick their Fendace; we were, naturally, not privy to that. Without much on offer, the salesgirl tried to interest us in the few bags left on the shelf, including a SGD4,850 Baguette in the printed silk designed for the collection (and for the bag’s braided handle), although we were intrigued by the much smaller Mini Sunshine Shopper. When we did not seem keen in either, she told us there were some scrunchies we could look at. Presumably we appeared to have only SGD375 to spend.

Tried as we did, it was hard to distinguish between Fendi and Versace in the products. Perhaps, that’s the whole idea: to look indistinguishable. However new and fresh the pairing of luxury labels, the melding of two high-end brands has its precedence: the Chinese knock-off market. In the heydays of affordable bootlegs, to appear without outright copying, some producers of pirated goods bring together unlikely names and aesthetics to blur the lines, so to speak. Fendace, to us, had that spirit, but now the smudging of aesthetical borders is legit and blessed with the finesse of Italian craftsmanship. But does it make Fendace really covetable now matter how gaudy it looks? Or is Fendace really too hot to be anything but?

Fendace is launched today. Most items are sold out. Good luck. Photos: Chin Boh Kay. Illustrations: Just So