Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Under a new editor-in-chief, the local version of the American title stakes not quite everything, preferring a strong soulless digital touch
In Desmond Lim’s first Editor’s Page for Vogue SG, the EIC wrote, “I have co-designed a series of the three covers entirely created by artificial intelligence.” One senses a certain pride—and satisfaction—in that declaration (and the reduction of employable human models?). EICs, who are former fashion stylists who continue to style (or co-create) covers, are not new (British Vogue’s Edward Enninful and, before she left French Vogue, Carine Roitfeld, just to name two). Mr Lim, however, could be the first to put an AI-generated image on the venerated covers of Vogue. He has been behind the covers of past issues of the SG edition, and his desire to continue is not surprising. But what boggles the mind is the choice of the model, “Faye”, who could pass off as the bride of Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy). The question on so many lips when the photos of the latest covers—there are three of them—were circulated: “Put out with Anna’s blessings?” One veteran fashion editor was bemused, “Seems like Vogue SG works independently. Or has gone rogue.”
It is not known what information or data was provided to spawn the alien with an Asian face (and her other exotic sisters). AI imaging tools are, of course, getting more sophisticated than what our eyes can discern as natural. However hard Mr Lim tries to convince readers that this is “guided closely by the words tradition and future”, the effect offered neither. This is essentially ‘deepfake’—synthetic media, matter of the metaverse, or what The Guardian called “the 21st century’s answer to Photoshopping”. It is not real, nor the tradition it purports to underscore. Even the names of the “avatars” (there are nine of them) are “fictional”, the magazine makes known. Correspondingly, the fashion isn’t real too, except one Ferragamo dress and one Prada top, even then, we know they are simulated. Deepfakes have a dark side too. They are largely associated with pornography. There is even a “network of deepfake bots” on Telegram that, according to a 2020 report by security firm Sensity, create, when requested, naked images of women. If not sexually explicit stuff, there are last week’s AI-created photos of a Donald Trump violently arrested or the now-gone-viral pictures of the Pope in a puffer! Even with the employment of specious species on the Vogue SG cover, we are told that the issue is about “roots” (we’re glad there is no more pretentious fonts such as the inaugural comeback issue’s ‘triptych’). Is that imaginary too?
We have been asked, “why the creepy blue make-up?” We wish we could say that it has anthropological links (out of the three cover outfits, two are blue!). This is not Mr Lim’s first cover with Na’vi skin. Last year’s May/June issue was graced by a pair of very blue (the theme of the month) hands. And if blue make-up is not applied, then there would be a patina of blue, as seen in the issue of the following month, when Cardi B was the cover girl. Or, as in this issue, blue eyes and blue dress of the other computer-generated South Asian-looking lass “Aadhya”. Mr Lim tells us that he “notice(s) a huge shift in the way the current generation is embracing culture and heritage.” How the young are accepting them, he does not say. But with his covers , does he suppose his readers do not interact with the substantive when it comes to what clothes are really saying about the world we live in? Or, has fashion become so immaterial for magazines now that so much can be gleaned from social media? Perhaps these days, as one designer pointed out, what Mr Lim refers to as the “current generation” no longer asks, “Can I see myself in it? Is it relevant?” Another designer asked, “Do they care?”
We concede that magazines serve different functions these days. Readers are not looking to periodicals for the same gratification they enjoyed before the great digital takeover. Gone are the days of the glossies. Heritage titles—such as Vogue—have mostly banked on their names than compelling content to propel themselves forward. The digital version is more important than a physical copy. And the better print appears to be shaped by digital hands, the more glorious. Vogue SG has always been proud of how they are so tethered to the digital world. Mr Lim proudly informs us of their future-tech initiative From Blockchain to Love Chain on Spatial.io., as well as how he’s “looking forward to engaging the Vogue Singapore community further through the Vogue Club Membership—which bridges lifestyle, fashion, Web 3,0 and technology”. In tandem with our nation’s determined Smart Nation push, harnessing technology in all aspects of our lives to make them better?
The three covers of this month’s Vogue SG available at Kinokuniya
One senses that as long as the masthead reads Vogue, the EICs can do whatever they desire and readers will still come forth to grab an issue. But a magazine isn’t just the masthead and what/who is positioned beneath it. As a read (and not just at the hairdressers’), the refreshed Vogue SG (with the curious double-registration nameplate), seems to us, a tad more local than it was under the watch of its previous EIC. While it is still leans obviously on its Asian positioning, it now accommodates more stories that we can call ours, or at least native. While some of the usual suspects are featured, ‘The Collectors’, for example, showed that there are serious, astute fashion consumers on our island even if you rarely see them on, say, Orchard Road. While the story is skimpy on the minutiae of collecting, it does put at least three faces to the fashion bought and worn, when brands would normally not divulge who their big spenders are. It is also noteworthy that interjected in the pages are the relatable and enjoyable essays by Roland Barthes-quoting Paralympian Toh Wei Soong and the kaku-in-speech writer Azrin Tan. By contrast, the fashion spreads—some 52 pages— are totally forgettable.
Last October, Vogue SGran into licensing trouble. The Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) stated that the Singaporean edition of the global fashion title “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines”. After initially revoking their license to operate, MCI gave Vogue SG six months to continue upon publisher Media Publishares’s reapplication. That the magazine could put out a March issue (although late), may mean that they were given the chance to endure. Vogue SG will live, for now. In fact, the magazine seems determined to avoid the previous breaches, egregious or not. Much of its content now could be deemed safe, devoid of alternative lifestyles (that got them into trouble) even when they advocate the “altiverse”, with the corresponding images to augment its alt-positioning. Did The One, Gabriel Yulaw, not say that the universes of the multiverse are “irrational, sloppy”? Vogue SG has leapt outside the circumscription of the frankly-quaint fashion magazine, and what it projects has minimal for the readers’ selves (what would Patsy Stone say?!). When it headlines with “a spectacular cover story that, needless to say, is ridiculously cool”, it sets itself, quite honestly, for heated ridicule.
Adidas is parting ways with another Black American pop star. This time it’s the indomitable Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. According to The Hollywood Reporter, citing “a source close to the situation”, Adidas and Ivy Park “have mutually agreed to part ways”. At this time, who among the two initiated the separation is not known except that it’s mutual. In that THR report, put out hours ago, it is thought that “major creative differences” are the main reason for the 5-year-old collaboration to go no further. Reportedly, Beyoncé is “looking to reclaim her brand, chart her own path and maintain creative freedom.” It is hard to imagine that she was not able keep a grip over what she could do creatively. This would be the second time Mrs Carter is taking things back after her first partnership with Topshop in 2016 ended two years later. Both Adidas and Beyoncé (as well as her Parkwood Entertainment, the company that manages the Ivy Park brand) have yet to comment.
Beyoncé is, of course, not a beacon of controversy like Kanye West is prone to be. Creative differences are not the same as ethical/moral differences. Either way, both are disparities that could potentially impact the kind of sales the two sides hope to achieve. It is not known how well the Ivy Park line was really doing. To us, it’s been a relatively quiet, makes-no-difference-to-the-world label. It caters primarily to die-hard Beyoncé fans who would snap up anything the star puts out. But, dizzyingly high album and concert ticket sales are no indication of the potential of a fashion brand based on celebrity adoration. According to a Wall Street Journal report last month, sales of Ivy Park merchandise “fell more than 50% last year” to about US$40 million (the projected figure was US$250 million). While that may still be a healthy figure, it pales to Yeezy’s reported US$1.8 billion—or 10% of total revenue—that the brand makes for Adidas.
Oftentimes, Ivy Park looked more hype-driven than performance-centric even when the products are produced by Adidas. It is not certain to what extent Beyoncé personally adopted athleisure styles, but if she did, might Ivy Park be what she typically wore? Or are the pieces conceived for meretricious displays at the gym, assuming that is the intended destination. As Oprah Daily put it, Ivy Park “will have you channeling your inner Beyoncé”. Might the problem, if it can be so called, be exactly that? Is there a real, sustainable market of Beyoncé’s off-duty wear, even if they look that sexy? Is that the crux of the creative difference? The popularity of the star’s music does not amount to women wanting to look like her. If it does, Beyoncé’s House of Dereon—“when sidewalk meets catwalk”— wouldn’t have shuttered in 2012 after what was described as a “rocky” six-year run. Beyoncé has not had a enviable track record when it comes creating fashion labels. She is a performer first and designer many rungs down. If Victoria Beckham is still not taken seriously even when she is personally behind her label that now shows in Paris, could there be a chance that Ivy Park would be embraced as a bona fide fashion brand?
Beyoncé started Ivy Park in 2016 as a joint venture with the now-disgraced Phillip Green of Topshop, which reportedly owned exactly half of Ivy Park at the time. The partnership came apart in 2018, amid the reputational and legal woes of Topshop’s parent company Arcadia Group. Mr Green, its billionaire owner and chairman, was accused of “sexual misconduct, bullying, and racial harassment”, according to one 2018 Time report. Parkwood Entertainment subsequently acquired 100 percent of Ivy Park. The value of that transaction was not disclosed. A year later, Adidas X Ivy Park was announced. Terms of that were not made known. The split now came three weeks after Puma announced that they were rekindling their partnership with Rihanna. Ivy Park’s halt, even if temporary, is somewhat ironic given that brands are still banking on sexed-up casual clothing, as evidenced by the upcoming H&M and Mugler pairing. Queen Bey may reign the airwaves, but the rule does not cover the runway.
H&M turns the heat up with their latest collaboration
Sex sells and H&M wants to peddle it too. High Street fashion has not showed this much skin since denim hot pants were slashed to mimic underpants, exposing pocket bags. H&M’s latest pairing with Mugler seems to be targeted at the next batch of attendees of the Grammy Awards and their followers. Expect enthusiastic editorial support to call it hip-hop-stars-approved. Or a collab Emily Ratajkowski will rush out to buy. And every member of the Kardashian family needing to be visible now that neither of them are apparently invited to the up-coming Met Gala. That H&M has chosen the less-is-more aesthetic of present-day Mugler is a reflection of fashion’s obsession with near-nudity, as seen at the recent Academy Awards (and the after-parties) and the quickly-gaining-traction no-bra trend (just look at TikTok). Need to bare, however, seems more like an American infatuation and movement. H&M X Mugler’s success, if so, may show how nude women really desire to be.
Founder of the house Thierry Mugler died a year ago, but this is no homage to his aesthetical legacy. To be sure, Mr Mugler made sexy clothes—even his skirt suits were sexy—but they were never this ostensibly close to sleaze. As a designer told SOTD, “Mugler was never trashy, so I’m not sure how or why it looks like that now. So off-brand.” The Mugler of today is the imagination of American designer Casey Cadwallader (some French maisons, of late, prefer hiring from across the pond), who joined the brand in 2017. While H&M has said in a press release that the collaboration “encapsulates the very essence of Mugler”, it is the crux of what Mr Cadwallader does for the brand today. He has built much of his output around a bodysuit, but these are not those similar to Donna Karan’s in the ’80s. These love the body so much they cling to it or, thanks to sheer panels or daring cutouts, show it off. Certainly the stuff Cardi B and her rapping sisters adore.
For some reason, the harder we look, the more we saw Balmain, too. It could be the shoulders, the unforgiving silhouette, the constricted leanness. Or, perhaps, LaQuan Smith? It is admirable that H&M is able to produce such clothes at the level they do, given that these are not garments designed in the conventional way—they’re mostly almost like shape wear. How these pieces would appear as a collection on the rack is also not immediately imaginable. These days, clothes do not have to entice from a hanger. The shoppers already know how the desired pieces will fall on or, in this case, cleave to the body. And what is worn must not only crave media attention, they cry out for pedestrian attention too. But will the Swedish brand hit the big time with this collab before one quick-to-reponse Chinese brand, growing larger by the day, beat them to it? Let’s see.
was ready to go to the Loewe store with a small watering can. Luckily, I did not. How foolish would that be? When I passed Casa Loewe yesterday and caught sight of the Grass Sneaker, I had to look at them. Could the rumput be kept alive? The shoes are made in Italy—they came from a distance. At close range, it was immediately clear that it was not a result of horticulture and there was no irrigation involved. It was all fake raffia—the grassy parts. I could not resist touching them. The lawn-like surface was rather rough, even with fibre that is polyester, rather than from the raffia palm. But it did look rather real, at least from outside the store. As no soil is involved in its composition, the shoe is rather light. The description on the website later told me that the upper is “hand embroidered”, which thus renders “a grass effect”. Some how that brings to mind “orange juice drink”.
I wanted to be sure this was not a dummy (while the real deal is stored somewhere in a green house, waiting to be collected and cared for); I asked a staffer if the pair was the shoes for sale. She was delighted to confirmed that what I saw was it—the “commercial release”, without genuine grass. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Actual sheathing blades of leaves would be cool, not just nice. A living upper! I had even hoped that the shoe comes with a special bottle of fertiliser—just a spritz to keep the grass growing. I imagined how happy the shoes would be if they could enjoy a bit of rain. Alas, that was not to be.
If the grass is not real, then Loewe isn’t the first to create turfy footwear. Back in 2019, before we heard of lockdowns, there was the Air Max 1 G NRG, which now seems like the OG grass sneaker. Nike took things a tad too literally when they released the golf shoe for the links. The matted green did not look quite like the stuff on which you might tee off, but it did appear unusual (even the Swoosh was partly obscured) and might have served as a neat camouflage on a physical golfing green. Loewe’s Grass Sneaker, I think, has less a chance to blend in when most of our grasslands are manicured. Still, the shoe that seems to be built on Loewe’s Flow Runner, will still stand out (and that’s the purpose), especially on five-foot-way concrete.
Loewe Grass Sneaker in Canvas and Raffia, SGD2,650, is available at Loewe stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji
As more information emerges about the slain model/influencer, a web of intrigue is beginning to be apparent. Who was the mysterious, couture-wearing woman, really?
Abby Choi, wearing Georges Hobeika, for a L’Officiel shoot. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
With police investigating and Netizens digging deep concurrently, a rather different picture of the murdered and mutilated model has surfaced. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), whose violent death more than three weeks ago aroused the curiosity of the international fashion set, now appears to be a character shrouded in mystery and as layered as the tulle dresses she favoured. There are suggestions that she was somehow connected to the Hong Kong world of organised crime, in particular, money laundering, although how so, it is not immediately clear. This does not, however, say that her brutal and gruesome death is justifiable. But observers of this slaying are beginning to wonder who, in fact, is the real Abby Choi. Even the Hong Kong press are not able—or willing—to clearly delineate this “socialite” with considerable social media presence. It is the same with the people who allegedly know her. The very few who spoke gave conflicting accounts of her back story. More of those following the developments are, therefore, conceding that this case is increasingly “扑朔迷离 (pushuo mili)”, impossible to unravel.
Abby Choi was depicted as a social fixture, but that did not point to an actual job. When her murder was reported, she was mostly referred to as a celebrity. In mainland Chinese media, she is called a mingyuan (名媛) or a young lady of note, even the Chinese version of the debutante. As self-proclaimed to Vogue China last November, she’s a “高级定制收藏家” or collector of haute couture, although on her Instagram page, she did not don that many. The prevalent argument is that a mingyuan, especially one who buys high fashion, usually comes from an extremely wealthy family of stellar reputation. Not much is known about the Chois. Or, if they are indeed immensely rich. The central character in that family so far has been the matriarch Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), also known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she reportedly spends part of her time, minding an unknown money-making business. Following the murder, she has spoken about her daughter, but little is revealed. Recently, another character related to that family has emerged. According to what has been circulating online, there was another person at the site where Ms Choi was dismembered: A masked man, whose identity is not confirmed; a lookout at the crime scene. It has been speculated that the person could be Ms Choi’s hitherto unseen brother, even step-brother. If that is true, there is more than meets the eye to this murder mystery. Strangely, the Hong Kong press has been rather silent this past week in their follow-up to the sensational homicide.
From left, Abby Choi, her mother Zhang Yanhua, and two step-sisters. Photo: Weibo
Abby Choi, as it’s currently known, was born in 1994, the child of Zhang Yanhua and another unidentified man from a previous marriage. A Hong Kong Netizen with the handle Poey Cheung shared online that Ms Choi was originally surnamed Wan (云 or Yun in Mandarin). No information is available about her father. Ms Zhang divorced her husband (some reports say because he gambles too much) and later re-married, in Hong Kong, to a local with the family name Choi. With this man, she gave birth to two daughters (and possibly a son?). Ms Cheung also shared that the murdered influencer grew up and lived with her grandparents in To Kwa Wan (土瓜湾), a neighbourhood on the eastern shore of the Kowloon Peninsula, not far from the old Kai Tak Airport. It is not an exceptional area, unlike, say, the swanky Kadoori Hill, where Ms Choi bought an apartment for her ex-husband and his family to live in. Ms Zhang has stated that her “precious daughter” went to an unnamed “international school”. But, according to Ms Cheung, Ms Choi attended the aided, co-ed Oblate Primarily School in To Kwa Wan. A Catholic institution founded in 1975, the school’s medium of instruction was Chinese. She later went to the private 60-year-old Kowloon Tong Secondary School, where teachers used Chinese in classes, too. It is not known if Ms Choi completed her secondary education or furthered her studies. Or, if early marriage, in fact, impeded her academic pursuits.
Initial reports claimed that Abby Choi met her first husband in the same secondary school. Her mother announced that her “daughter and son-in-law were [same-school] childhood sweethearts.” Poey Cheung said that the lovers were acquainted while both were schooling, but not in the same institution. Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) apparently attended Chan Shu Kui Memorial School. Formerly known by other names until 1974, the 50-year-old CSKMS was situated in Kowloon Tong before they moved to their present location in Sham Shui Po. As Ms Cheung described it, Kowloon Tong Secondary School, Abby Choi’s alma mater, was just opposite CSKMS, divided by a Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) track. Beneath this track, was a pedestrian underpass known among the students who used it as “桃花隧道 (taohua suidao)” or lovers’ tunnel. Those aware of this conduit knew that both schools were separated by a distance of a “two-minute walk”. Ms Choi reportedly knew her future first husband when she was 15. It is possible then that both met and fell in love here, beneath the passing of a KCR train. Yet, it is also said that both schools were not in such close proximity. How their romance blossomed to the point that it could lead to teenaged marriage is thus not clear, yet.
Although surrounded by books at a Chanel event last February, Abby Choi was not known to be academically inclined. It is not known if she completed her secondary education. Photo: Abby Choi/Facebook
It was also shared online by self-proclaimed former schoolmates that although Ms Choi was said to be “善良 (shanliang)” or kindhearted, as well as sweet and demure (as proclaimed online by those who had been in her recent clique), she was purportedly not nearly the good girl that she had projected herself to be, at least as seen on social media. The revealer claimed that Ms Choi was prone to “搬弄是非(bannong shifei)” or tell tales, sew discord, even creating mischief. She reportedly got herself into fights with schoolmates, too. With misdemeanors piled up, she eventually had to pulled out of school and register in another, which has not been identified. It was in secondary school that Ms Choi took her step-father’s surname. Concurrently, she began to morph into a wealthy daughter, and was sent to and picked up from school in a chauffeur-driver car. Her step-father initially opened a restaurant called Ying Heung Fan Dim (盈香饭店) in To Kwa Wan, but after undisclosed business dealings in China (reportedly in Hainan), became extremely wealthy. Despite rewarding her with material edge, Ms Choi’s parents apparently paid scant attention to her schooling. Even more inexplicable was how unaffected they were when Ms Choi announced that she wanted to marry Alex Kwong when both were merely 18 years of age.
The Chinese have a common saying: 门当户对 (mendang hudui) or a fitting marital match when both families are of similar social status. Popular understanding in Hong Kong suggests that the aided Kowloon Tong Secondary School that Abby Choi went to was, at that time, a better institution than Chan Shu Kui Memorial School that Alex Kwong attended. Additionally, the Kwongs, in comparison, were not even considered borderline affluent. Patriarch Kwong Kau (邝球) was a disgraced former policeman (an accusation of rape when he was with the force was never resolved). His elder son, Alex Kwong, was not known to be academically successful or gainfully employed (the other son, Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰), later served as Ms Choi’s personal driver and, puzzlingly, event companion). Although the Choi family was not in the league of Hong Kong’s 名门望族 (mingmen wangzu) or prestigious families, they were, at least on the surface, economically better off than the Kwongs. Yet the coming together of two disparate families by marriage took place (exactly when is unknown although 2012 is thought to be the year). The unanswered question on so many lips: Why would any parent (the mother Zhang Yanhua, in particular) agree to a teenaged daughter marrying another teen who had no certain future? And not discouraging them from having children so soon after?
Screen shot of Abby Choi with her second husband Chris Tam in an undated video shared on Sina News
The adolescents’ marriage bore them two children, but the union did not last. The divorce came, as did the wedding, at an undisclosed date, but online speculation placed it at around 2015. If that is correct, Ms Choi remarried rather quickly—only a year later. The groom is a man thought to be of considerable wealth—the son of Tam Chuk-kwan (谭泽均), co-founder of the chain eatery TamJai Yunnan Mixian (rice noodles). Tam junior is known only as Chris Tam. He is not addressed by his Chinese name, even in the Chinese media. According to current knowledge and chatter, Chris Tam was acquainted with Abby Choi during their school days, just as Mr Kwong. Ms Zhang claimed, in fact, that they knew each other when her daughter was ten. When they tied the knot, it was reported that both went through traditional Chinese nuptial rites that included betrothal gifts of immense gold jewellery (one photo showed boxes of chunky gold bangles, another of her wearing them as a necklace). Their wedding dinner was a lavish affair, held in what looked like a luxury hotel ballroom. The event was hosted by renowned TVB variety show host 林盛斌 (Lin Shengbin), popularly known as Bob, who reportedly earns a six-figure sum (HKD) for each appearance, including weddings.
A video of the nuptials, inexplicably shot in a studio in the Philippines, emerged (after the murder, the company removed it from their social media account, but not before it was downloaded by Netizens and shared online). In the video, Chris Tam claimed that he met Ms Choi on some street, where his future wife was with a friend. This contradicted Ms Zhang’s version of the matter. Even more peculiar, the marriage was never registered. There was no certificate to prove that they officially tied the knot, just that shot-in-the-Philipines video and testimonies of whoever attended the ceremony that was reportedly witnessed by“nearly 100 tables” of guests. Was this a more modern arrangement that was a tad better than straight-to-cohabitation? As with her first husband, Ms Choi had two children with her second, and, again this time, a boy and a girl. By most accounts, life with her new man was at least good, if not blissful. Ms Choi had expressed on IG more than once her gratefulness towards an unnamed fellow, presumed to be Chris Tam. In one photo shared online, he was seen with her in Paris last January during Couture Week. A month later, back in Hong Kong, the Tam family reported to the police that Abby Choi was missing.
Screen shot of Abby Choi’s betrothal gifts from the Tam family, shared on Sina News
As the weeks passed, a more vivid picture of Chris Tam emerged. He seems like an extremely understanding—some say outstanding—spouse; he’s on more than friendly terms with Ms Choi’s ex-husband, welcomed the two kids from his wife’s previous marriage to play with his own two, had no objections to the hiring of Ms Choi’s former brother-in-law Anthony Kwong as her personal driver and chaperone to fashion events, and has been extremely/unusually chummy with his mother-in-law, wujie Zhang Yanhua, arousing the curiosity as to what was the true nature of their relationship. Additionally, Chris Tam’s parents and the Kwongs are reported to enjoy mutually amicable rapport. Even Ms Zhang was full of praise of how the two families had been affectionate towards her daughter. At the same time, it isn’t clear why a man known as the 太子爷 (taiziye) or crown prince of his family’s relatively large business would take as a first wife a woman from not a particularly distinguished family and who was a divorcée, with two children in tow. Despite the all-over love fest, dispute and displeasure later surfaced. After the Kwongs were arrested, a family member supposedly contacted the Tams and asked, “你为什么报警不提前告诉我 (why did you not inform me in advance before contacting the police?)”. Kwong Kau, too, allegedly said to Chris Tam before the murder, “如果谭家食言，下场就是一起死 (if the Tam family will not keep to their word, the consequence is death to us all)”.
In several close looks at Ms Choi’s social media pages to better learn about her fashionable past with French luxury houses, what stood out was not the lack of influencer-worthy clothes, but posts of a more personal nature (other than shots of birthday celebrations). There is, for example, not a single photo on Instagram (her username was, as recorded, changed twice) that shows Ms Choi with either of her husbands. Stranger still are nil images of her when she was pregnant, pre-natal or post-natal, or with her children (even just one) as babies or toddlers. There are no photos of her with her immediate family. Or, in-laws, past or present, except—remarkably—those of her with her brother-in-law Anthony Kwong, who shared seven shots (excluding group pictures) on his IG page, with the somewhat careful hashtags, #family and #BroAndSisLove. She joined IG in 2012, which would be the year she married Alex Kwong, yet there are no photos of her wedding or even a bridal gown (perhaps the event was a very simple affair). Ditto her second wedding, which is curious for someone who was by 2017, after she married Chris Tam, lauded as a fashion star. What we did find was the Facebook page Abby and Paomes Charitable Org, which was supposed to be started by the murder victim and a mysterious friend, who goes by the handle 豹太 (baotai) or Madam Bao and had, in the early days of the investigation into the Abby Choi homicide, offered HK$1 million for information relating to the case. Her relationship with Madam Bao is unclear, unlike that with Aaron Kwok’s also-influencer wife Moka Fang (方媛), frequently described as a 闺蜜 (guimi) or bestie.
Abby Choi during a couture fitting at Dior. Screen shot: xxabbyc/Instagram
It is not clear when Ms Choi began enjoying fashion to the extent that she did. Most of her posts on IG (and repeated on Facebook, which she joined only in 2017) featured identifiable, ultra-feminine styles from the usual brands that influencers tend to be drawn to: Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Gucci, with extreme love for Chanel and, especially, Dior. Interestingly, her first show, according to her posts, was Dolce & Gabbana in February 2017, just two months after she married Alex Tam. It was during this time, according to media reports, that she really played the part of the rich fashionista. Was she, perhaps, finally able to be a wealthy daughter-in-law? She was active and traveled through the pandemic years. It is not certain when she became a couture customer. In the beginning, she appeared to be wearing RTW, but in February 2020, she was videotaped at a Dior couture fitting, in a grey-blue silk chiffon gown. It is not known how big a Dior customer she really was (of if that was the first and only couture purchase). A source at a luxury house confirmed that such information is never disclosed. It is not certain either if all those fashion week trips were out-of-pocket expenses or if she enjoyed a fully-paid invitation by the brands—they are known to request the presence of potential or existing couture customers, all on the house. According to a Forbes report in 2020, a Dior couture full-length dress would cost “US$100,000 upwards”. Perhaps, most baffling among the unknowns about Ms Choi was the source of her seemingly immense wealth.
The popular proposition now is that Ms Choi “是被包装出来的伪豪门女”; she was packaged as a rich and powerful woman. This usually indicates that such a person is groomed to be a diversion from a hidden malefaction. Ms Choi is reported to be 1.55m tall and weighed about 40 kg. She was not considered typical of the influencers—in size and stature—that dominate social media, such as “天王嫂 (tianwangsai)” or heavenly king’s wife Moka Fang or the eighth suspect in this case Irene Pun (潘巧贤, Pan Qiaoxian). Some who knew Ms Choi, former schoolmates among them, pointed out that she had had cosmetic enhancement at an unknown time, and before that, she looked “很一般 (henyiban)” or ordinary. Yet, she was able to work towards the status from which to launch herself in the world of not just fashion, but haute couture. Furthermore, Ms Choi had never held a job that could be considered regular employment (while financially supporting her former in-laws). Maintaining the high profile, she did required a team, which she had acknowledged to exist. These individuals, from hair and makeup to videography, were unlikely to have volunteered their services. The pursuit of influencing is a cost-intensive enterprise. How was she able to finance it all? How did a To Kwa Wan lass of indeterminate means propel herself without apparent connections to the hallowed grounds of the couture salons of Paris? Was there something illegal/illicit involved? Were there more than the rapacious Kwongs behind her brutal downfall and grisly end?
In Chanel, in 2021. Occasion and location unknown. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Interestingly, Vogue China had not put Ms Choi on their cover (nor Vogue Hong Kong) despite her ascent. In an IG post last November, Ms Choi shared that she had a “对话 (duihua)” or dialogue with the fashion bible. Vogue China revealed nothing much except how she appreciated couture. Last month, she did receive a magazine cover—for the digital edition of L’Officiel. Ms Choi shared it on IG, with the comment, “From Hong Kong to the cover of L’Officiel Monaco, my journey as a style icon continues.” Who calls herself a style icon? In the oddly banal editorial that accompanied the cover, the magazine described her as a ”fashion star” who “has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion.” They marveled at her “keen eye for style and her ability to mix and match pieces in unexpected ways” although they showed not evidence of that. “I am a person who keeps absorbing inspiration and always tries new styles. Sometimes I also try to dress up more extravagant, by mixing and combining different looks,” she was quoted saying, and again that innate flair was not seen, even on her IG page. The question was, why L’Officiel Monaco? Who reads it? Why not L’Officiel China?
L’Officiel was first published in France in 1921. Now, it has more than two dozen international editions in the current line-up. Last year, the title was acquired by Hong Kong-based AMTD International, whose founder is Dr Calvin Choi Chi-kin (蔡志堅), dubbed by finews.asia as “Hong Kong’s Most Controversial Banker”. Dr Choi, with links to mainland Chinese banks, chairs AMTD Group whose AMTD Digital, according to Forbes, made a startling turn last August: “Less than a month after the 43-year-old listed his AMTD Digital on the New York Stock Exchange, his stake in the digital financial services firm has skyrocketed 14,000% for reasons his firm can’t explain.” That brief period made him “worth nearly US$37 billion, more than Li Ka-shing (李嘉诚).” Early this year, the “auditing pioneer” and whizz was banned by Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) “over conflicts of interest while he was a UBS banker in 2014 and 2015”, as finews.com informed. Dr Choi’s colourful history in auditing and banking is too long to be described here. While there is no immediately discernible link between the two unrelated Chois, it is interesting that the couture-loving influencer could somehow draw big names into her glittery orbit, whether directly or not. Was the L’Officiel cover of Ms Choi an independent editorial decision? And why did it happen only after AMTD International’s acquisition of the title?
Deeply curious journalists and individuals are playing online detectives and putting out different back stories and details to Ms Choy’s murder. Local names and those across the mainland—from Hong Kong’s “tianwangsao” to Macau’s jailed “Little Gambling King”—were dredged up to effect better brush strokes in creating the still incomplete picture. The speculations oftentimes point to something more nefarious than the familial dispute over a luxury apartment that was initially posited. Why would a whole family kill a girl whose first two kids are their children and grandchildren just over a flat? Was Ms Choi a victim from the start? The police have for weeks not shared with the public developments in their investigation. And things are increasingly not what them seem. A Chinese saying could be the best guide in following the truth behind the homicide of Abby Choi: “眼见不定为真，耳闻不定为是”. What the eyes see may not be real, what the ears hear may not be true.
Jaden Smith models Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2023 womenswear in a newly-released commercial, blithely dancing awayin a leather blouse
Jaden Smith in a Louis Vuitton leather halter top. Screen shot: Louis Vuitton/Instagram
We know Jaden Smith dares to dress. For him, there is no gender boundaries when it comes to fashion. To be sure, he doesn’t look like Billy Porter. Mr Smith is less dramatic when it comes to his sartorial choices. But, he is not one whose style is circumscribed by conventions of masculine dress. To him, clothes know gender not, such as the halter top that he wore in the latest Louis Vuitton commercial, just shared by the label on Instagram. According to LV, the 24-year-old “transcends style codes” and “embodies the essence of the collection”. This refers, we assume, to the work of Nicolas Ghesquire. It does not require the taxing of one’s imagination to discern what Mr Smith wore to be from the womenswear line. While we are not quite fans of such a sleeveless blouse, we will say that Mr Smith does not look bad in it. Maybe it’s to do with the leather. Would it be the same if it was in floral silk chiffon?
The halter top is one of those garments that, to us, is associated with a form of rather aggressive sexiness. Many (if they are old enough) also think of Halston, although the halter-neck itself emerged in the ’30s and was usually designed on gowns. A decade later, they were popular in swim and beach wear. And their return in the ’70s, especially for day clothes, sealed the halter neck’s future as a must for warm-weather dressing. The halter top gives prominence to bare shoulders, which could be the silhouette’s infinite appeal. And if it’s tied behind the neck, the top exposes the back, which has its own particular lure. But although the halter neck has mostly been adopted by women, it has a fan base among men too, even—believe you us—Jackie Chan (陈龙). Back in the ’80s, Mr Chan was photographed twice in different white halter tops—one with a high, near-mock-turtle-neck (and a perceivable bare back), the other with a deeply scooped neck. While many do no consider Mr Chan a style icon, there are now those who consider his clothing choices back then “rocking”.
Jaden Smith’s halter top is different from what guys used to wear and have been wearing. It is tented and swings like a baby doll dress. Is that why the ad has been attracting surprisingly nasty comments in LV’s Instagram page, directed solely at the star when there are other models in the commercial too? Mr Smith teamed the top with a pair of straight-legged trousers, and the clunky kicks Archlight, now a version 2. We remember that the original Archlight, released in 2018, was for women; we checked at the store back then, and the helpful salesgirl said “guys are welcome to buy if the size fits.” The latest Archlight, to our surprise, is available in men’s sizes even when it is listed in the brand’s website under Women’s Shoes. LV staffers have often said to us that many men buy the women’s line. We have seen it for ourselves in Tokyo. But does this mean that the men’s collection, soon to be designed by Pharrell Williams, could be cannibalised by the women’s? Or, perhaps this is just spreading the love?
Could they be siblings? Or is one the older version of the other?
Left: Michelle Yeo as Evelyn Wang. Photo: a24. Right: Alexander Wang as Alexander Wang. Photo: Alexander Wang
By Mao Shan Wang
The news of the day: Taiwanese actress/celebrity Yang Hsiu-hui (杨绣惠) reportedly looks like Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼). In a recent social media post, Ms Yang congratulated the Malaysian actress for winning the Oscar for best actress (appreciable as Ms Yang have not co-starred with the awardee, unlike one mainland Chinese actress, as Netizens eagerly indicated, who has not been public with her well wishes). The photo she shared was a composite of her and the Everything Everywhere all at Once star. Ms Yang’s followers were quick to point out how alike the two women are (not to mention that both share the same surname too). Sure, there is the similarity, but I doubt one would be mistaken for the other if they were walking on the same street. Women sometimes look alike on social media because of how they style themselves, the make-up they use, and even the in-app filters they employ. To me, Michelle Yeoh looks even more like someone else. As Evelyn Wang, she bears an uncanny resemblance to Alexander Wang!
I’m not exaggerating. I noticed it when I first saw the EEAAO movie poster. But I didn’t want to come to that conclusion right away. When I finally watched the film, I was even more convinced. To be certain, Ms Yeoh does not move like the designer nor speak like him. But in EEAAO, several of the scenes showed an Evelyn Wang, as her more aggressive self (or is that her avatar?) without prettifying make-up, who is a dead ringer for Mr Wang, especially the close-ups. The length and waviness of their hair are alike and the shape of their faces too. Uncanny, I kept telling myself. To be sure I was not imagining the likeness, I watched EEAAO twice (but, admittedly, I didn’t sit through it the second time). Not that it’s a bad thing for Evelyn Wang to look like Alexander Wang, or vice versa. If there is a day when a biopic of Ms Yeoh is in the works and an audition is called, Mr Wang might be a good choice. Or, if Alexander Wang’s colourful life were to be made into a movie, I am sure he wouldn’t mind an Academy Award winner playing him. It might pave the way for Michelle Yeoh’s second Oscar nomination, even another win.
At the Bottega Veneta pop-up store outside ION Orchard, a staffer had a curious way of welcoming shoppers
By Ray Zhang
The Bottega Veneta pop-up outside ION Orchard is a striking, unmissable block made of inflatable ‘masonry’ the colour of quartzite. When I spotted it from Wisma Atria, it was beckoning me unlike anything ever erected in this space, not even the mall’s annual Christmas installations. Opened last week, what could be a kid’s playroom looked serious and whimsical at the same time. At its front, tired pedestrians were lolling on the glassed (maybe it was just reflective?) benches arranged in a deliberately non-linear manner; the sitters belying the serious fashion merchandise that I assumed laid inside. As I approached the blow-up shop, shoppers—perhaps, browsers, or sightseers—emerged, giggling. Was it as fun inside as it appeared on the outside? The lure was more palpable.
I walked passed the opened entrance and a wordless doorman, and was immediately surprised to find the inside to be rather warm. Could it be due to the unbreathable material used (possibly PVC-coated vinyl) in the soft-to-touch structure? Some pieces of menswear were within reach. I looked at a denim jacket and a pair of jeans, hoping they were in the printed leather (they were not) that was so much talked about after it was shown last season. Suddenly a salesgirl in all-black appeared next to me and said, not quite chirpily, “Hi, do you have an account with us?” Account? Was I in a bank? Was this set-up for accounts holders only? I asked the unsmiling Gen-Z lass if I needed an account before I could shop. She said no, and went on to babble about something being able to serve me better if my account with the store was made know to her. When I teasingly said that I had no wish to have my spending monitored, she said defensively, “no, we don’t monitor you.”
I can understand why brands often desire to determine if a shopper is “registered” (another frequently used word) with their store. But need that be established first before even any interest in the merchandise was expressed by the visitor? The girl did not welcome me to the store, had not asked how I was, or if there was anything she could help me with—the standard SA reflexes. Rather, with an iPad (or some smart device) in hand, she was eager to enter my “account” details into the system. When she was not able to ascertain that I was a regular or return customer, she walked away. No apology for the intrusion or the unwelcome question. I was later informed that she was “a part-timer”. But, that occupational detail did not negate the disquieting encounter. Interestingly, I have never had to content against such an imposition in a Bottega Veneta store outside our island. Was it bad to shop anonymously, as I always have?
I continued my exploration of the temporary space that looked as large as a living room. A male staffer finally asked me if I needed assistance or if anything caught my interest. He went on to explain that the pop-up featured mainly new merchandise from the latest season. The truth is that I was so thrown off by that earlier unfriendly encounter that I was not in the mood to browse and absorb. Compounded by the heat, the ten minutes or so I was in the store was as memorable—and bearable—as inside an old MRT train with questionable cooling capability. But perhaps what was more pertinent: how experiential was it in there? It is not unreasonable that in building a distinctly different and separate store, Bottega Veneta had wanted to offer shoppers something not just provisional but unforgettable, an environment that is different, a visit that could be fun. I was not sure I walked away especially delighted by what I saw and heard, and felt.
Gucci is believed to be launching their second collaboration with Adidas. Do we really need it?
The first Gucci and Adidas collaboration launched at Design Orchard last June. File Photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD
It has been reported this week that Gucci will be releasing the second collaborative collection with Adidas. The Instagram post of sneaker discloser House of Leaks, revealing the supposed kicks of the Gucci X Adidas pairing, was reported by news sites, such as Highsnobiety and Yahoo News. There’s no word from the Italian or German brand yet, but their next joint output supposedly will comprise of only footwear, mainly the Gazelle and the ZX 8000. The shoes are expected to drop later this month. As seen in the leaked images, the kicks are mostly colourful and attention-grabbing, with no subtlety in the use of the Gucci monogram on the upper—nothing new there. This will no doubt delight those for whom branding-lite footwear holds virtually no appeal.
Last year’s debut Gucci X Adidas collab was, as we understand it, initiated by Alessandro Michelle. That Gucci will revive a collaboration conceived by the former creative director, who left suddenly and purportedly amid abrasive corporate dissent, is rather surprising. According to WWD, there were “strong disagreements over the future of the brand [that] caused a rift between Michele and president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri”. On top of that, Gucci’s management wanted what has been referred to as “reboot” of the brand. If so, why revive something that vividly recalls the person that has brought the brand immense fortune until it did not? Gucci will soon have a new creative head—Sabato De Sarno from Valentino. Might it make more sense to see what path forward Mr Se Sarno will take Gucci before inking on aesthetic-firming partnerships?
It is not clear what Gucci considers great for the interim. A puzzling autumn/winter 2023 collection that showed more skin than required for the season seemed like a poorly-considered filler. It is possible that fashion folks are waiting for the new Gucci to unveil itself before committing to purchases that would quickly become tired and passé. Perhaps Gucci thinks sneakers have staying power. But the new collaboration still bears the visual exuberance that Mr Michele had desired for the pairing. If there was the possibility that consumers were satiated with that overkill at the time of Mr Michele’s departure, is it not likely that they’re still jelak? Or, conversely, could it be Adidas that needs this pairing more? After killing Yeezy, Adidas projected a staggering operating loss of €700 million for 2023, which would be the brand’s first annual loss in 31 years, as reported. It would appear that Addidas needs to rev things up, even with a temporarily rudderless Gucci.
The recent Oscars presentation showed that there is a market for head covering that’s not a tudung
Left: Gaurav Gupta dress shown at Paris Couture Spring/Summer 2023. Photo: Gaurav Gupta. Right: Tems in Lever Couture. Photo: Getty Images
The red carpet, must trod-on walkway of award shows, has always been a fashion trap. The colour may make those standing on it appear important, but it is, in fact, insidious by nature, ready to ensnare the fashion-clueless star and underscore how foolish they look. In the past, screen idols—and they were—needn’t depend on fashion to the point that their popularity at the award ceremony depended on what they wore. These days, things are, of course, vastly different. So many individuals in the fashion ecosystem are involved. A star cannot simply go to their favourite store and pick what they like. They are expected to make this the opportunity to keep otherwise unoccupied couturiers busy. Or avail themselves as a walking billboard. An what is worn now must shout F.A.S.H.I.O.N. As much is at stake, red carpet newbies try harder, often unaware of what they are really wearing because powerful stylists have more say. As long as you stand out, even if to the detriment of others around you, you have made it. One of them who had us thinking (yes, still) is the singer-songwriter Tems.
Yes, we’re revisiting that dress. Tems, aka Temilade Openiyi, wore a white gown that provided shelter for her head. The partly ruched dress with a thigh-high slit was by the just-over-a-decade-old label, Lever Couture, whose designer is Ukrainian-German, Lessja Verlingieri, known for her over-the-top “hand-sculpted” gowns. What Ms Openiyi wore was part of the label’s spring/summer 2023, revealed last September at the Rakuten Fashion Week in Tokyo. It is similar to the dress—also by Lever Couture—that Cardi B wore on the cover of Essence’s May/June 2022 issue. Ms Verlingieri’s style is hard to define, but she seems to like to manipulate her fabrics by fashioning them directly onto the body’s form. She is partial to extravagant over-the-head extensions, such as the cumulous canopy seen on Tems. Extraneous and distended parts are very much a part of the couture language. But what framed Tems’s head was already seen elsewhere—a continent apart.
In India. But that’s not quite exact enough. To be more precise, Paris, during the couture spring/summer 2023 season. Designer Gaurav Gupta showed for the first time—as a guest member—during the official Haute Couture Week. The collection comprised his signature curvilinear swathes in Indian handloom tissue that swirled around the body and over the head. He, too, called his way with fabric “sculpting”. This dramatic aesthetic was best worn on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at last year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. The back of that dress that soared skywards was taller than Tems’s head cover. It is not known if the former beauty queen wore the dress at any of the festival’s screening and if she did, if anyone’s view was blocked. Times of India described the Indian actress in the Gaurav Gupta dress as “a phenomenon” while the Delhi-based designer portrayed her as “new-concept Venus” after Botticelli’s famed mid-1480 painting, minus the shell. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s gown was mostly covered by the Indian media. Conversely, Tems’s look went viral. In the end, that’s all that matters.
It was not a night of many outstanding dresses, but in the audience one did stick out, literally
The single most obvious dress. Photo: ABC
Like some of you, we watched the Oscars telecast on television, a set that has not replaced our smartphone. We woke up early to catch the red carpet segment (this year it was changed to champagne after more than six decades of the colour of chilli). There was, unfortunately, little that could keep us from going back to snoozing. The sight of Michelle Yeoh looking like a bride at Ipoh’s Pusing Public Restaurant (布先民众海鲜酒家) did not. Someone did catch our eye even when she wasn’t interviewed on the pale carpet. We snagged mere snatches of a black woman in a white gown. Later, reading reports on the arrival of the A-listers and the Bs and Cs, we learned that it was Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems (name on passport: Temilade Openiyi). Many had thought she looked good as she posed for the cameras. No one foresaw the problem her dress—with the hood (the other hooded attendee was Malala Yousafzai), directed upwards and surrounding her head like the naga Mucalinda—would create when she was seated in the Dolby Theatre.
As the award ceremony proceeded and when the camera panned across the audience, Tems and her clouded head could not escape notice. In her seat, she looked like she had a roof of a heavenly carriage over her head (or was it an incomplete transformation of a pumpkin?). The dress, reportedly by Lever Couture, a German label by Ukraine-born designer Lessja Verlingieri—with a whiff of Gaurav Gupta?—could easily be seen to obstruct those seated behind her. The 27-year-old seemed unfazed by the inconvenience she caused (inflicted was more like it) to those around her. Her defenders were impressed by how “ethereal” she looked. Question is, at whose expense? Tems’s seeming indifference is, perhaps, consistent with the behaviour of those of her generation—there is no need to be aware of your immediate surroundings and to take note of how your behaviour may affect/annoy others. And when fashion is in the equation, that comes first. Tems, a nominee (who co-wrote the best song contender Lift Me Up with Rihanna for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), not only wanted to be noticed, she desired that her presence felt, too.
Unmissable Fan Bing Bing on the champagne carpet. Photo: AP
Fan Bing Bing, recently out of hiding as a result of a tax scandal in China and ready to make an entrance, had extended parts to her dress as well. Although her massive, distended, barrel-like sleeves might not have blocked anyone’s view, it could have irritated the two people seated beside her. The dress by Lebanese-Italian Tony Ward comprised of a slim, beaded, halterneck gown with an ‘outer’ attached to the main dress. It is not known if the much larger green part is removable, but if it isn’t, we do not envy the seated individuals flanking her. If they weren’t able to sit higher than the 1.68m tall actress, might their view of the stage be obscured too? Would they remain quietly and patiently throughout the evening’s proceedings, just as the guy to Tems’s left did? Is it ever right to tell a woman that her mighty gown is obtrusive?
Netizens have called Tems out for being “rude”. But impertinence that is the result of preference of dress is no longer so. Stars have long thrust their fashion choices into our field of vision whether what is before us is acceptable or not, without considering if they might come across as insolent. Visually intrusive looks have dominated not just the red carpet or the audience, but the stage too. And it has trickled down to everyday life, when, for example, commuters in public transport, too, pay no heed to the encroachment of extraneous parts of clothes upon other commuters. Tems, in her frothy sumptuousness, validated the disregard of being mindful of public spaces. Obtrusive dressing, like loud conversations or profanities, must, therefore, be tolerated. Compared to The Slap, perhaps this fashion inconvenience, while also unmannerly, was nothing?
Michelle Yeoh, in Dior, accepting her Oscar. Photo: Getty Images
To be sure, the continent of Asia is, as we post this, deliriously proud of Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng (杨紫琼), not merely her small hometown of Ipoh. Malaysia is, of course, lauding their daughter, who has never starred in a single Malaysian film production, as their “大马之光 (damazhiguang or Malaysia’s glory)”. Just hours ago, Tan Sri Yeoh became the first Asian to win an Oscar for best actress, and only the second non-white to be awarded the title after Halle Berry for her role in 2001’s Monster’s Ball. She went on stage, resplendent in bridal Dior Couture, to accept her award and encouraged “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities (sic).” And like so many other recipients, she thanked her mother: “I have to dedicate this to my mom, all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes and without them, none of us will be here tonight. She’s 84 and I’m taking this home to her.”
We have no doubt that the Yeoh family was over the moon. Matriarch Janet Yeoh, decked in matching bridal white, was watching the telecast live with her family in Kuala Lumpur, in a cinema at the Pavilion mall. “I’m proud of my daughter. My daughter is a hardworking girl,” she said in a video circulating online. Those unable to attend the family viewing, such as nephew Justin Yeoh, who resides in Singapore, sent good wishes through their Facebook pages. Even Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim congratulated the Oscar winner with a honorific, saying she “carries the hopes of Malaysians”, the New Straits Times reported. BH (Berita Harian) enthused that her win “menepati ramalan ramai (met many predictions)”. Ms Yeoh’s triumph was, therefore, not surprising. Backstage at the Oscars press room, Ms Yeoh said, “This is something we have been working so hard towards, for a very long time… I’m still here today. Finally after 40 years I get this.” Forty years is a long wait. Other actresses have waited longer, and have not won. She found gold at first strike. The cheers she has garnered are expected.
But we, on the other hand, are not as thrilled as we thought we’d be. Michelle Yeoh’s performance in EEAAO as Evelyn Wang is credible. But was it a great one? Was it a tour de force? We are not able to say with confidence. Nothing Mediacorp’s Aileen Tan (陈丽贞) or Chen Liping (陈莉萍) can’t play. Surely the Academy should award exceptional performances? EEAAO, also the Best Picture, is not easy to understand, even to sit through (an unnecessarily lengthy film of 142 mins). It’s been called messy just like the private-quarters-behind-the-laundromat of the Wangs, but some messes are just that: 乱七八糟 (luanqibazao) or disorderly. And getting the multiverse involved—in which unfunny sausage fingers exist—is just pretext for throwing everything everywhere at the manic film and already convoluted plot, made worse by the inexplicably garish overproduction. It’s all a bit too keh kiang (假腔, Hokkien for hollow or unconvincing cleverness). Many Western critics had called EEAAO “original”, but just because such absurdist excess, bordering on the puerile, had not made it to the big screen before—or, gasp, Oscars—did not necessarily make it good.
Of the four acting awards, three went to EEAAO. From left, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, Jamie Lee Curtis. Photo: ABC
Michelle Yeoh is one of those actresses who is okay to watch if she wasn’t aiming for film-making’s top award (e.g. her turn in Crazy Rich Asians). Her performance in EEAAO as the too-much-to-do Asian-American wife gunning for, well, too much, which The Star delightfully called a “complex take”, is not exactly to-be-studied character acting for acting class. She could have imagined herself as an auntie type back in Ipoh. The long-suffering wife is nothing novel or groundbreaking. What newness, indeed, did she bring to Evelyn Wang? We felt that we were watching Michelle Yeoh, still as feisty (even OTT?) as Inspector Ng in 1985’s Yes, Madam (皇家师姐) or Inspector Yang in 1992’s Police Story 3: Super Cop (,警察故事三：超级警察). Her Evelyn Wang sounds exactly the same as her Mameha (Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005) and Eleanor Sung-Young, the later slightly more posh-sounding. Cate Blanchett inhabiting her role in Tár did not bring along her Australian accent. Ms Yeoh, even in the AAEEO’s Asian-American household, was unable to shake off sounding Anglo-Malaysian.
It, too, is hard to understand why directors insist on her speaking Mandarin when she, by her own admission, is not proficient in the language. She was criticised for her 普通话 (putonghua) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chow Yun Fatt, too) despite, reportedly, having received training from an accent coach. That shaky Mandarin was repeated in EEAAO. But what was ironic is that the characters Evelyn and Waymond Wang are supposed to be from China. (The casting of Ke Huy Quan, a Vietnamese-American with his American English, too, was bizzare.) Add to that, Evelyn Wang speaks Cantonese! And only moderately better than her Mandarin. The communication in English between she and the people around her rings with an FOTB inflection, just in case you needed to be reminded that the Wangs are immigrants. The do-not-sound-alike husband and wife are seemingly not from the same part of China, which are not identified when we know their laundry business is in California.
Her Oscar win is, to us, an alignment of the stars. The year 2022, as it eased out of the pandemic, has been good to Michelle Yeoh. Time named her ‘Icon of the Year’. EEAAO arrived when there was (and is) demand for minority “representation” in Hollywood, including, in the case of EEAAO, the immigrant experience. The film is repeatedly hailed as “a breakthrough for Hollywood diversity”. In other words inclusive, purposely inclusive. Imagine how Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙) would have fared if it is a work of the present. This is the year for Asians actors and film-makers to shine. EEAAO’s award season success attests to that. And the Academy wanted to ensure that a win for the Michelle Yeoh vehicle will keep them in line with the overall mood and drive in the US. Ms Yeoh’s controversial Instagram post last Tuesday, just hours before Oscar voting closed, in which she shared—and then quickly deleted—a Vogue think-piece wondering if Cate Blanchett needed another of the gold statuette since she already has two, was overlooked. The Malaysian appeared to share Vogue’s sentiment—at least initially—until someone from her team probably reminded her that she could have violated Academy Awards guidelines. One of them states that “any tactic that singles out ‘the competition’ by name or title is expressly forbidden”.
The cast and crew of EEAAO receiving the Best Picture award. Photo: Getty Images
To us, Michelle Yeoh won the Oscar, not because of her exceptional, moving performance (some Malaysians, including those from Ipoh, shared with SOTD, that her part in EEAAO “说不上演技 (shuobushang yanji)” or isn’t about acting skills. It is possible she is surrounded by the right people to ensure that her time, although forty years late, would come. It is also tempting to consider the influence of the recently elected—last August—president of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences Janet Yang Yanzi (杨燕子). She is the organisation’s first Asian-American female president and it is possible that the born-in-Queens, New York film veteran wanted to make her mark at the Academy by witnessing Michelle Yeoh become the first Asian to get the best actress nod. What is also interesting is that she and the Malaysian Oscar winner share the same maiden name. We are not suggesting that there were improper behind-the-scenes arrangements. But everything—and everyone—everywhere just fell into place all at once for Michelle Yeoh.
It is hard to imagine that EEAAO, even if entirely spoken in Mandarin, would even be considered for the Golden Horse Award (金马奖), yet they made a staggering sweep at the Oscars, winning a total of seven awards out of 11 nominations: three acting awards, best editing, best original screenplay, best director, and best picture. The best is, of course, not always the best. Not since 2005’s Slumdog Millionaire (with eight awards), has there been EEAAO’s enviable haul. As they made more gains later into the award season, more pundits believed that the US$25 million movie (compared to another best film nominee Avatar: The Way of Water’s estimated US$250 million!) would dominate at the Oscars. The film’s success is thought to speak for Asians but we think that’s too grandiose an ambition to consider. EEAAO is intensely Asian-American in its leaning and narrative; doubtful, therefore, that it is, laundromat et al, a “beacon” for Asia, even if the Asian experience could be that multiversal. Asia is huge and it is diverse, possibly more than what is experienced or seen in California. Surely even Michelle Yeoh cannot profess to be the archetypal Asian actress.
She may have won an Oscar, but it can’t be said that Ms Yeoh scored big in the style stakes. We have often thought that Dior on the red (or champagne) carpet is frequently anti-climatic for even the most seasoned presentation attendee. For the grandest award ceremony (and the most watched), she placed her trust in Dior and it turned out to be the weakest of all her red carpet looks of the past months. Decidedly underwhelming (perhaps intentionally, in case she had to leave empty-handed), the gown could have passed off for one from any of the bridal shops along Tanjong Pagar Road. It seemed that it could have originally been a strapless number, but turned out to be something else—the tiered, feathered bustier-gown, for some reason, had to be attached to a sheer upper bodice. We weren’t quite able to make out the silhouette either: was it a tented dress or was it meant to be waisted? A safe bet to avoid the puzzlement that followed her choice of that Schiaparelli dress at the SAG awards? She was not, of course, the first to don bridal wear to an award ceremony. K D Lang wore one at the first-ever Juno Award in 1985. Michelle Yeoh has come a long way from the time of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, when she attended the Oscars in Barney Cheng. These days, Hong Kong qipao is no longer on her mind. She has walked on various red carpets in Gucci, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and Dior. When an Oscar win beckons, only European names will do, even if it could pass off as anyone’s wedding dress.