This Is How It Looks

The latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci bag is uncharacteristically simple

The bag’s released was teased on Gucci’s Instagram page and on the brand’s new e-store Vault. On the webpage, the illustration of the latest iteration of the Comme des Garçons X Gucci tote, simply called the Shopper, sported flashing stripes in yellow, red, green and purple as mock-up of the print/pattern to come. We had expected something very much in the vein of what Gucci has been doing: flowery. But, as it turns out, it is something far more in common with Balenciaga’s Paper Bag tote. It is in plain black and could look somewhat sinister. The recognisable red-and-green Gucci Web stripe runs vertically down the middle of the bag, obscuring the centre portion of the Comme des Garçons logotype, printed in white. It is a smart-looking bag that bears more of the CDG aesthetic than Gucci. But, according to CDG’s own description, “the limited-edition tote represents the perfect embodiment of two mutually distinctive aesthetics driven by the desire to explore innovative visions”.

To us, the placement of the striped strap requires no nerve-wrecking exercise in design. The CDG bag itself is one from the special edition that was created for the 2017 Tokyo pop-up event called Black Market. The retail event, which was later brought to London, featured products and collaborations (no, Gucci is not in the picture for this one) that are only available at the Black Market. One of them is this black shopper, itself an update of the original that was first introduced a few years back, in the exact light brown typical of shopping bag, but totally encased in PVC. It was rather typical of CDG to use materials so associated low-cost merchandise and elevate them to something altogether more deluxe. The style was so popular that it was later also extended to the Comme des Garçons SHIRT line, this time as a north-south tote.

Left to right: the three versions of the same tote, 2018, 2019, and 2021

The first Comme des Garçons X Gucci shopper appeared in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection. The tote took quite a few by surprise since it was not thought at the time that the two brands were a natural fit. But it was soon sold out. A year later, the collaboration was reprised. The form of the second bag remained the same, but this time the brown paper inner, behind the clear PVC shell, was printed in rows of floral motif that looked like pencil drawing. It is also rather evocative of vintage wallpaper. Now, the bag looked like it did finally bagged half of some semblance of Gucci-ness.

According to the communication material of the collab, the latest black tote “closes the circle of this experimental process”. Does it mean that this is the last of the pairing? If you’ve missed the earlier two, do you need to rush off somewhere to get one? When we saw the new version previewed, so to speak, on Vault, we thought this would not be available to those who are not living in one of the 25 countries that Vault ships to. But it is available here at the CDG store, as well as DSMS. Question is, at S$820 a pop, would it be too much to pay? When the first CDG solo-branded plastic-wrapped shopper was introduced half a decade ago, it could be had for S$200+. Even last year’s version, a collab with Futura, went for S$580. Have prices all round really shot up? Or are we just being budget conscious in times of a still-ranging pandemic?

Comme des Garcons X Gucci shopper, SGD820, is now available at Comme des Garcons and DSMS. Photos: Comme des Garcons

And It Comes To This

Facing controversy, influencers tend be defiant till the end… until they cannot be. Sylvia Chan’s strategy is no different

Warning: this post contains language and descriptions that some readers may find offensive

Like so many people, we too have been following the Sylvia Chan (陈思华) saga. This is far more compelling than her own scripted “content” for Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) and anything that the writers of the won’t-conclude Kin have dreamed up; this is real life, this is hot-blooded harshness. But Malaysian-born Ms Chan is neither Ella Shelley nor Loh May Wan, nor any of their children. She is a bona fide influencer. Major, or depending on how easily influenced you are. And like so many of those who chose this line of work, she is no alien to controversy or behaviour of doubtful propriety. As you would have read, Ms Chan was ”exposed” on the Instagram page @sgcickenrice (yes, chicken spelled without the ‘h’) for language used against employees, including their looks, that are, at best, impolite (the posts have been removed). “Vulgar” and “abusive” have been bandied about in the media, social or others, but, in the newest post on her Instagram page (which enjoys 231K followers), Ms Chan wrote somewhat euphemistically that her “expressions may have been harsh” (may?). One target of her ungentle ways was purportedly NOC’s own talent and fellow influencer Samantha Tan, who is described as a newbie, as she joined NOC only two years ago—but not new enough to benefit from the clemency of an old bird.

In case you think influencers are those who really have nothing better to do than take selfies of themselves and post the photos on social media, as well as aligning themselves with brands for enviable income, Ms Chan is also the co-founder and chief executive of Night Owl Cinematics (in Facebook, she calls herself “big sister” of NOC), a media company that is (self-)touted as creators of “content with a cause”. In fact, co-founding seems a particular professional flair of hers. In 2012, she co-founded her earliest digital media venture, a YouTube channel named Ryan Sylvia—the former, Ryan Tan, now her former husband. With him, she also co-founded NOC in 2016. A year later, she co-founded Food King, another YouTube channel, this time dedicated to the F&B scene. Ms Chan was also co-listed with Mr Tan on the Forbes’ 2016 salute to young achievers in Asia, “30 Under 30”, which capped a career of accolades for NOC, including numerous “Top Trending Videos”, among them the weak-minded, stereotype-perpetuating, and unfunny 12 Types of Classmates. Eleven months after the two co-s announced their divorce on YouTube (garnering 2 million views to date!) in May last year (it was finalised in March), Ms Chan received her Singaporean citizenship.

Is it possible that beneath the smiles, there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience?

In an IG post on 30 September, Sylvia Chan shared what could be a first: a photo of her unsmiling self, with another influencer Joanna Lim, a chum from her “all time top 10 friendship list”. The accompanying message read: “Just because someone chooses to smile instead of cry, it (sic) does not mean that she is not struggling with mental health problems”. Almost all of Ms Chan’s selfies on IG offer a smile, sometimes with teeth baring between amply plump and coloured lips, even when she isn’t hawking client Yunnan Baiyao’s (云南白药) toothpastes (we won’t mention Colgate since the company has “decided to terminate all related collaborations with her”). Oftentimes her mouth gapes so she’d look goofy. Is it possible that beneath the smiles, evident since her third IG post in 2014 (she joined the social media four months earlier), there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience, especially the recalcitrant? If you, like most, know her only through Ryan Sylvia or the videos of NOC, Ms Chan comes across as a joker or a fun seeker, who can’t be separated from her Ah Lian self.

As it turned out, what she wrote in her post was from first-hand experience. In one edition of the Chinese talk show Hear U Out (权听你说), televised last year, Ms Chan agreed with host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) when the latter said, “…其实你本人不搞笑, 很严肃 (…in fact, personally you are not funny, very serious [or, as we now guess, even mirthless?]). Speaking in mostly halting Mandarin, breathing with hints of unmistakable Federation accent, she soon revealed that when she was 17 and studying in Anglo Chinese Junior College (ACJC), she was diagnosed as clinically depressed, following the death of her maternal grandmother, to whom she was close to. By her own revelation in English (that peppered much of her chatter), she was suffering from “severe depression, OCD, and rage disorder”, which she said was caused by “hormonal imbalance”. Her doctor gave her “两年的MC, 不是两个月 (a medical certificate for two years, not two months)”. The Johorean quit ACJC after the diagnosis, and later enrolled in an unspecified eight-month course to learn about depression, partly to heal herself and partly because she thought she wanted to be a doctor. But, that fell through once she discovered that she “不是当医生的料 (is not doctor material) as studying science, she 根本都不喜欢 (does not like at all)”. She did not say if she is still suffering from (or receiving treatment for) any of the three diseases mentioned.

The Protestor in 12 Types of Classmates

It is not easy to reconcile Mr Chan’s revelation of last year with the revelation on social media of the past two weeks. On one audio recording (as well as text messages) attributed to her that was leaked, Ms Chan appeared to swear as fervently—and naturally—as Xia Xue (aka Wendy Cheng), and with as much gusto. If her tendency to eff anyone who crosses her was, for many, disconcerting, it is harder to imagine how the victims would feel, especially when one was shown to have been called “fuck face”. While the exposé on @sgcickenrice (and, according to vigilant Netizens, also TikTok) was incriminating, Ms Chan did not respond publicly. But three days ago, NOC did share a four-page post on IG, addressed to “valued artistes, employees, clients, partners and viewers”. It called the online accusations “attacks that have been carefully crafted and mounted on” the organisation and those under its employ. And that they are “serious breaches of the privacy laws”. On the same day, @sgcickenrice received a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyers. Yesterday, two weeks after the accusations surfaced, Ms Chan posted a near-apology on IG.

In the aberrantly-constructed, nine-page post, she wrote “apologise” once. “Sorry” fared better; it appeared twice. But the apology was not extended to Samantha Tan and others at the receiving end of her ready-to-dispense expletives, rather it was for not responding to the online charges soon enough. She was also sorry that she “did not step up to the standards” expected of a person in a leadership role and to her team, whose “good character and excellent work” were “undermined by (her) past action”. Is it any wonder Netizens thought the apology insincere? As for the rebuke of Ms Tan, or “strong language”—as Ms Chan called it—was admittedly used, but, she assured readers that there was no “intention to harm, abuse or discriminate against her or anyone”. To the end (and in the last paragraph), she considered what she was accused of as “allegations” (which, together with its verb form, did as well as “sorry”—it showed up twice too). These include whatever was said to make her out to be a person—whose own “notable on-screen personas include Xiao Bitch, Luciana”, as stated in her LinkedIn profile—who was “rude and had used vulgarities”. There was no mention of rage disorder.

Via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”

In all the characters that Ms Chan plays, few, if any, could be considered to be of model behaviour (are these birthed by mental health issues?). In 12 Types of Classmates, she played “The Protestor”, a delinquent agitator, who tells her teacher, “我忍你很久了 (I’ve had enough of you)”. But via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”, while selling/promoting tons of stuff. In the Forbes listing mentioned above, it was shared that she and Ryan Tan were supposed to “start a fashion brand”. Nothing, it seems, came out of that desire. Ms Chan, whose clothier-clients include Love, Bonito and H&M, is not a fashion influencer in the same mould as, say, Yo-Yo Cao. With her predilection of letting her hair go unmistakably pink (and in ombré too), her style is more akin to pal Xia Xue’s, but, perhaps, with the sexiness and doll-likeness considerably dialled down. In her lively posts, the content and message take precedence, rather than the clothes. In fact, her vivid hair is often more the focus than what she wears. But, as she told Quan Yifeng in Hear U Out, she does not think she’s “loud”. Perhaps its myriad colours, like her smile, do not reveal her state of mental health, nor a predilection for profanity, even by her own admission that when it comes to work, “如果哪里做不好,不管是谁我都会骂 (if something is not done well, no matter who it is, I will scold)”.

That questionable influencer behaviours, which digital life shows abundantly, still surprise is, in itself, surprising. The fascination with the slip-ups of individuals who are socially influential won’t wane for as long as followers by the hundreds of thousands consider what the former wields to be influence. Unseemly speech and conduct deemed as undignified are all part of the mix. So are mental health issues as underlying issues. Decorum, online or offline, are going the way of punctuation in text messages: dispensable. Ugly manners and action, like ugly fashion, have ceased to be. Ugliness is no longer even recognisable. However, this post is not to identify it. Shortly after what @sgcickenrice shared two weeks ago, an SOTD reader sent us a message to ask who Sylvia Chan is. This answers the question based on what is already out in the public domain, and not intended to cause, as her lawyers asserted about the recent online exposés, “harassment, alarm and distress to many” (they did not say whether what their client supposedly said about others could effect the same). In her last IG post, Ms Chan wrote that she would be “removed from NOC’s lineup of artistes”. Even if so, she would still be seen as an influencer, an Instagrammer, a YouTuber. In one thread on a messenger chat that is still available on the web, Ms Chan purportedly wrote, “I can’t talk to influencers they are stupid (sic)”. Just with that, she could be encouraging many to agree with her. Let’s hope not.

Illustrations: Just So

They’re Pairing Again

Gucci and Comme des Garçons are teaming up once more. Who’s thrilled?

They are back in the act. The on/off union was just teased on Gucci’s Instagram Stories, with the announcement that the Kering super brand is pairing with indie Comme des Garçons on a tote bag. This will be available exclusively on Gucci’s dedicated online store, Vault, where its merchandise is presently not available to the shoppers in a massive part of Asia, except—unsurprisingly—Japan. A collaboration with a Japanese brand, therefore, makes sense. In fact, Gucci has engaged Japanese customers rather actively even when the country was under a state of emergency due to COVID-19 . In August, they opened a pop-up in Kyoto, sited in a historical house. Then, there was the final Asian stop of the exhibition Gucci Garden Archetypes (after Hong Kong and Shanghai) in Tokyo. And later this month, the capital’s first Gucci restaurant Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Tokyo is slated to open on the 28th. The makers of the Marmont has been busy in the Land of the Rising Sun.

And now the tote. This is not the first time that CDG is collaborating with Gucci on what’s essentially a shopping bag. Back in 2018, as part of the year-end Friends and Comme des Garçons holiday collection, the two brands released an east-west tote based on the CDG plastic-encased paper bag that had enthralled fans of the brand, and was soon very much copied (even compatriot Beams later did a version with Disney!). Gucci’s part of the coupling is the house’s red and green stripes, applied vertical in the middle of the bag, which quickly sold out. Unsurprising then that there is a repeat, this time available through Gucci’s own (online) retail outlet. It is not not known yet what graphic the bag would sport this time, other that the stripes (the flashing illustration on IG, we believe, is just a mock-up). This collaboration has, in fact, been rather baffling to us. What is the likelihood that a serious/enthusiastic CDG follower would at the same time be just as mad about Gucci to want something—anything—with the name or logo of the two together in one item? Or, are we living in truly not-quite-discerning times?

Gucci X Comme des Garçons bag will be available at The Vault from 15 Oct 2021. Screen grab: Gucci/Instagram

East Meets East Meets West

Junya Watanabe explores the farther reaches of a continent he is part of, and the result is spellbinding

How much of our own front and backyard can we explore without trampling on the same patch of grass or knocking into the same row of trees? For designers, how often can they revisit Orientalism without ending up using the mandarin collar? Or, putting out yet another wholesale repeat of the qipao? Or, escaping into the folds of a sarong? For his spring/summer collection, presented as an audience-less phygital show, Junya Watanabe discovers the farther reaches of Asia that is not necessarily on the east of the continent in which he is based. And he did not have to use a single qipao ling (旗袍领) to say something about the aesthetical and creative wealth of the region. The designs, while recognisable for their Eastern sensibilities and cognizant of the minority ethnic group they seem to come from, bear the distinct Junya Watnabe way with fabric mixing, texture pairing, asymmetry and draping. In each outfit, a collage of contrasts—a Ming-vase-as-scull meets school-girl prim-and-proper, calligraphic graffiti meets deconstructed denim, sari-like drapes meets negligee-sheer. And those are just the first three looks!

For most of the collection, it is part II (or the feminine expression) of an exploration that began with the menswear shown in July. Mr Watanabe once again looks at the work of British photojournalist Jamie Hawkesworth. These are photographs from 2019 that were shot in (mostly) northern India, as well as Kashmir and Bhutan. The designer told the press that he then “became nostalgic for Asia” and saw “the pure heart of people”. For others (Westerners, for example), this casting of sight on a region some six thousand kilometres away may arouse what, for them, is exotic, but to Mr Watanabe, the images associated with the land and people so far away from him serve to find synergy in his own sense of what is mixable and what is pairable. Against the unplugged version of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Tong Poo from their 1978 eponymous album—specially rearranged for the show by co-founder of the group Ryuichi Sakamoto—the clothes look delectably serene and light, like pray flags of the Nimalayas, swaying in the gentle breeze of tranquil mountains.

But that is not to say that Mr Watanabe does not exoticise the looks at all. In fact, the styling seems to cater to a more Western perception of what is Eastern exotica. The hooped hair on the sides of the head, for example, is evocative of the pierced and stretched ears of the women of the Karen ethnic group of the Myanmar-Thailand border. Peculiarly Asian, too, are the wigs in the shape of the Vietnamese non la rice hats (or 斗笠, dou li in China) and the unadorned liangbatou (两把头) headdresses of Qing Chinese women that could be homage to the Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略). Even the platform sandals have a whiff of the cunzi shoes (寸子鞋) of the ancient Manchus, in particular those with 元宝底 (yuanbaodi or ingot bottom) soles. Perhaps these are to augment the Asianness of the clothes, which are, in themselves, less derivative, and more in tandem with Mr Watanabe’s penchant for montaging shapes, patterns, and textures.

And to strengthen the connection to Asia further, collaborations with Asian artists—as seen in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collections—continue. There is the abovementioned calligraphy of Wang Dongling (王东龄), the Hangzhou-based zihua (字画) master and director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Center at the China National Academy of Arts, as well as two from the July show, Ang Tsherin Sherpa, the California-based Nepalese artist and Phannapast Taychamaythakool, the Thai illustrator now trending in her native Bangkok and much of the fashion world. Ms Taychamaythakool’s floral prints recall those of Chinese blankets, but they are made fantastical by the inclusion of Thai mythical beasts, gaudily coloured like tourist-friendly tuk-tuks. This, perhaps, sums up the collection: there are no creative boundaries, just as, in an ideal world, there are no territorial borders. ‘Asian’ does not have to mean looking at your fast-changing backyard. And it definitely does not require going to a kampong that is a mere shadow of its former self, sarong or not intact.

Screen grab (top): Comme des Garçons/YouTube. Photos: Junya Watanabe

Two Of A Kind: Vaccinated Too

Valentino hacked Cloney who had “cloned” Valentino. So who is Depression duplicating?

Valentino’s hoodie (left) and Depression’s T-shirt (right). Photos: Valentino and Depression/Instagram respectively

Yes, COVID-19 has made our world more confusing than it has ever been. In the fashion world, no one would be surprised if you see double: one design like another, or two names as one. Fendace! Designers are now hacking, cloning, and swapping. What is real, what is not? Who came first, who came after? To further boggle the mind, our very own Depression has joined the race to declare one’s vaccination status across a T-shirt, shortly after Valentino’s made theirs on a hoodie. Coincidence? Or is there something in the air, apart from virulent viruses, that makes people want to do the same things? Perhaps one of the side effects of vaccination is the afflicting of individuals to have the same idea, at the same time?

How about about identical fonts? Depression’s ‘VACCINATED’ shares an extremely similar type to Valentino’s, a serif style. Is the occurrence more than a case of mere chance? Sure, it is possible that the Depression designers, still depressed, was jelak of Helvetica and its ilk. Or, 腻烦 (ni fan—sick and tired of), to use a phrase that is more 武林大会 (wu lin da hui—general assembly of the martial arts world), as the Depression flagship considers itself to be. But the similarity does not end there. The word is spelled in full-caps too, and stretched from arm hole to arm hole as well. Okay, Depression fans would say that the T-shirt is slightly different since the 10-letter word is emblazoned in white and appears in the back. Yes, same difference or, as they say in Thailand, same same.

We truly live in a world when one person sells bubble tea, another has too; when one TV star hawks home-baked goods, another must too. As in much of the food world, which now dominates the (still) pandemic-stricken world, just because my ang ku kueh looks like yours does not mean I copied you!

Visited: Vault

Gucci’s all-new, all-dancing e-store may change the way online shops are conceived in the future, but not everyone gets to buy what’s up for grabs

Gucci describes its fresh digital platform Vault as a “new experimental online space”. The website is primary an e-store, but it is also an e-mag. When you arrive at the homepage, there is surprisingly not an immediate call to view the merchandise. No cart symbol could be seen in the top right-hand corner (instead, it reads “Edition #1”). Click the ‘hamburger’ menu icon on the left, and it drops down to reveal a very short list of three items: Join Vault, Current Country (SG isn’t listed), and Language. No shop and items. The main image—not animated—featuring Gucci fashion is not even clickable. Below the photograph, you are told to “Discover More”. But you scroll further down. The site is highly visual and the images are mostly full-bleed, which lend the webpage the feel of a vertically-flowing magazine. And it’s quite a way down to the end: 28 swipe-ups later, in fact.

The experiential component of the space is, therefore, not over-stated. There is considerable content to discover, apart from stuff to buy (we’ll come to that later). What you are entering is a totally Gucci world. If their mostly retro-heavy images are not your cup of kombucha, or are overwhelming, there is a good chance you may not go to the subterranean end. But the website’s content developers are eager to engage you. And Gucci wants to foster “an imaginative relationship that goes beyond the purely transactional”. It is a strategy that will make you stay as long as, if not longer, than you would at Net-A-Porter and the like. Gucci is serious when they say Vault is “a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place”.

That a project associated with Alessandro Michele should facilitate time travel, cast a light on the archival, the librarial, the experimental, and the social (can any online enterprise be without this component?) is unsurprising. Gucci under his watch is all of the above. And Vault is a flashy showcase of how imaginative Mr Michele is or, as the intro to Vault states, how much a reflection of “the Creative Director’s passion for experimentation, showcasing restored and customized archive pieces alongside the creations of emerging designers through a poetic and coherent editorial format.” Restoring? Is that a stab at sustainability? Yes, there is talent discovery too. And designers you would not have heard of elsewhere are given a space in Vault.

Even esoteric music (yep, there is a tune to “discover”), which, according to Gucci, is the “sound of style”. Or, if a more learned description is required, the “captivating delights of autonomous sensory meridian response”, per the brand. What in the world of pussy bows and Kingsnakes is that? Sound engineers call it a “perceptual condition”. There is an example in Vault: a ‘music video’, if you will. A model is seen with a vintage GG Plus bag (presumably “restored”). She squeezes the body to yield crunchy sounds, then she strokes the straps and then taps on the distinctive handle of the Bamboo bag, generating more sounds. A teaspoon is seen grinding the rim of a Gucci coffee cup. A bag buckle snaps. These sounds and others more come together to create a percussive chorus. And there you have music. Or, as Gucci calls it, “sensory overload, where objects can inflame or provoke, placate and subdue”.

Mr Michele is clearly creating a world not yet imagined as a welcome and doable sphere for online retail. But this is not the same as Raf Simons’s History of my World (now inactive, but quite the precursor to Vault). This is far more immersive, even if it borders, in parts, on the pretentious. But do visitors want to go through this much in a site visit that begins with transactions in mind? So what Gucci merchandise are there to buy after you have enjoyed the “sound of style”? Almost nothing. Before you can click on the past-era products temptingly photographed, you will meet the message, “All vintage items are sold out”. There is a top, one unexceptional Aria T-shirt that is a limited edition and a Vault exclusive. If you are open to the products of the new designers Mr Michele has selected (13 of them), then perhaps the credit card you have on standby would be useful. If, however, you are in Asia but outside Japan, all you could do is browse. Vault has shut you out of their merchandise.

Shortly after Vault went online, an SOTD reader wrote to us, rather with a huff: “It’s such a stupid site,” his message read. The vexation is palpable. “You cannot buy if you are not living in those few countries they want to sell to. So few countries for members to select. We can’t buy cos (we are) not among the 20+ countries on the list.” There are, as of now, just 25 countries that Gucci ships to, including Romania! Italist, to compare with a compatriot business, ships to 216 countries. It is understandable why this reader fumed. “Waste of my time to join (as member),” he wrote in conclusion. Apart from writing to us, he also sent a missive to Gucci. And, rightly, there was a reply, which was shared with us by the SOTD reader.

A written reply from Gucci Customer Services

“Thank you for contacting VAULT,“ one client advisor called Hiroko from Customer Services replied (presumably, Gucci had their Tokyo office respond since they are in a time zone closer to ours), addressing the male complainant as “Ms“. She continued: “Unfortunately, Singapore, Hong Kong and China are not eligible for Vault product delivery and cannot meet your needs.“ We suspect Google translate is at work here. “Thank (sic) for your interest in Vault products and we apologize for not meet (sic) your expectations. If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail or contact VAULT Client Service (sic).”

The mail does not say if things would change or if purchases on Vault can be made by shoppers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China beyond “currently not”. There is something final about “not eligible”, so too “cannot meet your needs“, since there is no attempt at assuaging this Vault visitor’s disappointment with more positive news. It is unknown if Gucci sees limited shipping as strategic advantage. But if e-commerce market size in Southeast Asia alone is reported to be around USD62 billion now, why is it favourable for Gucci to keep part of its online retail vaulted from the rest of us? Sticking to “beyond the purely transactional”? Rather mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Screen grab: Gucci Vault

Love: From A To Z, And Back Again

In a fashion celebration that believes love begets love, does it matter who’s good who’s not; who got it right, who didn’t?

There is no semblance of mass manufacture at the AZ Factory memorial/homage to its founder Alber Elbaz. The guest designers and brands that participated in Love Brings Love showed one-offs, which are likely produced in a couture atelier or RTW sampling room. And no one invited to show swapped. They each did their own thing, many with “codes” of what Mr Elbaz’s aesthetic legacy is. Or, offered something that hints so subtly that it is gone the minute the models walk past in the smoke-filled arena. Although it was initially reported that AZ Factory had asked 44 of the world’s most known names to participate, the show-day figure turns out to be 45—the final is the design team of AZ Factory; they produced 28 looks that are truly evocative of Mr Elbaz’s body of work.

Love Brings Love has been described as the “grand Finale” of Paris Fashion Week. Within a single show, the designers from all over the world “put rivalry aside and came together on the runway, paying tribute to their late peer”, as W magazine describes it. Quite a few of them are seated in the front row, observing what their rivals-not-for-a-day are presenting, smiles throwing off the scent as to what they might truly be thinking. Do they, like us, wonder if some of the designs are on-theme? Or are themes not meant to be followed, just as it is at the Met Gala? Are themes in themselves outmoded since the thematic approach to design is hardly ever seen these days? Do those watching in front of their digital devices care about themes, even if it is to honour one designer with a clear vision and an unapologetically romantic aesthetic?

Clockwise from top left: Alaia by Peter Mueller, Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Balenciaga by Demna Gvasalia, Dries Van Noten, Comme des Garçons by Rei Kawakubo, Bottega Veneta by Daniel Lee

Clockwise from top left: Gucci by Alessandro Michele, Jean Paul Gaultier, Raf Simons, Thom Browne, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Sacai by Chitose Abe

Clockwise from top left: Valentino by Pierpaolo Piccioli, Versace by Donatella Versace, Vetements by Guram Gvasalia, AZ Factory design team, Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler, Viktor & Rolf by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren

If it’s more and more come dress as you like even when there’s a dress code, it’s also design as you please no matter how distinctive the designer you’re honouring was, or how acclaimed. The heart shape is very much Alber Elbaz’s signature, and so, unsurprisingly, it is picked, appearing as crotch piece, bra cups (or are those pasties?), and edging of a coat, like a halo. A particular pink too is a colour associated with Mr Elbaz. So it appears twelve times, from sumptuous gowns to the shortest dress, and everything between. Flounces are unexpectedly less considered, so is the one-shoulder. Rather, Mr Elbaz’s personal style is explored, even caricatured. His favourite oversized floppy bowtie appears a few times, even in the form of the one Minnie Mouse wears on her head. So too his recognisable gait. Amber Valletta, emerging in a baggy coat, even walked like him and took the customary bow at the end of the show as the designer did, body cocked to the left, and smile totally discernible.

One question does emerge as the show continues. Will these clothes be available to buy? Will they be stocked through the AZ Factory website? Nothing, as far as we know, is mentioned about the sale of these pieces. It was reported that before Alber Elbaz passed away in April, he had thought of creating a traveling show, based on the théâtre de la mode, a mobile exhibition featuring French couture on mini dolls that was conceived to promote the industry during the difficult period after World War II. Love Brings Love is based on this, only minus the miniature mannequins. If the show does travel, can we be hopeful that it’ll make its way to our shores in the near future?

Screen grab (top) AZ Factory. Photos: gorunway.com

And There Are Panniers

Puffed and draped hips at Louis Vuitton. Is Nicolas Ghesquière (still) in social-distancing mood? Or status asserting?

Nicolas Ghesquière seems to derive some perverse delight in mixing up eras, decades even, a gleeful time traveller who can’t stop bringing the past back to the present, like some 15th century adventurer returning to Europe with crops from the New World. And he is doing it all again for spring/summer 2022, taking us back in time, although, according to the Louis Vuitton show notes, “time is of no consequence.” But they are also quick to add, “yet time is everything. It dissolves functions and codes. It unites wardrobes. Day becomes night. The humble uniform becomes sumptuous.” In the hands of Mr Ghesquière, nothing is ever that humble, not even a tank top. Under the row of packed chandeliers in the Louvre, where the show is, again, staged, near-costume clothes are shown, as if a party season is approaching, and the models are going to some extravaganza at some place not less dazzling than the Hall of Mirrors. Yes, we are thinking of the Yew Ball (le bal des ifs) of the 18th century, the mask dance where King Louis XV and his male courtiers reportedly turned up as topiary yew trees!

To be sure, in Mr Ghesquière “grand bal of time”, none of his models strut as plants clipped into fantastic shapes. But there are the harlequins. Or, those designed as eyewear, which seem to belong to bals of more extravagant times. And, undoubtedly, the panniered skirts, seemingly out of a Velázquez painting, only far much lighter. These could be what Maria Luisa of Parma (later the Queen of Spain in 1765) might have worn if she were the equivalent of today’s punk princess or crazy KOL. These are not the stiff, sofa-like contraptions of yore. Some of them look like flapper dresses given side hoops underneath. They bounce and swish with a lightness not quite evident in anything worn in the court of Versailles and the like, and are ankle-length to show off metallic-coloured, laced-up, open-toe boots, also not quite pre-Revolution France. Mr Ghesquière’s transposing of the robe à la française to (nearly) post-pandemic present-day is far more whimsical and technically challenging than other designers adapting, for example, the Greek chiton for modern use. Impractical these dresses are for sure, but the intrepid should give them a spin before they end in museums somewhere.

The ancien silhouette does not stop at the hip-extended skirts. There are details such as ruffles, too, like skirts for the neck (they aren’t exactly ideal for a date night of curry dinner!), as well as the staggering and striking use of passementerie, especially on the bodice, such as braiding and cording, galloons and gimps, showing the skills and artistry that the French were—and still are—known for: their elaborate and sumptuous metallic thread work. Such ornate ornamentation recall the clothing of the elite, especially before the 18th century, when royals, aristocrats, the military men, and the clergy required costumes of visible social distinction. Mr Ghesquière is bringing these back for the coming months, when social life, especially the fun-seeking, fashion-asserting fraternising, returns, presumably with a vengeance. These are decorative styles, no doubt, although they are not aesthetically in the same league as Fendace. Is Louis Vuitton suggesting that fashion not only returns to stand alongside pleasure and entertainment, but also wealth and status?

Other looks, too, suggest patrician life or those of the well-born. There are what seem like equestrian styles (or is it just the headwear?) worn with denim pants (jeans?), the mark of humbler status—a necessary pairing to temper the over-sumptuousness? In fact, denim goes with a tweed jacket and a cropped le smoking, and a laced slip dress. There are many capes too, with fabric manipulation (or treatment) on the surface, and they—like the pannier and the passementerie—were once worn to denote rank or occupation (think: a king or queen’s ermine-trimmed red velvet cape). Mr Ghesquière’s mixing and matching across centuries, and the social classes associated with clothes are not new. But this time, he seems to propose, let’s go all hip-sticking out. Let’s not hold back. After all, as Harry Winston said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”

Screen grab (top): Louis Vuitton. Photos: gorunway.com

CDG Does Mickey

Or, perhaps, the world’s most famous mouse can’t resist the charms of CDG?

As avant-garde as Comme des Garçons is, the brand is not opposed to collaborating with highly commercial names such as Disney. Their CDG sub-brand has just announced a pairing with Mickey Mouse for a capsule that is skate-inspired (read: loose silhouettes). This is not their first association with Disney, nor is this the first time they have teamed up with cartoons. Under the Japan-only Edited line, we remember, they have worked with Marvel Comics on T-shirts featuring the Silver Surfer (and possibly Spiderman) in late 2000. On the marketing communication front, there was the work of Katsuhiro Otomo (manga fans would know him to be behind Akira) in 2013. But tapping the world of comics—or manga—is very different from dalliances with Disney. One would entice hypebeasts, the other would not.

Still, the Disney association has not impacted Comme des Garçons’s generally left-field leaning, yet. If they have survived, gasp, Frozen (in 2014) via the popular Play, Mickey is not going to mar the image of the just-as-commercial CDG line. And even less so, now that Rei Kawakubo has introduced Mickey’s mate Mini for her tribute dress, created in honour of Alber Elbaz a few days ago. Never mind that for many fans, the joining of forces between a (still) largely indie brand with a global entertainment corporation is rather disappointing. Perhaps, some cartoons are best left to Uniqlo.

To dumbfound fans even further, the collection of white/grey/black pieces have none of the usual topsy-turvy mash-up when it comes to graphics. There is the deconstructed face of Mickey and the rotate-right placement, and (for the hoodie) a tight crop of Mickey’s foot on a skateboard, but are those enough to appease fans and followers who are exposed to more? To be certain, CDG is an entry-level line. It does not need to be too outré, as as long as the three-letter logotype is placed conspicuously somewhere on the garment (this time, in the rear), in it full-sized, bold-faced, look-here glory.

CDG X Mickey Mouse is available at DSMS. Photo: CDG/Disney

What’s After The Tabi Split Toe?

How about the lobster claw?

Food: how they inspire shoes. After seeing Loewe’s egg heels, our appetites were aroused too. We were suddenly reminded of Y/Project’s lobster toes. There is no mistaking the inspiration. But we are not talking about the famous Schiaparelli print that the house revived in 2017. Or, something like the cartoon lobster plonked as upper on the Libertine heels from spring/summer 2019. We are referring to footwear that is quite a feat of engineering.

Y/Project’s Glenn Martin, announced last week as Jean Paul Gaultier’s next couture collaborator after Sacai’s Chitose Abe, has always turned the seeming innocuous on its head, or in the case of these heels, their impressively-shaped claws. How do the propodus become split toes? Can human toes actually fit into them? The dainty upper no doubt looks as hard as the marine crustacean’s exoskeleton, enhancing the shoe’s protective quality (even if only partly). And there is a sensuous grace to the entire toe box, even if they may appear sinister if you look long enough. Like bat wings!

There is no doubt this pair would be a major lure to shoe collectors who amassed such heels like they would with sculptures. Margiela may be the first to show the possibilities of the tabi split toe on all manner of footwear, but the maison won’t be the last to separate the big toe and its siblings inside a shoe. The Y/Project ‘Lobster’ heels, although a spring/summer 2022 style, are already sold out at many stockists, such as Farfetch. Claw your way to a pair elsewhere!

Product photo: source. Photo illustration: Just So

Crazy Celeb Crush

Balenciaga’s IRL show is a red carpet event, complete with shouting paparazzi. Be ready to dress like stars next season. Or, one cartoon family

It’s the red carpet of the Met Gala, the Oscars, the Bafta, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Razzies, the Grammys, the BMAs, the VMAs, the BET, all rolled into one. Outside Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Balenciaga staged a fake red carpet arrival, strictly in Balenciaga, of course, and complete with hordes of gawkers and a throng of photographers, shouting for the attention of arriving ‘stars’. Is red carpet fashion a valid category? Apparently, at least to Balenciaga. Designer Demna Gvasalia was, in fact, recently at the Met Gala, making sure Kim Kardashian’s outfit looked right and was ready for the camera. Could the Met Gala experience have been the inspiration behind the presentation for spring/summer 2022? Fashion and celebrity as one, conclusively? This could, of course, be social commentary, but also a reflection of the state of fashion consumption? The red carpet is still the runway (and it is often set up as one) to look to. What goes on on a red carpet does not stay there. Eventually, it will be picked up for the streets and will boost the participating brands’ red carpet and—and not far off—street cred.

Models and celebrities (they’re models too!) arrive as if E! Entertainment is covering this live (which makes the vibe more Hollywood than Paris). A motley group that includes gender non-conformers, hip-hop moguls, screen and music stars, one rapper-couple, one everywhere-he-is photographer, one powerful (still?) editrix, and even a pregnant redhead (or should that be carrot?). They are definitely dressed to the nines, even in street style. They cover the gamut, from couture-worthy gowns to shopping/dating/loafing-ready jeans. What could be different from the average red carpet could be that the guests are carrying handbags. There are even shoulder bags. Who’d think any of them would need one at a gala? Meanwhile, inside the theatre, invited guests were watching the outside proceedings on the big screen, reportedly appreciating what is looking like a “joke”. When the red carpet walkers finally take their seats inside, the audience is treated to a show: The Simpsons! A special screening, as it appears, with Homer and company invited to Paris to walk the Balenciaga runway. Marge Simpson, high on Balenciaga, has never looked so good (not even in that pink Chanel suit), in a gold gown from the spring/summer 2020 collection, with a bow in the rear, the size of a giant Sagami kite!

Marge Simpson trying her first Balenciaga dress

Mrs Simpson on the runway

Demna Gvasalia tells the media that the whole exercise is about having “fun”, something so missing and missed in our COVID-stricken lives that fashion is now placing the seeking of entertainment and mirth as prime. And in Paris, the Simpsons certainly are enjoying themselves. And the whole of Springfield, even if they are fish out of water. Homer, the last fashionista, wears his red Balenciaga jacket like a postman his uniform. Thankfully, outside toon town, the style is more sleek, ever kooky, Balenciaga standard. The charm (and now star quality?) of the brand is its ability—irony still dripping?—to compact both red-carpet elegance and off-kilter street style into a single look with rigour and discipline. Sure, these aren’t dresses a Bond girl would wear on a date with Double-O-Seven (nor are they the stuff of his wardrobe for jet setting and licence to kill), but for those who need to be validated as perversely cool, and directly connected to Mr Gvasalia, such as he who conceives Donda. In Balenciaga, one is not under-dressed or over-dressed, just dressed, statement unequivocally made. How convenient for most fashion-craving rappers and their inner circles.

Now that the Balenciaga couture is shown, and the house’s know-how, although never in doubt, is updated and proven, there seems to be a general sense of heightened raffinement. The dresses are less thrift-store, more cocktails-after-a-fashion-show. The hoodies less sportif, but still hoodies. The suit jackets still hunched, and still too big for most body types. The denim jeans still overwashed, but more up-cycled. And, the Crocs less unusual (now), but much harder… clompers! They are all still composed to better position Balenciaga as the unwavering height of subversive-simultaneously-worn-out cool. The look, by now, is no longer outré, but still unconventional enough for covetous eyes. Just one thing: enough of Naomi Campbell. In whatever.

Screen grabs and photos: Balenciaga

Poem Without Words

In a quiet presentation, Loewe holds one transfixed… and breathless

A large undecorated room. A perimeter of closely-seated guests. An opening in the floor in the centre of the fair-wood space. A gentle flow of spare, percussion-free music (While my Heart is still Beating, from the London-based Italian electronic act Not Waving and label mate Romance). Against this orchestral/electronic track—so stark, yet soaring in parts, it’s almost devotional—the models walk unhurriedly from the basement to to the open floor. Each measured step allows the clothes to be viewed in their structural or fluid brilliance. Nothing is as severe in simplicity as the music suggests. Each outfit evinces that there is a difference between dressing and wearing. Each, a study of balance, texture, and the unlikely. This could be Loewe’s strangest collection, and strongest yet. This is not an exploration of what having fun again would be like. This is fashion as if it never took a hiatus; expressive, as stylish life goes on. This is Jonathan Anderson reaching a climactic career apex.

The first dress immediately opens the eye. A sculptural beauty through the manipulation of form, less of fabric: a maxi-length tank dress, and it is from the back, until you are pulled in at the waist in front. There is a boxy protrusion, marsupial, with a flat top, like a shelf. Then another dress—this time the distention diagonal, across the torso. The next, the waist stretches outwards to the left, and ends with a point. The creation of bodily contours where none exist is, of course not new. We have seen them at Comme des Garçons, but these are not “bumps”. They are, rather, contortions inspired, as the show notes state, by the work of the 16th century Italian painter Jacopo Carucci, better known as Pontormo, who was known for his ‘mannerist’ style, a deliberate disassociation with the naturalism of High Renaissance art. Perhaps more obvious are the petal-shaped shoulder-covers (they’re not quite capes) and the drapes on dresses that seem like fabrics mimicking random brush strokes.

It’s all artistic, with an artful choice of the structural and the soft. Although one senses a clerical purity to the collection, the clothes aren’t so serious that they can’t delight in what may be considered aberrant, even slightly mad, or, as Loewe states, “completely hysterical”, which, amid the season’s sex-as-pandemic relief, is antithetical and a welcome break. So few collections of the season here in PFW or elsewhere, really, push the limit of compositional possibilities. Hard and soft, ruffled/ruched and flat plain, all not confined by either or; they just pair, like heady romances. Similarly, Mr Anderson is not restricted by how fabric and body must come together with a certain spatial expectation. Check the bubble varsity jacket! Close to the body or protrude, or balloon, they all seem natural. He is fearless too in the order of things. The back-to-front outers may look switched, but when worn, do not look out of whack. Even a detail as common as the vertical slit in the skirt: He shows that high they might be, but by framing them with a simple flounce, they need not be crude inverted Vs—arrows pointing unambiguously to the genitalia!

And the footwear! A surrealist wink-in-the-eye. Jonathan Anderson kicks up his heels—quite literally—to reveal that in the rear of two innocent front straps are heels with a base of egg shells… broken and the white and yolk spilled out! Or, the whole heel in the form of a bottle of nail polish—red, no less. Or, even a striped birthday candle, complete with the flower-shaped holder! Are these Japanese shokuhin sampuru (food models), elevated to luxury fashion footwear or are they something more subversive? For all the seriousness of the craft that Mr Anderson feel Loewe should perfect and promote, there seems to be a playful, cheeky underside too. Even the most ardent of inventiveness could gain from smile-inducing humour. If the music of Not Waving that soundtracked the show is analogue sounds in swirling arpeggios, then Loewe is floating on similarly high notes.

Screen grabs (top): Loewe. Photos: gorunway.com