Is This The Life?

ST The Life Mag on iPad

Build it and they will come, theme park developers are wont to say. Put it online and they will download, that could be what The Straits Times is pronouncing with their new e-mag The Life Magazine. Launched three days ago, ST’s first digital monthly (appearing every last Friday of the month) covers “style, pursuits, travel, food, design”, as spelled out above a masthead that is oddly askew. The publication could be an attempt at what the Friday supplement Urban isn’t: an urbane title. If the durian doesn’t fall far from the tree, can The Life Magazine escape print-first ST’s style-lacking approach to covering those topics that are style-heavy? As ST reporter Grace Sung introduced in her near-full page report in last Friday’s main paper, the e-mag (as well as e-books that will come later) “will deliver the newspaper’s brand of journalism…” How quickly can one’s hope be dashed?

For a debut, The Life Magazine’s cover page is surprisingly bleached of excitement, or as the young, digital-media consumers of today would say: lame. Don’t judge a book by its cover, goes the common chiding. In the online world, however, the landing page does not escape judgment. Like it, we click, or swipe to the next page. Dislike it, we eye the X button. With a model that looks from the corner of her eye rather than directly at the reader and clothes that show nothing, what exactly is the first cover communicating? Perhaps The Life Magazine could not help it. The photograph is one provided by the brand featured—in this case, Louis Vuitton­—rather than one shot or commissioned by ST’s creative team. It is obvious that this is either a look book or back stage picture, clearly not destined for the front page. A designed-for-impact magazine wouldn’t go for such a no-expense convenience. The Life Magazine’s first cover shot is, ultimately, empty of meaning.

Lest we’re mistaken, it should be noted that we’re not expecting New York Time’s T Magazine or Wall Street Journal’s WSJ; we have reasonable expectations. Or digital-first titles such as Ponystep or, more suited to ST’s taste, Rue Daily. If, however, there’s a team that can put a high-quality title in our portable devices, surely it has to be the people behind The Straits Times. Yet, The Life Magazine is not a compelling portrait of a digital era. Fashion (and, for that matter, much of what it covers) should be a seismograph that registers the shifts and changes of the times. The Life Magazine shows no seismic activity.

There seems to be a deliberate turning away from anything too pedestrian, but it’s still a walk on stony ground. ‘Style’ is a cover story of one of the most storied French luxury houses, but the report has as much depth as a wading pool. ‘Pursuits’ is a ‘people’ feature that shares with the reader the expensive clothes several rag-trade types collect: a look at items, not a peek into their wardrobe. ‘Food’, while underscoring a globally known star rating, is un-swish with a decidedly Sunday Life headline: “Michelin meals under $50 in Hong Kong”. ‘Design’ features the home of Tangs chairman Tang Wee Sung, but it’s a story that first appeared in the parent publication in November last year. Similarly, in ‘Travel’, ‘Best of Venice’ is an old report from two months ago. The other feature is a piece on ryokans, told in a manner not unlike Tuesday Life’s  ‘bon voyage with sgtravellers’. The Life Magazine appears to be for the well-heeled and the well-travelled reader, but is this a title for what Carmel Snow would have called the “well-dressed mind”?

TLM Phoebe LeongIf you’re expecting a good read, you may need to look elsewhere. Urban’s beauty writer Gladys Chung’s portrayal of designer Nicolas Ghesquiere stands out for her lack of a view or an impression of the man and his work, which, for Mr Ghesquiere, is never an uncomplicated thing. She quotes what other publications opined without explaining, for example, why (or how), according to The Independent she cites, “Ghesquiere’s mix of technique and dazzling textile… elevated the simple inspiration”. Surely, it is an oversight to not consider a reader’s interest: what technique, what fabrics, and what inspiration? Based on her description, it is not unreasonable to assume that she had attended the pre-fall 2014/15 (or cruise) show from which her story’s photographs came, but whether the collection is good, it seems she couldn’t sniff it out. She does not talk about it. Instead, she gives a weak description of the Fall 2014/15 collection, shown four months ago, now reported to death. On the cover, a question is posed: “Can Nicolas Ghesquiere take LV to the next level?” In the article, an answer is not offered.

As we have seen in Urban and in Life, consummate fashion judgement isn’t the strength of The Straits Times. There’s no attempt at a discourse—no fashion equivalent of John Lui’s insightful film reviews, or Sherwin Low’s aware product testings (for Digital Life), just cursory reports of what have already been told elsewhere. Like fast fashion, you get the trends, but not the quality. It has been said that fashion reporting (let’s put criticism aside for now) is given the back seat because it does not draw in advertising. Music does not bring in the ad dollar, but that has not stopped Yeow Kai Chai from being opinionated and bombastic.

Fashion/style magazines have a long history. In the mid-1600s, the French gazette Mercure Gallant enthralled the ladies of the European courts with fashion reviews as well as news and anecdotes, presented in a gossipy manner not entirely unlike today’s Hello. The publications that were to become the epitome of style came from the US: Harper’s Bazaar (1867) and Vogue (1892). While initially society magazines, both evolved into serious fashion periodicals, notably in the 70s, which was also when prêt-a-porter emerged and glamour was as watchable as sports, prompting Andy Warhol to launch the celebrity-centric Interview. By the 80s, when fashion became as much a bubble-up effect as trickle-down, and a matter of self-expression, inspiring titles came from the UK, such as The Face and i-D. Writing about fashion from within as well as giving individuals the chance to express their unique visions (Ray Petri! Neville Brody! Dylan Jones!), these publications became the voices of the zeitgeist. It was an exciting time for fashion publishing. One of the most unforgettable titles was The Manipulator. Launched in 1984 and now defunct, it was the world’s largest magazine—measuring 50cm X 70cm (undoubtedly poster-sized)—and the most sought-after as each copy had a global print run of 450, and appeared only three times a year. The Manipulator would pave the way for the 90s’ highly collectible and mutable Visionaire, a magazine that mostly did not look like one. It wasn’t until the arrival of, launched in September 2000, when fashion magazines saw the next wave.

TLM Food

By now, new media is really not so new. We’re really no longer in awe of the information super-highway like we did in the mid-1990s. Post-Tumblr and Pinterest, The Life Magazine’s touting of “new ways of storytelling” is intriguing enough, but can The Straits Times generate anything novel? First, the story (or stories): given so much user-generated content and peer opinions circulating online and streaming into our devices, any e-magazine will have competition. To draw and hold the reader (at least until his hand-held device’s next notification), surely it must have fascinating, if not absorbing reads? Second, the telling: surely the newspaper account is best left in the newspaper? Perhaps, a publishing culture can’t change the way a dress silhouette or hemline can: at will.

If you want a visual treat, elsewhere, too, is where you may need to seek. The Straits Times is not exactly known for their lifestyle photography, and The Life Magazine does not attempt to change this perception. It’s down to technological advantage that it is readable since viewing on screen, particularly with the likes of retina display, pictures ‘pop’—quite the opposite of what you get on newsprint. These are, however, not images that inspire awe (or inspire). Now that so many fashion/style photographs—those generated by brands as well as consumers—emerge from the wild fire of social media, it is even more vital that e-magazines be visually compelling to stay above the fray. The Life Magazine will be better served if their portraits, for example, don’t appear to come from resources shared with Life’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

To make the most of the multimedia potential of digital publications, The Life Magazine embeds token video footage in their stories. While we’re not anticipating the films of Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, we aren’t bowled over by The Life Magazine’s offering, which, surprisingly, appears to be missing a real videographer’s input. The persistent unflattering shots of the side profiles of hosts and subjects are disconcerting. Fashion people should look like fashion folks. And a soundtrack that’s akin to royalty-free muzak is not fashionable. In this respect, The Life Magazine does not appear to set itself apart from the online edition of The Straits Times. Other than a videographer, a script writer may be required, too, when even a seasoned journalist such as Wong Ah Yoke, who is oddly in suit and tie to eat in under-$50 restaurants, stumbles over Singaporeans’ favourite “actually”, uttered thrice in the 40-second introduction of Hong Kong’s Hang Zhou Restaurant alone!

Since the advent of the music video in the 80s—a medium that merged music, fashion, film, and graphic design stunningly, multimedia formats have become audio-visual treats. Correspondingly, digital magazines now provide stimuli once thought to exist only on MTV. The Life Magazine, however, does not appear to have availed itself of the myriad tools to create a truly immersive experience. Despite its video footage and swipe functionality, The Life Magazine’s layout is still rooted in print, making it a static, web-disconnected read. While it sports a clean and unfussy UI, the navigation is not entirely intuitive, which, perhaps justifies the explanatory diagram that precedes the content page. As you read on, swiping becomes a little confusing, as pages do not flow directly from left to right. Some require you to read to the end before you can swipe to the next article, red arrows guide you along. Page zooming is possible, but the text—not sizable—cannot be selected, which means no copying and pasting. There are also no social sharing options, which, for so many share-crazy users of Facebook and the like, will be a bummer.

Once downloaded, The Life Magazine can be completed in about 20 minutes, hardly making it an experiential read. The newsstand, we’re quite certain for now, isn’t going to go under any time soon.

The free, first issue of The Life Magazine is available for download through the iOS and Android app ST Star

Denim For Your Feet

Thorocraft The HamptonA sneaker store is not where you’ll expect to find hand-made, leather-soled Oxfords, but the Leftfoot is no regular sneaker store, as so many fans will tell you. And not just any pair of Oxfords retails here.

These by American shoemaker Thorocraft are made from cotton denim with a camouflage design the company calls “cloud camo”. Not quite for jungle warfare, but certainly for the urban thoroughfare. What’s also appealing about these shoes are the details: heel cupped with un-dyed leather and the centre punctuated with a copper rivet, and leather outsoles and stacked heels embedded with rubber. As the shoes are handmade, the finish is craft-like yet very polished.

With so many guys wearing pants cropped (or folded) at the top of the ankle, these shoes are just the footwear for down there.

Thorocraft ‘The Hampton’ Denim Cammo shoes, SGD299, are available at Leftfood, Orchard Cineleisure

All In One, One For All

imagei.t’s 3rd store in Singapore at Orchard Gateway

It comprises two cantilevered buildings astride Orchard Road, yet on both sides, the lower floors that form Orchard Gateway’s twin shopping centres look sandwiched. Each is a glass-and-steel sliver in parenthesis—so cramped that they’re deprived of a broad façade that runs alongside Orchard Road. In fact, Orchard Gateway’s newly-opened half (squeezed between Orchard Central and 313@Sommerset) is all rear. Just like a late-century Victorian bustle, its focal point is in the behind. But unlike the bustle, there’s not much to see—a butt that doesn’t beckon. Fortunately, in the narrow front, Orchard Gateway has Hong Kong’s renowned i.t noticeably flanking the right of the entrance, like a gleaming monocle.

Opened yesterday evening, the multi-label store i.t is one of those with ‘It’ written all over. There’s the striking store front, the retro-modern interiors, and the gathering of labels that has edge even when they’re not cutting-edge. Spread over three floors, the cheerful products (with upbeat messages such as ‘Life is Cool’) and displays that border on the cute are doubtlessly conceived for a young, easy-to-influence audience. Unabashed in its youth-oriented designs and marketing, i.t entices its customers with a motley selection of labels—mostly their own—that never lags with trends. Although not necessarily a pacesetter, the store does show the way sartorially, a task made easier with their pocket-friendly price points.

wpid-wp-1403287641812.jpegThe first Aape store here is part of Japan’s A Bathing Ape brand, now owned by I.T

A late entrant in the fashion retail scene here, i.t is a “collaboration” with Wing Tai Retail, the company that brought TopShop and Uniqlo to our shores. The first i.t opened at Wisma Atria in June last year, and now there are three stores in Singapore; each based on a fine-tuned formula that is part pop, part sub-cultural. Between hardcore Goth-inspired looks and ultra-girly himegyaru-ish femininity, there is everything youngsters would need for their academic, early-professional, as well as Instagram-centred social lives. These are clothes and accessories that not only reach i.t’s core customers; they touch the young consumer’s parents too. In the fashion hybrid that has come to define i.t’s house brands (combining diverse and existing styles to create something vaguely new), nostalgia is not omitted, and it is this that sometimes tugs at the heartstrings of the older set. A look at the shoppers at A Bathing Ape spinoff Aape will bear this out: polo shirt with micro-prints is picked up by teenage sons while fathers choose a shirt of gingham with all-over camouflage print. Inadvertently or not, i.t has narrowed the age gap and broken down social hierarchies.

The i.t store is part of the I.T Group (full-cap and lower-case usages will be explained later in the article). The company’s beginning can be traced to Hong Kong, 1988, when founder Sham Kar Wai opened his first store. His story is one of many anecdotal and crazy successes that flourished in pre-1997 Hong Kong. Young and frustrated that in the Fragrant Harbour, accoutrements associated with rebellious British styles were severely lacking, Mr Sham decided to import those labels he was partial to for himself and his friends. The beginning was a tiny shop in Causeway Bay, where Doc Martens thick-soled shoes and European editions of Levi’s jeans captivated a post-adolescent, willing-to-experiment crowd. That soon led to one of Hong Kong’s most unforgettable fashion focal-points, the multi-label store Green Peace.

DSC_05513Former actress Yau Suk Ching and husband, founder of I.T. Group, Sham Kar Wai, and celebrity guest Charlene Choi with executive director of Wing Tai Retail, Helen Khoo, at the opening of i.t. Orchard Gateway

In the early Nineties, the city’s high-end fashion scene was dominated by the grande dame Joyce, a name not quite accurately described as the Club 21 of Hong Kong. Joyce, founded by industry veteran Joyce Ma, was many times bigger and bolder (in 2003, it became part of Lane Crawford Joyce Group, a piece of an empire of the Hong Kong real estate tycoon Peter Woo). In its home city alone, Joyce was one of Giorgio Armani’s three biggest global clients of the Nineties. At its peak, it was the go-to destination for top-tier designer labels, and was where the city’s prominent stars of the golden age of Cantopop—such as the now-gone Roman Tam, Lesley Cheung, and Anita Mui—regularly visited whenever their off-stage wardrobes needed updating.

Green Peace was then an upstart, but a player cool to the core. One of their most arresting shops was a second-story space inside a now-demolished red colonial building on Peking Road (former Chater Road) in the manic Tsim Sha Tsui. While Joyce was all sleek and impeccable, Green Peace was neo-bohemian—rather ironic, considering that Ms Ma then was a regular ashram goer and a meditation practitioner. His own punk leanings not rubbing off, Mr Sham’s Green Peace leaned towards an emerging trend for globalism in which cross-border fashion cultures were stirred in a happy mix. The Peking Road store was a marriage of souk-like interior and eclectic merchandising, drawing no distinction between high and low, with a merchandise narrative that was inter-textual. Labels as diverse as Romeo Gigli and Giuliano Fujiwara were arranged, not by brand, not by country of origin, but by looks or colours or product category, on ropes above floors laid with Middle-Eastern carpets. This was a treasure throve, and, like the one Aladdin discovered, was hard to resist. Hong Kong fashionistas quickly thronged it.

wpid-wp-1403289060140.jpegAfter a name change, i.t rapidly became one of Hong Kong’s largest fashion retailers

Green Peace, unfortunately, could not be Green Peace for long, not when the name clearly brought to mind a certain environmental movement rapidly gaining momentum throughout the world. It was surprising Mr Sham did not think of what might be perceived by the striking similarity. After 1997, the international organisation Greenpeace got their lawyers working on the case, and he had to drop the name. I.T was thus born, yielding, in no time, its multifarious fashion retail formats. In the beginning, the new moniker seemed unimaginative, and brought to mind another commonly bandied phrase, particularly among computer professionals. This time, however, something cleverer was at play, and it boils down to one dot.

The period between the two letters of its name is deceptively simple. As singular as the iPhone’s home button and as unobstructive as a washer under a head of a bolt, the divider allows I.T to be read as “eye-tee”. Place a full stop after the ‘T’ and you would have the abbreviation for Italy. Pair each letter with a dot on the right and they become initials for something that does not exist for the company. Deny them periods and they instantly say information technology (or, in lower case, the Internet domain name for where Prada and Gucci come from). Adopt upper-lower case, the brand may be mistaken as the title of Stephen King’s novel about “the evil without a name”. One small dot did make a huge difference. In Hong Kong, I.T is popularly known as big I.T (the upper case for up-market labels) and small i.t (the lower case for mass brands). There’s elegance in such simplicity and clarity.


i.t’s house brand Izzue offers sportswear styles with a street wear vibe, touched by a Shibuya sensibility

Big or small, both concepts impacted Hong Kong’s fashion retail landscape dramatically, to the point where the I.T Group of stores—multi-branded and free-standing—could dominate the entire floor of a shopping centre or even a whole street. By the end of the Nineties, Sham Kar Wai was regarded as one of the most important figures in the Hong Kong fashion scene, and in 2012, was named by Forbes China as one of the top 25 most influential Chinese in global fashion. I.T stores popped up in mainland China (where apart from the usual I.T multi-label stores, a Beijing I.T Market opened in the capital, not unlike Comme des Garçons’s tri-city Dover Street Market), as well as in Taiwan, Bangkok, Malaysia, and, now, Singapore, prompting observers to see the Asian expansion as prelude to world dominance. For many Hongkongers, this isn’t hyperbolic, not after an i.t pop-up store appeared in London’s Selfridges in September last year, as well as a silver-themed I.T exhibition in Galeries Lafayette in Paris (Hong Kong and Beijing were also part of the three-city show) featuring more than 70 pieces of specially commissioned garments from 56 fashion brands such as Maison Martin Margiela and Gareth Pugh. These were part of I.T’s splashy 25th anniversary celebrations that brought considerable fame and pride to the SAR.

Much of I.T’s initial success, as the locals in Hong Kong are inclined to concur, could also be attributed to Mr Sham’s wife, the former actress Yau Suk Ching, whose vast network of celebrity and actor friends gave the power couple’s business added marketing heft. The opening of i.t at Orchard Gateway was cheered on, via video recordings, by such heavyweights as Shawn Yue, Nicholas Tse, Julian Cheung (all in surprisingly unremarkable clothes), and, in person, Charlene Choi, one half of the disbanded duo Twins.  Whether you consider celebrities the bellwether of style or not, they have tremendous, though not necessarily quantifiable, impact on young consumer choices. The owners of I.T use their access to star power to give their brands—even those as seemingly juvenile as the ones under the i.t umbrella—glamour and gravitas.


b+ab,  i.t’s earliest women’s wear line that does not pretend to be anything other than ultra-girly

Inside i.t at Orchard Gateway, half-a-dozen primary labels in their respective spaces tell their own brand story with a seductive allure not so different from what you may get at a candy store. While each projects a different image, ranging from the saccharine to the severe, the aesthetics do overlap. With such an affinity, they offer looks that are not drastically different from one another, varying only in degree of cuteness and edginess. Shoppers need not stick to one brand for their fashion needs as, collectively, i.t covers most of the street-style bases on which the average trend-led youngster stands. And they do it with such imperturbable cool that they attract only the quiet and distinctive labels to their fold. Case in point: the label Izzue’s successful collaboration with Japan’s urban wear brand du jour Neighbourhood.

At the Aape space on the basement level of the store (the I.T Group acquired 90% of Nowhere Corp, the parent company of A Bathing Ape, in 2011), a girl with a sanguine complexion was queuing quietly with her lanky boyfriend to pay for items the latter had picked. Between the two of them, incongruity was the central theme of their get-up: she in a floral tea dress under an extra-large pullover ripped at the neck and he in an oversized collegiate tee with skinny jeans in some Aztec print. They do not look out of place. “I like it here,” the girl said, “It’s cute.” The couple walked out, hand-in-hand, the guy holding an Aape paper bag and a circular black and white cushion bearing a stylised face of a primate.

Aviators Revisited

Rayban Aviator Flat MetalHow many times can you reinvent classic frames? Apparently, quite many. Just look at Ray-Ban’s aviator sunglasses. First introduced in 1936 for pilots to protect their eyes up in the air and available to the public a year later, these aviators—as we now call them—have seen editions too numerous to remember. And we’re not even counting the colours!

The latest, the Aviator Flat Metal RB, deserves special mention for their lack of retro pretentions. Here, Ray-Ban is clearly looking forward than to the past. These shades are in step with a certain minimalist sensibility many of us love, even when popular trends prove otherwise.

We’re, therefore, partial to the ultra-thin frame, laser cut from stainless steel so that they look quite different from the classic version, hence it’s name. The Flat Metal treatment, in fact, first appeared on Ray-Ban’s much-loved Wayfarer, giving these Fifties plastic standard a new-material makeover.

For the Aviator Flat Metal, the frame is more girthed than usual, creating a corridor that lends the glasses a futuristic air. Incredibly, the total package is lighter than its predecessors. Extra appeal comes in the polarised lenses, particularly useful against those pesky UV rays, so unavoidable on our sun-soaked island.

Clearly the Aviator Flat Metal is the pair to go with a Raf Simons suit while one lolls on a Kenneth Cobonpue ‘Mermaid’ chaise longue. Smile not required.

Ray-Ban Aviator Flat Metal RB, SGD 345, is available at authorized Ray-Ban retailers

Unplugged: The Earbuds Become A Necklace

Jabra Rox Wireless as Necklace

Earphones have always been wearable tech, way before the present profusion of gadgets for the lower stretch of the forearm. Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats confirmed that earphones are more investable than fitness bands, and are more visible and desirable, and enduring. Anyway, who spams your social media feeds with selfies of the wrist, whatever encircles it? A beaming countenance framed by a ridiculously large on-ear headphone in blazing colour is far much more fetching for the front-facing camera of the smartphone.

That is why we’re not sure if these Jabra Rox Wireless ear-buds will catch on. Don’t get us wrong; we love them—so much so that, at first sight, we bought not one, but two! It’s just that they may be terribly discreet and underwhelming for those hooked on headphones-cum-ear-muffs brandished with a conspicuous ‘b’. It’s hard to sell Celine to the Cavalli customer, no?

Some ear-buds are really more wearable than others. The Jabra Rox Wireless is one of them. With the standard ear-buds, you drape the cable over your shoulders when not in use. With the Jabra Rox Wireless, click the ear-buds together, and you’ll get one necklace with a high-tech pendant! Just the accessory to go with a white tee. Or lay atop the lapels of a black Dior jacket.

Jabra Rox Wireless Pic

The nifty convenience aside, these ear-buds pack quite a punch in their tiny water-resistant metal/rubber bodies. Jabra is not really known for their earphones even when they are associated with wireless headsets. So it is a delightful surprise when these are slipped into the ear. The sound is full, clear, and punchy, with just enough bass to affect the body without loss of control. And when they say “massive”, Jabra means it. Rarely is there a need to push volume past the half-way mark. With the right fit of the ear-buds (‘ear gels’ and ‘ear wings’ of various sizes are provided), ambient noises are adequately filtered.

And when the music flows? Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars takes over the head as the pianos tinkle smoothly into electronic highs against percussion and baseline that deserve to be in any FIFA World Cup anthem. And Chris Martin’s dream-like yet soaring vocals are clearly dreamy and high-note reaching (listen to Always in My Head: it won’t get out of your head!). In a word: gorgeous. With Tokyo String Quartet’s Beethoven: String Quartet, it’s hard to fault the smoothness of articulation—the lucid strings blend, dipping and rising to create that warm feeling that is always welcome when in bed and it’s raining outside.

The beautiful sounds are easily accessible via the in-line remote, which allows you to control the volume, change tracks, and, of course, answer calls. Here, too, lies the NFC chip, a neat addition that lets you pair a compatible smartphone (and tablet) without fuss. And the best part: when you need a break from the music, just unite the ear-buds, and they snap together magnetically, and, at the same time, go into sleep mode. When you’re ready for their intended use, uncouple the ear-buds, ease them into your ears, and a sweeter-than-Siri voice discreetly tells you that you’re “connected”.

And, yes, we love discreet.

Jabra Rox Wireless, SGD168, is available at Epicentre outlets and Stereo, The Headphone Concept Store

Hello To The Hawaiian Shirt

Prada Hawaiian shirt SS 2014

Prada’s Hawaiian shirt from Spring/Summer 2014

Inside an MRT train on the east-west line, two young guys sharing an iPad Air were looking at Hawaiian shirts on the ASOS website. Their fascination was at odds with their geeky get-up. “Nice, hor,” said one. “Will I look good in this?” he asked, genuinely interested. “No,” said the other, “you’ll look very uncle.” Let’s just ignore the lack of deference for the generation probably over-influenced by Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii. When youngsters seek fashion advice from other youngsters, they get as much help as Lilo got from Stitch (on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, no less!). In a quick, nearly rude reply, a very real, appealing, and practical trend was knocked down.

Let’s just assume that the second guy had not seen the current profusion of shirts with Polynesian flowers or tropical fruits. To him, we owe this intro.

This season’s trend is really led by Prada. Their Hawaiian shirts are classic short-sleeved dress shirts, but the prints are all picture postcard. Prada is never known to do anything so vanilla; their interpretation takes the casualness of old-fashioned aloha shirts down several notches by fashioning them with a dressier collar (instead of a stand-less spread), and rather than repeated patterns of tropical blooms, theirs, such as this (above), is a compelling composition of islanders rowing malias, as if off to a confrontation with an unseen tribe. And those painterly clouds, they’re heavy with art-cred!

Uniqlo tee & shirt SS 2014Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics comprise of shirts and tees

Prada’s Hawaii high is destined to trickle down to the masses. Right on cue is Uniqlo. Taking to collaboration rather than innovation, they paired with 61 year-old Hawaiian shirt maker Iolani Sportswear for a collection of tees, shirts, and shorts that sport the manufacturer’s vintage prints. While Uniqlo’s marketing images are a tad too literal in their interpretation of the current aloha cool (leis on the head? Surely not!), the co-branded separates can be put together to effect the print-on-print look so evident in fashion mags these days.

Hawaiian shirts, also known as aloha shirts, were really souvenir buys American holiday makers to the island brought back home with them in the 1950s. (If you need a parallel, it’s like Singaporean men going to Bangkok for the first time and returning with Singha Beer singlets). The shirts have, in fact, been around since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the Fifties when pop stars—from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra—wore them with such regularity that a trend was spawned. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why some of the young today associate the Hawaiian shirt with avuncular tastes. But the fate of the Hawaiian shirts did change in the spring-summer season of 2000.

Jil Sander, in a departure from her usual solid colours, introduced Hawaiian shirts for both men and women that year. The women’s pieces in barely-there colours teamed with skirts in aloha prints of pastel shades were especially well received. They generated a mad search for vintage Hawaiian shirts, especially those by RJC (Robert J Clancey) who made some for the Japanese market with the fabrics inside out so that they yielded a much softer colouring. It was a make-over for kitsch, and one that brought to the wearer a smile as wide as a tribal Tiki’s.

Prada cotton Hawaiian shirt, SGD1,250,  is available at Prada stores. Uniqlo Iolani Hawaiian Classics, SGD 29.90 for shirts and SGD 24.90 for tees, are available at Uniqlo Bugis+