Close Look: The Kate Moss Wardrobe Via TopShop

Kate Moss X TopShop 2014

Kate Moss is a long-time It Girl, and her It Style is as longstanding as her It Self. By popular definition, the It Girl is usually not It for long: her It-ness has appeal because it is transient and quick to pass. While, to be fair, Ms Moss has achieved full-fledged celebrity, she has never quite shaken off her It bearing. She does all the It things you can’t do, hangs out with all the It people you can’t know, and looks good in all the It clothes you can’t have. But because she appears so fabulously in them, you’d want even if you can’t have.

Ms Moss knows it. So does Topshop. That’s why they’re at it again. The latest collaboration between model and retailer is, after a hiatus of four years, their 15th. Started in 2007, the limited-edition line has always been a serious, not necessarily humour- or wit-infused, take on what Ms Moss likes to wear. And the present issue is no different. If you’re a fan and have been buying Kate Moss X Topshop, you’d have this nagging feeling that you already have some of what they’re telling you are new.

It requires no reminding that you’re buying into the aesthetic of an icon, and not one that has been inconsistent with her look. From the moment Ms Moss has been nailed as a fashionable woman with a unique personal style, she has gone from cool vintage to neo-hippy to cool vintage to neo-hippy, all the while playing the part as the embodiment of the spirit of London. In the same year she started working with Topshop, Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

TopShop @ KnightsbridgeTopshop’s window at Knightsbridge on Orchard Road

The Kate Moss influence is major yet it is different from those typically seen in the fashion world because what she proposes through her body is not the same as what a designer recommends on a catwalk. In fact, oftentimes, what she wears is not a reflection of what is shown on the runways of the world. They are free from the fetters of trends. Still, they represent forms of self-expression and dress that are socially acceptable and desirable, so much so that she could, whether consciously or not, assert widespread influence. What was at first mass curiosity became, in a matter of a few years since the start of her modelling career, individual dream. This sway over the public’s fashion consciousness is also remarkable because Ms Moss does not, even with a clothing line bearing her name, play an institutional role, and thus does not control the direction of fashion the way a brand such as Louis Vuitton can.

The Kate Moss X Topshop’s early pieces were “inspired” by her own style. The current collection is—as she told The Guardian—a “wardrobe biography”. First mirroring herself, and then appropriating her actual closet, it is likely she has no intention to commandeer the course of fashion, even less so when she is no designer herself (for Topshop, she worked with creative director Kate Phelan and stylist friend Katy England), and is not, fashion-wise, forward-looking. Ms Moss has always depended on the past, mining vintage and vintage-looking styles with a fervour matched by her penchant for partying with and dating rock stars. She often looked like a Seventies disco habitué, and would not be out of place if Studio 54 were still alive.

Kate through the yearsKate Moss wearing a sequinned gown at her 30th birthday party in 2004 ; in her own collection for Topshop in 2007; in vintage dress and fur coat, 2010

If this was, instead, the 18th Century, Kate Moss may well have been a courtesan. Not quite Madame du Barry perhaps, but still a sensation, and the paragon of ostentatious fashion, indiscreet consumption, and irresistible sexiness (minus Madame du Barry’s made-up noble descent!). She would have attracted the people around her with eye-catching glamour, uniting the common with the classy, and the resultant effects, for her fans, would be utterly delightful. In place of sequins were laces; instead of fringes were ribbons; and rather than leather, certainly ermine. Dresses with studs and beading would have their versions brocaded with gold and bedecked in jewels. Her fondness for slip-dresses and pyjama dressing would not have been at odds with the popularity of the déshabillé, a scandalous style that was “everything thrown on with a loose careless air” , as described in The Guardian, September 1713.

Unlike past figures, who stirred only a small coterie, Ms Moss impresses a much larger audience, a global one. So much of what women wear today, at work and at play, can be traced to her, even when so many of these women are not likely able to do the tracing themselves. The cut-off denim shorts, for example, has become so visible in both the casual and the dressy wardrobe—and worn even in winter—that not many women know or remember that it was Kate Moss who made this tiniest and torn pair of shorts a fashion staple.

What is the Kate Moss wardrobe like? Without the face of the personality collared to the products, can the clothes hold up to scrutiny? And what does the voyeur-shopper glean from a peak into her wardrobe?

Yellow vintage dressA vintage asymmetric yellow dress Kate Moss wore in 2003 and a version in the current Topshop collection

It is really less about fashion than one woman’s personal taste, and Topshop has shrewdly catered to celebrity obsession and voyeuristic proclivity by dishing up clothes that would be considered gaudy if they were not “all inspired by Kate’s own wardrobe”. In this wardrobe, there are “festival-inspired pieces” and “scene-stealing” party clothes, as Topshop describes them, and through discovering “Balearic dressing” (the beat rather than the islands?), “cocktail hour”, “pyjama dressing”, and “tailoring noir”—the four themes of the collection, you may build your life around a time when the sun does not shine.

Looking at the line, you wonder whence came Ms Moss’s love for embroidered tunics, fringed jackets, shimmy shifts, floaty high-waisted dresses, satin playsuits, and the answer eludes you. Up close, these are clearly clothes that suggest places to go to for some hedonistic nocturnal fun. As such, subtlety has no place in the collection just as mundane does not characterise Ms Moss’s life. A mere pair of shorts not more than eight-inches long (typically very short, a la Kate Moss) has lacing in place of zip at the crotch, and studs, eyelets, and bugle beads, plus, at the hem, blanket stitch!

These are not upmarket clothes, and they don’t have to be since what she wears does not have to look posh and polished (she’s known to have made designer clothes grungy!), which is a reason why the Topshop collection works. As her style projects youthfulness, the pieces will entice the young, and sell well. But does forty-year-old Kate Moss come with built-in obsolescence? Only time will tell.

Kate Moss X Topshop is currently available at the Knightbridge store on Orchard Road

Star Awards 20 Red Carpet: Where Was The Twinkle?

Grp 1

Was it the heat during last night’s outdoor red carpet parade that caused so many stars walking on the catwalk to look less than fresh, more than flustered? Or were they just not in a mood to saunter down a scarlet track that did not lead to the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood?  It was hard to tell. The annual Star Awards, now into its twentieth show, was a curious display of star awkwardness, flanked by a thin crowd of not particularly keyed up fans. This was an important night for Mediacorps stars, but few appeared raring to go. The younger ones, not visibly ferried into the Suntec City venue in fancy cars, clearly looked like they were walking their final walk during a deportment class.

The red carpet tradition prior to the commencement of award ceremonies is quintessentially Western and a recent one. Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, a carpet in the colour of blood was only laid out for the gods, who, being immortal, must not step on bare ground should they wish to visit their earthly domain. The first mention of the red carpet in text is reported to be in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC, but unlike those who walked on the red carpet last night, the title character’s reluctant stroll (he being man, not a god) led him not to an award ceremony, but to his death, perpetrated, no less, by his scheming wife!

Later, the red carpet was associated with royalty and nobility, and it was only the royals and nobles that walked on the red carpet laid out in castles. This regal amble was a formality to put power out on display, and in the centre. Onlookers—and there were many—would scrutinise the walkers dressed in courtly splendour. In recent centuries, this practice is extended mostly to heads of state and their wives, who, like their precursors, were observed for their public manner and their glamourous dress.

Similarly, observing those or gawking at them on the Star Award carpet is perhaps a natural reaction to such a formal and splashy display. However, it would be absurd to consider what the MediaCorps stars wore last night as courtly styles; unless you consider the event they were attending the court of entertainment, which is not flippant since many fans see royalty among the stars. Perhaps it may be more apt to deem what was worn as ceremonial dress since the wearers were attending a ceremony, just as a bridal gown is a ceremonial dress, put on for a very specific ritual, and not after that. Red carpet ceremonial finery is best exemplified by Nicole Kidman in Dior Couture and Uma Thurman in Prada, both at the Academy Awards, and both never to be seen in those gowns again.

On the red carpetThe Star Awards did not always require the entertainers to walk a very public red carpet. Until 2010 (with a couple of exceptions in preceding years), the ceremonies were held in Caldecott Hill. The introduction of a pre-show red carpet ritual, it would appear, corresponded with a growing commercial culture, a culture of dreams that held an alluring, Instagram-worthy promise: anyone—good-looking or not, talented or not—could be transformed into a more striking, more appealing version of themselves. Until the night of the event, so many of the chosen had not worn such high fashion, nor considered the implication of showing off what they were seduced to wear. Aided by a band of image makers from different camps, these normally ordinary-looking stars were able to morph into avatars with a high glamour quotient. The red carpet is a microcosm of makeover, rebirth, movement, drama, popularity, notoriety, seriousness, artificiality, beauty, and, of course, fashion.

That leads us to one question and, maybe, the only one that matters: how many of the outfits worn by the stars last night merit a red carpet parade?

Perhaps it would be more pertinent to count those that did not. There’s a misconception (and it isn’t unique to our shores) that flounces, poufs, layers of silk chiffon, lots of lace, fish-tail skirts, bustiers, fringing, beading, all have a confirmed place on the red carpet, and once worn by a celebrity, become the epitome of style. The regrettable thing is, the celebrities (and their stylists) feel the same way too. There is a getai attitude to this: you so rarely get to dress up to wow and when you do, you go all the way out, sometimes, way, way out. Consider, too, the competitive nature of such displays. Newer and younger entertainers strive to look as good as the established artistes, while the older ones don’t wish to appear outmoded—a match-up, ironically, modulated in such a way as to be conventional.

Li Teng, Guo Liang, Quan Yifeng, Desmond KohLast night, the clothes were, at best, predictable, except Quan Yifeng’s. She wore a black-and-white three-piece skirt-suit designed by her daughter! You couldn’t say Ms Quan did not take a risk. To put her untested kid out there could either be punishment or humiliation for the lass, both, in stricter societies, would be considered child abuse. Fortunately, the black jacket thrown over the shoulder like a cape; the black V-neck bustier with a pair of broad, white Vs below the neckline to underscore the mother’s ample bosoms; and the high-waisted white pencil skirt were not offensive, but this was a runway, not a walkway somewhere in tai-tai land.

Cleavage baring and starlets are such obligatory pairing that you would be disappointed if they did not show up on the red carpet. Chris Tong strutted, hand-in-hand, with Priscelia Chan, and both were decked out in floaty dresses with very low-cut necklines and very exposed backs. Ms Chan, in Diane Von Furstenberg, basked in a neckline that plunged to her waist, opening up the grateful eyes of males waiting for the night to suddenly turn windy.

And there were those who trusted their stylist enough to not wear a real dress. Joanna Peh, whose confidence was boosted by boyfriend Qi Yuwu’s presence, was sheathed in four pieces of Hermes scarves with the sum of colours akin to parrots’ tail, tied and stitched together as a halter-neck number. She might as well have worn four pieces of Hermes handkerchiefs. Or towels—it won’t matter since she appeared ready to walk down a beach to view a setting sun. On the beach, a scarf goes by a humbler name: pareo.

Grp 6Some just wanted to look grown up. Julie Tan ditched her usual sweetness for something almost dishevelled: shaggy silver jacket-as-shrug over a black fringed dress by Frederick Lee Couture. Unsteady in red heels, she looked like the Little Match Girl garbed by the Salvation Army to go to a prom hosted by Elvira.

Two of the stars were counting on hongbao red for an arresting turn on the red carpet. Rui En, engulfed in crimson, swished in a big gown by New York wedding dress designer Romona Keveza. The bodice with an asymmetric neckline had a shape that was reminiscent of decorative items fashioned out of  hongbaos during the Lunar New Year. Chen Liping, outfitted by 3-year-old local brand Zardoze, was in a torso-hugging lace dress with fringing that could have come from a lantern.

However hard these artistes tried, they were a sleeve’s length away from impressing. So near yet so far. While they provided sensory delights, they were a distance from delightful. Some people think the Star Awards red carpet will always be lacklustre because we do not have provocateurs such as Cher, goofballs such as Bjork, and eccentrics such as Helena Bonham Carter. But neither do we have sophisticates such as Cate Blanchette, Tilda Swinton, and most recently, Lupita Nyong’o.

She Sings In Swimwear By The Seashore

Gisele Bundchen H&MWe know that the angels of Victoria’s Secrets are talented, but can they sing? Giselle Bundchen set out to proof us sceptics wrong in the latest promotional video for H&M. Besides endorsing the label’s swimwear, Ms Bundchen is also promoting her cover of Blondie’s 1979 song Heart of Glass.

Produced by French house veteran Bob Sinclair, this track isn’t the first that DJ and supermodel have come together to perform.  Last season, also for H&M, Ms Bundchen sang The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night in a video, fully-dressed. While she could rock the Victoria’s Secret look in angel wings, she could hardly rock in this debut, sounding all too sweet, unconvincing and processed. Too much clothes, maybe? As a fan said, “if only she could sing as nicely as she struts her stuff.”

(Not to be outdone, fellow Victoria’s Secret angel Miranda Kerr has also released a single with Bobby Fox: the jazzy You’re the Boss. It is interesting to note that Ms Kerr may not have perfected her singing, but she does sound sultry and musical, and like she’s having loads of fun!)

Heart of Glass by Giselle Bundchen will be available on iTunes from 29 April

Able Adler Better Blue

Jonathan Adler X Tumi Blue LuggageCollaborations are not letting up any time soon despite what the naysayers believe. One plus one will always equal more. For design-conscious consumers of today, the extra creative mind adds value to the end product, if not clout. Collab-fatigue, contrary to current believe, has not struck.

The latest pair to collaborate is American potter-turn-home-design-darling Johnathan Adler and the luggage maker Tumi. The result: assorted travel gear created for those with an aversion to black or those who have an acute problem identifying their suitcases on the baggage carousel that is a river of inky blocks.

Mr Adler, whose spouse is another design guru, Simon Doonan of Barney’s windows fame, is known for his love of geometric patterns, especially on floors. His creations for Tumi are not shy of patterns too: angular shapes or awning stripes that have a toy/child-like quality about them (including the message a kid is likely to ask, “Are we there yet?”). Like so much of fashion today, they’re also the antithesis of neutral and prudent. One group of colours in the collection is of various shades of the azure sea, yet the combination is a blue with a bang!

Johnathan Adler X Tumi luggage collection is available at Tumi, B1-127, The Shoppes, Marina Bay Sands and #03-05, Takashimaya Shopping Center

Is Jem Really The “Fashion Capital Of The West”?

JemFor so many not living in Jurong, the west of our city-state is really not a “capital” of any sort. It has been an industrial station since Jurong Industrial Estate was established in the late Sixties. In so many minds, it is still factory town. Even when public housing soon grew rapidly in the west as in the east, recreation sites came in the form of Jurong Bird Park and the Science Centre, and the MRT brought our attention to the little-known (and as industrial) Joo Koon, Jurong did not come to mind when one seeks social activities such as shopping.

That’s why it’s easy and timely for Jem to brand itself as a “capital” (and a “fashion capital” to boot!). It’s clever, of course, more so when Jurong had not enjoyed special eminence in the area of fashion retail and consumption. It’s a boon to the residents, too, and a boost to their self-esteem: Orchard Road has come to the suburbs! As a “capital”, Jem is, however, not a shiny example of distinction, whether in architecture or in retail format.

If you arrive by the MRT train, you won’t really get to see Jem from the outside. And you wouldn’t have missed much since the façade wasn’t designed to compete for the Pritzker Prize. The mall is linked to the Jurong East MRT station like twins joined at the hip. Once you’ve left the station, the entrance to Jem is an amicable grin, drawing you in like a shrine during a religious holiday. Inside, it’s really not difficult to navigate all six levels. The mall—opened in June last year and is Singapore’s third largest suburban shopping centre—is familiar and devoid of surprises. It is as you would expect a mall to be, nothing more, nothing less.

Those shopping for so-called Orchard Road brands won’t have to go far for, sprawling in linear orderliness on levels one and two, are all the fast fashion that you can speedily consume. Parents eager to doll-up the little ones can shoot up to level four for buyable cuteness. If Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a must-watch of the day, you won’t have to figure out where to go, just take the elevator to the topmost floor. The hungry will go straight to the food court in the basement, where, as expected, you’ll also be able to locate the supermarket. The beauty of Jem for many is that it is convenient, conventional, and comprehensible.

As if a necessary suburban jumble, the mix of clothing stores consists of the usual suspects, and will leave few average shoppers craving for more. All the recognisable brands are here, especially the large foot-print names: H&M, TopShop/TopMan, Uniqlo, Mango, M&S, Esprit, G2000, and Giordano. Presently, there are 30 fashion retailers in Jem. At Robinsons, the anchor tenant, you’ll get another 90 or so labels. If you’re buying clothes, you’ll be spoiled for choice, but if you’re in Jem for fashion, you may not be so indulged.

THP Pic 2This is why last night’s The Hip Parade, conceived to promote the mall’s seasonal offerings, was a surprise, and may bolster Jem’s standing as the “Fashion Capital of the West”, even if vaguely and momentarily. For something that was staged on a mere slip of a space between two malls—Jem and neighbouring Westgate Mall, the fashion show was far much more engaging than the Orchard Fashion Runway of two weeks ago. For a while, you forgot you were in Jurong.

Styled and choreographed by veteran show producer Daniel Boey, The Hip Parade may not be hip, but it was quite a parade. Almost an hour long, the show comprised nine “contingents”—the allusion to the National Day Parade was not lost. The models—including current SG pride Vivien Ong, who opened the show with the steadfastness of a parade commander—took to the runway in groups based on themes that reflected current fashion obsessions. What was unexpectedly agreeable was the on-trend styling (with mind-boggling 39 labels!) as well as the entertaining choreography, which, at one point, saw the brolly-wielding models, upon finishing their first sequence, gather at the start of the catwalk only to re-strut forward with umbrellas opened.

For those old enough, this was reminiscent of the first NDP that was staged in the National Stadium in 1976, when SIA’s Singapore Girls formed one of the many corporate and grassroots contingents. During the march past, the shapely, kebaya-clad girls sashayed past the grandstand, and, with incredible precision, hormat senjata-ed with their umbrellas, opening them up like sunflowers in sudden bloom. It was delightful, it was camp, and it was unforgettable.

Jem is at 50 Jurong Gateway Road

Close Look: Depression Is Depressing


Do people want to make ugly clothes? Or do some of them just want to make clothes ugly? I departed depressed from the Depression corner in Workshop Elements at Westgate Mall this afternoon, saddened by these conflicting thoughts.

Beautiful clothes bring about joy; they elate the viewer and the wearer. The innate sophistication of Yves Saint Laurent, for instance. Or the shapely forms of Azzedine Alaia, the kooky modernity of Muccia Prada, the moving historicism of Alexander McQueen. Or the technical superiority of set-in sleeves, the attractiveness of straight-hanging seams and flat hems, the tactile satisfaction of the best fabrics.

I wonder—often enough—how the young designers of today can do without these pleasures. Or in a vernacular they can understand: the artful drapes of Rick Owens, the conflicted classic/cutesy aesthetic of Christopher Kane. Or the unapologetic brashness of Supreme, the urban-tribal allure of Dope Chef. Or the irony-heavy assaults of Banksy. Or the proper drop of a drop crotch!

What have all these been replaced with?

Depression Men's

At Depression, the answer is dismal. Try as you may, overlooking these is hard: graphic blouses with clumsy interplay of shapes, tops that are little more than two joined rectangular pieces, jackets with terribly fastened horizontal panels, shirts with poorly fashioned collars, plackets that do not sit smoothly, hems of armhole that warp, inconsistent stitches and those that are criss-cross traffic on the underside, men’s jackets with the button placement for women’s. I wondered—amazed by what were allowed on the racks—if the brand’s owners care about what they make and sell.

Or perhaps the clumsiness is deliberate, the warping intentional, the low-grade assemblage on purpose. It was hard to tell. Fashion has now allowed mediocrity to thrive sans hindrance to the point that the flawed and the lacking could be used as positives to mask the inadequate and conceal the unskilled. Some people called it a change in what is aesthetically acceptable. “It’s modern!” “It’s cutting-edge!” “It’s trending!” But so many of the Depression garments are finished to defy even good enough that you wonder if can’t-be-bothered switched place with well-executed.

Depresssion Grp 1bIn fact, the slapdash manufacture of the clothes leads you to think that the line is put together by a ragtag team. There are, however, designers behind Depression. Two, in fact: Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh. So, you’d want to uncover the design merit, but it’s hard to find. The influence of Japanese designers is so unmistakable that it is possibly due to their good luck that the referencing is not pointed out. Last season’s blouse on a blouse or tee on a tee—already conceived by Comme des Garcons. The scattered dangling tapes stitched on the bodice so that they can be tied at any point across the front panel to create a changeable relief for the surface—once explored by Issey Miyake. The circle pocket with a zip (and cord for the puller) in the middle—still in use by the label Visvim. There is the resistance of temptation in not going on.

Mr Lim and Mr Loh told online Surface SEA in 2011, “We’ve never had any formal training in fashion design, and that allows us to create from a very raw and honest place.” By raw, it could be assumed that they meant opposite of refined and honest, an uninformed approach to dressmaking. Could this provide the explanation to the atrocities I saw? They, too, said, “We’ve never intended to be different, and never tried to differentiate ourselves from other labels.” Quality (interestingly never pointed out when describing Depression in the media) in fashion traditionally varies. When you position yourself on the lower end of the quality scale, you have—even if inadvertently—set yourself apart.

Depression @ COLater, over at the main store in Cineleisure Orchard (above), Depression did not look more heartening. I thought that since the clothes were shown in its own brand environment, they could open me up to why the garments look the way they do. Traced to the mother ship, they appeared as “raw” as they did in another outpost. A corner shop of painted concrete with scaffolding on which the garments hung, the boutique befits the commonly held belief that Depression is a “cult brand”. The clothes—mostly black and white—inhabit a room that is crudely industrial, lacking in seductive VM, and unevenly illuminated. Why is it that an indie label—another tag oft-ascribed to them—must look like a struggling brand in order to win street cred and designer standing? Mr Lim has described Depression as “avant-garde”, even when he has stated that he does not go for differentiation. Avant-garde, interestingly, is often a euphemism for something that cannot be satisfactorily defined; it has the same effect as calling a hodgepodge interior “eclectic”!

The truth is, anyone can start a label these days. And many do. The route from concept to consumer is no longer like the one of yore. You can jump right in at any point between the two posts. You can dispense with pattern-makers and sample sewers and quality controllers. And many do. If your line offers something to see and the pieces are sharply priced, you’re in business. Just ask Love, Bonito. Depression was started 18 years ago, so it is not new, yet, from its early beginnings at Far East Plaza till the present, the aesthetic and the quality have not really changed. When you approach garment-making the only way you know, you’ll keep at it with the tenacity of a predator holding on to its prey. And many do.

Depresssion Grp 2Perhaps it is not entirely fair to single Depression out. Numerous local labels offer themselves in similar ways. Depression and the like, in the end, really go for looks rather than design, aiming for sum of parts with cursory regard for what really forms the total. The big picture without the small bits. Attention-to-detail deficit in order! After all, on Instagram (or your brand’s homepage), you can’t see unsuitable underlining, twisted in-seams, unintended puckering, sad-looking buttonholes, and such oversights that keep the mediocre apart from the good, the good from the great.

As I left the store, a twentysomething customer walked in. He wore an orange, racer-back singlet under a black pullover made of netting. This duo of tops was teamed with salmon-pink shorts printed to mimic the skin of some unknown campy snake. Not completely covering his feet were laced-up gladiator straps atop platforms that were at least 4 inches high. The aggregate of these parts: look at me. In an instance, I understood Depression.

The Small That’s Big

Geoffrey B Small G1Few American designers make a name for themselves in Europe. Of those who do—Tom Ford, Tom Brown, Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens, or Jeremy Scott—only one (or two) can be considered a true craftsman. That’s why a designer such as Geoffrey B Small is unusual. Hailed not from New York, but the unlikely city of Boston, Mr Small is a designer who still sources from forgotten looms and assembles his clothes by hand. These are undeniably beautiful clothes. So exquisite are his men’s wear that it inspires a fan base that is, more often than not, silent on the source of their acquisitions. Good designs, as the fastidious are inclined to say, you keep for yourself.

Exclusivity is the key to the appeal of Geoffrey B Small. The Made-in-Italy line is reported to be restricted to only ten or so retailers in the world, and the limited editions have a quantity of 500 pieces per style, per season. Each garment has an artisanal quality to it (right down to the hand-written hang tags!) that inevitably draws out your curiosity about them. You’d want to touch, feel, and caress: the tactile quality and overall styling are evocative of another world, another time when people care about what goes into a garment and how they are made. A waistcoat, with fabric that suggests old country looms rather than industrial weaving machines, beckons: it’s Fitzwilliam Darcy meets Hans Solo, and Huckleberry Fin too.

While many consider him to be avant-garde, Mr Small is really a traditionalist, who draws from pattern-making of the past, not, however, from the recent past, but eras as far back as the medieval and Napoleonic years. This is fascinating—even when designers are known to plunder historic designs (Jean Paul Gaultier, for one)—as modern manufacturing prefers minimum steps to garment making than the complicated methods known to older ways. In fact, Mr Small, based in Cavarzere, Italy, is considered a pioneer in hand-production technologies and sustainable production practices, and a fashion eco-warrior of sorts.

Geoffrey B Small G2His eco-centric ways go back all the way to the mid-Nineties, when he offered recycled shirts made out of vintage garments. The first time we were able to see these shirts in Singapore was during this time when they were briefly available at Tangs. These were truly in the spirit of deconstructionism, then only an emerging trend: shirts refashioned by joining two different pieces into one or taking a different part, say the collar, and fusing it into another neckline. The ideas seemed crazy at that time, all the more so when you consider the designer prices that were charged for what many would have considered to be used clothes.

The latent social messages of his designs soon gave way to something much more explicit as Mr Small took to his shows to clarion the world’s socio-economic ills. He addressed illiteracy, global warming and climate change, and the dangers of nuclear power (especially after the disaster in Fukushima in 2011). And he certainly isn’t one to refrain from speaking his mind about the state of fashion in the present time of massive corporate business.

I believe someone who makes clothes for someone else can do far more than be just another prostitute of the great fashion rip-off of conspicuous and wasteful consumption.” — Geoffrey B Small

But in his clothes, they are not the angry messages of Vivienne Westwood or Katherine Hamnett. The sloganed T-shirt, in particular, is conspicuously missing. For his “Logomania” collection, one that drew attention to potentially destructive energy sources, he employed the anti-nuclear logo as a recurrent motif to speak out.

Trendiness can be business as usual, but for some, social conscience makes better design sense.

Geoffrey B Small Spring/Summer 2014 is available at Surrender, #02-31 Raffles Hotel Arcade

This article was updated on 18 July 2014 to reflect the correct production figures provided by the atelier of Geoffrey B Small. We apologise for the initial error.

Who Sewed Noah’s Clothes?

Noah Costume 1By Raiment Young

You can look in the Bible for many things about the past, but you can’t find fashion trends. There are mentions of clothes, of course, yet there’s no revelation of what were current styles. Not that there were no affluent people either in the tales of the Book, yet you do not get a clear description of what was the rage. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen…” went a description in Luke 16:19, suggesting, perhaps, coloured garments—or dyed cloths—were a luxury for the wealthy. Still, for the ancients, rocking a certain look was not encouraged. In 1 Peter 3:3, there’s the stern recommendation: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel”.

The Bible authors’ apparent omission of prevalent styles could have been brought about by the disdain of fashion-centric choices such as mixed fibres and ornamentation. In fact, there’s quite a bit of do-nots here: “Thou shalt not wear a garment of diverse sorts, as of woollen and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:11)” and “…women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array (1 Timothy 2:9).” And nothing akin to boyfriend shirts and boy-cut jeans too, since “the woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man… for all that do so are abomination… (Deuteronomy 22:5)”!

Noah Costume 2

No wonder the costumes of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film Noah appear decidedly post-Common Era. Unlike the look of the ark, which could benefit from measurements spelled out in the Bible (materials to be used included), what Noah and his family wore did not draw from ancient dressmaking specs. Earlier this evening, as I watched the film, trying to reconcile the retelling with the story I know since kindergarten, the costume’s extremely modern make and silhouette was as interruptive as the smartphone that lit repeatedly three seats away from me.

Mr Aronofsky’s US$125m blockbuster was prefaced with an admission that they took “artistic licence” with the narrative, which “is inspired by the story of Noah”. This disclaimer should really cover the costume design too. So much far-fetch reimagining of the period’s clothes was there that when close-ups afforded a magnification of the details, I kept seeing bobbins and pins! Not the coarse fabrics, not the unfinished hems, and certainly not the whip stitch could belie the machine finish. I find myself resisting acceptance of the shirts of Noah (played by a gladiator-in-skinny-pants Russell Crow)—yes, shirts, with plackets and yokes, no less! What was disconcerting was that an ark builder awaiting the wiping out of the world would don chemises with the fit of Oxford Street tailors!

Noah Costume 5And costume designer Michael Wilkinson (Man of Steel, 2013) did not stop absurdity in its tracks.When a coat was required, Noah wore a gored version with multiple exposed seams that would not look out of place in a rack of Yohji Yamamoto outerwear. His eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth) looked pretty in a hooded shirt with oversized patch pockets that was clearly shaped after the signature styles of Junya Watanabe. Even the cracked surface treatment of the tunic worn by Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) had more than a whiff of Maison Martin Margiela about it! The two female leads did not fare any better. Noah’s wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), at one point, wore a tank top pinched just below the shoulders to create a décolleté not unlike a sweetheart neckline. Her adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), played up her youth and femininity with a distressed warp-knit tunic that conveniently slipped off the right shoulder. Were the costumes produced out of an H&M sampling room? For a tale that predates the Exodus, Noah appears to be more clothes-conscious than Moses!

Nearing the end of the film, one costume I noticed that had stayed true to the Bible’s depiction was the birthday suit: the one on an inebriated Noah lying naked on the beach.

Noah is currently screening in cinemas. All verses quoted are from the King James version, Cambridge edition. Photos: Paramount Pictures Corporation 

Road Show


Now that fashion shows are streamed live even from far-flung venues, it was remarkable that people were willing to bear with the Saturday swarm and sundown humidity to see unremarkable clothes paraded on Orchard Road this evening. Unless you’re in the trade (or a celebrity in need of front-row cred), for the rest of us, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube have made attending fashion shows as necessary as ironing jeans.

The ready crowd has lined up along “A Great Street” to catch sight of the models of Orchard Fashion Runway (OFR) with admirable orderliness. While it is normal these days to associate a fashion event with the enthusiastic, the curious, and the brazen, it was quite a different attendance along this runway. There were no Scott Schuman-worthy peacocks, just harried shopping tourists stopped in their tracks, gawky teens bent on posting after posing, and those DSLR-wielding ‘prosumer’ photographers dedicated to honing their skills by shooting live fashion action.

In its third year and a part of the annual Fashion Steps Out (FSO) season organized by Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA), OFR was supposed to be, according to last Friday’s Urban report, “stepping out in style”. If you thought that was creating unnecessarily high expectations, you may have thought right.

OFR Group 2

Under the pale glow of the crescent moon on the night of qingming (or tomb-sweeping day), 150 models took to the street to showcase seven labels’ and two stores’ spring/summer offerings. Given the four-lane width of Orchard Road (even after being nearly halved for the show), what was touted as “the longest runway” was a sparsely occupied catwalk. Twelve-and-a-half dozen models may sound impressive on paper, but out on the tarmac, the fewness was quickly magnified by the throng flanking the street. The arid show space was the fitting platter on which the models sauntered with blank expressions, possibly a brave front to play down the discomfort of walking all-dressed-up in the heat. It was all very sullen, the gloominess made more severe in the inexpressive lighting. If you weren’t standing right in front, it would be hard to make out what the models wore.

Not that what they wore really mattered. By the end of the show, if you had not Instagrammed your way from start to finish for recall later, chances are, you would not have remembered what flashed past. A typical single-brand fashion show of about twenty minutes could be visual overload. A show of nine collections over forty-five minutes was like driving past an extra-long, open-air laundromat, which, ironically, was once further down at Dhoby Ghaut. Since clothes paraded on the street may risk looking like, well, street clothes, the stylists had them stand out by making sure the outfits were accessorized or accompanied by props such as pillows!

How the motley brands came together or why they were picked is anyone’s guess. One label touted as the show’s highlight was the Chinese lingerie and beachwear brand Aimer (oddly not the pinyin for its Chinese name 爱慕—aimu or ‘admire’ in English). No Victoria’s Secret, and not styled similarly, Aimer’s twenty-piece fancy-dress collection was at odds with the generic offerings of the other brands. Clearly considering the mass turnout, the stylists threw so much into the mix to conceal exposed skin that many people were not aware they were seeing underwear worn in the open. Anything less would, of course, not amuse the authorities.

OFR Group 1

And as it was made for the masses, OFR does not expect you to laugh at the humour, nod at the wit, recognise the references because there was nothing funny, witty or referenced. Unexpectedly, it took a department store to present the show’s most on-trend collection. Robinsons sent out sporty styles, floral-print-on-floral-print pairings, and cheerful colours, only to be disturbed by dour inline skaters darting about like sand flies.

It is tempting to compare OFR to Chingay: street-level and colourful, but unlike Chingay (also once paraded through Orchard Road), OFR is of no real cultural value. If Orchard Road is one shopping mall, OFR is the level one concourse fashion show. Just as tenants of a shopping centre may get a temporary boost in foot traffic when music blasts and models prance at their door steps, the retailers on Singapore’s premier shopping belt, too, may enjoy similar improvement during OFR. What happens when the beat does not go on and the sashaying stops?

It is also unclear how this event will enhance the reputation of our city as an exciting shopping destination. If our shops can exhilarate as those on, say, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or Omotaesando, surely we don’t need an OFR to augment our standing since Paris or Tokyo has never required a road show. Perhaps fashion has become so fashionable that it is only spot-on to have such a show as a marketing gimmick. Or perhaps it is an embodiment of the rapid material change seen on Orchard Road in the past ten years and a shout-out—in typical STB style—that, in Singapore, we can stage anything anywhere.

There was no roar from the street this evening, and whatever whimper there was, it won’t be amplified in the press tomorrow.

Photos: Jim Sim