Carine Roitfeld: Do You Wish To Look Like Her?

Carine et CarineCarine Roitfeld (left) and her doppelganger (right), model Lexi Boling. Photos: Uniqlo 

Carine Roitfeld is, by many accounts, a sexy woman. She shouldn’t be, but she is. At 60 (maybe 61), she’s a mother and a grandmother, and she is sexy. Those smoky eyes, those pencil skirts, those fishnet stockings, those teetering heels—they’re sexy too, and they are usually associated with women half Ms Roitfeld’s age, but, in her case, they aren’t. These items of clothing are what make Carine Roitfeld sexy. She knows it, so does Uniqlo.

Uniqlo X Carine Roitfeld is the Japanese fast fashion brand’s third collaboration in one season, and the third, too, with French names after Ines de la Fressange and Lemaire. To say that Uniqlo is having a French moment is rather understating it. The Tokyo-based brand, with sales of USD$13.61 billion (as of May this year), subscribes to a largely Western aesthetic and silhouette, tempered with a Japanese sensibility. Their collaboration with Mr Roitfeld allows them to go beyond their utilitarian approach with something that has sartorial heft.

Uniqlo has always broadly channelled their collaborations via two aesthetic visions: Japanese twists on European/American classics such as those by Kiminori Morishita  and Jun Takahashi’s Underground, and Euro-centric minimalism such as those by Jil Sander and Lemaire. With Carine Roitfeld, they have taken what they do best and given the collection a fashion editor’s singular vision. Although Ms Roitfeld, by her own admission, is no designer, she has influenced the outcome of the collection by insisting on the finer points she feels make a garment different and stronger. As she told the WWD, ““I love the details. There are pockets everywhere, including on tight-fitting skirts. It’s a no-brainer but I love it.”

Uniqlo X CR 5 key piecesFrom left: silk shirt, S$79.90; pencil skirt, S$59.90; tights, S$14.90; silk camisole dress, S$129.90; jacket; S$199.90. Collage: Just So

Tempting it is to compare the Carine Roitfeld collection with those by compatriot Ines de la Fressange, always described as one of France’s most beautiful women. Like Ms Roitfeld, Ms de la Fressange has a long history in fashion, but both women traipse very different sartorial paths. The two cater to clichés about what constitutes effortless Parisian style, but one is quirkiness built around an old soul with clothes you’d likely wear to the office in La Defence, the other is striking chic rooted somewhere between the 7th and 8th arrondisements.

It’s rather intriguing that women who have access to the unhurried world of haute couture would wish to put their name to a brand that embody the swiftness of fast fashion. But, as Ms Roitfeld has been saying, “I am not someone who believes that fashion should be inaccessible.” Her collection, as seen in the press preview last Friday, is, indeed, accessible and surprisingly well pulled together. Here is a capsule—40 pieces, which isn’t small—that women are very likely to love. When they appear tomorrow at Uniqlo’s Ion Orchard store, you’ll think they belong upstairs, in one of the expensive, unapproachable shops.

Uniqlo X CR with Lexi BolingMore ways to look like Carine Roitfeld. Photo: Uniqlo. Collage: Just So

As out of place as they may be in a fast fashion environment, these clothes are better than anything H&M and its ilk have done… combined. Impressive are her signature pencil skirts, two-button tailored jackets and camisole dresses, all clearly have passed the most rigorous design and production processes. These are clothes you’d buy to wear till you forget where you bought them. There is a certain edge and timelessness to these separates that will not, many years down the road, bear the imprint, or remind you of a grandmother.

Of the collection, Ms Roitfeld told French Yahoo News, “J’y ai mis beaucoup de moi (I put a lot of myself).” Despite her predilection for a sexy turnout, hers is not Kardashian-sexy or Rihanna-sexy. Her sexiness is alluring due to its lack of skin. You’ll not find a single torn or illogically abbreviated garment among the separates. “It’s more sexy [to be] covered than totally naked,” she told the media. “When I see the girl with a miniskirt and a deep V, it’s too much.” Some people think her look is a bit as-you-are, a bit dishabille, a bit dirty (blame it on her hair!). But if you forget her public appearances and aim, instead, for the clothes, you might just find the French ease and elegance you have been looking for, but have yet found.

Uniqlo X Carine Roitfeld, from S$14.90, is available at Uniqlo Ion Orchard

A Vagabond Life

When Fidé Fashion Weeks (FFW) launched its series of shows in 2011, it was said that Singapore finally enjoyed “a complete fashion season”. Four years down the road, the season is awfully quiet. Elsewhere, however, FFW is still staging fashion spectacles. Have we been abandoned while it goes a-wandering?

VIFW P1bScreen grab of Paris-based Vietnamese designer Tran Thi Thanh Nga’s label Defined Moment at Vietnam International Fashion Week 2015

“I’ve got the outfit for the party,” sang Rufus Wainwright, “but you’ve taken away the invitation.” Whatever regret he was feeling in the rock-inflected song Rashida, the singer wasn’t missing the revelry he was supposed to partake. Unlike Mr Wainwright, no one with a party dress is relieved of an invitation now that the October shows by Fidé Fashion Weeks (FFW) are conspicuously absent, and nothing is missed either. However, the inquisitive mind has been inviting itself to hear the hum of an increasingly audible poser: what happened to FFW’s noble aim of “positioning Singapore as a global fashion city”?

Local media have not paid much attention to FFW’s movements since the organiser announced in September last year that the shows would go on a “World Tour”, starting with Telstra Perth Fashion Festival in the same month, and followed by the debut of Vietnam International Fashion Week (VIFW) three months later. In total, that’s one percent of all the countries in the world. VIFW was, by FFW’s own brag, so successful that Fidé Productions (part of FFW’s sprawling group of companies) was invited to stage the second VIFW, which took place in Ho Chi Minh City two weeks ago.

FFW’s lack of noise locally led to loss of recall for what was considered one of the most exciting events on Singapore’s fashion calendar. The stillness, however, was un-hushed last week by a 19-October, 4.13-am post on Facebook that aroused much curiosity across our city’s fashion-scape and in those seeking bite and rage: “I have decided to quit fashion production in Vietnam in PROTEST of the UNSCRUPULOUS and UNPROFESSIONAL practices of KEY management at Fide Fashion Weeks and Asian Couture Federation.”

The full-cap fury was made by Vietnamese-American, Ryan Hubris, following an announcement, also made on Facebook, an hour and thirteen minutes earlier that made clear he had “left job at Vietnam International Fashion Week”. What could have transpired that would push a man to make such a public statement in the wee hours of the morning?

Basil Soda

Lebanese fashion designer Basil Soda’s haute couture collection at the first anniversary celebrations of the Asian Couture Federation last year

A Storm Brews

Before Fidé Fashion Weeks became associated with a series of shows that made the “complete fashion season”—the first Men’s Fashion Week (hyped as the first outside Europe), Women’s Fashion Week, and Haute Couture Week, there was Fidé Multimedia, a company closely associated with its founder Frank Cintamani. The debut of Men’s Fashion Week in 2011, produced to the tune of S$2 million (according to the event’s press release), kick-started what became an annual celebration of fashion seen through the eyes of a small group of individuals behind the glamour-saturated project.

By 2013, Fidé Fashion Weeks became the overseer of the fashion seasons that was steadily gaining attention. In the same year, the FFW-linked Asian Couture Federation (ACF) was inaugurated, and in November 2014, it threw a lavish black-tie party at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) to celebrate its first anniversary. The evening’s program and show were concocted to project glamour and imbue ACF with grandiosity. Inside the conjoined Heliconia and Hibiscus ballrooms of MBS, a raised catwalk took to the centre like a bed in a bedroom, flanked by troughs of white roses.

In front of the blooms, the special guests, as well as the members of ACF, sat to eat a dinner dreamed up by restaurant Hide Yamamoto (operated by proprietor-chef Yamamoto Hidemasa, who, according to his PR spin, “held the esteemed distinction of serving three generations of Presidents: Reagan, Bush and Clinton”). From those linear vantage points, the attendees took visible pleasure in the presentations—couture confections by invited designers as well as those recognised by the ACF as “Couturier Extraordinaire”. It was a night that “youth seem age, and age seem youth”, as elegantly phrased by Walter Scott in the poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel.

Those who came that evening were a mix of socialites (old and new money), FFW supporters (moral and financial), models (new and ex), and those who are simply wealthy. Among the well-heeled was Ryan Hubris, then not mired in anything that would lead to early-morning outbursts on social media. Despite the relative jollity, there seemed to be scepticism about what the evening was really about.

What intrigued some of the more inquisitive guests was the absence of French couturiers. This wasn’t really about them, the proceedings of the evening served as reminder. Had ACF, the curious wondered, dispensed with the blessing of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (France’s regulating body that agrees on those fashion houses qualifiable as true haute couture practitioners) now that the former is able to stand on its own? There was even talk at some point in the evening that the Chambre Syndicale had issued letters to its members to distance itself from ACF, fascinating, if true, since it was the Chambre Syndicale that had, in the beginning, supported FFW’s first couture show here. But what caused the relationship to thaw?

Rain performing @ ACF gala dinner

Korean pop-star Rain performing at the first anniversary gala dinner of the Asian Couture Federation

Until 2011, few in Singapore without the means would dream of coming close to haute couture. For quite a few, however, haute couture did come, and closely too. The inaugural Haute Couture Week in Singapore four years ago was touted by Fidé Multimedia as “a dedicated Haute Couture Week endorsed by La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture”. It gave our island-nation a high-fashion boost we have never enjoyed before. Fidé Multimedia was fairy godmother to those impoverished of the sight of impossibly expensive clothes.

With eight collections from Paris, of which four were by members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the event promised to take fashion shows in Singapore to an all new height. With one of France’s most artistic disciplines showing in the country, Singapore was getting spotlighted on the international stage (even when the three Singaporean designers that participated—Ashley Isham, Frederick Lee, and Thomas Wee—received scant mention). Fidé Multimedia’s Haute Couture Week was “supported” by what it termed as “the title sponsor” Marina Bay Sands, and, as it turned out, the event was enchanting; it was romantic and it was escapist.

Then, Haute Couture Week 2012 arrived. On the surface, the second showing appeared grander. There were 16 designers participating, but this time, from three regions, resulting in a segmented week: Asian Couture, Japanese Couture, and French Couture. FFW described it as a “milestone for Singapore’s fashion industry”. There were a total of six French couturiers—returning and newcomers—and, although the figure was equal to that of the year before, the French constituted less than half of the total number of participants.

Still, Didier Grumbach, then President of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode (French Federation of Fashion and of Ready-to-Wear Couturiers and Fashion Designers) and leader of the French contingent for both years said, according to a Fidé Multimedia press release, “In a period when mass production is the rule and uniformism a trend, it is refreshing to observe that Haute Couture Week in Singapore promotes individuality and savoir faire. Associating French couture with Singapore in these circumstances is an exciting experience… It is the beginning of a long-term relationship”.

The last pronouncement now seemed premature. In a Business of Fashion (BOF) article ‘A Couture Stage Beyond Paris: Destiny, Dream or Delusion?’ published in February last year, Mr Grumbach sounded like he was distancing himself from ACF’s events when he said: “As for what they show in Singapore, that’s something else. It’s not haute couture; it’s a kind of ready-to-wear. It’s well done; clever; it has its position. But it is not really couture.”

Members of ACF

The members of the Asian Couture Federation in 2014

Going Overseas

How successful, in dollar terms, the two Haute Couture Weeks were, no one knew (or revealed). By the third edition in 2013, also supported by and held at MBS, French participation dropped to four designers. Didier Grumbach was not present. The French couture FFW was trumpeting with gusto just three years earlier appeared downplayed when the Asian Couture Federation was established. The Asians, this time, dominated in the glare of publicity, which was intense as the retired Kenzo Takada had graced the presentations and was appointed the “honorary president” of the AFC.

Ten Asian designers, including Singapore’s sole representative Frederick Lee, showed, seemingly delighted that there was to be a platform for couture that they could call their own. Following the formation of the ACF, which FFW announced was “inspired by La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and the Council of Fashion Designers of America”, some minds boggled. Could two vastly different organisations with vastly different missions really be placed on the same platform to inspire another with no real experience in promoting what the French recognises as couture? And would the French, proud to near imperiousness of an artistic tradition that characteristically speaks of France (or Paris), be pleased to be associated with the Americans?

Fashion has always been about creativity as much as rivalry. When ACF’s founding members were announced in October 2013, the discussions that played out among the audience were potentially contentious too: is there Asian couture and is couture really couture if it’s not French? (It should be noted that ACF has hitherto carefully avoided using the word “haute” in their description of what Asian designers do, suggesting, perhaps, they know the difference.) Despite ACF’s efforts, the answer is not as glaringly clear as bugle beads on silk satin.

In the same BOF report, Frank Cintamani, ACF’s founder, spoke out: “To suggest that any one city has the monopoly on couture is clearly nonsensical.” To prove how absurd the suggestion is, FFW and ACF started moving their events abroad. Their fashion weeks would be an itinerant show. In August last year, it was announced that FFW and ACF would bring their “Couture Extraordinaires” Sebastian Gunawan (Indonesia) Michael Cinco (the Philippines) to participate in the 16-year-old Telstra Perth Fashion Festival. Four months later in Ho Chi Minh City, together with local partner Multimedia JSC, FFW staged the city’s very own Vietnam International Fashion Week, billed as “the largest international fashion week to have taken place in Vietnam”. Like the circus, the travelling has begun.

Cuture exhibition 2014Mannequins ready for a couture exhibition at the post-Asian Couture Federation first anniversary celebration party called Couturista

In November last year, it was also announced that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Couture Council (MCC) will be inaugurated under the auspices of the Asian Couture Federation. The MCC is needed because, as ACF noted, “there has been no region-wide organisation to recognise these couturiers and to represent their interests” although the region “has been associated with a number of exceptional couture level designers”. Its main mission “is to inspire, support, and promote the highest levels of couture design, talent and artistry based in the Middle East and North Africa to both regional and international markets.” Initial MCC members, in spite of MENA’s geographical scope, were just two Lebanese designers Basil Soda and Abed Mahfouz.

However FFW and ACF spin it, many observers maintain that couture will lose much of its significance, appeal, and even worth when it is no longer associated with the country (or city) of its origin. It should be noted, again, that in none of ACF’s communication is the word haute used. On its own, couture means ‘sewing’ and this could apply to any dressmaking that exists in any city. However, in popular usage, and specifically in fashion, couture mostly refers to haute couture. Truncating long and tricky-to-pronounce foreign fashion phrases is not uncommon, but that does not mean that, reduced to a single word, the original connotation is lost or can be redefined. In addition, while there is a tradition of dressmaking that adheres to Western standards and aesthetics, a dress made following these guidelines does not necessarily become a couture dress.

Haute couture as descriptive term and, in particular, branding, is protected by French law. For close to 150 years, it is also regulated and fiercely guarded by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. To qualify as a member and to have the right to use the term haute couture to brand his designs, the designer must operate in an atelier located in Paris. For the same reason, only French wines produced in the region of Champagne can be called champagne. In fact, the laws of the European Union and most countries limit the name ‘champagne’ to wines that originate from this region, about 160 kilometres east of Paris. But haute couture, to the practitioners of the craft, is more than a spot on the map. It’s the embodiment of an entire industry, as well as French skills and dressmaking savoir faire.

Crucial to the ateliers are the dwindling groups of petites mains or ‘little hands’—the skilled craftspeople who provide so much of what is seen and unseen in a couture garment. Apart from the couture ateliers, there are the specialist ateliers, in which those who work with feathers, embroidery, leather and other materials are found. These skilled mains are so vital to haute couture that the house of Chanel salutes them annually with the Metiers D’Art Show.


Stéphane Rolland’s autumn/winter 2013 haute couture collection that was shown during the gala dinner of inauguration of the Asian Couture Federation

The coming together of the talents of these artisans is, to many, what haute couture is all about. It is these rarefied skills that are truly the beauty and magnificence of France’s exquisitely wearable art. Few cities in the word have the traditions and support network that are found in Paris. These legacies can be traced to the 17th Century when French sumptuary laws were used to support native textile industries such as lace.

In the exaltation of couture, ACF has ironically also brought about the erosion of reverence. The historical context, too, is perhaps overshadowed by modern entrepreneurial drive. Furthermore, to say no city has the monopoly on couture is like K-pop stars declaring that no one has the monopoly on blond hair. Just as it is not expected of the French to say the Indonesians have no monopoly on batik, there really should be no succumbing to the belief that couture can be free for all cities.

It is commendable that ACF and FFW are carrying the torch for what they believe can be labelled as Asian couture, but the over-confidence it projects may be construed as arrogance and its criticisms deemed incendiary. Those who have worked the grapevine have heard the disappointment and displeasure of FFW’s previous partners. One of them, Lee Kien Meng, whose company Senatus (also the name of their online magazine) was co-organiser of Women’s Fashion Week in 2011 and provider of digital media services to Fidé Multimedia, was embroiled in a 2012 court battle with FFW’s chairman, Frank Cintamani. While Mr Lee lost the case, the result of the ruling—announced in February this year—did not bear positively on FFW.

Then came the extremely early morning of 19 October, just a week ago. Ryan Hubris had before that appeared to be enjoying himself at VIFW, posting pictures of his hobnobbing with the attendees of the event (and still posting even much later, including photos of him and his family) on Facebook. He appeared to be a cognoscente of Vietnamese fashion although, in news on public domain, he is a business consultant, as well as a “serial entrepreneur” with interest in the restaurant business. The excitement on VIFW’s digital media outlets gave no clue to what was to strike. Mr Hubris’s post was a long, two-paragraph chiding that ended with a warning: “I will hold off on naming names for now but if you don’t take corrective measures, I will spend my days unraveling everything you have done…”

CouturissimoImage from the homepage of the new e-shop Couturissimo

No one would say what happened, not even those who had attended VIFW last week. Not wanting to jump into the fray was the reason offered almost unanimously. Some information, however, did come out of Ho Chi Minh City: it appeared that the organisers of VIFW, Multimedia JSC (one of the leading media companies in Vietnam), was deeply unhappy with its co-organiser over matters relating to who was getting what out of whom—the kind not uncommon between stakeholders involved in fashion-related businesses that are highly visible. Still, the discord must have been so deep, the rift so wide, and the exchange so strident that Mr Hubris, who is known to be close to the founder of Multimedia JSC, Trang Le Thi Quynh, needed to take to social media to air his grievances.

Amid the flare-up, another FFW-linked project emerged. Couturissimo, an e-shop that purports to be “the only premium site offering affordable access to Couture creations designed by a collective of world renowned Couture Designers”, is doing the rounds of social media. From staging couture shows to selling couture clothes, FFW can now add e-tailer to their roster of enterprises. On its Facebook page, an entry last Monday urged followers to “get dressed in affordable ‘fast couture’ with COUTURíSSIMO™ that aims to allow Couture designers to present ‘fast-couture’ at very affordable prices!” It garnered 1,297 likes (as of 26 October 2015).

Despite the bargain-slant urging on social media, Couturissimo’s website does not offer a workable e-commerce page. Last week, however, a click on the homepage did allow visitors to access merchandise for sale. What was available did not by any remote chance appear to have any couture cred. It could have been a Walmart page mis-linked! The site was eventually redesigned, and merchandise is no longer available. A header presently reads, “Stay tuned for more updates on the official launch of COUTURíSSIMO™ in New York City.”

“New York!”, went the collective wow.

It is not exactly clear at the present who is truly running the show for Couturissimo, but based on FFW’s preference for prefixing the word ‘couture’ to names, such as the after-party of last year’s ACF anniversary celebration that was called ‘Couturista’, it is not unreasonable to assume that FFW is behind this new project. Couturissimo not only shows that FFW can change the geographic importance of couture, it can revolutionise how couture garments are sold. Additionally, it can audaciously pair ‘couture’ with ‘fast’ (it typically takes 100 to 700 hours to create one couture dress), as well as with ‘affordable’ (according to the New York Times, a Stéphane Rolland couture gown costs between €35,000 and €45,000).

Yes, it can do it all, all over the world.

Note on usage: when referring to French couture (haute or otherwise), we use the italic form. Couture not associated with the French is set in roman

This article was updated on 28 October 2015 to reflect the additional information SOTD received following the publication of the original post

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Go Inside

Prada cartoons AW 2015

If you’ve always thought that there’s a secret world inside Prada, you’re not wrong. Not quite the Pandora of James Cameron’s imagination, but still as mesmerising are the strange microcosms in the new animated shorts that were released in their entirety on Prada’s website last week. Titled Inside Me, which also happens to be their new bag-within-a-bag handbag, they’re nothing like what you’ve seen orchestrated by the Italian house. By our books, they’re sublime.

Conceived and filmed to go with the new Inside Bag release, the film is a six-parter (of which A Kind of Light truly stood out for its Inception-style cityscape). They are, however, not Prada’s first attempt at fashion films. In fact, it’s not even the first dedicated to bags. That honour goes to The Makeout episode of Autumn de Wilde’s The Postman Dreams, released early this year to promote the Galleria bag. Nor are the six the debut of animated films. In 2008, Prada released the stunning, collage-y, painterly, 6-minute Fallen Shadows by director James Lima that articulated their autumn/winter collection of that year.

Digital fashion film has been the new-media genre of choice for the brand since its winning foray into shorts in 2005 with Ridley Scott’s Thunder Perfect Mind that launched its new eponymous fragrance. Since then, our favourites have been Yang Fudong’s First Spring, with models levitating and tight-rope walking above a Shanghai street and Roman Polanski’s A Therapy, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kinsley in a strange treatment session.

And now, it’s Inside Me. Once again directed by James Lima, these animated escapes are captivating, whimsical, and dreamy—reasons to take a break from staring too long at an Excel sheet on your notebook screen.

Not To Be Subdued


Leslie Kee (centre) in a Vanquish editorial for Photo: Leslie Kee/Honeyee

By Raiment Young

One of Singapore’s photographers-made-good-overseas who continues to output commercial works is Leslie Kee. Based in Tokyo, Mr Kee has recently shot an editorial spread called Invincible, featuring Japanese label Vanquish, for one of Tokyo’s (and much of the world’s, really) most popular e-mags With ten models, the opening photo is typical of Leslie Kee’s advertising images: the models look personable and the overall composition pleasant to look at.

From the comeliness of the Vanquish photos, you would not have guessed that Mr Kee was charged in 2013 for waisetsu, or obscenity, for an exhibition to promote his book Forever Young: Uncensored Edition. Held at the Hiromi Yoshii Gallery in Roppongi, the displays caused enough discomfort among unknown individuals that a complaint was lodged with the police that led to his arrest. He spent two days in a cell, and was later fined 1 million yen. Following the incarceration, model Ai Tominaga, one among the many Japanese supporters who were outraged, tweeted: “I am shocked. I am shocked for Japan.”

Denim by Vanquish & Fragment 2

Denim by Vanquish & Fragment autumn/winter 2015 look book. Photos: Vanquish

The reaction is not surprising as Mr Kee, who sometimes looks like a younger version of singer/musician Takahashi Yukihiro, is a popular photographer and has shot some of the biggest stars of both the entertainment and fashion industries of Japan. Forever Young: Uncensored Edition is banned in Singapore: hardly surprising as the title alone would have caused, as it did in Tokyo, authorities to be fraught with anxiety. Although I have seen other publications by Mr Kee, I have never seen the book that ran him into the arms of Japanese law. I was told the pictures inside showed men in various states of arousal and acts of onanism, so explicit that they contravened Japan’s legal stand on waisetsu, which, according to The Japan Times, “refers to something that maliciously stimulates sexual desire in an inappropriate and immoral manner.”

I first saw Leslie Kee’s exhibition in Tokyo’s Omotaesando Hills in 2010 for the launch of his book Super Tokyo, comprising photographs after photographs—shot every weekend over 16 months—of a thousand Japanese stars and celebrities sans clothes. Mounted on what were giant foldable screens, these could have been pictures of a Uniqlo campaign if the retailer didn’t need to sell anything. Outside the complex, I looked at the mistral flags announcing the exhibition inside; I felt duped.

Super Tokyo exhibitionLeslie Kee’s Super Tokyo exhibition in Omotaesando Hills in 2010

While Mr Kee has scored with stars as big as Lady Gaga and Beyonce, his commercial and artistic works are similar: the lines are blurred. Artistic photos from his Super series have neither the insouciant sexiness of Bruce Weber’s images nor the graphic strength of Robert Mapplethorpe’s, both his favourite photographers. The black-and-whites of Super Tokyo were pleasant, made sweeter and cuter with Hello Kitty and co’s appearance, but they didn’t strike as exhibition or book material. It was Tokyo as one, big, happy family. Mr Kee told NHK World, “I have been in Tokyo long enough to tell, to share my thoughts with more people.” This, perhaps, wasn’t about art.

The Vanquish photographs looked like his artistic works, except that the models were not denied clothes. Vanquish is largely known for its collaborative jeans wear line Denim by Vanquish & Fragment, as well as the latter’s pairing with Edison Chen’s CLOT. Their main line, like so many of their compatriots’, is closely linked to American work wear. Under the creative direction of Ryo Ishikawa, it has become increasingly desired for its wearable designs as well as the signature print of distressed denim applied to shirts, jackets, and even bags. Leslie Kee’s gimmick-free photographs show clearly what Vanquish is good at.

Vanquish and Denim by Vanquish & Fragment are available at Surrender, Raffles Hotel Arcade 

Hello, Thank You, Adele

Adele Hello

Screen grab of Adele’s new music video for Hello

By Luo Zhao Mo

After a three-year hiatus, Adele is back.

This is what the Crossover Project should have bankrolled, but never did. Too busy with their financial shenanigans, the backers couldn’t tell a good voice from a feeble one. Scantiness versus substance: there was never a choice. They had just one woman bent on going to California. That was the only crossover they’ve ever got. And, yes, a Singaporean Chinese woman assuming the role of a geisha, that too.

Adele’s new single Hello is a reminder that in singing, you really start with the voice. And a star sings alone, not as a chorus part. And it is the singing, rather than skin, that shows flair and capacity. Adele is, of course, nowhere near Ms Crossover Project. She sings big, unhindered by the coverings—or lack of them—beneath her neck. Her voice commands and she does not pull back from its dominance. You hear her loud, and you hear her clearly, the musical accompaniment the rolling hills, above which the firmament of voice soars.

Truth be told, I have never really paid much attention to Adele until Karl Lagerfeld, in 2012, said she “is a little too fat”. Then I saw her performing Rolling in the Deep at the Grammy’s and winning 6 awards that night. And I told myself that she’s not more heavy-set than some American singers (Rebel Wilson, I’m thinking of you). Then came Skyfall, and the body is really secondary to the voice.

It has to be said that despite the body-shaming she has received, Adele has mostly dressed appropriately to her size. In the Hello video, she took a risk in donning a shaggy coat, but it’s one Carine Roitfeld would have approved, and it contrasted nicely with the printed scarf, worn without any fuss around her neck. There’s nothing edgy about them, just like the flip phone she used. The combo is a nice change from her usual all-back outfits and affirms that unstructured elegance and great voice can be a perfect pair.

Adele’s much-awaited new album 25 will be released globally on 20 November

Cause A Ruckus: The Fashion Of An Evangelist

Sun Ho in China Wine

Screen grab of Sun Ho’s 2007 music video China Wine

Accompanying her husband to court this morning, Ho Yeow Sun, aka Sun Ho, aka Geisha, was dressed in a grey, tweedy pantsuit. She tried to avoid the glare of camera lenses; her face half-covered by hair that was streaked gold, but not quite blond. Holding the hand of spouse Kong Hee—charged with criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, and found guilty—Ms Ho looked more like an off-duty, fashionably attired secretary than a pastor and co-founder of a mega-church, let alone a pop evangelist.

But evangelise with pop music she did, a move her church, City Harvest, felt was effective in reaching out to the “unchurched”. City Harvest services are known for their pop-concert vim and visual, and an enthusiastic and responsive audience. It is not unreasonable to assume that Ms Ho has a part in devising the musical approach and direction of the church’s ministry. She was, after all, head of the church’s “Creative Department” (from 1992 to 2001), and she herself and Kong Hee (who plays the guitar) had led many of the rousing, rather than rocking, services that brought members of the audience to a euphoric high.

Sun Ho in China Wine 2Sun Ho’s navel-baring outfit in the 2007 music video China Wine

The mega-production of song and dance of City Harvest’s “prosperity gospel”, as it is known, is feasible because of the religious organisation’s wealth. In a Reuters report in March last year, City Harvest, founded by Kong Hee and Ms Ho in 1989, was branded as “one of Asia’s most profitable churches”. How does (or should) a place of worship become profitable, it’s hard to say, but the financial pile may, perhaps, explain why the charge against Kong Hee and church officials involved S$50 million of church fund, most of the sum likely from tithes, a monetary obligation offered by members in support of their church. On City Harvest Chruch’s website, you will find the declaration, “We believe our giving is a form of worship.”

To propel Ho Yeow Sun into the international pop market, City Harvest established the Crossover Project in 2005. According to the court, S$24 million of church money was used to support the Crossover Project. It was a platform on which Ms Ho would morph into a pop star. Through her radio-friendly music, the church was to broaden the reach of their interpretation of the Scriptures to the secular world. Whether their mission was accomplished, perhaps only the church knows. But when you preface a song (Mr Bill) with 这狐狸精是谁 (Who is this bitch?) and wonders if you should “kill Bill” and “send him to the cemetery rock”, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting you to spread any Holy word.

The transformation was rather rapid. Before her English-language releases, Ms Ho moved to Taiwan, and recorded mostly in Mandarin. In early tracks, she sang like an older songstress trying to sound young. And she dressed, at least in her music video, like the genteel, fashion-unaware, flower of the schoolyard every Poly grad would love to date. In the music video of her earliest hit, 2003’s Lonely Travel ( 孤单旅行), a song that vaguely recalls Rene Liu’s Later (后来), she was styled to look like a kindergarten school teacher, pining for a lost love.

Sun Ho makeupThe heavy, tacky makeup Sun Ho wore in the Mr Bill music video

Fast forward to the 2007’s China Wine, a song sung mostly by rapper and Fugees co-founder Wyclef Jean, while Sun Ho was more chorus girl lost in a sea of black voices. She, too, was classic hua ping—decorative vase to Mr Jean’s booming machismo—in Oriental styles that catered to Western men’s take on Eastern exotica. Two years later, when the album Cause a Ruckus was released, Ms Ho “woke up feeling like a millionaire”, as sung in Fancy Free. That’s not really hard if you were living in a Hollywood Hills house, and not an exaggeration when your new “international” album was executive-produced by Wyclef Jean.

Although the China Wine video peaked at number 30 in YouTube’s list of Top Faves (Entertainment) in August 2007, it would never achieve the nearly 2.5 billion views of another Asian singer: Psy, who hit YouTube jackpot with the wildly catchy Gangnam Style. However, China Wine did gained traction in social media. Ms Ho’s costumes were looked at in disbelief: do pastors wear almost no clothes? Can City Harvest Church-goers still sing hymns with gusto while thinking of Ms Ho’s avatar rocking in panties? What, indeed, was she evangelising or was she just gyrating for the Almighty?

It is not known who designed her costumes when she started recording in Los Angeles, but it is possible she was packaged by her music company. Tarted up as a geisha reflected typical American ignorance towards Asian identities, but clad in clothes that looked like Ong Shanmugam’s rejected by Nikki Minaj showed that few costumers consider the ‘hip’ in hip-hop.

Here Comes Pretty Green

Pretty Green AW 2015Images from Pretty Green’s AW 2015 campaign. Photos: Pretty Green

Pretty Green, one of Britain’s most attitude-heavy labels, has arrived on our shores. The name may sound like an environmentalist’s rallying call, but it’s a lot further from ecological causes than the name suggests. Launched in June 2009 by Oasis front man Noel Gallagher, Pretty Green is a youth-oriented line that looks to Britain’s rock and roll tradition of yore for inspiration. These are clothes that you can imagine Mr Gallangher and his ex-band mates wearing. You can imagine yourself in them too.

Pretty Green made its appearance in Isetan Scotts last month at a newly conceived corner called iEdit. While iEdit comes from a tiring naming convention (made even less exceptional with the presence of women’s wear label iBlues just one floor below), it does try to say something about Isetan’s attempt at differentiating itself from other department stores by bringing in labels that are moderately on the side of cool.

Pretty Green could just be the brand to elevate the standing of the lacklustre store even when the new brand’s offerings bear a resemblance to another British label across the same floor: Fred Perry. While both bank on their London origins and their affinity to the mod subculture of the Sixties in the UK for sartorial excitement, they are really as similar as Noel and Liam Gallangher.

Despite the indie-rock cred Mr Gallager brings to the brand, Pretty Green—named after a song by The Jam—has an appeal that’s pro-everyday bloke. It’s not as ordinary as Ben Sherman, but it isn’t as innovative as Folk. The stuff that bring a smile to your face are unusual colour pairings and prints of indeterminate origins. You’ll find all the basic stuff in the collection, too: T-shirts, polos, and shirts… except, maybe, cardigans. As Mr Gallangher once said, “I have got a bit of an issue with cardigans. They’re shit, aren’t they?”

At our first visit to the Pretty Green store in London’s Carnaby Street back in 2011, we were charmed by the interior’s indie-music vibe (we can’t remember if any Oasis songs were played). Despite the relative smallness of the place, it felt like the open wardrobe of a very cool, guitar-totting star.

…and Kansai Yamamoto!

Kansai Yamamoto @ Isetan

Just two of the meek collection of Kansai Yamamoto T-Shirts at Isetan Scotts

In the Seventies and early Eighties, he was one of the biggest names in Japanese fashion… and the flashiest too. Kansai Yamamoto’s loud, sometimes lurid, graphics predated Jeremy’s Scott’s nearly-as-similar gaudiness. His screaming aesthetics caught the attention of David Bowie during the latter’s Ziggy Stardust period. That led to Mr Yamamoto designing some of Mr Bowie’s most iconic stage costumes.

However, all that flamboyance isn’t evident at Isetan’s resurrection of Kansai Yamamoto, the label. Available during the current Japan Express retail event, the line comprises of only T-shirts and three cotton-canvas tote bags, all hung on one single rack. The T-shirts, for both men and women, do not sport the typical attention-grabbing Japanese graphic Mr Yamamoto is known for. In fact, you will fail to notice the mere hints of what the designer used to communicate. Odd, considering that, with the likes of KTZ and Hood by Air, consumers are devouring eye-catching images and prints like never before.

Kansai Yamamoto, 71, was considered one of the earliest Japanese to show overseas, debuting in London in 1971 and in Paris in 1975. His clothes may not have been as commercially successful as those by his compatriots that showed later, but they were especially appealing to those in the music industry (Marc Bolan and Elton John were fans too), as well as those who cannot derive enough from clothes unless they have the same visual shrill as kabuki costumes. As the unrestrained excesses of the Seventies gave way to the controlled glamour of the Eighties, Mr Yamamoto’s popularity faded. Eventually, he bowed out of fashion to design costumes and for the stage: to note were the mega-entertainment productions, such as his own multi-disciplinary Super Shows.

Kansai Yamamoto @ V&AKansai Yamamoto in full form at the V&A’s Fashion in Motion

Mr Yamamoto made a comeback of sorts in 2013 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum with a show Fashion in Motion. In January this year, Isetan Tokyo opened a Kansai Yamamoto pop-up shop in its Shinjuku flagship, featuring “tribute designers” interpreting Kansai Yamamoto’s dramatic aesthetics. At the event, David Bowie’s unmistakable jumpsuit for his Aladdin Sane tour of 1973 was on display, among other memorabilia. Going by Japanese media accounts, it was one of the New Year highlights of 2013. Regrettably, with Isetan’s meek selection, ours will not be the highlight of the year’s end.

Pretty Green, from S$89, and Kansai Yamamoto T-shirts, S$230, are available at Isetan Scotts

The Modern Samurai Might Wear These

Among the high-low collaborations, Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas have the most enduring relationship. In 2003, when Y-3 was announced, some people consider the liaison odd, incongruous. Now, many think it’s a love match. Not an exaggeration when you consider the many delightful products that the pairing has spawned since its inception.

We at SOTD have always been intrigued by the fashion-sportswear hybrids so prevalent these days, but none more so than those by Y-3. In footwear alone, the design team at Yohji Yamamoto has consistently come up with so many unique, outre styles that they make Jeremy Scott’s dalliances with teddy bears and angel wings look positively juvenile.

Take this pair of Qasa High. First released in the autumn/winter season of 2013, the Qasa won’t be out of place in a samurai’s wardrobe, and is perfect for the silence and stealth of the warrior’s missions. At closer look, it appears to us that this could be a cross-breed of Nike’s Roshe Run and Air Huarache, with some martial arts fierceness thrown in the mix.

Unusual is the canvas cross-straps and laces: would’nt the existence of one cross out the need for the other? These fastenings are even more redundant when you consider the neoprene sock-like main body, which by itself should be adequately secure, even for challenging terrains.

Unusual, too, is the white Tubular outsole with a black heel counter and a black tab in the middle. The sum is quite unlike anything Adidas has produced using the their Tubular aesthetic. Here, it’s more akin to oriental clogs and would be the footwear of choice if Madonna should ever reprise her manga-worthy kimonos in future music videos.

Y-3 Qasa High Royal Red and Black, S$599, is available at Y-3, Mandarin Gallery

Can American Designers Ever Get Over Disco And Studio 54?

The New York nightclub Studio 54 opened from 1977 until 1980. It was, at its heyday, the epitome of hedonism and a hotbed of sexually-charged fashions. Thirty five years after it closed, Studio 54 continues to influence American designers. Often times, the club’s sexy, hang-loose, and attention-grabbing attitude feed the imprint of their DNA. It is as if the Seventies never left


Tom Ford SS 2016 P3You Should Be Dancing: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

The Seventies is a distant past, but is it really behind us? Taste may have forgotten that decade, but designers certainly have not. The influence of the Seventies in the many years that came after was so relentless that until now, we’re still looking at the period as if Ali Magraw had not been dethroned as fashion icon. Like first love, the Seventies is hard to forget.

Similarly, Studio 54, the epicentre of the era, when nothing succeeded like access, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, has not left the collective memory of so many designers, especially those from or based in New York. Short-lived yet long remembered, Studio 54 was home to the styles and the antics so audacious for the time that many who had lived through it and those who have not, still want a piece of it. One memorable caper, however, turned out to be a fallacy, denting the club’s mythic standing: Bianca Jagger was reported to have arrived at Studio 54 on a white horse, but as she told the Financial Times in April this year, she had, in fact mounted a horse that was already there. “Mick Jagger and I walked into Studio 54,” she insisted.

With or without a white stud sending guests into the club, equally striking sequins and high shine took centrestage at Studio 54. Robert Isabell—the famed event planner and floral designer who conceptualised more than one Kennedy wedding—was so inspired by it all that he inundated the club’s floor at one New Year’s Eve party with four inches of glitter. That’s the height of heels! As Ian Schrager—one half of the duo that started the club in 1977—told the New York Times, it was “standing on stardust”..

Gucci by Tom Ford's images for AW 2004Louche luxe: Gucci by Tom Ford’s images for autumn/winter 1996/97. Photos: Gucci

Fast-forward to the present: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. It was published (and posted—YouTube, naturally) in place of a runway fashion show. While no stardust was sprinkled, the Nick Knight-directed video’s nod to the Seventies wouldn’t escape even those who have never felt the heat of Disco Inferno. The somewhat bare studio in which it was shot, as well as the overall monochrome does not betray the Soul Train inspiration. Flanked by dancers, the models sashayed on a catwalk of lit, moving oblongs to Lady Gaga’s remake of Chic’s I Want Your Love. The singer appears in the video too, dancing in her usual Mother Monster way, circa 2010. It is nothing like what you’ll see on an actual Tom Ford catwalk. It’s all very dedicated-to-the-Seventies-but-let’s-make-it-cooler.

Looking back has always been fashion’s fixation. While fashion tends to vacillate between then and now, increasingly it’s wedged in then and then. To interpret the past is really reliving the past. Tom Ford may have put out a video worthy of more than a million views, but it is hard to determine if the slick performance is salute or parody, or living a dream. Perhaps, it even warrants a “not again” since Mr Ford’s obsession with the Seventies goes back to the early years of his reign at Gucci.

When Kate Moss opened the Gucci autumn/winter 1996 season with smoky eyes, military coat, silk shirt unbuttoned to the naval, and wide-legged pants, you kind of knew what to expect. By the time those velvet suits came out, you’re clear where they would lead you to. As soon as the first of those six white, silk jersey dresses appeared in the end, the deal was sealed. Tom Ford’s adoration of the Seventies was, finally, homage to Halston, the disco-era fashion giant whose ultrasuede shirt-dresses and slinky silk jersey gowns won the admiration of the stars of the day such as Margaux Hemingway and Angelica Huston.

Studio 54 in New York06 Mar 1978: outside Studio 54. Photo © Michael Norcia/Sygma/Corbis

Halston’s legacy, as journalist Robin Givan rightly pointed out, is in Tom Ford, who revelled in the Halston aesthetic and projected himself to be a social prince akin to the nocturnal prince that Halston was. Tom Ford’s bearing pointed to Studio 54, the party central where Halston spent tremendous amount of time with his pals Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger. Tom Ford was still a student then, studying interior architecture at Parsons School of Design. He was also known to frequent Studio 54, where he danced out of the closet and was drawn to older men. It is not clear if he met Halston at all—he was more into trailing handsome Calvin Klein, but Halston’s persona and his glamorous clique had a profound effect on Tom Ford.

Studio 54 created an insatiable desire to party. It was a vortex that sucked people in—famous and not-at-all alike. The other regular was Marc Jacobs, who was reported to have had brought his high school books along in order to depart the club immediately the morning after for class. It wasn’t just the catchy danceable music; it was also the cohort, addled by cocaine, that made you feel mighty real, as sung with palpable delirium by Sylvester. Marc Jacobs was energised by what he saw, even when it was reportedly mostly debaucherous behaviour.

Although Marc Jacobs had leaned on the side of Seventies iconography in his post-grunge years, he pronounced “I heart Seventies” most fervently in his spring/summer 2011 collection. With frizzy hair and kohled eyes, the models strutted unto the catwalk as if just released from a Guy Bourdin shoot. While the close-to-peasant-dresses where a wink to Yves Saint Laurent, everything else could have been Studio 54 all over again, intensified for a social media-ready audience. It was all dressed up with, you sensed, somewhere to go… even if it that place existed only in memory.

Marc Jacobs SS 2011Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough: Marc Jacob’s spring/summer 2011 collection.

LV SS 2011 adHot stuff: Louis Vuitton’s ad campaign for spring/summer 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

Love can manifest itself as obsession. As if with his own show wasn’t enough, Marc Jacobs projected the vibe of the Seventies onto his advertising campaigns for Louis Vuitton as well. Lensed by Steven Meisel, the photographs showed models Kristen McMenamy, Freja Beha, and Raquel Zimmermann in set pieces that seemed to acknowledge the influence of the marketing of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume of 1977. The latter, shot in Saint Laurent’s own Rue de Babylone apartment—in the Buddha Room—by Helmut Newton, saw Jerry Hall ensconced in dim surroundings of plush cushions and cascades of white phalaenopsis. It hinted at nothing particularly Oriental or narcotic, but it did suggest a prelude to something carnal.

Marc Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton, had become one of the most feted designers in the world. He had no need to play down his love for a decade that spawned one of the most influential dance clubs of all time, even when a decade and a half earlier in Milan, a fellow American had grooved to a similar beat. He celebrated it—revisiting the visual excesses of the era, allowing artifice to override design. Is it a wonder then that some people think Marc Jacobs, like his compatriot Tom Ford, is more a talented stylist than a brilliant designer?

Studio 54, however, wasn’t the only club that made a mark during the peak of disco. Across the Atlantic, in Paris specifically, Le Palace was the discotheque du jour after the success of Le Sept, a spot that drew the glittery set of the Paris beau monde—both the brainchild of “Prince of the Night” Fabric Emaer. Housed in a 9th arrondissement theatre, Le Palace was opened a year after Studio 54 in 1978. While the latter was frequented by America’s top designers—Halston, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Le Palace was honoured by the best of Paris: Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo. And in place of Bianca Jagger riding a horse was a lithe Grace Jones singing La Vie En Rose astride a pink Harley!

Tom Ford SS 2016 P2I want your love: Lady Gaga in Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

Despite the excesses comparable to Studio 54’s, Le Palace did not have the same sway over French designers as Studio 54 did over the Americans. Yves Saint Laurent was influenced by pop culture, so did Karl Lagerfeld, but their work, unlike their New York counterparts’, was tempered by a tradition known as haute couture. Their designs, despite occasionally leaning towards the street, always had an air of elegance, a generous dose of refinement. Today, no French house banks on the sartorial derring-do of Le Palace to forge ahead.

Studio 54, as with most legends, died before its time was up. In 1980, owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were charged with tax evasion. Both pleaded guilty and were sent to 13 months in jail. On the club’s last night of operation, Diana Ross sang for the offenders. Thirty five years after the last dance, Studio 54 lives on in the hands of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and countless others. As Gloria Gaynor sang hopefully in 1978, “I will survive.”

Girls Gone Good

Good Girls G1Good girls wear long(er) skirts: (from left) Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Comme des Garcons Comme des Garcons

Given how much the posterior pervaded our lives last year, it is a relief that this autumn/winter season, quite a few designers are short on the skimpy. It is not sufficiently clear if it is a Kim K backlash, but it is possible that once the backside appears on the front side of a magazine (see Paper, winter 2014), modesty could be very much missed. Are we then seeing a return to clothes that, well, serve to clothe?

This season, the Japanese designers are leading the way, although it is pertinent to acknowledge that they have never left the path. Junya Watanabe, Junichi Abe of Kolor, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—to these purveyors of dress, clothes can be sexy, even a substantial amount of clothes, not the lack of them. The Japanese clearly love cloth, and are adept at manipulating a piece of fabric to cover the body in often unexpected ways. Despite the baffling construction that is worked into a dress, the result is mostly practical silhouettes that can be adapted for the everyday.

We’re partial to the wide, knee-grazing skirts that appeared on the catwalk of the above-mentioned designers. With the continued popularity of severely cut off denim jeans and micro-anything, these skirts could be considered prissy, or, worse, a reminder of the (supposedly) sexually-repressed Victorians. Yet, there’s something elegant, refined, and uninhibited about their shape and length that could provide emancipation from the pressures of expressing sexuality through scantiness. The relationship sexiness has with bare skin can be redefined through the skirt.

The fact that the Japanese’s stay on the side of modesty draws no attention attests to the insidiousness of barely-there dressing. The Italians, however, have always had a sophisticated view. In the Baz Luhrmann-directed video for the Metropolitan Museum’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, Muccia Prada said, “Instinctively, I refuse the usual conviction that you have to be beautiful from the waist up… so many things are happening from the waist down…” Yet, Ms Prada has never played up the role of the skirt by drastically reducing its length or deliberately minimising its opacity. The Prada skirts, 100 of them so magnificently displayed at the 2004 travelling exhibition Waist Down, validate the old belief that short is not always sexy.

It would also take Gucci to push forward the idea of prim-as-desirable. Designer Alessandro Michele (before his appointment last year, a relative unknown) has been lauded for making the brand “cool again”. It is odd—but, perhaps, a relief for the show-no-ass lass—that it would take new Gucci’s geeky looks rather than the entrenched sexy-to-the-max aesthetic, first delineated by Tom Ford, to revive the house. Whether looking like a librarian or school teacher, perhaps, in the end, women just want clothes that allow them to get on with their lives, rather than be too sexy for their skirt.

Dress Watch: Construction Time

Nuboaix X Kimono Kollab

Kimono Kollab, the costume-rescue project, is back for a third installation. Conceived last year as an opportunity to breathe new life to blemished but still good kimonos, the ad hoc project was so successful that stockist Takashimaya Department Store has invited the participants to present a third season. As with the previous, a motley group of (ten, presently) ‘Kollaborators’ (recalling the Kardashians’ naming convention) were assembled to re-purpose the up-till-now abandoned kimonos. The current crop of designers reflects the Kollab’s plurality even when the sole fabric to work with is entirely Japanese. Among them, there is a knitter, an embroiderer, an architect, a bag maker, and a group of guys that hand-stitches small leather goods. As the source kimonos to be re-imagined are single garments, every design is reborn as one-of-a-kind. This, as the organiser pointed out to SOTD at the 1 October launch, “is an approach that’s not common in today’s market.”

Of the spirited mix, one to note is Nuboaix—a progressive label birthed five years ago by Singaporean designers Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee. Both alumni of the School of Fashion Studies at Nayang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the duo has forged a rather distinctive aesthetic that is avant garde design built upon refined tailoring. In response to SOTD’s query about their style, Jessica Lee said, “We’ve always veered towards an industrial feel, delivering forward-looking and functional pieces that speak of modernity, yet express timelessness.”

That timelessness is, in essence, wearability—a characteristic that seems to contradict the duo’s penchant for complicated construction. Their ambidexterity on the cutting table shows technical finesse uncommon for their relatively young age (he 31, she 34). Apart from cutting the patterns, they sew the clothes too. It’s unsurprising that people would think that these garments were produced in a sampling room of an established house. It is refinement rarely encountered in the recent flurry of new local labels, mostly concerned with visual edge than design flair.

Perhaps Nuboaix’s polished products can be traced to the designers’ early exposure to the supply side of the business, having exhibited during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris, at RoomsLink in Tokyo, and, on home ground, at the annual trade show Blueprint. It has been grounding achieved alongside other designers that were determined to make an impact on the world stage (Nuboaix is represented by Lakic, a Tokyo-based agency that has under its wings indie-designers such as Satoko Ozawa and Belgium’s rising star Tim van Steenbergen). It is conceivable that an international audience has heightened the two designers’ sensitivity to what constitutes global appeal.

Take this sleeveless jacket that we’ve singled out. Keeping to the kimono silhouette, it has a neckline that traces the bodice in a traditional Japanese way, yet it is framed by a halter panel that cuts diagonally to the hem, with the upper portion sitting beneath a contrasting yoke, deliberately fashioned to follow the slope of the shoulder (a treatment that vaguely recalls John Galliano’s reinterpretation of Dior’s bar suit). At each ninety-degree point along the seam, the tip is rounded so as to diminish any sharp joint—a detail that tags on the organic shapes of traditional Japanese kimono-making (as exemplified by Visvim’s classic Lhamo shirt). The tented silhouette, too, has more than a whiff old Japan, yet the fall and swing of the garment are clearly 21st Century.

Nobuaix X Kimono Kollab, S$399, is available at level 3, Takashimaya Department Store until 13 October. Photo: Jim Sim