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