Do Call Her M, For Magnificent

Best Night: although the track was not included in her Rebel Heart Tour show in Singapore, it pretty much summed up the evening for SOTD. More significantly, it was a concert of captivating choreography and coutureMadonna descending in a cage

Madonna, wearing Adrianne Philips’s pop-kimono, descending in a gilded cage

So few artistes in the YouTube age are able to merge audio and visual into a seamless whole, and really revel in the spectacle live that Madonna’s concert in Singapore last night was going to go down the history of visiting pop acts as the most powerful performance we’ve ever seen on our shores. Yes, even surpassing the Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour stop here in 1993.

From the onset, it was a show worthy of MGM productions—brought forward to the 21st Century. Sometimes you forgot you were watching a pop concert. It had the rousing choreography of West-Side Story and the acrobatic flair of all the dancers that make Marilyn Monroe’s camp-moves-as-dance intoxicating. In fact, the routines had the glamour quotient of pioneering jazz-dance choreographer Jack Cole’s work with the one who convinced so many that Gentlemen prefer Blondes, as well as the classical grace of Alvin Ailey, whose dance theatre was where Madonna received her training.

As if that wasn’t enough, there were the stunning and wow-inducing acrobatic moves on sway poles that recalled Cirque du Soleil, but, to us, were more in common with the Pole Cats of the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. As Madonna told Michigan State’s Macomb Daily last year, the Rebel Heart Tour performances will be a “characteristically theatrical spectacle”. And she meant it: the spirited singing and dancing unfolded in front of a huge back screen that projected some of the most arresting and intoxicating video graphics seen outside MTV.

Body Shop segmentMadonna in Alexander Wang stomping in her inimitable way

Although, conceptually, Madonna played a big part (as she told the Rolling Stones she likes “to create personas and then the persona changes and grows into other things”), credit must also go to creative director Jamie King, the writer and director behind Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour. Mr King’s tableaux for the Rebel Heart Tour had the enthralling mix of story-telling, vivid characterisation (who could forget the black, clearly-male dancer channeling Jospehine Baker?), and dramatic visuals. Together with the inspired choreography of Megan Lawson and Jason Young, every set was calculated to stimulate the senses and stir the soul, even those interludes without Madge singing (when she had to undergo costume change) were a thrill to watch: definitely those dancers’ bungee jumping down a tilt-till-near-vertical rear stage!

What may have escaped the notice of concert goers, especially those seated at the back and too mesmerised by the overall visual glory to notice prancing dots, were the costumes, and not just Madonna’s but the dancers’ and back-up singers’ too. In a rare display of creative unity, the singer’s dance and singing mates weren’t clad in nondescript black leotards (or anything as bland), but in individually designed ensemble that had in common with cinematic, rather than concert tradition. It was really no wonder at all that the dancers appeared to enjoy what they did since they knew they looked good and fashion-correct.

Madonna has once again worked with her long-time costumer Adrianne Phillips. Ms Phillips, also a film costume designer (she was nominated for Oscars for Walk the Line and W.E.) is, thankfully, no Nicola Formichetti, who presently helms his own gender-dubious fashion line Nicopanda now that he’s not intimately connected to Lady Gaga’s costume choices. Madonna’s trust in Ms Phillips is apparent since the latter had designed the costumes of the Material Girl’s past five world tours. For the Rebel Heart Tour, Ms Phillips enlisted designers that are currently the rage, including Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, and once-Balenciaga’s Alexander Wang. No doubt a motley group, but with the dissimilarity required for Madonna’s multiple-persona show.

Bullfight segmentFor the breathtaking ‘bullfight’ segment, Madonna wore Fausto Puglisi

What impressed those who could still be impressed by such things is that Madonna used clothes, not no-clothes, to enhance the visual strength of her performance. There’s something strangely and comfortingly old-school about the presence of costumes and the act of costume change now that we’re in an era when singers have hardly anything on (Arianna Grande, Nicki Minaj, et al) or are badly dressed (K-pop stars!). But these are get-ups with so much fashion-speak that calling them ‘costumes’ somehow recalls Bob Mackie or, for Canto-pop die-hards, Eddie Lau. There were nothing as long-ago as that, not even anything resembling the iconic conical brassiere that Jean-Paul Gaultier designed for her for the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990 (although the bra made its catwalk debut in 1982). These clothes are contenders for a fashion museum rather than, ironically, Instagram.

There were four sets (five if that one encore were to be considered) and four main costumes. Some were themes Madonna had explored before such as that with the toreador jacket and knickerbockers, or the one with the ’20s shimmy fringed dress designed by Jeremy Scott (reportedly taking a huge chunk of the 2,500,000 Swarovski crystals that adorned the stage clothes). The most compelling for us at SOTD was the Spanish/gypsy ensemble designed by Alessandro Michele. This was unlike anything the singer has worn before: rather Elisa Doolittle residing in Seville. All the Michele details were there: the lace, the embroidery, the colours, the kooky romance. It was a softer Madonna that the younger set would probably (and regrettably) consider grandmother-ish.

What fashion observers got a kick out of, too, were the video projections accompanying the latter segments. The medley of Living for Love and La Isla Bonita (yes, two different styles but they paired beautifully!) were accompanied by sumptuous, monochromatic split-image visuals of Spanish fans, ruffles, fringes, lace, bangles, and castanets, all depicted smoothly in a Mary Katrantzou-gone-minimalist way. Not to be outdone were the swirling embroideries, chez Michele, during Dress you Up and Crazy for You, that turned the backdrop into a hypnotic kaleidoscope. Even if you were bobbing up and down way back and couldn’t marvel at the couture needlework of Madonna’s shawl, you would be mesmerised by the digital needlework on the rear screen.

Latin_Gypsy setThe ‘Latin/Gypsy’ set that opened with Dress you Up was mardi gras for a staid Singaporean audience

In GucciMadonna in her most colourful get-up by Alessandro Michele for Gucci

The Rebel Heart Tour concert is clearly a movable fashion spread. Sure, Madonna does not approach fashion as beguilingly as Björk; she does not embrace it as trashily as Lady Gaga; she does not wear it as girlishly as Talyor Swift. She’s no pundit of irony. One cannot, however, say she brings nothing new and visually exciting to the stage. She is a performer and she knows that every button, every bead, every binding (and that ultra-long barège of the ‘wedding’ sequence!) matter, and the sum effect is what makes a singer a performer.

Although her moves, at age 57, were not quite the dance-prance-cavort of the past (she was half-Vogue-ing her way through the sets), there was no denying the consummate artiste that Madonna still is. It is puzzling, therefore, that there were those—stage habitués themselves, no less—who thought that she sold out when the songs Holy Water and Devil Pray were omitted in response to MDA’s outdated restrictions. It isn’t quite clear if these individuals felt short-changed, but to equate Madonna with only controversial songs that bait the church is as reductive as associating religion with only violence.

Sexuality and erotica may be part of her repertoire—like Jack Cole, she F-bombed inveterately (surprisingly to the discomfort of not a few attendees)—but fashion will not be underplayed in her quest for musical dominance and relevance. Madonna is too powerful and savvy an image maker, and too ardent a fashion lover to minimise the communicative value of clothes. She may rip her top off, but she will not rip us off.

Photos: Zhao Xiang. Editor’s note: We apologise for the less-than-desirable quality of these photographs. SOTD did not attend the concert as a member of the press corp. The conditions where we stood unfortunately were not ideal for the kind of pictures we would like to publish here

Sandals With A Snug Fit


Montbell Sock-On SandalsBy Shu Xie

I can’t decide if they should be called sandals, slippers, or slides, but when I first saw them, they appealed to me immediately. It was a Saturday afternoon of white skies in Bangkok. I had just stepped out of the BTS station to walk into a mall when I spotted a Japanese man in this thonged footwear, above which hung Comme des Garçons low-crotch, pinstriped pants. While the get-up would not be out of place among Japanese fishing folk, there, in the covered toe-to-heel bustle of down-town Bangkok, those feet by themselves were nearly pornographic. I didn’t forget those sandals.

As if arrangements had been made, a month later, I saw the same pair in a Taiwanese magazine and the caption read: “sandals by Montbell”. What a surprise. Montbell, a Japanese outdoor gear label with very little brand recognition in Singapore unless you’re into camping by a river or skiing in the mountains, isn’t quite known for its footwear. Founded in Osaka by mountaineer Isamu Tatsuno (who was the first Japanese to climb the North face of the Eiger in Switzerland), the brand makes terrific kit for outdoor sports and adventure travel. I am a huge fan of their gadgets such as carabiners and mobile solar packs, but I have never taken notice of anything for feet.

Not long after, I had scheduled a vacation in Hokkaido. It was my first visit to the northern most of Japan’s islands. On the first day in the capital city of Sapporo, a blizzard was blowing through the downtown. Walking away from the JR station, I spotted from across the street a Montbell store. I had to pop inside—the sandals immediately came to my mind and delight gladdened my heart. But, alas, it was winter, and feet-baring shoes would hibernate in the warehouse until the warmer months. Although I did leave with a couple of stuff, including an extremely useful pendant affixed with thermometer, compass, and a magnifying glass, I was rather disappointed that the footwear I had hoped to see was on seasonal sabbatical.

Montbell Sock-On Sandals with socks

It was made known to me at the store that my obsession is called Sock-On Sandals. What sets them apart from anything I have seen (including Teva river sandals and the luxury versions that inevitably pop up in the spring/summer season) is what Montbell calls “thongstraps”. These are akin to those seen on traditional Japanese wooden sandals, geta—originally a Chinese design. Montbell has adapted the idea—their thongs are made from a tubular knit with firm but supple stuffing—for the sandals. The thongstrap is embedded into the insole at each end and fasten to looped canvas tabs that sit like ceriphs on the outsole. To wear them, slip the foot under the thongstrap from the rear, adjusting it as you go along, until it sits over the base of your toes and the back of the metatarsal. You can, in fact adjust the thongstrap to rest anywhere on top of your feet that you feel most comfortable.

Last week, I finally found the Sock-On Sandals. When I tried them on, it was more of a slide to me. What struck me most was the comfort level: they embrace the feet like socks. That was what I thought gave the sandal its moniker, but the shopkeeper was keen to tell me that these were designed to be worn with socks. Still, it was superbly comfortable without them. There isn’t any flip-flopping when you walk in them as the sandals hug your feet very snugly. Looking down, I thought the curvy shape of the thongstrap gives the bare skin of the feet a sweep of calligraphic elegance.

The Sock-On Sandal comes in S, M, L, and XL, not unusual of Japanese sizing, but it does pose the problem of perfect fit in terms of the feet over the length of the sole. Good thing is, the thongstrap can be adjusted so that you won’t feel the sandal will slip off: perfect for those of us who do not want the extra effort of clenching to the toe grip of standard slippers.

Montbell Sock-On Sandals, SGD39.90, is available at X-Boundaries@Velocity, Novena Square. Product photos: Montbell. Main illustration: Just So

Oh, Kanye, We Believe You!

Oh Kanye

Screen grab of Kanye West’s Tweet

This guy likes to talk big. Or is this an indication of a fall-out with Adidas, and it’s time to get back? Kanye West is not known for admirable longevity with fashion/footwear collaborators. Look at Nike. And read the rants directed at the world’s biggest footwear brand. Even up to the recent Yeezy 3 show two weeks ago, he’s still taunting Nike. And he had the audience in the show on-board too, shouting expletives like a football crowd would towards a referee kayu (the perfect pairing of ugly behaviour and ugly clothes?). Mr West doesn’t forgive and forget.

Since we’re speculating, let’s go further. This Tweet is part of a marketing blitz aimed at promoting a-less-than-impressive response to the Yeezy line. Fashion isn’t like music, and Mr West, perhaps, hasn’t been able to sell by the volume he thinks he can with his albums. Adidas, paying for it all, is desperate to see the returns. Mr West is feeling the heat. He knows that a Tweet can launch a thousand ships, if not sell the million tatters-as-tees sitting untouched in some warehouse in Bangladesh. Who’s sweating giving a few hundred Yeezys away anyway? We’re speculating.

Yeezy Season 3The tribe of Yeezy Season 3. Photo: Getty Images/Kevin Mazur

Strange thing is, even if Yeezy the shoes are selling well, shouldn’t someone in Adidas take a close look at Yeezy the clothes? Perhaps that’s not required since Mr West has publicly thanked Adidas for “paying for this (the show).” Sure, we’re speculating, but a look at Yeezy Season 3’s (intriguing: is this naming convention anything to do with Louis Vuitton’s Series?) more of the same as Season 1 and 2 encourages the suspicion that these are unwanted rags. The show, reportedly attended by more than 20,000 invited and paid guests, looked like a casting call for The 100, er, maybe season 3. And a spectacle it was, so much so that reviewers were writing about it as if it was a Madonna concert. Or Coldplay. Or whoever is rocking your Sonos wireless speaker.

If this is a “collection that changed the world”, as Mr West Tweeted to counter negative reviews of Yeezy Season 3, then it has really become a different world. Fashion, sadly, is teetering on irreversible ugliness and Mr West is adding piles to the heap. By calculated moves rather than natural talent, he has blustered his way into fashion’s stratosphere to make himself standout and be counted. As Cathy Horyn said, “Shut up. Relax. You have won.” Here, Ms Horyn, unlike us, isn’t speculating.

No Piecing Required For This Puzzle

Loewe X Ray Puzzle Bag

One of the XL versions of Loewe Puzzle Bag, spring/summer 2016

Design directors installed at storied fashion houses often embark to output not only a body of work in ready-to-wear, but also in accessories, especially bags. JW Anderson is no exception. His work at the Spanish house of Loewe has been much lauded and his introduction of the Puzzle Bag last year excited many a fashion editor, intrigued by a carry-much so oddly and unconventionally faceted.

According to Mr Anderson, this is an accidental bag. At one of his visits to the Loewe archive in Madrid, he found a fake leather bag that was so old that its upper was all peeling skin. “I traced the lines where it had cracked off the leather,” said Mr Anderson to the media, “and this very abstract shape came out. I said to my assistant, ‘I think this is the bag!’”

Note that Mr Anderson avoided the adjective ‘It’. Yet, the indeterminate geometry and much-appreciated roominess at once placed the Puzzle Bag in the ‘It’ category, even when such a grouping may spell a premature demise in an era of too many ‘It’ bags. Still, Loewe is having a rather healthy run with the bag, scoring big among fashion ‘listicles’ and street-style rankings. Surely, such visibility is a plus than a minus.

Loewe Puzzle bag AW 2015 pink

The Puzzle Bag in the Loewe autumn/winter 2015 collection

What’s really surprising is the speed in which the Puzzle Bag spawns what’s considered a men’s version. Successful women’s bags rarely cross into men’s wear. Carrying the Hermès Haut À Courroies does not mean you’re holding a male Birkin. Although it does not come branded as ‘homme’ or such gender-specific tags, the XL version (there are four sizes in all)—sans handle—is positioned to tempt the guys. It is not surprisingly that a man may be drawn to Puzzle Bag since the visual concept of the bag could appeal to those with a penchant for geometrical complexity.

The Puzzle Bag is assembled from 20-plus cuts of leather (or other material), allowing each plane to take on different colours and textures. This flexibility encourages experimentation, and Mr Anderson has been adventurous—in particular, the limited-edition X Ray Puzzle Bag (top). This XL version looks like it is made from a collage of manga pages, only more luxurious since it’s a juxtaposition of textured, embossed, printed, and calf leathers.  However you carry this Puzzle Bag, it is the magazine Nakayohi meets the district Roppongi!

Loewe X Ray Puzzle Bag, SGD7,550, is available at Casa Loewe, Paragon

Is This Athletic Brand In Crisis?

Kylie X PumaSOTD imagines what the Kylie Jenner + Puma partnership may look like. Photo: #Kylie Jenner. Collage: Just So

By Shu Xie

The question popped up as soon as I read, with—I admit—distaste, that Kylie Jenner has signed with Puma to be “featured in the brand’s Spring/Summer women’s training campaign launching in April 2016”, according to a statement issued by the athletic brand. I am sure Puma’s enthusiasm has something to do with her 52.6 million followers on Instagram (even South Korea has less inhabitants), rather than her natural talent as a model who can communicate the brand’s messages to a sea of potential customers. Or her track record as a face for sporting goods. In fact, Ms Jenner had, until her collaboration with Steve Madden last year, been associated with nail polish (OPI) and hair extension (Bellami Hair). Yes, there was the Kendall and Kylie Collection of 2013, but I am not sure it means anything to the world of sports.

The contract between the German label and the American reality star-slash-model was reported to be worth six figures. In addition, although she’s the face and body of Puma, Ms Jenner will supposedly be able to continue to wear Adidas, a necessary clause since she is likely going to carry on supporting her brother-in-law’s Yeezy line (an assurance to Kanye West’s rant that “1000% there will never be a Kylie Puma anything”?). It is puzzling that this isn’t an odd negotiation for Puma, considering that competitor Adidas is the other brand that emerged from the fallout of the two brothers who started in the shoe business together: Adolf and Rudolph Dassler (the company was originally known as Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik or the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory). Puma (Rudolph’s) is presently owned by Kering, the parent company of Gucci.

Signing Ms Jenner up appears to confirm the belief that, these days, merchandise alone—however appealing—isn’t going to ensnare the paying consumer. If a brand needs to mainly bank on celebrity to augment the desirability of its products, would that indicate that, at its core, their goods are perhaps not so appealing to start with? Puma has had cachet in the past (and, to a certain extent, still do), having collaborated with design heavyweights such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Yasuhiro Mihara, and Hiroaki Shitano of Whiz Limited. Then in a surprising move last year, it appointed Rihanna as creative director of Puma Women, a move that recalls Lindsay Lohan’s appointment at Ungaro in 2009. Rihanna’s output is the Fenty line, launched at New York Fashion Week early this month. It looks to me like a she-Yeezy, only with less earth-caked colours.

The increased celebrity association could mean Puma is relying less on heritage or DNA. Even its long-time association with the game of football seems deflated. Surprisingly, its own design studio has not updated and re-branded classics such as the Suede (once also known as State) and my fave, GV Special, the way Adidas has with the Stan Smith and Superstar. As with the Stan Smith, the GV Special is a sports-star endorsed product: in this case, Guillermo Vilas, the tennis ace of the ’70s, and, for the TMZ fan in you, one of the era’s most noted playboys.

Ultimately, which brand are we supposed to buy into: Puma or Jenner? What puzzles me to no end is the dire inability for so many brand owners and followers of the members of the Kardashian/Jenner clan to see what the latter truly are: crass. Increasingly, marketing heads these days care more about reach than taste, visibility than discernment, bombast than subtlety. For as long as you (and your family) are a whopping news-making machine, who cares if you look like Kylie Jenner?

Shades Of Gold

Linda Farrow SS 2016 Yellow GoldIn a Harvard lecture in 1998, Warren Buffett said, “Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.” Gold, to Mr Buffett may be of “no utility”, but in the world of fashion, gold—even just the colour—has the value of beauty.

Gold’s increasingly elevated presence in fashion is perhaps an inevitable response to the surfeit of silver and platinum, and the dramatic decline as preferred metal in the Asian trousseau. Despite gold prices generally holding steady against a volatile stock market, its appeal in jewellery and accessories has not strengthened until recently, thanks, perhaps in part, to its undying popularity among hip-hop artistes, as well as Apple’s unrelenting push for gold iPhones—the first appearing in the 5S in 2013.

You know gold is catching on when the colour is now preferred in eyewear design. Standouts are those from Linda Farrow’s ‘Yellow Gold’ collection, distinguished not by the sunglasses’ gold titanium frames in rather classic shapes, but by their distinctive and original gold lenses. The overall effect is eyewear dipped in gold: monochromatic and extraordinarily stunning. Interestingly, despite the colour, you don’t see a world with yellow-gold tint. In fact, they offer you a surrounding similar to those seen through any dark shade. These made-in-Japan glasses offer 100% UV protection, just the thing your anti-ageing health program needs.

Who is Linda Farrow? Ms Farrow was originally a fashion designer before she started her name-sake label in 1970. Based in London, she was selling what were considered cutting-edge designs, all so unusual that, not long after, she started designing and producing for big-name designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. Despite its early success, Linda Farrow was closed in the late 80s only to be brought back to life by son and daughter-in-law Simon Jablon and Tracy Sedino in 2003. The rest is, unmistakably, eye-opening history.

Linda Farrow ‘Yellow Gold’ eyewear collection, from SGD1,260, is available at Peddar on Scotts, Scotts Square