Tomb Paraders

Dior’s fall—pre-fall?—2023 presentation was a theatrical affair at the Great Pyramids of Giza

Dior staged their latest men’s show at an Egyptian necropolis—on the Giza Plateau, home of the three 4th-dynasty pyramids. The four-sided structure appeared in the background, their outlines illuminated by lights. Dior proudly declared that this was their first presentation in Egypt. But the Italian label Stefano Ricci beat them to it when they staged their autumn/winter 2022 collection at Luxor’s better-lit Temple of Hatshepsut, this past October, making that Egypt’s first fashion show on their arid land. Neither was Dior’s the first presentation in a desert. Back in July, Saint Laurent staged its Spring/Summer 2023 event on the Agafay desert, outside of Marrakech, with just a single man-made structure, a massive monolithic ring, for the set. And in December 2020, a womenswear spring/summer 2021 runway on a dune, somewhere in the Sahara. If not for the pyramids in the background, Dior’s show could have been on any sandy acreage.

“My interest in ancient Egypt is about the stars and the sky,” Kim Jones said about the choice of Egypt as show venue. “It’s that fascination with the ancient world and the parallels with what we look at today; what we inherited from them and what we are still learning from the past.” There is no mention of sand or sand dunes, or this famous part, west of the capital Cairo. “In both the collection and the show there is an idea of ‘guided by the stars’ and what that can entail in many ways.” The pyramids were incidental; just theatrical scenery. And as there were no mention of the land, Lawrence of Arabia (although the film referred to Syria) did not appear, except those floaty capes or headwear that are not the keffiyeh. Mr Jones likely wanted to avoid the obvious. The universe, including Dior’s, is expanding.

In fact, there is, as far as we could discern, nothing that could be linked to Egypt, not that the collection—titled Celestial— needed to be. The soundtrack of a relentless techno thump already indicated the negation of North Africa or Bedouin exotica. This is modern fashion for urbanites much further away, with concrete rather than sand underfoot. There was a street vibe, a paring down of the formality that Mr Jones had initially reintroduce to his Dior Men. These were separates, almost travelcore, for the more adventurous fashion consumers, those keen on pairing the sportif with the elegant and a touch of the camp; these were not for the likes of Zahi Hawass of his younger self. Mr Jones put aside for now literary references (not even T.E. Lawrence?) for the exploration of what’s up there. Does it not sound like now-out-of-the-picture Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Cosmogenie?

There were, of course, the prints of the universe, in colours most of us came to be aware of through the cinema. They were on pullovers, leggings, windbreakers, and other outers that happily flap in the cooperative wind. Unexpected this season were the sheer gauzy pieces that, in some, included a few very bee-keeper-looking face/head protectors. Talking about those, there were also helmets with glass face shields. No driver/rider/vehicular needs were evident. In preparation for a stand storm? And what about those openwork (featuring the Dior motif Cannage) breastplates? For the modern charioteer? This season, Mr Jones finally explored skirts for men—sort of. There were many pleated halves, worn like you would an apron, but to the side. If they were full skirts (and, especially, paired with those sporty tops), might they have reminded us of what were shown at Louis Vuitton before? Could Kim Jones be positioning himself as the next Virgil Abloh?

Screen shot (top) and photos: Dior

Blackjack’s Back

Or, will be before long. In 1996, when it opened, Club 21’s Blackjack was the temple of cool, but it closed 15 years later. They’ll soon return, very soon

Most shoppers these days associate Club 21 (this year marks their golden jubilee) with just that—Club 21, the multi-label store in the Four Seasons Hotel, and the separate units for men and for women. Those more aware would be able to identify other single-brand entities under the Club 21 Group, such as Jil Sander, Comme des Garçons, and the newly refurbished Issey Miyake, all at voco Orchard (the former Hilton Singapore), but still known as The Shopping Gallery. There were, however, other multi-label stores under Singapore’s most recognisable luxury retailer. One that might easily come to mind is Blackjack (in Forum the Shopping Gallery), Club 21’s carefully-considered assemblage of mid-’90s cool, featuring clothes by minimalist brands, such as Helmut Lang and Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, as well as street/sports-centric labels (still minimal), such as Y3.

To be exact, Blackjack opened in 1996 at HPL House, the headquarters of HPL—Hotel Properties Limited, the conglomerate behind some of the best luxury hotels in the world. It was deemed the most exciting store for youths at the time, a haven for street style that included Japanese labels such as Tsumori Chisato, as well as those from the UK such as Maharishi. It even had an accompanying Blackjack Café (once Scoops, a Häagen-Dazs ice cream parlour). But, Blackjack was possibly too ahead of its time. The Straits Times journalist Jamie Ee (now an editor with The Business Times), once described in the daily that “there’s nothing for the over-20 set in this store.” Blackjack closed two years later due to sluggish footfall, and, perhaps more directly, the economic woes of the time. Although there were initial rumours that they would relocated to Pacific Plaza (then, a swanky mall with Prada in it), they chose the HPL-owned Forum The Shopping Mall, the former Forum Galleria.

Against its placid neighbours, the new Blackjack store stood out for its stylish incongruence and a departure from its initial funkier self. We remember the unusual and somewhat off-beat tangerine-hued rubber flooring and similarly coloured storage units. The space was not massive, yet there was the centrepiece of an ovoid rack, suspended from a stainless-steel vessel secured to the ceiling. Somewhat industrial was the effect, with a whiff of Halloween. Some shoppers sensed a coldness that they said was consistent with Club 21 stores, but came they did for the merchandise mix that spoke with considerable eloquence of the zeitgeist of the time. Blackjack closed in 2011 after an impressive 15-year run in all. Replacing it was the more intimate and, dare we say, edgier Club21b (that, too, recently moved out, and is in two unmarked units at voco Orchard). But Blackjack is poised to return this month. From an accidental peek at the black-and-white space (top) a few days ago, and the updated logotype, we sensed something appealing is afoot.

From an accidental peek at the black-and-white space (top) a few days ago, and the updated logotype, we sensed something appealing is afoot

To be sure, Blackjack was not the first into the hipster market back then. The template was formed by Blue Moon, a retail disrupter conceived unexpectedly by HPL in 1991. Blue Moon was unlike anything under HPL’s kin, the Club 21 Group. It was not situated in the Hilton Shopping Gallery (a HPL property, now voco Orchard) or in a mall, even a HPL-owned shopping centre. Rather, Blue Moon was in HPL House on Cuscaden Road, behind Forum the Shopping Mall. It sat on the first floor (but not quite street level), below Hard Rock Cafe, opened a year earlier, and, interestingly, our island’s first Emporio Armani store. From Orchard Road, you could barely see it. A discrete address, some had said: still on the our island’s only shopping belt then, but away from the main drag.

Blue Moon was a draw because it was the closest we had to street fashion that was not an obvious nod to hip hop. It was closer to what you would have found in London’s Covent Garden (of the ’90s). There were many brands (compelling products, rather than brand names, were the driving force) in the 7,300 sq ft (or 678 sqm)—too many for us to remember now. But what was also unique about Blue Moon was their openness to local labels. One of them was Argentum, the indie jewellery brand, still in operation today. Unfortunately, with the changing tide of fashion, and taste, Blue Moon closed in 1995. The baton to capture youth spend was passed to Blackjack in the same location, but that too shuttered in 1998. Unlike Blackjack, Blue Moon was not considered for resurrection. We are unable to say for now what the new Blackjack will stock, but we expect it to live up to its sterling past.

Updated: 5 December 2022, 18.30. Some dates have been corrected for accuracy.

Blackjack is expected to reopen at level 2, The Shopping Gallery, voco Orchard on 8th December. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Bobitecture Of Shoes

It’s hard to deny the influence of Yeezys

Givenchy TK-360+

They could pass off as something made of bread dough. That’s what came to mind when we saw the Givenchy TK-360+ sneakers up close. A leavened lump. An irregular loaf. A curvilinear paste. With scored pattern on top, no less. They look comfortable, but we are not sure we’re comfortable with how they look. Ugly footwear is, for sure, still a thing. With new footwear technology and design approaches, ugliness can be enhanced, rather than diminished. Sure, luxury brands are re-defining sleek, but they are also (still) augmenting unseemliness, especially in the form of the clunky. And, far-out. Yet, these shoes do not necessarily invite replusion. Unlike It bags, It shoes have to be somewhat odious, at least at the first encounter. But warming up to them does not take time. Aesthetically, they need to be, for the present, staggeringly anti-trim. Sneakers unlike clothes, cannot be worn oversized, so designers exaggerate the form and disfigure the already clumpy soles to allow the kicks to appear to house distended feet. The TK-360+ is keeping with this new tradition.

Givenchy isn’t the first to offer blobs for feet. That honour could go to the doomed Adidas Yeezy collaboration. Kanye West’s ideas for sneakers never truly made the feet look especially sleek and aerodynamic. Sure, Yeezy 350, which were almost synonymous with the Yeezy footwear line, was not quite clunky, but the Yeezy 500 from 2018 was, so too the 570. Other new styles that came later got progressively bulkier: the 700 V1, V2, and V3, the 700 QNTM (even the “OG”), and without doubt, the post-350 of the 380, culminating in the outright alien Foam Runner. The TK-360+ in its first version (released in May, with a style number minus the +) did bring to mind Adidas Yeezy Knit Runner from September last year, way before things turned awry for the partnership. The Adidas Yeezy and the Givenchy are all-knit slip-ons, with details in the mid-sole: one with a horizontal slit, the other a vertical groove. The Knit Runner was considered Mr West’s most “avant-garde” silhouette. Givenchy’s Matthew M Williams described the TK-360+ as his “dream shoe”. But, for some of us, not quite sweet.

Givenchy TK360+ sneakers, SGD1,450, are available in stores. Photo: Jim Sim

Balenciaga Ads: “Wrong Artistic Choice”

Demna Gvasalia finally reacts and apologises

In the past, European luxury houses could not get their advertising right for Asia. Now they can’t do it well for their own audience. For Balenciaga, the misstep struck twice. And the reactions to them have been by no means mild. Fans of Kim Kardashian were quick to point out how she, a Balenciaga fan and model (or the better-sounding “brand ambassador”), had been slow to say something. She eventually did, claiming she had been “re-evaluating” her relationship with the house. Five days after one of the problematic ads ‘Balenciaga Gift Shop’ was launched (16 November) and the disapproval (sometimes rabid) that followed, Balenciaga posted on Instagram, “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused…” In the mean time, country singer Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany Aldean was one of the first celebrities to show her unmistakable disapproval: she shared a post on IG showing her taking out the garbage in clear plastic bags. In them were Balenciaga merchandise. The comment read, “It’s trash day @balenciaga.” No one could be certain if she really discarded those items or if it was just a social-media stunt. The post was quickly deleted. Two days ago, Mrs Aldean shared another photo of herself in a leather jacket with the message: “A little fringe and Dolce never hurt nobody”.

And now Demna Gvasalia, like other designers before him, has apologised. On IG, he wrote under the header “Personal Message”: “I want to personally apologize for the wrong artistic choice of concept for the gifting campaign with the kids and I take my responsibility. It was inappropriate to have kids promote objects that had nothing to do with them.” This came more than two weeks after the backlash unfurled. Still, it is a welcome move as no one in the industry that we spoke to believed that Balenciaga was not aware of “unapproved items” used, as stated in an earlier apology, or that no one in the company knew what was disseminated. And that they should be so aggrieved by the sum fallout that they initiated a USD25-million lawsuit against the companies that produced the advertisements for another campaign (Spring 2023 collection) containing those “unsettling documents”.

After Mr Gvasalia’s post, Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit apologised too, calling what happened in the past weeks “our mistakes” and sharing a list of corporate actions—“with the objective to learn from our mistakes”—that the company has instituted, including reorganising “our image department to ensure full alignment with our corporate guidelines”. Mr Charbit also revealed that Balenciaga “has decided not to pursue litigation”. No reason was given to the rescinding. Provocation is, of course, part of Balenciaga’s present-day appeal. But things could go unnecessarily far. Now, there is even the hashtag #CANCELBALENCIAGA (on TikTok, more than 120 million views have been clocked). Mr Gvasalia also said in his personal message, “As much as I would sometimes like to provoke a thought through my work, I would NEVER have an intention to do that with such an awful subject as child abuse that I condemn.” Another day in the world of fashion. And the route to redemption.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Colour Of (Pulled) Milk Tea

Sneakers that come in shades of food are not unusual, but those in one of our fave beverages, the teh tarik, are rather

By Awang Sulung

Malaysia and our little island share many things in common, food wise. But I am not wadding into the nasi lemak debate. Jangan! Rather, let’s dip into our shared love of milk tea, especially teh tarik (or pulled tea in Malay, even if it’s essentially a mamak brew) And, across the Causeway, they seem far more willing to pair their love of this beverage with their love of sneakers than we do, so much so that they managed to convince Asics to colour of one the Japanese brand’s most popular sneaks—the Gel-Lyte III—in the particular orange-y tint of the teh Malaysians love to drink with roti canai. I don’t think Asics has any pair that sports the green of matcha, but in Malaysia, they have theirs that could have really been dipped in milk tea.

And I must say they appear fetching, if not sedap. And, for sure, they look cukup lemak, with the suede-like upper really imparting the full-cream milkiness of the teh. There is, for contrast, even the Asics Tiger Stripes in a fuzzy fabric, which could be the characteristic foam of the beverage. The latest colour story of the Gel-Lyte III is really the quenching of the creative thirst of one of Malaysia’s leading streetwear retailers Hundred%. This is, in fact, a follow-up to 2019’s GEL-Kayano 5 OG that came in the shades of nasi lemak! A work of not just Hundred%, but also the Malaysian sneaker con and store, SneakerLAH. Frankly, that skim warna did not work for me, as I consider it a tad gawdy. But this time, the monochromatic choice of teh tarik is, I find, more appealing .

I’ve always been a fan of the Gel-Lyte III, with its distinctive forked-tongue, but not like those of reptiles. And this teh tarik version has added grassroots/kedai kopi pull for me. Unfortunately, it is only available in Kuala Lumpur, and in one physical location. If you have a friend in the capital to do you a favour, your problem could be solved, but I fear that by the time you read this post, this pair of Asics, launched tomorrow, would be sold out, which would really leave some of us quite haus.

Asics Gel-Lyte IIITeh Tarik’, RM699, is only available at Home Store, Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Asics

Culture On!

Our island’s annual street-style, multi-activity fair Culture Cartel is back with their fourth edition. This time, in Orchard Road. Could this be the best retail event of the year?

The main concourse of Culture Cartel in Scape

In an op-ed last Monday for The Straits Times, ‘How to make Orchard Road great again for shoppers’, the former writer of the paper’s now-defunct Urban Karen Tee opined that “the shopping experience [on said street] does not always live up to expectations”. She isn’t wrong. The first reason Ms Tee cited is that “popular sizes and product models are often sold out”. Most retailers will say that it is nearly impossible to stock all the sizes and styles at once so that they are available to all customers whenever they walk into a store. Had it been just bad luck for the shopper? Additionally, Ms Tee is of the belief that brands are resistant to bringing in “too many statement pieces”. She did not explain why that many are needed if they are indeed those items that make a statement. A former buyer at Comme des Garçons once told us that “statement pieces are very expensive and it is not easy to sell them. Often, we have to mark down.”

What was interestingly missing in Ms Tee’s observation of shopping in Orchard Road was the no-mention of fashion—and culture—that correlates with youths, surely an important and influential market segment, and one that leads in terms of the experiential. She did write of the need to make shopping fun, and described the recently-concluded Boutique Fairs as “a nice break from the usual Orchard Road shopping experience”. What was fun or out of the ordinary to her at the Fairs? Apparently the chance “to meet designers in person and learn about their creative process (we, too, were there, but no designer spoke to us about that), making shopping a lived experience rather than just a mere transaction”. She then mentioned Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighbourhood and Seoul’s Hongdae, and how much she “enjoyed” both. Ms Tee did not indicate that Shimokitazawa and Hongdae, which is close to Hongik University, are essentially enclaves of a generally youthful consumer population. Retailers in these places do cater to the young; their businesses and the lively mix of tenants impart a distinct vibe to the place, as well as dynamism. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s easy to describe them as cool. In the end, we are curious to know if Ms Tee ever “met any designer in person” in those places. And, at the Boutique Fairs, were “popular sizes and product models” always in stock? And did she find her elusive statement pieces?

When we mentioned this ST story to a PR consultant, she was quick to say: “no fresh perspectives”. And we agree. Were these not the same gripes we have been hearing for the last 20 or so years? Orchard Road can never be Tokyo’s Omotesando—another street Ms Tee mentioned, nor should it try to be. In fact, “A Great Street”, as Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) likes to call it, cannot come close to any of the main shopping areas in the Japanese capital. Omotesando is unlike any other major shopping belt in the world, not even Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, or New Bond Street in London, is comparable. What makes Omotesando exceptional is that it is flanked and well served by the arterial streets of Ura-Harajuku and Aoyama/Jingumae on each side of the thoroughfare. And in these parts, you do find stores and brands that are not part of the usual European luxury conglomerates. Therein lies the opportunity for discovery, and gratification, and entertainment. Orchard Road is just one mall-lined street. Ms Tee mentioned the need to make shopping fun without saying what indeed makes for fun. Perhaps she might find it if she pops into Culture Cartel this weekend.

Massive installations dot Culture Cartel. Here, Singaporean toy and art studio Mighty Jazz’s CHXMP fronting Culture Cartel

Cuteness is often part of street culture. At Culture Cartel, a “Petting Zoo”

This year’s Culture Cartel is held at the (now significantly disused) *Scape. It is the fair’s first appearance in Orchard Road, and a rousing return to a physical space after 2020’s digital version and last year’s understandable hiatus. Culture Cartel is described as “the best and the only street culture event in Asia”, which may have been the selling point that snagged the Singapore Tourism Board as a firm supporter, hoping to “position Singapore as a street culture hub”. In his opening speech during the media preview this morning, convention director Jeremy Tan of Axis Group Asia revealed that the confirmation of the use of *Scape came only in July this year, which effectively gave him and his partners four months to prepare. Despite the short lead time, things came neatly to place because of the “creative passion, the bonds, and community spirit”. Culture Cartel is different from other street style-style-driven events in that it is a collective expression of what the culture is about: an amalgamation of obsessions, not just sneakers or T-shirts, but also figurines and toys, customised-ornamenting of motorcycles, even garments, and, for the first time, NFTs, and the very real art of tattooing. In fact, there are “six pillars” in all.

The event occupies the first three levels of *Scape, covering an area of 63,420 sq ft (or about 5,892 sqm), which is smaller than the F1 Pit Building, location of the first and second Culture Cartel. Housing the event here (possibly the last on such a scale as the 15-year-old building will, according to The Straits Times, “undergo a revamp” and reopen in 2024) is a boon to those participants who like proper, demarcated spaces, within which to tell their brand stories, and to do so with visual flair. Going from one brand space to another here is also a more agreeable experience. At the F1 Pit Building in the past, it took considerable time to go from one end to the other of the length of each floor. Conversely, *Scape, a building that’s triangular in shape, is a lot more compact. Mr Tan exclaimed to a member of the press: “It’s like a shopping mall experience.” Culture Cartel is not the first such event to be held here. In 2019, before the COVID 19 pandemic, the now-single-day-event-at-Drip-last-month Sole Superior (that once also went by the moniker Street Superior) staged their ‘con’ here, but with considerably less orderliness and, for some, pull.

One of the most popular areas of the event is the Archive Room, with Mark Ong’s SBTG on the left

One of the best local newcomers is the menswear brand N3AVIGATE

Regular attendees to Culture Cartel will be able to spot the regular exhibitors and the obligatory shops of the sponsors. The event is not discernibly zoned, except for the areas shared by tattoo artists. The most appealing set-up is by Pharaoh’s Horses, a Singaporean tattoo-parlour-cum-clothier, who offers fashion inspired by tattoo art. Many visitors appear to head straight for level three (the main atrium is on level two, and what appears to be the basement is, in fact, level 1). And the space that seems to draw them in is the Archive Room, curated by Chooee Hwang of the street-culture-centric media company Streething, with input from possibly the most beloved OG of the scene Mark Ong of SBTG. Mr Ong has his own space (thronged by fans) that offers, among the usual T-shirts and such, “neo-vintage” sneaks—new shoes made to look old. Mr Hwang explained that the idea of the Archive Room is to offer something that counters e-commerce platforms. “Everything is online, but I want a physical room, I want to create an on-site experience by putting out what I have, or sort of archive.”

One of the joys of an event such as Culture Cartel is to discover labels unheard of before (or unfamiliar), not necessarily just to meet the designers. One of the brands we were delighted to encounter in the Archive Room is the four-year-old N3avigate. As the numeral in the name suggests, there is a trio behind the brand—Aaron Yip, Alvin Tan, and Justin Low. N3avigate, founded in 2019, is a menswear label with a military/work wear aesthetic, reminiscent of WTAPS, and GR-Uniforma. Mr Tan says the clothes are “designed at home” since they do not operate out of a studio, as the guys have their “day jobs”. He happily reveals that he is working for Casio and has, in fact, “just finished setting up before coming over”. The clothes are produced in three countries: China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. We like the visual merchandising of the line, as well as the design consistency and the hand feel of the products, although the production would benefit from technical expertise. When we asked Mr Tan if he was invited by Mark Ong to participate in Culture Cartel, he replied, “Oh, we are friends!”

The unsurprising queue outside the Limited Edt unit, dubbed the Ice Cream Parlour

One of the few sneaker resellers, RAuthentic X District_Co, with their piled-up merchandise

Some names are the mainstays of Culture Cartel. Limited Edt certainly is, as the proprietor Mandeep Chopra is on the four-man organising team that includes Jeremy Tan, and Douglas Khee and Dave Chiam, co-founders of the event management outfit Division Communications. The almost twenty-year-old Limited Edt, with a gelato-coloured store front, sits in one corner of the third floor, next to an entryway, and it soon becomes clear why that is a vantage site. As soon as the event opened to the public, the first spot to draw a visibly long queue is Limited Edt (the line stretches past the glass sliding door of the building and into the corridor outside). Reportedly, there are “hourly drops” of limited-edition kicks for grabs. One teenaged guy in the line told us, with confident smugness, when we asked him what he was queuing for, “anything Limited Edt offers” and then qualified, ”they have the good stuff.” Apart from the sneakers, this time displayed in refrigerator units (likely not turned on) to mimic an ice cream parlour (the Limited EDT space is, ironically, the warmest on this floor), there is also a small collection from Patta, the much-watched streetwear-store-turned-brand from Amsterdam.

Sneakers are, surprisingly, not the biggest draw at Culture Cartel. Sure, there is that line at Limited Edt, but not quite elsewhere. With less than ten sneaker exhibitors, the offerings may not be the catch that such ‘cons’ are usually associated with. Mr Tan explains that as the venue was confirmed relatively late, many brands and retailers have already committed their budgets to other activities, but he did say that by representation, only Vans is not a participant this year. For those who like ‘con’-style kicks-stops, there is a lively corner jointly operated by Ruben Chan of RAuthentic and Edgar Goh of District_Co. Mr Chan, who primarily sells “sneaker accessories” such as crease guards (placed in the shoe to protect the toe box from furrowing), shoe trees, sneaker pills (deodorants), told us that he is “the top seller of (such) accessories on Shopee”. When we spotted several pairs of Yeezy in the tempting (but size-limited) pile of collectibles and wondered if there is still a demand for them, he said, “yes, there is, especially now that the partnership is over.” Has the price increased? “Not much, by the 10 to 20”, he replied while busy serving customers. Percent, we assume.

One of the best-looking set-ups at Culture Cartel is by the Hong Kong label Subcrew

Malaysian brand Nerdunit has the best sales drive in the whole event

From Culture Cartel’s overseas guest-exhibitors, two brands standout: Hong Kong’s Subcrew (appearing with Plants of Gods) and Malaysia’s Nerdunit. Subcrew—also known as 潜队 back in the Fragrant Harbour—is one of the smallest exhibitors, but they have created one of the simplest and sleekest space in the whole event, featuring ceramic incense burners in the shape of squat succulents by Plants of Gods (POG), an online plant store that “aims to promote a gardening culture”, as well as T-shirts with creepy-cute characters of plants, personified. Co-owner of POG Benny Fung informed us that presently Subcrew has a pop-up in Hong Kong’s Mongkok Sneaker Street (or 布鞋街). When we asked what the situation in Mongkok—and indeed Hong Kong—is like, he said, “everything is back to normal.” Subcrew is considered to be the SAR’s OG streetwear brand. POG’s collaboration with Subcrew is a tale of intertwining within the burgeoning street culture of the city. One name keeps popping up: Prodip Leung (梁伟庭), a bassist with Hong Kong’s influential hip-hop group LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka). Mr Leung is also an artist and his work, such as the alien-looking POG Fever, appears on on ofthe T-shirts (limited quantities are available at Culture Cartel). When asked how he came to collaborate with members of Subcrew, Mr Fung said, “Oh, we used to skateboard together!”

Just as fascinating is Malaysia’s Nerdunit. And how they sell: Shoppers pay only S$120 and would be passed a small plastic basket, with which to stuff as many pieces of the mostly T-shirts as possible in 120 seconds. The stack must not go above the rim of the basket. Fun is indeed part of the experience here (was this what Karen Tee meant by fun?). Nerdunit takes up a considerable space in one of the units on level three, with a giant inflatable ‘sunflower’ sporting a smiley face welcoming shoppers. Founded and designed by Malaysian Ronald Chew in 2013, Nerdunit has a sub-brand Water the Plants (in collaboration with UK brand Smiley), also available at Culture Cartel, so is the label’s paring with Japanese imprint FR2 (or Fxxking Rabbits, the provocative other line by Ryo Ishikawa of Vanquish). The clothing of Nerdunit, designed out of a studio in Kuala Lumpur, has been retailing in Japan for four years and is available at Tokyo’s Laforet in Harajuku. General manager Raja Iskandar Shah gleefully tells us that they’re “on the first floor”, and is even more delighted when we noted that Undercover’s pop-up Madstore was on the same level too.

“Photo wall” inside the Mighty Jaxx space

The small but well-curated offering of Luca & Vic

Increasingly, toys are very much a part of the street culture, with many creatives/brand owners who are artists themselves, such as Plants of Gods’s Prodip Leung. Toys/figurines/art collectibles are reportedly a sizeable business on our island. One of the most noted names is Mighty Jaxx, the design studio that produces some of the most fetching little creatures you’ll ever dream of owning. Appearing at Culture Cartel is CHXMP, the company’s “first employee” in the Metaverse (smaller physical versions are on sale). While Mighty Jaxx is moving further into the digital world, their physical store is no less engaging. There is even a set-up where visitors can take selfies in possibly an office of the future. Small players are not left out. Luca And Vic, founded in 2019, is the brain child of Calvin Chua, who named his business and store after his two children. Mr Chua considers himself a toy collector first, then seller. In his motley stash is Lao Wang, the asymmetrical-eyes-above-mouth character, designed by Shanghai-based Malaysian artist Ken Wong. Also known by the Chinese moniker huabi laowang (花臂老王), the charming figures come in various guises, including one as Bruce Lee and another as Santa Wang! We wonder if Mr Chua’s buying is based on his own taste or what the market thirsts for. “I’m still learning,” he says. “There are major players here, and there’s the community.”

That keeps coming back throughout our exploration of Culture Cartel: the social heart of those who embrace the culture. Jeremy Tan is heard telling a journalist “that is why we as curators are apt for the job. We have earned the trust of the community.” Culture Cartel can indeed be the gravitational centre of a group/tribe that is no longer catered for in tangible ways. Physical spaces in the past include The Heeren and Far East Plaza, but they are no longer even a shadow of their former selves. Cathay Cineleisure, *Scape’s immediate neighbour, was headed in that direction, but lost its way; it’s now a ghost town. A four-day event, however, is not quite sufficient for sustained visibility of the community and the individuals who believe in it. Although the entry charge into Culture Cartel is somewhat steep, it opens one to this admirable group of individuals who are deeply knowledgeable of and passionate in what they do. And the camaraderie is infectious, which is rather absent in the larger fashion world. We left Culture Cartel shortly after 1pm. At the traffic junction of Grange and Somerset Roads, Mark Ong was waiting to cross the former to head for 313@Somerset. A trio of possibly fans spoke to him. He said cheerily, “I’m meeting Chooee for lunch. Some friends brought nasi lemak from JB for me. Want to share with the Japanese (exhibitors).” Community in action.

Culture Cartel 2022 opens today at *Scape and will run until 4 December 2022. Entry passes can be purchase on site: SGD30 for a single day or SGD69 for all four days. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Walk Into Shein

The Chinese hyper-fastfashion online label is now into physical stores: a pop-up in Osaka, and now its first permanent physical store in Tokyo

Shein pop-up in Osaka

Shein is not only going big, they’re getting physical. Two stores in Japan, the country with some of the best stores and shopping experiences in the world, are now Shein standalones. First a pop-up in Osaka (till the 26th of January or six days after the Lunar New Year) and then a proper bricks-and-mortar in Tokyo, touted “the world’s first”. It opened three Sundays ago in the streetwear/sneaker (but not quite hipster) stretch of Cat Street, Ura-Harajuku, a ten-minute, or so, walk from the famed Takeshita-Dori. These are not modest little stores. The glass-front Tokyo space spreads over two stories (or 201 sqm), and is stocked with merchandise for men (although somewhat limited) and women, including cosmetics, and even products for pets. Clothes (the largest category) can be tried on by Japanese customers for the first time, prior to purchase, on-line.

In Osaka, the pop-up, also a double-floor affair, opened a month earlier. Part of the Shein Popup: The Japan Tour (which will includes five cities in all), it sits on Osaka’s main shopping street of Shinsaibashi, in a space formerly occupied by Uniqlo, and is in the company of competitor-neighbours Gap and H&M (how thrilled is the Swedish brand now that Shein is directly opposite?), turning this area of the street into a multi-nation fast-fashion hub. Japanese media enthusiastically reported of “more than 800 items” on display in the Shein pop-up, but with the crowd, it’s hard to see the vastness of the offerings. There are, to the thrill of the Japanese, nine fitting rooms, each decorated differently (and with considerable camp!) so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media. These do not include seven additional photo-op spots throughout the store. Shein’s target audience is unambiguous: smartphone-dependent, must-be-visible-online Gen-Zers.

…fitting rooms are each decorated differently so that the trying-on of clothes could also be a selfie moment to be shared on social media

Despite the staggering array of merchandise, nothing in the two stores are for outright purchase. Shoppers can browse and try, but there are no cashiers for you to take your desired products to, to seal the deal. Shein is essentially a showroom, although, in Tokyo, the company calls it an “event space”. To purchase (which is surely the intention of opening a physical store), customers scan a QR code on a hang tag attached to every product. They would then be directed to the online page (or on the app) of the selected merchandise. An order of their picks can be placed. This is not Japan’s first browse-only fashion space. We remember that in 2019 there was a GU (Uniqlo’s sister brand) concept store in nearby Omotesando (close to the Harajuku station) called GU Style Studio, where shoppers were able to enjoy everything the store had to offer, except make a purchase. To buy, one scans a QR code too, and would be directed to GU online. There was also an avatar you can create to dress yourself digitally in GU clothes. Even earlier, in the ’90s, Shiseido opened a store—also on Omotesando, in a former apartment block where Omotesando Hills now stands—for women (and men!) to try merchandise (even do a makeover) the brand offered, for however long they wish, but nothing was for sale.

A Shein spokesperson told Forbes that the brand’s “focus remains digital-first.” He also said, “Shein customers can experience our fashion and lifestyle products at our pop-ups around the world. We will continue to expand our pop-up roadmap and keep making the beauty of fashion accessible to all.” Despite the impressive turnouts for both stores on opening day (in Osaka, 3,000 people reportedly turned up, and it took two and half hours to enter the store; in Tokyo, more than 150 were in line even before the store opened at 11am that day), it is not certain if Shein will be a stunning success in Japan when the country has their own low-priced but better-made fashion brands, such as the cheap and cheerful Wego, the fashion-reliable Niko And …, and, to a large extent, Uniqlo’s engaging GU, whose past collaborator included Undercover—it’s hard to get cooler than that.

Shein, launched in 2008, could be trying to rewrite their brand narrative in both visual and tactile ways, given the (still) bad rep they receive in so many parts of the world (they do not sell in China, where the brand was founded and where the clothes are manufactured), compounded by a Greenpeace Germany report published last week, claiming that some Shein products “contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits”. Shein is probably aware that their customers do not care. The response to the two Japanese stores may be indicative. In both, one snappy slogan greets shoppers: “Wear your Wonderful”. In telling their Japanese customers to do so, perhaps Shein is trying to convince the skeptics that they do, too. Let other brands worry about the environment.

Photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

No Kidding: S&M Teddy

Has Balenciaga crossed the line with their holiday ads that feature children holding bears in “bondage gear”?

It is not clear why Balenciaga, the brand that dropped Kanye West, chose to be controversial in their holiday advertising campaign. In one series, called Balenciaga Gift Shop, children were photographed holding bags in the shape of bears. Usually, the choice of handheld would be deemed cute, but these were not Care Bears, nor those akin to Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bear, also dubbed Preppy Bear. Balenciaga’s were kitted in what many has described as “S&M bondage gear”. There are even those going as far as calling the end result “depraved” and “virtual child porn”. Any advertising that involve the underaged is always a tricky affair, so it is not clear why the children were placed amid merchandise for adults and those only adults could afford to buy. Balenciaga has, of course, pushed the boundary of taste during much of Demna Gvasalia’s tenure, but this time, could they have thrusted themselves just that much too far?

Following the public outcry, Balenciaga withdrew all the unseemly ads, saying in a statement on Instagram: “We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.” In one photo, a child stood before a quartet of wine glasses, among other things associated with grownups. Kids and the things arranged orderly in front of them are reportedly a take on photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories, in which children from all over the world are photographed with their play things. In an earlier press release, Balenciaga described the images as “exploration of what people collect and receive as gifts”. Yet, in the apology post, it stressed: “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photo shoot.” They must have seen the images before issuing the PR kit. It is hard to imagine that no one in Balenciaga sent out those item for the shoot, or knew what was loaned.

Indeed, how did the “unapproved items” appear in an ad that Balenciaga commissioned? Mr Galimberti was quick to respond on IG: “I am not in a position to comment [on] Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same. As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit (sic) the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style.” One fashion photographer here told us that Mr Galimberti is not wrong. “We don’t decide what to shoot. Clients do, even the props. Sometimes, the clients work through a stylist, who will then bring the clothes and accessories to the shoot. We won’t know what’s approved, what’s not. Or, even, who the models might be.”

Soon after the S&M bear rebuke, those on the lookout for missteps of luxury brands spotted one more oversight, in another Balenciaga ad—this time for the house’s Hourglass bag, bearing the Adidas Three Stripes. In the image (above), put together during the shoot for the collab’s campaign, the S$4,790 bag was placed atop strewn documents. Perhaps to come across as officious (the campaign, in fact, was shot in an office). One of the sheets is purportedly a page off the document from a Supreme Court decision that prohibits the distribution of pornography involving children. What was the set stylist thinking of? Whatever it was, Netizens could not help but wonder if Balenciaga thought that two controversies are better than one.

“We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” Balenciaga posted on Instagram. “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved (again?) items for our spring 23 campaign photoshoot.” The legal action, as it turned out, was to file a lawsuit against production company North Six, Inc. and its agent, Nicholas Des Jardins, who was reported to have designed the set for the shoots. And Balenciaga said it will seek at least US$25 million in damages for what they called “false association” between Balenciaga and the “repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision.”

Meanwhile, ardent friend of the house Kim Kardashian, who is also their couture model and who always has first dibs of their key looks, has remained curiously silent. Even her fans were wondering why she had not taken a stand, considering that her kids could be the target audience of the teddy ads. Then on Sunday, she made an announcement, claiming that she has been “re-evaluating” her relationship with Balenciaga. She explained why she did not say something sooner: “I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened” even when she was “shaken by the disturbing images”. Has she understood and was she satisfied? Balenciaga had already found themselves in a predicament with Ms Kardashian’s ex-husband and his shocking anti-Semitic rants. They quickly disassociated themselves with him. And now, those disquieting ads. Not quite the festive edit, not at all.

Photos: Balenciaga

Not Quite A Busy Black Friday

Has the novelty of the American day of discounts waned?

A short line outside Louis Vuitton at ION Orchard

It was too calm to be a Black Friday, but it was the morning of the year’s biggest mark-down event. Yesterday, at around 11am in ION Orchard, the few shoppers seen did not appear to be in a haste to shop. By noon, the mall was still relatively quiet. The only store that was attracting a noticeable stream of shoppers was Sephora. But, on the first floor, where we had expected snaking lines, the entrances clear of willing-to-wait shoppers were a surprise to see. Were people too sloshed at last night’s Thanksgiving dinners to be able to be out this early? There was no “palpable sense of excitement” that The Straits Times Channel would later report.

At the newly opened Dior store (formerly Burberry), there was no line, only a woman making an enquiry. But, when we attempted to enter the store, a saleswoman stopped us and asked if we had “an appointment”. Do we need an appointment to shop at Dior? “The waiting time is about one hour if you have no appointment,” she said. But the store is not packed. We peered into the store to be sure. “We want to be able to offer you a one-to-one.” What is that? “We will assign one staff to you.” We were happy to be unattended. “We can serve you better.” It was clear she would not let us in.

We had better luck at Gucci, next door. Just as we arrived at the entrance, a saleswoman gestured to us to enter. Did we need an appointment to shop? “Oh, no. It is not packed yet. You don’t have to queue.” Why is there no line? How has the announcement of the departure of Alessandro Michele affected to traffic? “Not really. It’s about the same as before.” She accompanied us throughout our brief exploration of the store, even stopping us to draw our attention to a Gucci X Adidas shirt, with an awfully massive joint-logo of the two brands. We thanked her, sure in our mind that when we come back again, it would be when the store is rid entirely of the present crop of merchandise.

No queue at the new Dior store at ION Orchard

Over at Bottega Veneta, we sauntered into the store easily. A saleswoman approached us to ask if she could be of any help. We said we were browsing. She left us alone. There were only two other women in the store. The quiet and the freedom to look at the merchandise unharried lent almost an old-time vibe to the experience (even if it was too brief to be described as one). We could appreciate the lovely details of Matthieu Blazy’s ready-to-wear, and touch them. Our reverie was finally broken when we were looking at a S$1,100 pair of clear (yes, see-through!) Puddle Ankle Boots. “Would you like to try,” a coaxing voice came from across our shoulders. No, thanks. It’s a very hot day. We had no idea what we were saying in response.

Across BV was LV. There was a line to the right of the sole entrance on this floor. After SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang’s experience at the very same entrance in 2018, we had been wary of this particular LV store and had not visited since. It was after one, post meridiem, and we had not been nourished by lunch and we were not sure that we were able to handle any surliness of service, even when merely window shopping, not that there was much of a window to look at when those in line have mostly blocked it. When we stood at the entrance, to look beyond it, the doorkeeper’s speaking glance, said to us, “do you have an appointment?”

There was no one waiting at Loewe, although a rope secured to a pair of stanchions was stretched across the entrance. We stood in front of it, but caught no one’s attention. About a hundred metres to our right, there was a visible line outside Bacha Coffee. Behind us, the hoarding for Christian Louboutin on the former Moncler store looked uncommunicatively at us. Minutes dragged on. Then, a woman with no purchase in hand walked towards us. A sales staff let loose the rope to let her out. She waved to let us in. Were we hoping to see anything in particular, she asked. We wanted to look around first. “Sure”, she said, and left us to discover on our own. Further in the space called “Casa” (or house in Spanish), another staffer said to let her know if we needed anything. We found a S$850 almost-cubic coin case cute, but was not so sure about the extremely prominent logo on the front.

Sephora at Takashimaya Shopping Centre

Many of these stores made no announcement that they were participating in the Black Friday markdown. No standee was placed up front to entice, nor a discreet little sticker. The girl at Dior did whisper something about a “seasonal special”, but she did not elaborate. Was extreme bargain hunting seen on our faces, even when we had our four-ply mask on? A young guy, emerging from LV asked his shopping companion, “how come no sale?” They walked past the Saint Laurent pop-up in the atrium—it was without customers. A sales staff was loitering outside, like a tout. The relative quiet of this floor did not reflect what Black Fridays have become after the easing of COVID restrictions in 2020. Or, was this a reminder that it was a working day for most?

By two, ION did not look busier than usual. There was still no line outside Gucci. At fifteen to three, we walked to Wisma Atria. The traffic could hardly be described as heavy, the clusters of shoppers scarcely made a crowd. At the underpass to Takashimaya Shopping Centre, there was not quite the usual bottleneck. We breezed through. On the other side, it was not manic as we had thought it would be. Found café inside The Editor’s Market was full, but not the store. We took the escalator up, and was surprised to see a very short line outside Chanel (strangely, the queue did run along the side of the store, but cut diagonally across the entryway of the mall. It was quiet at the newly refurbished Fendi. Opposite, two people were waiting to be let in at Dior. Next door at Celine, staffers were chatting among themselves. Strange it was seeing so little action.

Finally a daunting queue. This was at, again, Sephora, where the long line for those opening their wallets was no deterrent to those determined to make a haul. Black Friday, as it turned out, had touched A Great Street rather unevenly this year. Could it be that, despite an impending GST rise, shoppers were not splurging if they were not buying a refrigerator or a television set? Friends WhatsApped us to announce that it was packed at the Courts Nojima Heeren store. Did we not want to see a crowd, they asked. Or go to Metro, they suggested. We would sit that one out.

Pasar Dalam

The Boutique Fairs, dubbed a “shopping event”, is basically an air-conditioned market with stalls. And it is products galore, but is there anything to buy?

The biannual Boutique Fairs is a misnomer and an oxymoron. There are no boutiques, only stalls, and it is largely a single fair, in one venue. Although spread over two floors of the F1 Pit Building, it is unmistakably a solo bazaar. The organizers refer to their retail assemblage as “Boutiques”. Which is which? Perhaps that does not matter. Despite its somewhat atas-sounding name, the 20-year-old Boutique Fairs is not quite a high-end affair, and therein, perhaps lies its attraction. Its mass appeal is obvious, which explains why it has been a crowd-puller in the pre-COVID years, so much so that they started charging for entry in the last in order to attract serious shoppers, one stallholder told us, and to control the foot traffic. E-tickets are issued, which means getting inside the venue requires joining a queue to scan a QR code for entry, and dealing with the enthusiastic sun in the unsheltered line.

The Boutique Fairs (BF) is huge. It occupies the entire length of the Pit Building (the nerve centre of the F1 night races), over two floors, of about 9,000 sqm in total (it can easily take three hours or more to cover the whole area). They do have a handy little “event guide”, if navigational assistance is what you need, or the exact location of a particular stall. But BF is known for their “curated” jumble of brands—this year, more than 240 make up the Gifting Edition (as it’s also known), according to their media release. Visitors do not mind getting lost in the borderline farrago. The set-up is pasar malam-style array, flanking the generous aisles, with vendors doing up their spaces as they please. Some put in more effort than others. One guy was heard saying rather loudly “angmo pasar malam”. In fact, we were reminded of the old YWCA fairs—merchandise miscellany brought together by Caucasian hucksters.

The Boutique Fairs was founded in 2002 by Danish expatriate Charlotte Cain and two of her friends. The Business Times reported in 2019 that Mrs Cain, a potter, wanted not only to sell her wares, but also desired to interface with the people buying her products. She rented a room at the Fort Canning Centre, and, with her friends, “found several like-minded vendors to take part”. Pottery was the primary focus back then, but that is no longer the case. Through the years, Mrs Cain moved away from ceramics and the like (but not entirely; they now form only a small part of the line-up), and was able to attract fashion designers who do not shun expo-like set-ups to peddle their merchandise, such as Max Tan, reportedly Mrs Cain’s “favourite”. BF’s neo-kampong vibe could be commensurate with Mr Tan’s recent design aesthetic. With the inclusion of SG fashion labels, BF slowly morphed into the general merchandise fair that has become part Blueprint Singapore (now defunct), part Singapore Gifts and Premiums Fair, part Singapore Food Festival.

While more SG brands (including several newbies) are now in the mix (many you would likely encounter for the first time), there is still the clique of the “like-minded”—those hawking what are especially a draw to Westerners-in-Asia in the business of lifestyle products. Inevitably, you get more floral sundresses (and matching cushion covers) you’ll ever need, more batik wear (and ware) than you’ll ever consider, and more of those items deemed Asian exotica that not many of us salivate over. On that note, BF has a whiff of Bali markets about it, but with just a smidgen of their vibrancy. Mrs Cain told BT that “it all boils down to the curation. I have done myself since the beginning and that will not change. Curation is very important, it is an instinct and a gut feeling.” Could this also boil down to the taste of one individual? Or her friends?

One product development professional, whose visit to BF was his first, told us, “I like that there is a variety of products, but I feel the curation can be segmented according to product types. So to make it easier for shoppers to look at the things they like within an area, rather than having different merchandise grouped in rooms with different names.” There are seven rooms in all, three on level two and four on level three, each—really a hall—named after a colour, except one where food can be consumed seated, known as Breathe. Other than a chromatic guide to pinpoint the precise location of the brand a visitor might wish to see, it isn’t clear what the colours of each room denote. Scarlet, their newest, for example, bears none of the old suggestion of immorality of a woman so labeled. And yet it is not known why a simple red would not suffice.

Perhaps, the zoning strategy is deliberate. Each room is seemingly calculated to be without discernible order. In this manner, it encourages shoppers to visit every room, rather than just zoom in on, say, a womenswear room and then discount the rest. And, you do not get a cluster of ‘designer’ brands. A clothier’s neighbour could be a seller of beddings. In fact, the no-fixed-order approach could be advantageous to first-timers. There would be none of the possible anxieties going into actual boutiques, or the intimidation. The minute you step into any of the rooms, you would be rather rapidly swept into the hive of the Fairs. And there is a dizzyingly wide range of merchandise, but few of it have real design value or quality of make that would encourage keen appreciation. In the end, your eager PayLah may not get activated.

Boutique Fairs is at the F1 Pit Building from today to Sunday. Tickets: $5 for single-day admission (four hours of shopping) and $25 for a three-day pass. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Could Gucci Be Weeding The Garden?

It isn’t the end of winter in the northern hemisphere, yet Kering’s star brand is prepping for a new spring, according to emerging reports

Graffiti on the walls of a stairway at the Alessandro Michele-conceived Gucci Garden, part of Gucci Museo in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, Florence

Has Alessandro Michele gone from the brightest bloom to unwanted wild grass? A very recent WWD report, citing “well-placed sources”, claims that Alessandro Michele “is exiting the brand”. This news was not only shocking, it was sudden, and came rapidly after Raf Simons announced that he is closing the eponymous label he founded and built. It is not clear if Mr Michele was asked to leave. His departure, if true, could mean a major clean-up at Gucci as the long-haired, bearded designer is presently synonymous with the brand he has helmed for seven years, and has almost singularly made Gucci the molten-hot brand it has become, based on his druthers for bringing disparate elements drawn from the past, especially the ’70s. Mishaps as mashups. But are his hippies in overwrought style not becoming really jelak, the unctuousness of a supersized meal?

It could be that Kering is satiated. They had wanted Mr Michele “to initiate a strong design shift”, according to the WWD’s source. But he was not able appease his bosses. Reuters—also drawing from anonymous sources—informed “that there had been tensions between the designer and Kering’s top management”. Both Kering and Gucci have remained silent, as they adhere to the no-comment approach. The suddenness of this impending exit surprised customers too. One Gucci fan told us that “it shows such a lack of loyalty to Alessandro, who did so much for the brand. And it’s not as if they’re not selling.” But the sales is likely not matching the figure Kering is hoping to hit. Media reports are indicating that Gucci’s performance is not keeping abreast of their peers. Limp sales in China is cause for worry too. And it is inevitable that lacklustre results would be pinned on the products.

Alessandro Michele joined Gucci in 2002 upon the invitation of then designer Tom Ford to oversee the accessories division in Gucci’s London office. In 2011, he was appointed associate creative director to Frida Giannini when she succeeded Tom Ford. Ms Giannini was reportedly dismissed in 2015 in what was described as a “messy” reorg of Gucci. Mr Michele was asked to put together a men’s autumn/winter collection and he did it in less than one week. A day after that show, Gucci announced that he would be the brand’s new creative director. From them on, his rise was—a convenient word for now—unstoppable. He revived Gucci by replacing Mr Ford’s amped-up sexiness and Ms Giannini’s jet-set sleek with geekiness drenched in flamboyance. But the wacky, maximalist, anti-fit aesthetic did reach saturation point—thankfully for Gucci, later than sooner. To be sure, Mr Michele did, in recent years, move gingerly away from his early excesses and goofiness, but his steps, even with the recent twinning of offering, were inadequate for Gucci. The brand owners, it seems, want a palpable shift. The overgrown garden needs to be recovered.

Photo: AB Tan

******************

Update (24 November 2022, 08:10): No doubt now: Gucci has confirmed that Alessandro Michele “is stepping down”. In a statement sent to the media yesterday, parent company Kering said that Mr Michele “has played a fundamental part in making the brand what it is today.” It did not say why the Roman designer wishes to leave (or if he was asked to). The statement also included a paragraph quoting Mr Michele: “There are times when path parts ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me.” No replacement was announced.

Closed But Not Over

Raf Simons has announced the shuttering of his eponymous label, but his work is not going to disappear any time soon. He isn’t retiring. There is still his not-small part at Prada

Twenty seven is too young an age to die. But Raf Simons is seeing that the label that bears his name is killed in its 27th year. Better to depart youthful? Mr Simons has just announced that the beloved and influential brand he founded in 1995 showed its last collection—spring/summer 2023 last October in London—was his final. The fashion world is in shock. So many influential artists and artistes have passed on at that age, sufficient in numbers that there is a 27 Club—it came to existence after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. The Club is, of course, not a real one and not necessarily glorious either. Many in the hall of fame died from the excesses of just that—fame. But no one joins it since they would have been dead, but its notional existence shows that many noted creatives departed from this world at that age, leaving behind a veritable legacy. Most are musicians. Apart from Mr Cobain, there is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, closer to the present, Amy Winehouse. In art, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work is especially popular among clothing and footwear brands. But in luxury fashion, designers have longer lives. No one that we can remember died at 27, nor did their corresponding label (Jil Sander did [first] leave her brand in its 27th year, but it was not closed, and she did return to it in 2003, only to leave again a year later). Could Raf Simons the label be the first?

In Mr Simons’s announcement on Instagram, he offered no reason for the closure of his brand, which, as can be imagined, led to speculations. Was it the damned economy, with a recession looming? Was the label also the victim of the havoc COVID caused? We’ll add to those popular two. Was he missing an able sidekick after Pieter Mulier joined Alaia? Was he under too much stress to connect with the Metaverse—he hasn’t—to keep his brand relevant? Was Raf Simons too much of a cult label to enjoy the same success of, say, Ader Error? Or Ambush? It is hard to assert with certainty. Mr Simons does have a strong following, especially among those who have tracked his work from the start (including us!). But not going the logo-heavy route and keeping the cut and construction of his clothing generally simple may have not drawn new customers or win converts rooted in the excess of meretricious brands. The fashion marketplace has changed, and continues to, with staggering speed. Not wanting to stay put is not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly was not when he quit Dior and, later, Calvin Klein. But what about the collaborations, such as the still-desirable pairing with Fred Perry? That could remain to provide those who might be seized with nostalgia a chance to buy merchandise that would still have desirable links to the past.

And there is always Prada. After joining the Italian brand in 2020 to co-design the men’s and women’s collections with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons seemed to have found his groove. He is poised to stay. The 109-year-old brand is enjoying renewed interest after a lull period. In the five years leading to 2018, the brand posted declining annual sales. Its performance was so dismal that rumours abound at that time that the company may be forced to sell to LVMH or Kering. But the tide turned, and The Washington Post wrote recently that the brand’s “creeping back into popular consciousness”. Part of it being noticed again is the current trend for things ’90s. Conversely, Raf Simons, also essentially a ’90s brand, chooses to bow out rather than take advantage of the zeitgeist. It is not clear what part in the rejuvenated Prada lies Mr Simons’s input, but each season since his first in September 2020, Prada has been steeped in ideas and innovation. Has Mr Simons proven his worth and is now a serious contender to succeed Ms Prada? Is this possibility so questionless that he is confident enough to wind up his own label? Mr Simons, it is reported, has an open-ended contract with Prada, just as Karl Lagerfeld had with Chanel. Miuccia Prada is 73 (he is 54); she could be pondering retirement. Hard to imagine someone else a worthier successor than Raf Simons.

Photo: Jim Sim