The first shop to open at the hirtherto desolate 268 Orchard Road. Photo: Galerie Gombak
By Raiment Young
The name reminds me of a song by The Police, the one that tells of our inability to resist the persuasiveness of “poets, priests and politician… ’cos when their eloquence escapes you/their logic ties you up and rapes you. De do do do, de da da da…” At the same time, I am recalling the ‘logic’ of the bourgeois capitalist thinking of the mid-1910s that, together with the onset of WWI and the opposition to it, led to the Dada art movement. I remember, too, what Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of Dada, said: “Dada puts an artificial sweetness onto things, a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull.”
That suggestion of surrealism is not at all incongruent with the newest brand to take its street-view place in Orchard Road: Christian Dada. First things first, this isn’t a brand that has anything to do with what the proper nouns in the name suggest. Well, maybe half of it does. The label is, in fact, the brainchild of Japanese designer Masanori Morikawa. As I suspected—since this is so typical of Japanese naming convention (John Lawrence Sullivan, for example, is really Arashi Yanagawa, not the American boxer aka Boston Strong Boy, but being a professional boxer before, it’s not surprising who inspired him), Mr Morikawa had deliberately picked a name that sounds Western. As he told The Japan Times last year, “I started out by wanting to parody a French house’s name. Christian Dada was my respectful riff on Christian Dior and Dada being a reference to my own love of the anarchy of Dadaism.”
Christian Dada spring/summer 2016 women and men. Photos: Christian Dada
So I wasn’t off the mark in my thoughts. Mr Morikawa added, “I really didn’t think about potential Judeo-Christian misunderstandings or that, further down the line, people might assume the brand isn’t Japanese.” He really shouldn’t have to worry about that since no one ever thinks Hello Kitty is not a la Nippon! And what can be more Dada than the “artificial sweetness” of the mouth-less cat purported to be a British school girl (itself “a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull”)? In the same vein, the religious suggestion joined to the anarchy of a certain art movement can be Dada too, no?
Mr Morikawa has not claimed to be a Dadaist, yet it is tempting to seek evidence in his work, and I did. In the first look of his women’s wear spring/summer 2016 show, the model wore a white shirt under a black tee with the words in full caps “NO LOVE LOST”. The idiom is repeated in the sole neck wear (a sort of scarf-as-choker) worn by the models. If Dadaism in its earliest and basic form was an anti-war stance, then perhaps the message of animosity is a declaration of Mr Morikawa’s own undeclared battle. I am, admittedly, being needlessly pedantic. The clothes themselves pay no obvious homage to the likes of Jean Arp. In the juxtaposition of shapes and the pairing of beading and embroidery to sporty/biker silhouettes, I do, however, see the spirit of Kurt Schwitters. Or, by the brand’s own admission, “the rejection of perfection, reason, and logic… a feeling of deconstruction and mystery.”
Christian Dada’s mostly monochromatic interior dotted with strange perforated shapes. Photo: Galerie Gombak
This is, however, not the deconstruction or the mystery that we have come to associate with the Japanese since the early ’80s. Mr Morikawa does not overhaul garments the way Yohji Yamamoto does although his sense of mystery can faintly be traced to the latter’s. Unlike many of his compatriots, he is not quite resistant to the use of embellishments to lend extra dimension to his clothes, which, unsurprisingly, are highly visual. I was drawn, for instance, to the sprays of blue appliqué flowers on a trio of blouses (and also gold on a quartet of dresses), blooms that happily recall the cherry blossoms he introduced in the last spring/summer season. They are a chromatic aberration from his mostly black collection, suggesting, perhaps, that Mr Morikawa does not only dwell in darkness.
What’s interesting to note, too, is that Christian Dada is the first Japanese brand to be situated on the first floor—in fact, upfront by the entrance of a shopping centre, in this case the still forsaken-looking 268 Orchard Road (formerly Yen San Building) that is owned by Ngee Ann Development. That a prime spot could go to a rather obscure brand, I was told, is likely due to favourable rentals, given the oft-repeated gloomy retail scene, a sad state that was also reported somewhat gleefully by Life of The Straits Times two Thursdays ago. And the space was not cinched by a conglomerate such as LVMH or Kering, but by a Singaporean company, D’League. What’s little-known is that D’League, proprietor of what some consider to be the best men’s wear store on our island, Surrender, is also an investor in Christian Dada.
The 1,700-square-foot interior of the store. Photo: Galerie Gombak
It was reported that with D’League’s take-up of 51% in Mr Morikawa’s company in 2013, Christian Dada was able to make its Paris debut a year later, during the spring/summer 2015 season. A relatively small retail player investing in a fledgling designer label is rather striking, at least to me, since the only Singaporean fashion company to have done something similar, as far as I can recall, is the much larger Club 21. In 2000, the Christina Ong-owned corporation invested over £7 million (or about 30%) of Mulberry’s equity, landing it a controlling stake in the brand. D’League—once associated with Jamie Chua (and her maiden retail venture Cloud 9 Lifestyle) and ex-husband Nurdian Cuaca and consequently their complicated divorce—first stocked Christian Dada in its luxury store, Salon by Surrender in the Shoppes at Marina Bay. It surprised many that, among the edgy labels the boutique retails—including the supremely pricey sneaker label Buscemi, Christian Dada should be singled out for investment.
Christian Dada’s prominent presence on Orchard Road should be seen as a good sign for less mainstream brands. Amid top-tier European luxury labels with duplex stores now fronting ION Orchard, I was thinking Singapore’s most important shopping street may not entice those without the marketing muscle of, say, the Prada group. Christian Dada’s quiet entry offers others of its breed hope that our oldest retail belt isn’t quite adverse to brands not in the first twenty pages of Her World. Its eye-catching store—designed by Fumiko Takahama Architects, whose eponymous founder was formerly with Herzog and de Meuron—speaks in the vernacular of retail design not with plush carpets and costly wood, but with sheets of perforated metal stained black and formed into rock-like shapes that echo those of Zen gardens or karesansui. Like the building that houses it, Christian Dada sticks out, but it does so beautifully.
Christian Dada is at level one, 268 Orchard Road