Care To Bare

Fashion is about clothes, but when the clothes are barely there, are they still fashion?

Jennifer Lopez at 46Jennifer Lopez in a sheer, skin-tight dress for her 46th birthday. Photo: Getty Images

By Luo Zhao Mo

For her 46th birthday, Jennifer Lopez wore a dress so sheer and revealing that many women I know were either full of admiration, or aversion. I don’t have such extreme feelings. Jenny from the block has worn a lot less: her own skin the garment of choice. In fact, near-nudity is so common among pop stars today that it is strange nobody wonders why they’re still wearing clothes. Besides, you do become numb to the less-to-show-more display. Even Miss Manners isn’t talking about it. I guess finding dresses that do not reveal must have become so tough that picking the first scanty number is a lot easier. Chances are, if your job is to sing (about the booty!), cloth and public appearances are as agreeable as Taylor Swift and Spotify.

Turning forty-six today isn’t the same as it was before. This isn’t 1950, and Ms Lopez is celebrating it. Her body is celebrating too. For many women, forty-six isn’t supposed to look like that. Ms Lopez knows it, but just in case you don’t, here, look at this body; take a close look. Even knickers are dispensed with so that you get unbroken lines of the curves of the rump. Marvel! This is, without doubt, flaunting the figure, not showing off clothes. If this is about the dress, surely there would be more of it to see. So why are people talking about the dress Jennifer Lopez wore?

While I wasn’t seized by extreme feelings, I was occupied by nagging thoughts. Firstly, I wondered how she had slipped into such a dress. It can’t be that easy, as anyone who has worn pantyhose will tell you. And, secondly, when so little fabric is used that you see past the dress to zero in on the body, is this still fashion as we know it?

The dress in question is by Bao Tranchi, a little known Vietnamese-American fashion and costume designer, who calls it “geometric bodywear” or, according to her bio, “carving out the female form in super-sexy, unexpected graphic ways”. Ms Tranchi has dressed Demi Lovato, Rita Ora, Selena Gomez (who wore a Tranchi bodysuit in Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood music video) and even Madonna (contributions to the costumes of the singer’s 5th concert tour ‘Drown World’ in 2001 that were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2). While Ms Lopez birthday dress isn’t as fierce as the typical Tranchi body-con number, it is as revealing.

The thing is, this is not doing nude for dudes, unless you’re Kanye West and you put your wife in clothes that make your pals envious that the missus can go out in a dress that is not much of a dress, even when she’s pregnant! Can you tame a shrew by baring her body? This is also not performance artist Marina Abramović exposing herself as kind of statement that undresses the mysteries of art. This is, as it appears to me, one woman telling other women—worldwide audience, no less—“Look, I’m not wearing a bra and I am also not wearing panties”. Going bra-less is the way to go, we’re led to believe since the side boob became exposure du jour, never mind if they mostly look like squashed baos (here’s looking at you, Lady Gaga). But now, after other attempts by even actresses—Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lawrence, and, gasp, Gwyneth Paltrow—ditch the underwear is the celebrity style to watch. Victoria’s Secret should be worried.

Is pop stars’ obsession with nudity the same as fashion’s obsession with thinness? I’m not sure. Which is worse: exposing skin or baring skinniness? Jennifer Lopez bares a body that, on the whole, looks healthy; her curves a confirmation that she’s not cut off from cuisines. Her generous show of skin won’t bother anyone except, perhaps, those with modesty issues. The house of Saint Laurent, on the other hand, ran an ad last month in British Elle that showed an unidentifiable model with impossibly skinny limps. It prompted the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to say that they “… considered the model appeared unhealthily underweight in the image and concluded that the ad was irresponsible.” The advertisement was, unsurprisingly, banned, and ASA ruled that, in its existing form, the ad must not surface again. Ironically, it has since gone quite viral.

No one at Saint Laurent (or Kering, which owns the brand) has issued a statement in response to the ban although it is widely reported in the mass media. I find it rather curious that despite the present climate in fashion marketing in which there’s a strong desire for brands to show models that can project a healthy body image, there are still those labels who must work with the reed-thin and the sick-looking. A slender body is not necessarily a bad thing (if we accept that there are many body types), but thinness that suggests illness, malnutrition, or drug habit is not exemplary in a pop culture of two many impressionable consumers. There is a possibility, of course, that the model is a healthy individual, just as Ms Lopez is, but body image today is very much connected with what models and celebrities project.

We can’t deny that performers these days have more influence on admirers than those from the past. In the Twenties, Josephine Baker, the “first black superstar”, was one of the earliest to sing and dance nearly-nude as part of her stage act at the theatre Folies Bergère in Paris, but she does not go scantily-clad past the stage door. Her banana dance (so called because she wore little more than a hula skirt made of artificial bananas) and her routine were so daring and body-aware that she has now been referred to as “Beyonce of her day”. The women in the audience may have been charmed by Ms Baker’s erotic performance, but none considered emulating her. The daring, sexually in tune among them may attempt her look at home, but it is unlikely they would go barely dressed in public places. On-stage and off-stage were clearly demarcated.

That was then. Now, aided and facilitated by Instagram, many women want to look as sexy as their favourite stars in the latter’s IG accounts. Sexiness is not nearly as sexy unless it goes offline too. Some Instagrammers are not merely photo bloggers, they’re influencers as well. Snapshots have clearly supplanted text as the preferred medium of communication (and bragging), and more influencers will reach out to their followers with vivid pictures of their ways with clothes, or without. Stars are supporting other stars too. Joining the you-go, girl shout-out was Kim Kardashian, who Tweeted: ““Damn!!!!! How hot does@jlo look!!!!! She will forever be my idol!!!!#BodyGoals”.

Oh, wasn’t I talking about a particular dress?

The First Step

Marshizan court shoesBy Shu Xie

Last night, in the lounge of Seviin, a bevy of shiny new shoes spoke to me. Seviin, if you can spot the Roman numeral for seven in the cleverly spelt name, is, perhaps to be expected, on the seventh storey of Tangs. Here, separated by two floors of car park space from the main department store, is a level dedicated to looking good. Rather than sell you merchandise, they offer services that are sometimes known collectively as pampering. It’s a temple complex dedicated to the worship of beauty. A hair salon and several beauty parlours border the lounge that had now become a room for a collection of shoes—six styles to be precise. Imbibing the air of fragrant wellness, these shoes sat singly atop boxes that looked like they’re big enough to house size 15 Air Jourdans. Each shoe was as composed as playground slides not bothered by the demands of active children, until delighted guests thronged the space.

Did I say the shoes were talking to me? Shoes do that: they speak; they articulate a language that only the admirer understands. Sometimes it’s an outburst; sometimes it’s just speaking glances. Once you’re engaged, though, they keep chatting with you. The dialogue could be a life-long discourse. I thought these shoes spoke to me, but as it turned out, they were speaking to someone else—a petite girl in a bustier-jump suit of liquid silk in watery pink. She understood what the statuesque heel was saying to her. She picked it up as if it was a chalice of gold. She slipped her right foot into the shoe as if immersing into a bath of nard. And she wasn’t the only one taking a dip. Others too were participating in the ritual.

Marshizan Angullia shoesMashizan ‘Angullia’ court shoes in gradated and glittered kid suede

The shoes were talking to me, I had thought, but they really weren’t. Or perhaps I didn’t completely understand. Shoes are like that: they baffle you with their overt and inexplicable beauty. And these are blessed shoes; they have the loveliness bestowed on them by their creator, Mashizan Masjum, a slim chap with similar built as Jimmy Choo. Unlike he, whose name rhymes with shoe, Mr Masjum is a recent footwear designer. He was, and still is, a broadcast professional. Going behind the camera as well as producing, I overheard, were not his true calling, shoes are. And fate, as those of you who know about such things can guess, would intervene. And it did in Florence, coincidentally a shoe-making city that dates back to the 17th Century. The apprenticeship that Mr Masjum soon embarked on was with 77-year-old “master cobbler” Angelo Imperatrice, reportedly one of Italy’s last few shoe artisans, who teaches at the Accademia Riaci, a respected institute of arts as well as craft. Mr Masjum was also trained by Ilaria Papucci, formerly a shoe designer with Salvatore Ferragamo.

His credential is impressive, someone told me. Credentials don’t spawn creativity—I remember a saying from my school-going days. I took a shoe—named Simona Simona (In Italian, Simona means ‘one who hears’ and the double proper nouns was used because Mr Masjum had met two inspiring same-name women in Rome), cupped its shank in my palm, and communicated with its sleek body. Simona Simona did not listen to me. Girls’ best friend after diamonds was indifferent to my overtures. I looked at its smooth eye-catching chatoyant patent upper, the neatly formed toe box with the gentle lift of the vamp. I held its heel and saw how well the counter sat on the heel seat. Simona Simona was nice to touch, but something something did not give.

Marshizan Angullia pony hairMashizan ‘Angullia’ court shoes in patent leather with pony hair

I could see much went into the making of the shoes. But as a first effort, it showed. Mr Masjum’s debut collection could not shake off its post-graduation-show enthusiasm. You sensed he hasn’t found his voice, even when camp was in the articulation (danglies centred in a cut-out heel, and, yes, like earrings!). Someone hilariously called it “kampong glam”, and it could be construed as wicked, but these shoes do not hint at the fact that they share the same factory as Dior and Saint Laurent shoes. High heels not only await the right feet, they look forward to the right dress. Since the likely time of their appearance is in the evening, Mashizan shoes should meet Ashely Isham gowns.

Flitting among the guests was Channel News Asia anchor Glenda Chong, whose feet were encased in a pair of shoes with the heel curved inwards so that a stub descends from the middle of the shank. It is reminiscent of something Madame de Pompadour might have won. Someone asked her how she managed to walk so steadily in them. She said gleefully, “It’s not hard.” The ex-model had not forgotten what she learnt in deportment class. These shoes, I was told later, were called Sayang, as in dondang sayang (love ballad), those cheeky exchanges of Malay pantun in song so popular among the Peranakans (Ms Chong herself a bona fide bibik!). And it is with love that her solicitor husband Justin Chan appeared not long after. In the presence of eager cameras, he went down on one knee, unbuckled Sayang, and replaced it with a pink court shoe encrusted with crystals on the counter and heel. It fit as Cinderella’s glass slippers did. Paling sesuai! Only this was really a Carrie and Mr Big moment.

Mashizan shoes, from SGD 688, are available exclusively at Tangs Orchard

Two Of A Kind: Pool Sliders Face-Off

Adidas vs Gucci slides

Top: Adidas ‘Adilette’ slide. Bottom: Gucci ‘Pursuit ’72 Slide’ sandal

Which came first? That shouldn’t be hard to guess, but for those whose retro-sense goes only as far back as 1990, when Tom Ford was installed as Gucci’s creative director, then it may require stating that the slippers seen here—now known as slide sandals, pool sliders, or simply slides—first appeared in 1972, when Adidas introduced the ‘Adilette’. Back then, these were thought to be for use in the bathroom or, worse, a descendant of the cha kiak—wooden clogs from a bygone era—that mothers gladly pointed out. Yet, there was something so anti-establishment about them, an alluring counterpoint to the favoured flip-flops of the time, that they caused a mini craze.

Gucci’s, as far as we can remember, appeared in June last year, when they released a white version of the one above. The fact that this style is called ‘Pursuit ’72 Slide’ suggests that Gucci is not even thinly veiling its homage to the Adilette. Just look at the placement of the brand name! In their compositions, these made-in-Italy slippers are not so different from Adidas’s made-in-China ones. Even Gucci’s upper is synthetic, rather than leather. But with Gucci’s distinctive coloured bands—red-and-green—that are inspired by saddle girths of horseback riding, these should have as much prestige as anything with their repeated interlocking Gs.

Adilette SS 2015 @ adidas OriginalsThe current season’s Adilette slides at adidas Originals stores

There’s no denying that luxury brands are increasingly taking their cues from athletic brands, specifically where footwear is concerned. Gucci, in this instance, does not only want to dress your feet for the office or for a date, they, too, want your soles atop their sliders so that you don’t need to go pick your free copy of Today in generic flip-flops. Desiring to cover all categories of footwear is understandable since a business will find all means to grow, but the need for luxury brands to ape the product offering of sports brands is curious. You won’t find Adidas doing leather horse-bit loafers to capture the hearts of fashionable urbanites. Sure, they have their Princetown loafers, as well as those colourful penny loafers conceived in collaboration with Jeremy Scott, but these have a sports aspect to them. Or in more marketable parlance, they’re hybrids.

In Gucci’s heydays, many of their products, from bags to shoes, set the trend, and were much looked at by lower-market brands for inspiration. These days, the reverse is too noticeable to ignore. The bubble up effect is truly effervescent.

Adidas ‘Adilette’ slides, SGD49, are available at adidas Original stores. Gucci ‘Pursuit ’72 Slide’, SGD220, is available at Gucci, The Paragon

All It Takes Is A Bottle Of Water

CDG water

Sometimes, a little goes a long way. And sometimes, the little is no more than a bottle of water—clear, cool water.

That’s what Comme des Garcons’s Pocket offers to shoppers at their store in Bangkok’s newly opened EmQuartier, a massive complex on Sukhumvit Road, just opposite older sister, Emporium. Pocket stocks Play, CDG’s, well, playful line distinguished by the heart-shaped smiley logo designed by Polish artist Filip Pagowski. Play, launched in 2002, and described by CDG’s marketing collateral as “a sign, a symbol, a feeling”, started mainly as a T-shirt line. It soon grew into a collection that includes shirts, sweaters, cardigans, sneakers, and even fragrances.

So large has the collection become that Play is given its own corner within CDG stores as well as standalones called Play Box, including Pocket. At the EmQuartier Pocket store, our Bangkok colleague walked in one mid-week afternoon and was beckoned by the bottles of water sitting amid Play merchandise. Before he could ask how much each costs, he was approached by a smiling salesgirl, who said, “Please, have one.”

Coming in from the Bangkok heat, this bottle of water was very much appreciated—he had stressed in a Line message to us. Thirst quenched, he was able to explore the shop comfortably. His experience prompted us to visit our very own Pocket shop at Como House on Orange Grove Road. Inside, no one greeted us. Still, we looked for that bottle covered with CDG text in black and red Helvetica, but we found none. We, too, were coming in from the heat, but no bottle of water laid in wait.

Photo: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

Penta-Full Style

Mui mui octagonal tortoise shell frames Sometimes a square, an oblong, an oval, or a circle just won’t quite give your face the character—studious, kooky, glamourous, take your pick—eyewear is supposed to impart. If so, try something reminiscent of geometry class: the pentagon. Miu Miu’s five-sided frames in tortoise shell have a hint of the retro about them, but the gold-tone metal arms are decidedly today’s aviator. We’re also partial to the gradated blue lenses, a whisper of a contrast to the rather vocal frames.

Miu Miu’s appeal may be waning (if the closure of the Ion Orchard store is any indication), but their accessories still have powerful allure. Trend-defying, they have a certain goofiness that balances sophistication, and boldness that matches elegance. In other words, they’re cool.

Miu Miu tortoise shell sunglasses, SGD550, are available at leading eyewear stockists

Embroidered, And “Couture” It Is

Two Sundays ago, at the start of the Paris Haute Couture Week Autumn/Winter 2015, Lacoste teamed up with Lesage to create what has been dubbed “couture polo shirts”. Are they really?

Lacoste X Lessage G1Left: actress/singer/model Emmanuelle Seigner wears ‘Without Style, Playing and Winning is Not Enough’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: model Constance Jablonski in a long-sleeved ‘René Graffiti’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt

Lacoste is so associated with tennis and polo shirts that few know it is also the name of a mountain village-commune in the south of France. It is here that one of the country’s most notorious literary mavericks resided for awhile—in a family castle named after the place where it was built. Chateau de Lacoste, destroyed during the French Revolution of 1789, was home to the Marquis de Sade, pornographer-in-residence of the Bastille, where he was later imprisoned for 10 years. Lacoste is where many believed the Marquis began his career of wicked debauchery involving an affair with his wife’s sister and orgies with nuns and teenaged servant girls, not mentioning the collective act associated with pain and shame that is named after him. This genesis may have been forgotten if not for a benefactor who has turned Chateau de Lacoste into a platform for art: Pierre Cardin.

The present-day Lacoste of the piqué cotton polo shirt fame, too, has met a giant of French fashion: the venerable embroidery house of Lesage. When Lacoste pairs with Lesage, you get embroidered or beaded polo shirts. That’s what we thought until reading the initial press reports: “couture polo shirts…” If you thought that sounds implausible, we’re on your side. Does a polo shirt, made in a mass-production factory (even if sewn in the sampling room), becomes a couture garment by virtue of surface embellishment from a couture embroiderer?

Lacoste X Lessage G2Left: ballet dancer Marie-Agnès Gillot in a ‘Attention aux Crocodiles’ sleeveless Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: actress Karidja Touré wears a ‘Crocodile Story’ Lacoste X Lesage polo tunic

Industry bible WWD’s online report was a little more restrained, describing the limited-edition tops in the body text as couture only twice. The French press were ardent in their nationalistic fervour. Both online Paris Vogue and French Elle called the special-release Lacoste tennis wear “les polos couture”. Only Le Monde was more careful in their headline, announcing that Lacoste and Lesage “célèbrent la street-couture”. Most intriguing, however, was Glamour’s standfirst: “Les maisons françaises Lacoste et Lesage associent leurs savoir-faire pour créer huit polos haute couture” or “The French houses Lacoste and Lesage combine their expertise to create eight haute couture polos”.

Couture is already stretching it. Haute?

If the major titles believed what they were told, then maybe these are couture polos. Since we at SOTD have not seen them, we can’t entirely negate their couture value. If we go by so-called traditional practices, especially those among self-proclaimed couturiers in Asia (where the word ‘couture’ has a long history of abuse in designer branding), as long as a garment is embroidered, beaded, sequinned, it can be considered a couture garment. There is, after all, handwork involved, just as in the Lacoste polos, which are stitched by the brodeurs of Lesage, a storied atelier that is known for its embroidery used by couturiers as early as Charles Worth. Lesage is now owned by Chanel, but continues to supply to other couture houses, and now, sportswear producers.

Lacoste X Lessage G3Left: actress/model Laetitia Casta wears ‘La Véritable’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: model Cora Emmanuel wears ‘Games, Set, Match’ sleeveless Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt

To us, however, no matter how much of Lesage’s embroidery appears on a polo, even a Lacoste-branded one, the final garment is, at best, half-couture, and no way haute. There are perfectly good reasons why the haute couture business is regulated by the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture, based in Paris. The Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, founded in 1973, and under which the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture operates, stipulates that “Haute Couture is a legally protected and controlled label that can only be used by the fashion houses which have been granted the designation by the French Ministry of Industry”. And yes, we’re rather stitched-up about that too.

For a very long time, couture has been a craft about skills applied on garments, inside out. Craft is the operative word since couture clothes involve sewing by hand as much as crafting by hand. The foundation on which the clothes lay is as vital as what appears on the surface. In simpler term, construction is critical. Quality is stitched into seams as well as on sequins. True, what is considered beautiful surface embellishments changes with time, just as with the silhouettes of the couture clothes, but what constitutes a quality make has not changed. We can be seduced into believing that a polo shirt is couture-blessed, but does it bear all the hallmarks of the haute?

Lacoste X Lessage G4Left: disc jockey Clara 3000 wears ‘René Did It First’ Lacoste X Lesage polo shirt. Right: actress/model Audrey Marnay wears ‘Fair Play’ Lacoste X Lesage cropped polo shirt

Le Monde was not wrong to discern Lacoste’s attempt as “street couture”, an oxymoron, and an aesthetic that can be traced to the Nineties, when a sweatshirt-and-track-pants maker had the gall to call their label Juicy Couture. For street fashion brands, nowhere is hallowed ground. Couture can include embroidered T-shirts associated with apparel at the lowest end of the market. Those mindful of semantics will point out that ‘couture’ really means ‘sewing’. There’s nothing wrong, therefore, to attach the word to a brand. Truth is, even sans the adjective haute, couture is always evocative of something higher, itself a branding not distanced from the ateliers where everything is done by hand and elevated to an art form. Couture always has a certain ring: costly, exquisite, uncommon.

Even though they’re termed “couture polos” by Lacoste, the marketing description is more humble: “Eight polos, eight inspiring French women, eight tributes to René Lacoste.” The octet of women are the usual mix of models and actresses, except the DJ, Clara 3000, who is the most likely lass to don the embroidered Lacoste outside the ad campaign, given that her wardrobe is, by her admission, home to T-shirts she has been collecting for years. In fact, these Lacoste polo shirts and tunics, designed by creative director Felipe Oliveira Baptista (who, interesting to note, is a member of the Chambre de Syndicale de la Haute Couture), are in tune with what’s worn among the music-making set and are likely to score many likes. You’re not wrong if you think we have hip-hop stars in mind, going back to Missy Elliot and those blinked-out Adidas tops! Sometimes, it is cachet, more than couture, that sells a chemise.

Lacoste x Maison Lesage Couture polos will not be available in local stores. Photos: Lacoste

Blooms Up To Your Knees

Valentino mini-dresses Pre-fall 2015

Summer flowers are abloom for the approaching autumn season. And Valentino has brought a whole garden along with them. This, however, isn’t a bed of late-summer roses; this is closer to the meadow of small blooms in which Edward kisses Bella in the Twilight series. They’re completely pretty and girly, sweet even, yet they don’t wind you up like too-cute posies do. The thing with pretty—broadly speaking—is that cool is rarely part of the equation. That’s why Valentino’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli have been gaining raves. Their flowers have a certain edge. This is from a composition—sum of fabric and design—that is floral, not florid, with a resultant effect that hints at Auguste Renoir, not Georgia O’Keeffe

We’re especially partial to the boots from the pre-fall collection, especially the knee-high ones (they come in ankle boots too). Sure, there is almost no reason to wear them in the unforgiving heat that regularly afflicts us, but determined women will find an occasion (or a city elsewhere) for these clothes-for-limbs. From afar, these boots look like they’re made from printed leather, but up close and in your hands you’ll be surprised and delighted—in equal measure—that they’re fashioned from silk brocade. This is luxury that recalls 17th century shoes worn in the court of the French monarchy. Only now, the Valentino duo has given them a visual language gleaned from the 1960s. This is no doubt due in part to their collaboration with British textile designer Celia Birtwell, known as much for her prints that had come to embody the spirit of London’s Swinging Sixties as her marriage to the designer Ossie Clark.

Valentino pre-Fall boot

These silk brocade boots are a more feminine follow-up to the leather ‘Garavani’ combat boots with rosette appliqués that appeared last year in Valentino’s autumn/winter collection. Like those boots, the current ones have rather rounded toe caps, giving them a vaguely militaristic appearance. They are leather-soled and block-heeled, and are zip-fastened for a closer, slim-looking fit. Many Asian women will, no doubt find these appealing, especially if they see incredible allure in knee-high boots, which possibly could stem from the lack of opportunity in wearing them. Boots signify that there are lands of colder clime for you to go to, and you have been there or are about to go there, and with the floral brocade, the place could be an English countryside, a French campagne, or even the Twilight meadow, that fantasy vista Stephenie Meyer set near Forks, Washington. You don’t let pass their sex appeal too. From Juliet Robert’s thigh-high, patent leather, too-glossy-to-be-classy pair in Pretty Woman to Kate Moss’s too-many-to-mention collection, these are as useful an accessory to express barefaced sexuality as stilettos. Either way, the higher you go, the sexier you are. Or so it is believed.

The popularity of boots as women know them is observable rather recently. Boots became a trend in the 60s; they went hand-in-hand with the mini skirt. While boots were worn in the old days, mainly for practical reasons (such as concealing calves in case the skirt hitched up or protecting feet from inclement weather), they didn’t attain any fashionable standing. It became fashion footwear at the beginning of the 20th Century, when, in 1913, a woman by the name of Denise wore Moroccan leather boots that reached her knee. The boots were made by the bottier Favereau and were an instant sensation among the beau monde of Paris and New York. The designer of her game-changing footwear? Her husband, Paul Poiret. Unlike his hobble skirt, those knee-high boots had a better fate: the style survived the Belle Epoque and continued to inspire until now.

Valentino garden silk-brocade knee-high boot, SGD2,460, and ankle boot, SGD1,870, are available at Valentino, Ion Orchard. Photos: Valentino

Blue Persuasion

45R Store @ Capitol PiazzaSingapore’s first 45R store at Capitol Piazza

By Raiment Young

Until the arrival of 45R on our shores recently, I got my fill of their beautifully crafted clothes from Hong Kong, where their two-storey standalone truly stands alone on the island’s newly-hip Star Street. Its unmistakable Japanese exterior beckons with a somewhat tawny glow that suggests residential rather than commercial space. Inside, you’re immediately transported into a world that’s incongruent with the city in which 45R has come to entice. This is artistry unique to Japan, but it’s not big-city ingenuity that sets it apart. Rather, it’s small-town skill and charm.

Before that, my first encounter with this Japanese brand was not, as you might suspect, in Tokyo, but in New York. This was in 2000, a year before the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, when the area of Soho was beginning to lure mega-luxury brands such as Prada, then going through a protracted renovation and occupation of its Rem Koolhaas-designed flagship on Broadway that was formerly the Guggenheim Soho.

The 45R store, situated a hop away from Houston Street on Mercer Street, was quite unlike anything seen in this part of New York. Its folksy vibe was at odds with its immediate neighbours of that time: stores that could possibly double as a second home for hip hop fan boys. For this reason, 45R was unmistakable and unmissable. You had the feeling—I certainly did—that something different and special could be uncovered. What I was enthralled with was how organic everything was, in every sense of the word. There was a tactile thrill and response that I had not experienced before. Although at that time, brands such as Gap and the Old Navy were already laundering their garments to elicit a touch that suggest well-worn (and possibly well-loved) clothes, the 45R texture was not of quite the same softness. They were rather coarse but in an exquisite way, just like good pound cake—you want them grainy, not silk-soft. What was palpable was that these were clothes made by sensitive hands that wanted the garments to be touched as much as worn.


Paneling and spiral planes characterised the interior of 45R

45R Khadi Ai Shibori tops45R’s ‘Ai Shibori’ tops for men and women

The 45R line is part of a larger main line 45RMP that started in 1977 to showcase Japanese fabrics, dressmaking skill, and dyeing techniques. The collections, however, were not meant to mimic those you may find in cultural villages set up to entertain tourists rather than protect indigenous craft. While their design details could be traced to specialised artisans in rural Japan and the silhouette is home-in-the-country, 45RMP is urban in its aesthetic sensibility. And like so many of their compatriots, they are masters at taking something classic and give it a makeover that somehow does not obliterate the original form.

It is in the same spirit that 45R was conceived; only this time, the use of Japanese indigo, specifically the shade ai-iro, (together with the tie-dye technique shibori) takes centrestage. Japanese indigo has enjoyed a revival of sorts with brands such as Kapital and Blue Blue taking not just this unique colour to new heights, but, alongside, folk fabrics such as the boro (literally, scraps of cloth). For his current spring/summer season, Junya Watanabe Men’s collection was awash with indigo and the boro, an unabashed salute to the crafts of his native land. So 45R’s arrival can only be described as timely.

DSC_0765845R’s spring/summer 2015 lookbook

45R is reported to be brought in through a joint venture between Japan’s 45RPM Studio Co., Ltd and George Quek of the BreadTalk Group. It is unclear whether this is Mr Quek’s personal investment or a subsidiary of BreadTalk. In Hong Kong, 45R is distributed and retailed by Sidefame (its Singapore office is behind the recent opening of Marimekko, also in Capitol Piazza), so it was initially thought that Sidefame would be bringing 45R to Singapore. Mr Quek’s involvement is not surprising as his close associate and Taiwanese franchisee of BreadTalk Song Yih (who’s also the man behind the look of all BreadTalk stores locally and in the region), retails 45R in Taipei. Food and fashion do not necessarily make an odd couple.

But selling S$1.70 pork floss buns and retailing S$220 indigo T-shirts require quite different vending propositions. While I appreciate 45R’s truly fine-looking clothes (including their roominess—so that you don’t need to be bundled up like a furoshiki) many others find their plainness and shabbiness too evident to justify the high price point. A dear fashionista friend WhatsApped me earlier: “I love a jacket but when I looked at the tag, it silently spat at me! I don’t want to spend $2500 to look like a beggar.” Unlike the price tag, the complicated, no-two-are-alike shibori technique employed in the making of that jacket was apparently not communicating to him. Perhaps what I heard in the 45R shop in Beijing’s Sanlitun 3 years ago rings more truth. A spiffy Chinese lad holding aloft a shirt of woodblock print told his girlfriend, “Now and then, it pays to pay extra for clothes by people who just get it.”

45R is at 01-13, Capitol Piazza. Photos: Jim Sim

Adidas Goes For The Top But Is It The Apex Of Design?

Adidas X Topshop 2015Adidas is no stranger to collaborations. What they can’t do better, they pass to others. What needs re-imagining, they tap the minds of those outside the company. This can be seen as far back as 2001 in one of their earliest collaborations: the pairing with Japanese masuta of the avant-garde Yohji Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto designed only a few styles of sports shoes then, but they sure did generate enough interest for Adidas to eventually advance the Y3 line. As Mr Yamamoto told Interview in 2011, “we created something that did not exist before and completely projected into the future”.

Fast forward to the future or, specifically, the present. When it comes to collaborations, Adidas is one of the most prolific among sportswear brands. In just the first half of this year, they have launched enough successful design/brand pairings to make those by H&M seem lame. They’ve worked with popular singers, in-the-news designers, and hip retailers, yet there’s more to come. According to an Adidas Group press release, the Three Stripes enjoyed a 17% swell in profits of €4.1 billion (SGD6.1 bil) in the first quarter, no doubt a direct result from pairing with Kanye West and other high-profile stars. Whether it’s the hyped-to-death launch of Yeezy Boost with the indomitable Mr West, the retro-ghetto-fabulous bombast of Run DMC,  the chromatic excess of the Superstar re-coloured by Pharrell Williams, or the comic-cute, street-art-bent jumble of Rita “I’m-a-designer-now” Ora, co-creating has strengthen the Adidas branding rather than dilute it, no matter if some day consumers may forget the label’s association with sports.

So, who would Adidas not collaborate with? At the moment, no one, it would seem. Collab fatigue is not on their mind as Adidas takes Topshop by the hand in the latest twosome-to-create. This is not the first time Adidas, specifically adidas Originals (spelled with a lower ‘a’ and a capital ‘o’, presumably to underscore originality), has worked with Britain’s most recognisable fast fashion store. Last year, they came up with a 20-piece collection to cash in on the sports-meets-fashion craze. While that debut appeared appealing (its street-strong aesthetic not lost on Alexander Wang followers), the current 7-piece capsule collection is a bit of a puzzler: does Adidas need Topshop to create something so regular, prosaic even?

Adidas X Topshop 2015 + 2014Topshop X adidas Originals 2015 (left) vs 2014 (right). Photos: adidas Originals

There’s the “reworked” Superstar jacket, a pair of brief running shorts, a T-shirt, a Trefoil-emblazoned sweatshirt, and two pairs of re-imagined Superstar sneakers. All no doubt smart-looking items, but this time, the street style aesthetic is not immediately obvious. In fact, it seems Topshop has wholeheartedly embraced the sports heritage of Adidas rather than push for a high-street sensibility. Not necessarily a bad idea, but couldn’t Adidas produce these garments and shoes themselves? What has Topshop brought to the table, or, rather, the clothes?

The payoff for either side is not immediately discernible, but we can take a guess at what’s likely: Adidas gets to tap into Topshop’s distribution channel and reach a wider audience, particularly the younger set that has ditched the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, yet not quite a big fan of full-on sports labels. For Topshop, they get a sportswear line (unlike H&M, they do not have dedicated performance wear) and the association with a brand that’s very much in the news, thanks to loquacious singers with CVs that go beyond music-making. This coming together of forces leveraged both brands. However, when they should have created unique products, this season, Adidas and Topshop output merchandise that’s not exceptionally compelling or innovative. Not one of the seven pieces is anything that Adidas couldn’t do themselves—no celebrity cachet, no designer value.

It is understandable that this collaboration isn’t for fans of the Yeezy or clueless teenage girls with I will Never Let You Down on their Spotify playlist or regular, ardent shoppers at London Skateboard. This is really for fast fashion consumers who, seized by a moment, may just be interested in a T-shirt with an outsized Adidas logo. As a tree might tell you, spread your branches and you really get more sunshine.

Topshop X adidas Originals is available at TopShop, Ion Orchard and Jem


UTme AppIt’s a matter of time when smartphone applications will do every up-to-the-minute thing for you. Not an outrageous thought, really. Fashion has become so apps-centric that many live and consume fashion via their mobile devices. It’s a cultural shift and consumption habit already noted, and they threaten to leave slow-to-adopt brands unfashionably behind. It’s no longer enough to engage followers via social media. Letting them in on the creative process is now elevating interactivity to the next level.

Last night, Uniqlo launched a customisation program called UTme! at its Bugis+ store. The create-whatever-you-like, wherever-you-are service is available for T-shirts, and they’re executed via a smartphone application, also called UTme. So compelling to use is the app that attendees at the launch event were willing to brave overwhelming demand to wait till closing hours of the store to receive their customised T-shirt. Before using it, few could have imagined that graphics to be emblazoned across the chest of a tee can be easily and quickly done via an app, but Uniqlo shows that coding and creativity can pair as naturally as, well, T-shirt and jeans.

UT (Uniqlo Tee) itself has been a wildly successful product category, buoyed by its embrace of commercial logos, popular icons, and collaborations with creative enterprises and individuals, all (presently) steered by ex-Bathing Ape designer Nigo. Through UT, Uniqlo has been able to elevate the T-shirt from its humble place in our wardrobe, and, in the process, propel its sales. It first appeared in 2007 in the concept store, The UT Project—a futuristic, multi-storey block, smacked in the heart of Tokyo’s Aoyama district, a skip away from Harajuku. It was a store that would not be out of place in the New York City of the 1977 film The Fifth Element. UT products were rolled into plastic canisters not unlike those used to contain tennis balls (the T in the abbreviation could, therefore, also stand for Tubes!) and covered with red screw-top caps. They were displayed in shelving units that could have been conceived by whoever designs the vending machines across Japan. Conceptually, The UT Project was as strong as it was visually arresting. It was a marketing sensation too, more so when you consider that it was a fast fashion company behind it. During the early days of rapidly-issued, trend-focused, and wallet-friendly merchandise, how clothes were wrapped was of no importance. UT’s packaging then was really half of its appeal. Shoppers came away from the store with so many UT canisters that you would not be considered ridiculous for thinking they were buying cans of their favourite soda or beer for watching the English Premier League at home.

UTme app interface

The Interfaces of UTme app

The UT Project was, unfortunately, canned. But it’s not in the nature of Uniqlo to let its T-shirts lose their vim. Customisation is in keeping with the self-promote-and-share ethos of the Instagram generation. And it can only augment the already vast styles and graphics available in-store. The UTme app may seem gimmicky, but to customers whose smartphone is the centre of their universe, it’s relatable and usable. It’s also intuitive to navigate. Once loaded, its colourful and simple interface, with huge tiles as buttons, would not confound even those who infrequently click on apps stores. The sequence of actions to be executed is logical—input-effect-ouput, and each step can be backtracked to undo a move. This allows the user to play with the numerous effects before confirming the final design. Graphics to be used can be from the stock shapes and stickers offered by the app or any picture from your phone’s album. Selfies are, therefore, not left out.

The functionality and features are indeed rather amazing for an app that takes up only 125MB of space on your phone, and, can be moved to the SD card, freeing up onboard memory space. Apart from the usual tapping and swiping, shaking the phone (gently or vigorously), not dissimilar to the WeChat function that allows you to randomly find other users to interface with, transforms the chosen graphic into bursts of twists, streaks, and tiles, thus distorting it for some rather startling and unexpected result. The more you shake, the more disfigured the image becomes, so much so that the final can be unlike the original. There’s also a ‘Glitch’ function that, when shaken and then paused, allow for Jean-Paul Goude-ish shredding.

Interestingly, UTme does not output terribly garish designs however dubious the initial image you choose (unless you prefer to use it unadulterated). It works rather like Singtrix, that karaoke machine that “makes bad singers sound good and good singers sound amazing”. Many of the effects are so delightfully abstract that, chances are, you’d be amused rather than repulsed. Choice is also the operative word, and within impressive options, some are no doubt artistic. The effect ‘MoMA: Early Modern Style’, for example, allows you to choose an ‘Effect Style’. One of the three available is ‘Pointillist Dot”. While it’s unlikely that the average Uniqlo customer is a Georges Seurat fan, it’s good to know that the brand does offer something that’s a little more sophisticated that the usual tools in apps such as Paint.

UTme tees

Some of the graphics created by SOTD using the UTme app

As you play with the app (and you should before confirming the final design) to get a better grip of it, you’ll be even more delighted with what else it has to offer. One that amazed us was the ‘Add Layer’ capability. This is not unlike what Photoshop offers, only easier to use, and simpler to execute. Each layer basically allows you to add effects to your chosen image or text. The maximum number of layers the app will accept is three. As for the image and text, it’s not unreasonable to assume that overzealousness sometimes begets inappropriate expressions. It would be naive to think that Uniqlo customers only wish to say I♥SG, or print a picture of Ginger the cat. According to the Chief Operating Officer of Uniqlo, Sei Tomochiko, the app itself does not gag unsuitable or sensitive user inputs. Censorship is left to the UTme! counter staff, who, when in doubt, are “instructed to consult the store manager”. On that note, users are also advised that copyrighted materials are not permissible.

The app and the output do have other limitations. If you leave the app, say, to answer a Line message, you won’t be able to go back to where you last were; you’d have to start from the beginning, which is frustrating, especially if you have completed all the layers you wanted and liked. Moreover, with high user traffic, uploading your design may require some effort. We were advised to tap on the ‘Done!’ button repeatedly. Patience is required for this task. If you pull down the notification bar to check your WiFi connection or allow your screen to go to sleep, your return to UTme may mean starting all over again. Your final graphic will be printed only on a white cotton T-shirt—no colour option. While the printable space on the tee is rather large, it covers only the upper portion of the body, which means if you want a neckline-to-hemline image, it is not possible. And only the front is accepted for printing, not the back, and certainly not the sleeves. Photo print-resolution varies: it is less sharp if the image is shot with the front camera of your smartphone. Colour intensity tends to favour pastel shades than jewel tones. As the T-shirt is fed into a direct-to-garment (DTG) printer that allows the printing to be finished in a single pass, the registration is as good as heat-transferred photo-prints. Furthermore, the print has a soft hand feel. Once the design is uploaded and the payment paid, you’ll be able to collect your T-shirt at Uniqlo, Bugis+.

The customising of T-shirts by garment retailers is not new to Singapore. Several years back, at the now-closed Nike flagship store in Wisma Atria, tees purchased at the store were customisable on-site. For reasons not known, the service was discontinued. We’re inclined to believe that what Nike offered was limited, even pedestrian. There were mostly letters and numerals to choose from, and the placement of text was limited to what hand-positioned transfers could do. No special effects, no images, no selfies. So, unless you were a fashionista keen on customising your boyfriend’s football jersey, there was little appeal in Nike’s service. Uniqlo, conversely, took the best of graphics editing and availed them in one nifty smartphone app. The rest is left to the imagination of the user. More importantly, they made it entertaining and fun.

This post has been updated (16 July 2015) to reflect the replies to questions posted to Uniqlo earlier

The UTme app can be downloaded from the Apple Apps Store as well as Google Play Store. The T-shirts to be customised, S$29.90, are only available in white. Net proceeds from the sale of UTme! T-shirts between today and 10 Aug 2015 will go the Community Chest. Funds raised will be matched dollar-to-dollar by our government in support of the Care & Share Movement. Photos: Jim Sim