What A Waist

Azzedine Alaia corset belt

Between early 2008 and mid 2009, Michelle Obama drew attention to her not-so-svelte waist with one belt worn on six occasions. It was a black Azzedine Alaia belt, then described as her favourite, but a puzzler to her husband, who dubbed it as “the Star Trek belt”. She teamed this studded black band of around eight-centimetres wide with a dress (belted so high that it appeared to underscore her bust rather than encircle her waist), a shirt, and over a knit jacket and other separates. Style watchers were surprised that she would subject the belt to such frequent use, but their concern only drew more interest to the little known accessories of Azzedine Alaia.

Mr Alaia is recognized for his body-conscious clothes that straddle thoughtfully and confidently between sexy and elegant. But not many are aware of his incredibly beautiful accessories that accentuate his distinctive style. Belts are so much a part of his penchant for emphasizing the waist. This season, one of the most attractive is the corset belt, an obi-esque item that is quite an Alaia signature. Here, the broad belt with serrated edges and corrugated centre, framed by patterned circles that look like Japanese seals is the perfect partner to the little black dress that needs a little something to let it stand out.

What will Barrack Obama say to this one?

Azzedine Alaia corset belt, SGD2150, is available at On Peddar, Takashimaya SC 

A Spotty Season

CDG Polka Dot Wonderland Holiday 2013Some things and some people are getting dotty. And we’re not talking about dots that are itsy or bitsy. This season, polka dots are headlining trends in patterns at a time when sparkly spots or brilliant baubles should be in favour. Still, it is rather hard to take them seriously when they bring to mind a certain yellow bikini!

By itself, a dot, no matter the colour, is a respectable shape. It could have the functional elegance of a saucer, the blatant temptation of a cookie or the discreet helpfulness of a full stop. However, once you gather them in given confines, whether equally sized and spaced—or not, they immediately lose any formal perspective, and become as sombre as a clown’s button nose.

Yet, even the most serious designers can’t resist repeated dots’ visual potential. One of them is Carolina Herrera who used polka dots so plentifully in her ready-to-wear that they became very much her signature print throughout the 80s and 90s, so much so that even the boxes of her perfume bottles are similarly dotted.

Another designer who uses polka dots regularly and often as a counterpoint to her usually severe treatment of the colour black is Rei Kawakubo. The Comme des Garçons’s annual Christmas collection this season, for example, is simply called Polka Dot Wonderland (above). This seasonal offering, which comprises products across many categories but can fall into one grouping—gift, is perhaps the brand’s interpretation of Christmas baubles. As befit CDG’s image, these polka dots are patchy but never blotchy, whimsical but never nonsensical.

George Clooney by Yayoi Kusama for W MagMost unexpected is George Clooney’s appearance in the December issue of W. One of People’s “Sexiest Men Alive” and Nespresso’s female magnet, Mr Clooney looks like he was dressed by his grandmother when, in fact, what he has on was dreamed up by 84-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, a woman who is fond of camouflaging herself in dots (or tentacles patterned with dots) . But these are not the dots of Roy Lichtenstein; these are huge dots, of unequal sizes and appear to be bubbling up. On the cover or in the pages within, the actor looks like a well-upholstered prop of an art installation that is whacky and cosmic and brimful of unknown meanings.

Mr Clooney’s participation in this black and white spot shot of the art-themed issue of W seems to underscore two points: polka dots are not gender-bias (actually, we know this since the mid-60s when Bob Dylan wore polka-dotted shirts on more than one occasion) and men above fifty need not be dressed age-appropriately (actually, we know this since the time of the Sun King Louis XIV). Let’s add another: a man can bring fashion and art together with no threat to his machismo.

Now, is fashion art and can art be fashion? You join the dots!

The CDG Polka Dot Wonderland Collection is now available at CDG, Hilton Gallery. W Magazine is out now in major bookstores

Photo of George Clooney: W

Get A Good Grate!

Ma Dame graterIf she is to be believed, Pylones’s Ma Dame is “a proper lady.” And why is she so?  “If anything gets too close to my skirt,” she tells us on her web page, “it gets shredded.”

That skirt! Looking at Ma Dame and her outfit, I was thinking of Gaultier. Weren’t his conical bras, made famous by Madonna, a marriage of fashion and weaponry too? (The idea would be, years later, adopted by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, both shooting from the tits.) And it is rather Gaultier to fashion perforated metal into a skirt. Ma Dame’s top, too, is characteristically JPG: sheer polka-dotted shoulders and gold bodice with Japanese flowers! Just imagine the rubber trim of the conical skirt to be mink, and you’ll have a grater worthy of a couture-wearing cook.

I am not inclined to make recommendations for holiday gifts, but if you want one that will make the grate… 😛

Ma Dame grater, SGD38, is available at Pylones, B1 Wheelock Place

Banking On The Body-Con Baju

AI G1UK-based Eshamuddin Ismail of Ashley Isham continues to show in hometown Singapura even with exposure to a more international audience via London Fashion Week. This willingness to preserve the Singapore connection has endeared him as “one of the most famous Singaporean fashion designers around” or “one of the most prominent figures in fashion” even when fame is not the synonym of prominence.

Earlier this evening, Mr Ismail presented what was essentially a trunk show in the private rooms of the new Robinsons Orchard to a small audience that comprised some members of the media, potential customers, as well as his family. Seated quietly by herself, Mr Ismail’s 62-year-old mother Rokiah Abu looked at the models expressionlessly, perhaps not comprehending what the statuesque women wore—clothes that were so distant from her own pakaian tradisi.

But upon closer scrutiny, the Ashley Isham look was not entirely a contrast to Tradisi, the line of baju kurung and baju kebaya that Mr Ismail debuted during Hari Raya this year. A part of this evening’s showing featured a “preview” of the Spring/Summer 2014 collection that first appeared in September in London’s Freemasons’ Hall (although staged during London Fashion week, it was not part of LFW’s official calendar). So many of the outfits stood out because of their semblance to Malay baju: blouses or tops that ended somewhere between the hip and the knee over straight skirts (sarung!) or what appeared to be skirts due to their separate fabrication, which, when paired, were not unlike the baju kurung; as well as lace and embroidery placements (even on the sampling of men’s wear) that were akin to those typically found on a kebaya top.

AI G2To give the clothes a less ethnic appearance, Mr Ismail used rain wear fabrics such as PVC, but that did not take away the obvious. It is not an impairment to design judgement when Asian motifs and shapes are employed, but the challenge for designers based far away from home is one of judicious use. How much is too much? How clear without being derivative? How blatant before it appears too keen to pander to Western sense of Eastern exotica? In forging a recognisable Asian identity, Mr Ismail wasn’t heavy-handed with his silhouettes and details, but neither was he merely hinting. Naturally, he is not expected to totally abandon his roots, but heading West, in his case, was to become “an international designer” which could mean a less geography-centric attachment. It is admirable that Mr Ismail has never refuted his Southeast Asian source of inspiration, but the obvious could suggest ideas coming from the obtuse.

Ashley Isham, once stocked at the now defunct Link, has, since its inception 13 years ago, been a about a certain shapeliness that would do Saloma (the famous singer who was P. Ramlee’s last wife) proud. By his own admission, his designs are aimed at the femme fatale. The goddess dress and its various interpretations—his catwalk staple—clearly has a destination: the red carpet. Although based in London, his work shows not a bit of wit or quirk or irony that the city, as a fashion capital, is associated with. Instead, he packs so much sexiness in most of his designs that it would not be immoderate to assume that they came out of Los Angeles.

AI G3The real reason for this evening’s display is the line Mr Ismail has developed for Robinsons. Called Draperie (above), it is his first collaboration with a department store. According to Doris Loh, the store’s women’s wear merchandise manager, who had approached the designer directly in London to conceive Draperie, “he was very enthusiastic and supportive and keen” and undeterred by the extremely short time to assemble the collection, which Ms Loh said was partly made in England and partly made locally. The show is also testament to Robinsons’s believe in the Ashley Isham label although the main line is available diagonally across the street in Orchard Central, and despite the failure of Mr Ismail’s earlier attempt at a diffusion line, AI (FJ Benjamin was appointed as the buying house then). The AI store in Mandarin Gallery was shuttered last year. For many, it is hard to recall what AI was about except for the unusually large label stitched to the clothes.

While it is clear that Mr Ismail is trying to avoid his usual overly sexy aesthetics with a more geometric and technical approach to design, as evident in his A/W 2013 collection, the pared down treatment seemed like a token dodge.  He is not by nature a minimalist designer. As such, Draperie’s clean-lined pieces seem unconvincing only because you know they have been done before. The shell-top fashioned after a tee (with leather thrown in the mix of fabrics) recall a London-based English designer’s earlier output for a certain French label; the shirt with contrast bodice that were at one time prevalent in the collections of a German designer who left her house only to return again (and again); and the jersey dresses that share similar drapes with the staid styles of Mphosis: these, of course, have become standards of retail racks and they mirror market wants rather than design savvy. In this respect, one suspects the unseen but deft hands of Robinsons’s merchandising team supervising the development of the line.

Draperie, a name that reflects the Ashley Isham penchant for drapery, is noticeably a saleable line that is well merchandised, and not badly made. If the excited response of the invited guests to the clothes placed strategically at the event’s holding area, just by the exit, was any indication, the new label is off to a good start.

Draperie by Ashley Isham is available exclusively at Robinsons Orchard, level 3