If It Does Not Suit You, Drop It

Balenciaga Men SS 2017 Pic 1

It’s a confounding time to be a fashion consumer; confounding is the time indeed. Just as you thought that the autumn/winter collections are in the stores, informed as you were by those heavier fabrics and too-covered-up styles, a salesperson throws you off by announcing that it’s “pre-season”. And if you show surprise because, just next door, a sprightly seller was showing you the “latest autumn winter” threads, she comes back with “we have many seasons and now is pre-season.”

Just like that, you feel you’re not with the times. The vis-à-vis encounter has rendered your idea of weather-appropriate, as opposed to seasonal, clothing kaput. Fashion, more than climate, has succumbed to the vageries of the four seasons. Those simply dry and wet that characterise this part of the world mean nothing. If AccuWeather is to be believed, it’s 32°C out there, where the RealFeal® is 41. Yet, inside a mall, where the temperature, if you’re lucky, may be 26 degrees, a salesperson will try to sell you a heat trap otherwise known as a fully-lined jacket.

Fashion has, since the ’80s—when imported European fashion began to appear in large numbers—induced us to consume in seasons. Local retailers too have been eager to tout autumn/winter as a valid retail term, except that consumers aren’t really keeping track of the seasons. It’s so damned hot out there, goes the common complain.  But it’s been like that since January! Does autumn/winter in June makes sense, however important keeping abreast of the trends is?

Balenciaga Men SS 2017 Pic 2The oversized suit jacket of Balenciaga Men spring/summer 2017

Fashion seasons nowadays come in and out more regularly than rain. In June alone, we’re inundated with news on the Cruise Collections, which regaled us with clothes shown in far-away locales or dark religious arcades. Then, in the stores, the autumn/winter 2016 collections arrive, and in others, the pre-season. This excitement at retail level bubbles while reports of the men’s spring/summer 2017 shows break incessantly.

Confounding, too, it would be for men who consume fashion. Before they can digest what’s key in the upcoming season or recall what fashion trends have been given the top ten positions, they’re now told to keep in mind the key looks for spring/summer next year. Sure, chances of seeing these clothes as early as December are high, but who’s really even thinking of Christmas when the financial year is nowhere near close? Will we one day need an IMDB-style app to help us recall which designer did what, when?

Now that Balenciaga’s first men’s wear show in its 99-year history was staged, so many media outlets are hailing the return of the suit as if it had gone to war, captured as POW, and now released. Sure, the suits in one collection are so plentiful (19 of 34 looks) that, in a season that witnessed the blouson and its ilk reign supreme, they appear to be having a Giorgio Armani-in-the-Eighties moment. But these are not the suits many have been weaned on; these are not those worn with the ease of a cardigan. Unconventional has been the general description of Demna Gvasalia’s first men’s collection for the house of Balenciaga, but that does not cover weird.

Balenciaga Men SS 2017 Pic 3Even the coats are cut room, just the like the jackets

What are conspicuously strange are those boxy, shoulders-extended suit jackets. A scale that can be described as zoot suit on steroids. Perhaps Mr Gvasalia has taken into account the changing shapes of men’s gym-produced bodies, or maybe he’s re-shaping because shape and form are integral to the Balenciaga legacy. The silhouettes, however, seemed to be based on cardboard boxes than flat paper patterns. Could they be homage to Professor Utonium (Powerpuff Girls) or, to go a little further back, Professor Nut-Meg (Felix the Cat)? Or to cater to Silicon Valley, where a geek may need a suit to attend his first tech award?

It should be noted that in the casting for the show, Balenciaga has picked mainly young white men of perhaps Eastern European stock. The operative words are young and white. The suits seem to be conceived for a populace in the European continent where kids can make even the strangest garb look oddly attractive. For us Asians, a jacket of such roominess and lapels that have grandfather written all over them is evocative of those that are made in Chinese factories still unshackled from their proletarian roots, and are worn by former military men now installed as head of commercial enterprises, building business empires, blissfully unaware of a sartorially changed world.

There is, of course, a whiff of the aesthetic of the Eastern Bloc’s winsome years that is pervasive in the designs of two dominant forces in men’s wear today: one a Georgian and the other Russian. Nothing inherently wrong in that itself, but can such culture-specific references cross borders, even if we’re supposed to believe that fashion is a borderless world?

Balenciaga Men SS 2017 Pic 4The other extreme: ultra-fitted suits

Change is good, we’ve been told, but not all changes are palatable or even digestible. Balenciaga has no real DNA for its men’s wear. Each designer since Nicolas Ghesquière has tried creating its own lasting codes only to be shattered by the next. Mr Gvasalia is not obligated to continue from the last, now-forgotten look. The aim, it seems, is to create seismic change, as seen at other fashion houses. Heritage is immaterial. Who’s talking about Tom Ford’s legacy at Gucci when Alessandro Michele is making (tidal) waves? Even Balenciaga is emancipated from Nicolas Ghesquière’s significant contributions to the revival of the brand. It’s now really about what Demna Gvasalia can bring to the table, and what he can do to capture the attention of an easily sidetracked and loyalty-uncommon world. Likeability is not as important as newsworthy.

Offering two extremes is the way Balenciaga could hit the headlines, or sent social media agog with wild excitement. The severity of jackets with strong shoulders and roomy body has to have a counterpoint in the form of constricted ultra-slim suits. These slender numbers should appeal to those with a penchant for everything skinny. It caters to an existing market, but does it really? On the models, the strange fit of the jacket—the sleeve kisses the shoulder bumpily and also oddly and the foldover of the double-breasted bodice nearly reaches the side of the torso—could be something new or something borrowed from the always too-tight jackets worn by lead actors of K-drama. That is two-pronged too!

Yes, fashion changes, so do shapes of clothes, but knock in vain we shall not on a wardrobe that won’t spill the content to make us look good. However confounding the times, well turn out is key, not looking foolish too, even if, regrettably, they are radical idea these days.

Photos: Balenciaga

A Rose By Any Other Bag Is Still A Rose

Christian Dada SS 2016 rose 2-way bag red

Although we’re in what is considered a summer selling season, many shops are eager to draw your attention to their “new arrivals”—merchandise that mark the start of the autumn/winter calendar. So, it is perhaps a little past-season to talk about products that should have received column space back in January. Bear with us. This bag by the Japanese label Christian Dada didn’t make its appearance till May when the eponymous boutique opened at 268 Orchard Road.

Sitting on a shelf contained in an oddly shaped structure, the rose bag draws your attention immediately. Larger than a football, it easily dupes you into thinking it’s a prop. If you remove this flower of a bag from where it is displayed, you’ll notice a two-way zip at the end of where the calyx should be. Clearly this bloom can be unzipped.

Follow your fingers and let the zip unfasten. The base opens up to reveal a hollow inside, like a secret nook in an ornate armoire. It’s not capacious within, but an organised woman will be able to fill it with urban necessities: smartphone and purse, and a lipstick or two.

Unsurprisingly, the bag is rather heavy. The whole corolla is made of leather, with each petal an individual double-sided piece assembled to form a complete bloom—much like paper flowers. The base of the rose is affixed with a handle, which allows the user to carry it as a handbag. Attach the provided strap to loops on the edge of the base and it can be slung as a shoulder bag. Either way, it’s an attention grabber.

Christian Dada ‘Rose’ leather bag, SGD2,350, is available in red and black at the Christian Dada boutique, 268 Orchard Road

The Little Pearl Underfoot

Nicholas Kirwood Maeva Pearl Pump

To set shoes apart from each other and the competition, heels do come in different shapes, but it is not often they get a companion. Nicholas Kirwood, has paired a pearl to the slender heel of its Maeva pump, forming a rather fetching ‘10’, with the pearl as a superscript zero.

It’s hard not to be attracted to the shiny globular gem. In fact, its probable you’ll want to take a close look at it than the shoe itself, which is a rather classic scarpin with pointed toe, very much a style you’d associate with Sabrina Fairchild or Jo Stockton, both aka Audrey Hepburn. That’s, of course, not a bad thing.

It is truly the pearl that pulls. But it may also repulse. To superstitious Chinese, a single pearl held between two planes may bring to mind the one placed in the mouth of the deceased as symbol to ensure safe passage through the netherworld. Or, by other beliefs, to prevent the spirit from returning to dwell among the earthly.

Nicholas Kirkwood likely did not consider superstition when he placed the pearl in front of the slightly curved—condensed C—Maeva heel. In fact, aesthetic appeal held court since pearls and Nicholas Kirkwood heels are almost synonymous. Although it is not certain if the pearls are authentic (likely not), they have appeared in other of Mr Kirkwood’s heels, such as those of the Casati loafers.

The quirky elegance of the Maeva Pearl Pump cannot be denied even when, for many women these days, its conventional shape may not hold tremendous allure. Perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise, since in a transaction the brand could potentially avoid casting pearls before swines.

Nicholas Kirkwood suede Maeva Pearl Pump, SGD1,100, is available at Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Nicholas Kirkwood

It’s The Face That Matters

Eddie Redmayne for Prada AW 2016The Craig McDean-lensed Prada Men’s autumn/winter campaign just up outside the Prada store at ION Orchard. Photo: Galerie Gombak

Eddie Redmayne may not make the most beautiful face of a girl, Danish or not, but he sure has the visage of a guy that could elevate men’s wear that, for others, is difficult to pull off. His first-time pose for Prada’s autumn/winter 2016 images speaks volumes, for both actor and brand.

His is not the rugged handsomeness of the Hemsworth brothers, nor the adorability of Zac Efron; his is somewhere between. Although media outlets such as Pop Sugar has called him “really, really, ridiculously good-looking”, Mr Redmayne does not have the look that promps one to compare him to a Greek god.

Still, he has an attractiveness that makes him compelling to watch, or take home to meet the matriarch. The expressive eyes that twinkle and the nearly-a-smile that can calm rage: just those are enough to communicate fashion that has, for many men, still remained somewhat on the fringe. Prada is, after all, not Hugo Boss. With Mr Redmayne, you sense that his unconventional looks is a charming counterpoint to Prada’s country-gentleman-meet-worldly-adventurer, one with an active Instagram account.

Eddie Redmayne for Prada AW 2016 Pic 2Eddie Redmayne gives Prada’s distinctive looks a boyish charm. Photos: Prada/Craig McDean

Prada’s thespian-as-model is not a new casting direction. For the last autumn/winter season, they’ve worked with Scoot McNairy (Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice), Michael Shannon (Elvis and Nixon), and Tye Sheridan (X Men: Apocalypse). If you go further back, there were unconventional faces too: Adrien Brody (The Pianist) Joaquin Phoenix (so Prada-ish in Her), and Matthew Beard (The Imitation Game). And actors don’t only appear on screen. On their catwalks of the past, there were Gary Oldman, Jamie Bell, and Tim Roth.

In their casting choice, Prada has been known to favour face over body. Even with professional models, they prefer a countenance with speaking, soulful eyes to a body with seductive build. To be sure, Prada is no Eros-saluting Versace! It is not beyond imagination that Muccia Prada—with a PhD in political science from the University of Milan—would be drawn to men with a face that suggests intellectual might. Strength of mind, as many women will say, is as appealing as potency of clothes.

The first drop of Prada’s autumn/winter 2016 collection is in store

Floral In The Twill

Asics Gel Lyte V Floral Denim

Denim for sneakers is not a new idea. Most of the denims used for sport shoes have been the regular cloth we see in jeans. They could be raw, bleached, or distressed, but they have not been given a treatment such as these on the Asics Gel Lyte V, a reiteration using Japanese textile, proudly declared on a fabric hang tag that’s secured to the shoe’s eyelet.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t quite denim (it looks more like Oxford to us), but the twill weave and the blue is extremely similar. When paired with a pair of denim jeans, the kindred spirit is inescapable. What makes it unusual is the floral pattern interwoven into the fabric, a treatment also seen in the same shoe model released as “Bamboo”, both a reminder to the uninitiated of Asics’s Japanese founding and heritage.

While some brands are investing in technology that can make the most unusual knits or the most ornate technical jacquards, Asics have been giving some creative treatments to traditional twills. The floral denim is innovation habit that has also seen the introduction of dark denim with polka dots (on the Gel Lyte III). This should work in Asics’s favour considering how well liked Japanese denims are.

The Gel Lyte V was first released in 1993 and feature Asics’s gel cushioning and a fit that has been described as “sock-like”. The combined features have placed the Gel Lyte V as one of the best running shoes of all time, inducing sneaker giants such as Ronnie Fieg to produce their own interpretations. We’re not sure how prominent this shoe is on the running track, but with the floral denim, we’re sure they will be seen a lot on city pavements.

Asics Gel Lyte V “Floral Denim” for men and women, SGD189, is available at Onitsuka Tiger, Pedder on Scotts, Star 360 and select stockists. Photo: Jim Sim

The Winning Bronze

Tudor Black Bay BronzeBy Raiment Young

Gold maybe the preferred colour of Olympic champions or hip-hop artists with cash (or a shoe design contract!), but bronze may be the fashion colour of the moment. Or, at least, I think it could be. To be more specific, after seeing the ‘Bronze’ release of the Tudor watches intriguingly named Black Bay, I feel that this colour, sometimes mistaken as copper, is rave-worthy.

On its own, the Black Bay diver’s watch is a rather conventional utility timepiece that, despite its rather sinister moniker, looks like it could be a sibling of the Rolex Submariner. Tudor, of course, has often been inspired by the watches of its parent company, which has unfortunately spawned the consideration that Tudor is the poor man’s Rolex (didn’t they once say that about Tag Heuer too?).

Since well-heeled isn’t how I describe my current standing, I am drawn to versions of stuff usually (unfairly) associated with “poor”. To me, there is nothing lesser about Tudor watches just as there isn’t a vestige of lowliness in “poor man’s Paris”, Prague. In my hands and on my wrist, the timepieces of Tudor feel as good and desirable as those of its dearer elder, and have as much heft, a quality I seek, particularly in diver’s watches.

The Black Bay Bronze is as handsome as Black Bays in other colours. Sure, bronze isn’t a precious metal (it’s foremost an alloy, for those of you who have forgotten the periodic table!), but like gold and silver, it shines. If like me, you are averse to the gleam typical of such materials, the Bronze has a brushed finish which dulls potentially distracting surface brightness.

But what is a real draw for me is the canvas strap, a fabric quite inconsistent with a watch meant for the deep sea. The Black Bay is mostly packed with two straps. And the Bronze is no exception. You get to choose between a leather strap, which looks like an aged Shinola, or a woven jacquard piece in what is dark khaki to me but is gold to others (Tudor calls it “beige and brown”). There’s a lighter single stripe in the middle, which augments the watch’s sporty leaning. It’s a detail that apparently hails to the French navy of the past.

Military and sports influence aside, the latest iteration of the Black Bay is the ideal wrist wear to peep from beneath a Vetements sleeve, no?

Tudor Heritage Black Bay Bronze, SGD5,472, is available at Tudor, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, and authorised dealers. Photo: Tudor

They’ve Been Popping Up, But Do They Pop?

The 15th DistrictThe 15th District at Isetan Orchard, L2 Wisma Atria

Retail is dead, goes the common lament. Long-term, single-brand, and one-category—such shops are shying away from malls as if to prove the point. In their places, the multi-label, many-product pop-up stores are, well, really popping up. Rather than offering just one category of merchandise, these present-day zahuo dian—or provision shops—with short-term leases bring together miscellany that can be conveniently grouped as “lifestyle”. Whose life and whose style, the target is indistinct, but the product mix is invariably varied, as if to capture the desires of all and sundry.

Are we seeing retailers re-imagining their selling spaces? Not quite. General-merchandise retailing, temporarily installed in spaces between leases, so far, has been gift-shop-meets-mini-emporium, or Monoyono-merges-with-Yue Hwa. You sense you’ve seen them before and you probably have. Only now, they’re situated in bigger retail lots and their pop-up model creates a sense of urgency: check them out when you see them or you’ll miss them forever.

The thing is, so many of the present group of pop-up store operators are serial short-term retailers. Fail to notice them in one location, and you will likely encounter them in another. Exclusivity (even if only perceived) from the here-today-gone-tomorrow business approach is not quite there. Some of them are travelling road shows, taking up empty shops whenever and wherever they become available to them. Some are online stores first before going offline and consequently retaining both formats. All, by accounts of mall owners, keep their otherwise quiet corridors buzzy.

WE X TogetherlyW.E. X Togetherly at Isetan Orchard, L1 Wisma Atria

For those jaded by old-school retailing, perhaps a pop-up store is enticing. If, however, you’re a serious and frequent shopper, the persistent sameness of these retail ventures may prove to be anything but alluring. Just this past two months and in just one location, two pop-up retail concepts have appeared. Both are different in size, but they are linked by a commonality that is already seen in past and present pop-ups of like-minded operators.

In Isetan Orchard, closed as a department store last year, W.E. X Togetherly takes up the entire first floor, while, one level up, The 15th District occupies what is a newly marked out shop unit. Isetan owns the five floors on this end of Wisma Atria and manages the space independent of YTL Starhill Global Property Management, the landlord of the rest of the complex. The Japanese company, we have learned, does not charge rental for the temporary use of its idle units. Percentage of sales is collected instead. The two pop-up formats help Isetan keep its temporarily unfilled spaces engaged so that they would appear operationally active.

W.E. X Togetherly is touted as “Singapore’s largest pop-up store”. A collaborative venture that debuted in April, the set-up is by pop-up operator Workshop Element (an enterprise founded in 2012 by fashion designer Alfie Leong) and craft market organiser Togetherly (whose roving nature of their business has seen them pop up in assorted venues, from Singapore Flyer to Orchard Central). With W.E.’s fashion contacts and Togetherly’s list of artisans, the massive space is populated by sellers of disparate offerings.

WE X Togetherly 2The disparate stalls at W.E. X Togetherly at Isetan Orchard

A generous space, however, requires curatorial flair to yield appeal. W.E. X Togetherly, perhaps overwhelmed by the need to fill what was previously a one-floor expanse of a department store, succumbed to an approach consistent with leasing of a market or open-park exposition. A lack of stringent selection process meant that the breadth of merchandise, while commendable, lacked distinction, newness, and, in some cases, quality.

Perched above the largest is a modestly-sized pop-up newbie The 15th District. Started last year by “godfather of Singapore fashion” Daniel Boey as an e-magazine, The 15th District was conceived to appeal to “real folks who wish to know how to look good in clothes”. In time, the site became “jam-packed with lots of everything-you-wanted-to-know-but-was-afraid-to-ask type fashion and lifestyle questions, and tons of hacks to make your life a lot simpler and stylish.”

The brick-and-mortar representation of The 15th District isn’t quite “jam-packed” but in the laid-back spaciousness, it communicates in a style that’s akin to what it promotes on its website. Here, the setting, enhanced by repro vintage furniture placed for sale by Lorgan’s The Retro Store (also, interestingly, seller of bottled cold-brew coffee), gives the merchandise—a mix of food stuff, candles, skincare and grooming products, and (oddly) children’s clothes—the chance to be slowly viewed and appreciated. This is a hipster hub minus, regrettably, the hipsters.

The 15th District 2The retro-quirky set-up of The 15th Disrrict

Given the retail climate, it is hardly surprising that short term is the duration du jour. The pop-up’s temporariness is increasingly no different from a permanent shop that opens and closes less than a year later. Informal—and sometimes drifter—retailers consider the brief tenure a “good chance to test products and customer reaction”. Flash retailing, industry observers propose, give fledgling businesses the flexibility to locate their products in different spots since they are not tied down to long leases. Like those behind tech start-ups and flash-mob marketing, pop-up operators tend to be young risk-takers who are not resistant to try anything new, even if the new is not really novel or exceptional.

The pop-up stores that are seen these days are not quite what they were in the early years when they first appeared in the Noughties. They came to be called “pop ups” because they mostly appeared unannounced, in unsuspecting places for a relatively brief period of time. One of the pioneers of this new but not lauded retail format was the “guerrilla stores” conceived by Comme des Garçons in 2004. The idea was to situate a “season-less” store somewhere that’s clearly not an obvious choice, preferably a location that retains its original architecture and use. According to a media release by the company at that time, “The location will be chosen according to its atmosphere, historical connection, geographical situation away from established commercial areas or some other interesting feature.” More importantly, the guerrilla stores must close in a year.

The first guerrilla store opened in Berlin in a former bookstore. In Singapore, they have appeared in a shop house in Chinatown as well as in a classroom of the former Methodist Girls’ School in Mount Sophia, both co-operated by Theseus Chan of the multi-disciplinary design firm WERKS. It is not certain how well the stores performed or if consumers even understood what they were really about, but the fact that this little island of ours could afford more than of them (there were three in total) may be indication that Singaporeans were receptive to retail that does not run like one in a CapitaLand Mall Asia shopping centre.

First Storey front roomFirst Storey 2nd roomOne of the earliest pop-up stores, the now-defunct First Storey at Tiong Bahru

The pop-up stores now come in spaces where you’ll already find retail outlets. In some strange instances, even a sale in a department store’s event space is called a pop-up. For sure, these temporary set-ups presently come in different shapes and sizes, as well as locations. For many landlords, the pop-up is now a legitimate retail format.

Locally-operated pop-up stores that we now see in large numbers are a fairly recent phenomenon. One of the earliest to crack the market was First Storey, a men’s outfitter that, true to the original spirit of the pop-up, really just popped up in Tiong Bahru in September of 2012 (and remained there for only six months). Conceived by the duo behind the now-discontinued bag label Carryall James, Eric Lee and Young Kong Shin, First Storey was unique in that it was the first to bring together local men’s wear label during a time when men’s wear, while a growing business, wasn’t the first choice of budding fashion retailers.

It was one of the earliest stockists of Singaporean labels: 13 at the start that included Mr Howard (by Taiwan-born, Singapore-based designer Tsai Ming Hung), Fabrix (a bag line by entrepreneur/craftsman Colin Chen), Coupé-Cousu (by designing duo Alex Yeo and Xie Shanqian, alumni of the inaugural Fashion Incubator Project by TAFF, SPRING Singapore, and Parco Singapore), and, surprisingly, shirt maker Crocodile that was road-testing a capsule of “more forward” designs (which, as it turned out, was a lame attempt at transcending its dad-shirt status). Spread over “rooms”, First Storey assembled a diverse group of mostly design-savvy labels without putting to the test the limits of the familiar.

So successful and appealing was what the First Storey team had done that when former Crocodile employees took up employment with the merchandising team of Metro, they did not conceal where their inspiration came from in setting up certain corners of Metro’s new outlet that opened in 2014 in Centrepoint. It didn’t square with conventional thinking that a small, indie retailer could have such influence over one of Singapore’s oldest department stores.

Naiise at Suntec CityThe latest Naiise store at L1, Suntec City

Modelling a business on the success of others’ is, of course, not an unexpected or uncommon approach. Retailers in Singapore are rather like F&B operators. Declare croissants with salted egg yolk custard filling popular and you can start counting how many bakeries quickly follow suit. Now that cheese tarts are the rage (see the queue at Bake Cheese Tarts, Ion Orchard: it’s so long that a separate holding area some 200m away had to be set up to contain the crowd), pastry shops are scrambling to hawk theirs.

Industry experts cite low barrier to entry as a reason why pop-up stores of miscellaneous goods now appear with such regularity. Not only are retailers aping the concepts of others, mall operators are getting into the game too. Suntec City’s last-to-open North Wing—following a three-year, S$410-million centre-wide renovation—is now the latest to offer pop-up stores after it failed to lure big names that they had initially hoped to attract.

In the main concourse of the North Wing, out of 14 units in the circular layout, eight appear to be pop-up shops, with sales/clearance outlets dominating the mix. It isn’t clear how such temporary leasing arrangement—here, essentially creating a cluster of short-term tenants—will impact the mall further down the road. Or perhaps, with a dismal occupancy rate, Suntec City is taking on this model as a stop-gap measure to keep its retail units filled and a dead zone alive.

MegafashThe Megafash pop-up store at L1, Suntec City

How does Suntec City, managed by a retail REIT (Suntec REIT), then distinguish itself from other less-central malls such as 112 Katong, another shopping centre where pop-up operators now gravitate towards? It does not, since it has not put its own spin on the gathering of such short-term sellers or work with these tenants to create something that has the potential to spur repeat shopper visits.

Between Towers 1 and 2, where Suntec City’s North Wing is situated, a pair of stores offers somewhat similar product categories: lifestyle and fashion goods, all displayed with a jumble sale vibe. These are the “permanent” Naiise and the pop-up Megafash, and they’re practically neighbours. Both, interestingly, are e-taliers-turn-offline-operators. As a salesperson at Megafash in Suntec City enlightened, “For our products, you need to touch and feel them, and you can’t do that on screen.”

It is ironic that while we’re led to believe brick-and-mortar retailing is facing relentless competition from e-commerce, it is online stores going offline that appear to save physical shops from redundancy. However, what are these outlets stocking in terms of tactile quality that requires product-to-person contact in order to encourage what has been elusive purchases?

Megafash 3The cutesy bric-a-brac in Megafash at Suntec City

WE X Togetherly 3One of the four vendors offering terrariums at W.E. X Togetherly

Despite the ostensible variety on stock, the current crop of multi-label pop-up stores share similar product offerings. A formula appears to be in application. There are clothing of local genesis, craft-based accessories, eyewear, tote bags, new-age-y skincare lines, homemade foodstuff, pretty stationery, cutesy bric-a-brac, and—whether by default or demand, it isn’t clear—terrariums. In W.E. X Togetherly alone, four stalls sell plants in glass containers, enclosed and open, as well as small potted or air plants.

The lack of distinguishing features and adequately dissimilar merchandise easily leads visitors to describe many of these pop-up stores—even in different locations—as typical. Eyewear brand Visual Mass and walking stick label The Cane Collective, for examples, are available at both W.E. X Togetherly and Megafash. The lack of compelling visual displays, too, seem a common thread as most pop-up stores allow the participating brands to set up their respective stalls (mostly just a table) the way the latter see fit or attractive. Some stores don’t appear to have staff arrange their merchandise at all. It is not likely shoppers are expecting Barney’s New York, but no one, it’s reasonable to say, hope to encounter pasar malam on concrete instead of tar.

To be sure, the range can be rather staggering, running the gamut from the ho-hum (Singlish slogan T-shirts) to the kitschy (curry puff cushions) to the rather bizarre (nasi lemak-flavoured tea!). And you’ll learn too, that there could be a massive market for arts-and-craft jewellery. After a while, it’s hard to see the difference between them and *Scape Marketplace, the open-air bazaar that has been home to young entrepreneurs hawking “design”.

Workshop ElementChampion of local designers and brands, Workshop Element at L3, 313@Somerset

Local design is, in fact, the main sell. Many tout their spaces as outlets for Singaporean talents and crafts people. Early champions of local labels include First Storey and serial pop-up merchant Workshop Element. At Megafash in 112 Katong, a store-front poster urges visitors to root for “indie fighters”. The epithet reads, “Join us in our movement to support local makers.” This is characteristic of pop-up stores, even those abroad (where localised assortment usually constitute up to 50% of the mix), but here, in the malls, our pop-up retailers offer local products of uneven quality.

The pool of local brands, although larger than it’s ever been, is not deep with those that have creativity and quality, and the savvy of polished branding. Despite years of promoting local fashion, Workshop Element has not been able to suss out those that can even simply be described as good. They’ve installed themselves in different malls, yet each time, they have gone without merchandising control and are stocked with the same motley group of labels that seem to have little elsewhere to go.

Still, it is laudable that there are those such as Workshop Element’s Alfie Leong who is unwavering in his belief in own-turf talents and has continued to offer a retail platform for local designers. Another entrepreneur who is gung-ho about the home-grown is Dennis Tay of Naiise. A self-confessed Apple fan boy, Mr Tay believes design “can better your everyday life”, as he told New Union. “I think we also wanted to go offline because we do want to change the retail experience.”

Naiise at 122 KatongNaiise at L1, 112 Katong

Naiise Central Clark QuayNaiise at L2, Clark Quay Central

One of the most visible of the new-gen multi-label stores, Naiise (pronounced “nice”, not “nayse”) presently does not consider itself a pop-up store although it looks like one, and has, until last year, been one (actually two). Founded in 2013 as an online business, Naiise, as one staffer at its Suntec City store enthusiastically elucidated, has, since 2014, gone “permanent”. The to-stay brick-and-mortar set up must have worked for Naiise as it was reported that the company posted revenues of S$2.5million last year, with a present total of six physical stores across our island.

Its latest in Suntec City’s North Wing, opened two weeks ago, takes over the former Mporium, also a multi-label, many-product store that lasted about six months after its opening at the end of October last year. Given its duration, Mporium was, technically, a pop-up store although they did not claim to be one. Industry observers thought that, with their weak merchandising, it was destined to be. It is noticeable that Naiise invested little in the fit-out of its new store: Mporium’s fixtures are retained and used, even its shop front is not changed (nor its colour)—just inexpensive black signage plastered above to announce the arrival of the new operator.

Perhaps this explains the quick success of Naiise. Keeping the start-up cost low by taking over failed retail stores too was the approach seen in the Clark Quay Central store, a 6,500-square-feet spread that was once the Singapore outpost of the Hong Kong design store G.O.D. Naiise, it seems, believes in big spaces; its stores are generally large. The flagship at The Cathay is 8,500 square feet or the size of three tennis courts.

Space Invashion WhiteSpace Invasion White at L2, 112 Katong

Naiise’s storming of malls, perhaps, suggests that the rise of those so-called “online natives” may not have such a profound impact on retailers offering a mixed bag of goods that is better appreciated by physically looking through it. Its numerous stores may have, in fact, created an environment where more online business are encouraged to go offline, such as Space Invasion White, a name that could be suggestive of its objective.

Not quite an assault, Space Invasion White has two pop-up stores—one in Orchard Gateway, the other in 112 Katong, where Naiise, too, has very visible presence. Founded in 2013, also the year Naiise started, Space Invasion White’s offline avatar has the “aim to be a representative of local street wear fashion”. In the end, that alone, perhaps, isn’t quite enough as its merchandise mirrors the stock assortment of other pop-up stores: vintage-y fashion, colourful patterned socks, charm-like accessories, adorable stationery, kitschy enamel ware, and more canvas satchels to activate the jelak reflex.

Sulian Tan-Wijaya, once a Singapore Tourism Board director in charge of “tourism shopping” and the Singapore Fashion Festival, and now an executive director at Savills Singapore, told The Straits Times in March this year that pop-up stores “add diversity to the mall mix with their eclectic offerings and generate shopper traffic”.

More, unfortunately, does not mean diversity. Eclectic is often the euphemism for mish-mash. It is heartening to see retail spaces occupied, but those who fill them with stuff need the elusive quality called flair.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

Two Of A Kind: Not-Private Parts

Rick Owens vs Raf SImons

Left: Rick Owens, autumn/winter 2015/16. Right: Raf Simons spring/summer 2017

Are they the same thing: showing your family jewels in the flesh and via a photographic image? Are they in the same way pornographic, equally shameless, just as obscene? Or are they, as one media outlet suggests, the “art of pride”?

No, we’re not talking cock. At the just-concluded Pitti Uomo Show in Florence, guest designer—there were four this year—Raf Simons showed, among many black and white images, close-ups of the male genitalia, affixed to various parts of his clothes. Although these were mostly worn under outerwear (except one jacket, now making the rounds on the Web), the photographs were unmistakable: you couldn’t see anything else other than sexual organs.

The photographs are the works of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Although not described as such by Mr Simons, many consider this as homage to the late artist who was known for his nudes of men and women as much as his still life of flowers. According to the designer, he was approached by Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to explore the possibility of using the photographs in Mr Simons’s designs.

Since we are not permanent residents of Disneyland, we didn’t think that by saying yes, Mr Simons was simply going to do a couple of pretty photo-prints on T-shirts. Ever the provocateur, he wasn’t going to settle for a few merely “artistic” images either. Watching the presentation on YouTube, we were wondering when a penis will pop out, and it sure did.

This, for some of you, may be déjà vu since last year in January, Rick Owens showed men with exposed crotch under tunics, cut to barely cover that daylight-shy area. Social media went wild and, unsurprisingly, birthed the hashtag #dickowens. Yesterday’s peepshow is today’s full boner, but if a fully aroused schlong is only a mouse/screen click away, is wearing an erection on one’s shirt tale even shocking at all?

If only fifteenth century men could teleport themselves to the present, they would be able to see how redundant the codpiece could have been! Didn’t Robert Mapplethorpe himself say, “Beauty and the devil are the same thing”?

Questing After The Authentic

Gosha Rubchinsky SS 2017Gosha Rubchinskiy spring/summer 2017. Photos: Gosha Rubchinskiy

By D Y Yun

I understand and I totally relate to Gosha Rubchinskiy’s work. I appreciate the severity of his designs. I am into his brand of (retro) Red aesthetic. His spring/summer 2017, shown in Pitti Uomo last week, was a big pull for me.

Detractors may say that his co-opting of old-school sports clothes is humourless and without wit. I on the other hand, consider it an overdue counterpoint to the OTT visual bent of many Italian men’s wear brands that has been feeding the staggering rise of the fashion peacock.

Mr Rubchinskiy was invited to show at Pitti Uomo as a guest designer. In the city of Florence, home of Gucci, he could have tried to outdo them all by presenting something that would have done the the legacy of the Medicis proud. Instead, he went to put on a show that was a nod “To Paolo Pier”.

Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini was a divisive figure during his lifetime. An author-turned-film-maker communist, Pasolini was especially concerned about those he called “sub-proletariat”—the socially- and economically-disadvantaged working class thought not to able to achieve anything and is a possible hindrance to an egalitarian society.

Franco Citti in AccattoneFranco Citti (right), who died in January this year, played the title character in Pasolini’s Accattone. Photo: Arco Film/Cino del Duca

In his debut 1961 film Accattone, Pasolini, together with the then relatively unknown young poet, Bernardo Bertolucci as assistant, showed the dismal lives of pimps and prostitutes, with thieves thrown in for good measure, so as to underscore the sad predicament of the individuals of the title, a slang term that refers to those who do not do well, and are afflicted by indolence and, as a consequence, cannot stay on a job.

The film does not credit a costume designer, but the gritty realism of rough, young men wanting to look good without being too concerned with the vagaries of fashion has its appeal. To me, it pairs with Mr Rubchinskiy’s fixation with a Russian visual style that came before today’s religion of consumerism. Both reflect beauty at its most earnest, just as those Olympics trainees and participants of the past that the designer loves to evoke, who wore what were given to them without self-consciousness, only ready-to-compete élan.

Calling it authentic may be banal to some of you, but I do consider the sportsmen-of-yore aesthetic of Mr Rubchinskiy—so oppositional to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo—exactly that. These look like actual sports clothes, only worn on non-sporting grounds. Not for Mr Rubchinsky, those purported athletic wear put out by hip-hop stars that have never played enough sports to know what is truly performance-enhancing.

In keeping with his preference for unsung labels, Mr Rubchinsky chose to work with Italian sports brands that have been overtaken by others whose image have presently been defined by celebrities and social media stars. His pick were Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini. These are brands still with house codes that hark back to an era not swayed by “influencers”, when fashion was not a priority.

NIke Tennis ClassicNikeLab Tennis Classic CS “Nai Ke’’. Photo: Dover Street Market

Gosha Rubchinskiy’s pursuit of what I call sportif ancien connects to my own quest for athletic wear that we rarely see nowadays. It explains my attraction to, for instance, Nikelab’s “Nai Ke” (its name in Chinese) reiteration of its Tennis Classic. Released in collaboration with Dover Street Market London, the shoe has a whiff of what I seek: a touch of non-fashion as seen in the old PE uniforms worn by Chinese-medium institutions before SAP (Special Assistance Plan) schools came into being in 1978.

It’s not only the heel tab’s Chinese characters (a language choice still considered by certain quarters as “cheena” while not negating that the term is derogatory) that’s striking, but also a certain honest plainness that I find appealing. Lest I am mistaken, this is not Normcore; this is trend-resistant. Nike can make the coolest Air Jordans, but it chose to output something so Chinese Middle School of the ’60s. That means something.

In Beijing, where I had spent some time a few years back, I would go to old sporting goods stores to unearth basketball jerseys and track tops that had some semblance to what the Chinese athletes wore when China participated in the Olympics as Republic of China (1932 to 1948), not People’s Republic of China as it does now.

Shopping on Taobao may be where the retail action is, but I enjoy digging in “institutional” stores such as Tianyuan Lisheng (利生体育用品商厦) in Wangfujing, a four-story store that, in pre-market economy days, was probably considered mega. Although more than half of its stocks comprise of those by major Western brands, there are plentiful that will probably fail in the eyes of Boost addicts. Here, amid old-school, if not old-time, sports clothes, I feel I could be the basketball captain I never was. Even if briefly.

 

The Slides Step In

Is the popularity of Havainas on the wane?

Nike Benassi

One of our posts that has been enjoying frequent views is the piece on a certain luxury brand fashioning their slide sandals after the Adidas Adilette. We’re not sure if the look-a-like really drew interest or the slides themselves were especially appealing. A year on, these flip-flops’ popularity appears to be getting stronger. With brands from Aldo to Zara giving shelf space to a version or two, it seems that the slide sandal (also known as pool sliders or sport slides) is fast replacing the thonged slippers as the preferred hot-weather footwear. Or this season’s Birkenstock Arizona.

To footwear aficionados or those who care about style genesis, the original slide is the Adidas Adilette, first seen in 1972. When revivalists started incorporating the Adilette into their style vocabulary in 2014, Adidas set in motion the slide’s rise by releasing the Adilette in myriad colours and patterns.

The competition did not stay still. Last year, Nike launched a “Star” pack of its Benassi slide, a follow-up of its immensely popular “Star Studded” Air Force 1 shoe, considered a nod to Givenchy’s star-everything. The slide sandals took off. The Benassi quickly became the coolest (intensified by the rarity of the “Star”) to have. And it is not hard to understand why it is so.

image

In the Benassi, Nike has created a pair of extremely comfortable slide that is affordable to boot. What we truly like is the padding of the one-piece, not-too-wide upper that sits across the forefoot: there are no blunt edges or palpable stitching that could be abrasive to the skin. In addition, the ultra-light midsole is made of what Nike calls “injected Phylon” (tech buffs may like to know that that is essentially a foam sole made of ethyl vinyl acetate, commonly known as EVA); its foot bed is textured so that it offers a “massaging feel”. Wearers of the Adilette do not have the same experience.

So well liked is the Benassi that Nike has released several versions of it. There’s the JDI (Just Do It) series with the brand’s name atop the Swoosh (Swoosh alone is called, well, Swoosh!). Instagrammers love the just-launched “Mismatched” version, with each foot in the reverse colours of the other. There’s also the water-loving “Shower Slide” (above) and  the “Solarsoft” (above top) that comes with added padding in the upper, as well as a double-strap version for women known as the Duo Ultra (does that not sound like a particular two-SIM smartphone?!). To keep apace with designer brands offering their own “sports” slides, there’s also the Benassi Lux (below), distinguished by the leather upper with a subtle, perforated Swoosh.

Nike Benassi Slide Luxe

Lest you think mostly guys wear sport slides, Rihanna and Puma’s collaboration, Fenty, released a pair with faux fur upper in three different colours. This is footwear high on camp if you consider that it is based on Puma’s Leadcat slide—mostly worn by off-duty footballers! According to somewhat ecstatic online reports, 30 minutes after it was made available on Puma’s website, every pair was sold out. In no time, the USD80 slide appeared on e-Bay for USD1,000!

The Benassi slides, considered “boutique items” (you won’t find them in regular Nike outlets), are now stocked in stores such as Leftfoot and Surrender. Given how rapidly they are snapped up, will we finally see the popularity of Havainas fade? Probably not. According to a sales staff at the Havainas store in Raffles City, sales have been “good because there are many styles.” It took Singaporeans more than two years after Havainas’s debut at the now-defunct New Urban Male before they adopted the Brazilian beach slippers as part of their for-everywhere urban get-up. It probably will take that long before the slide sandal can be thought to have mass appeal.

The Nike Benassi Shower slide, SGD39.00, is available at Leftfoot Entrepôt, The Cathay; the Benassi Lux (black or white), SGD130, is available at Surrender, Raffles Hotel Arcade; and the Benassi Lux (bi-coloured black and white), SGD145, is available at Phantaci, Orchard Gateway. Photos: Jim Sim

Introducing The Cat And The Ape

Introducing the ape and the cat

By Mao Shan Wang

I’d be the first to admit; I can’t stand mice. Although I am a dog lover, give me a cat any time. That the world’s most famous animated character should be a mouse truly escapes me. And, have you heard it speak? I’d rather be locked up in a room with a yellow canary. And you can throw in the granny!

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know which rodent I’m referring to, or which bird. It now gladdens me to no end that, of the many animal logos fronting fashion brands and in the face of computer-generated cartoon characters such as those of the Minions gang or the irascible Frozen sisters, a black-and-white, hand-drawn cat from the silent-film era is picked to make a comeback. “Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat…” Yes, I’m singing!

And what’s fascinating is that Felix the Cat is paired with Baby Milo, the monkey of indeterminate parentage at Japanese street wear label, A Bathing Ape. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why a simian that bathes deserves a clothing line. Apparently, this one does. Like many Japanese brands, the chosen moniker is misleading since its chief primate, as far as I know, has never been depicted taking a wash. Founded in 1993, A Bathing Ape offers a logo that shows the hirsute countenance of a hominine beast that could have been Caesar of The Planet of the Apes.

Felix the Cat X Bape T2

In fact, the brand’s creator Nigo—a T-shirt-obsessed Beng of a character in a sea of serious Japanese fashion intellectual types (with the name Tomoaki Nagao on his IC)—has professed to a near-obsessive love for the original 1968 film adaptation of French author Pierre Boulle’s book La Planète des Singes, as well as the sequels between 1970 to 1973. While some of us may have loved the films enough to collect toys from the early days (such as those by Mego Corporation), Nigo built a clothing empire. Success meant he could indulge. In 2003, with the completion of his multi-million house, Nigo was able to display what was then considered to be the world’s largest collection of Planet of the Apes toys.

So it is not surprising that there is a Milo, who is the baby Caesar in the Apes films. It is not likely that A Bathing Ape’s Milo is inspired by the Milo of Croton, the 6th century BC wrestler, known to be the associate of the philosopher Pythagoras (yes, of Pythagorean Theorem fame), but I speculate. Baby Milo is cute, by responses to most first-time encounters with it. Its cuteness bears little semblance to the central figure in A Bathing Ape’s communication, which mainly refers to the brand by the portmanteau: the cleverer and cuter—though not sexually suggestive—Bape.

Baby Milo, by the way, isn’t such a baby anymore. This year it turns 17, and, oddly, it is still a quiet ape with none of the teenage angst typical of those in its age group. If a comparison is required, the Powerpuff Girls are 21: marriageable! I think Baby Milo has no hang ups with regards to his years of existence, preferring its cohorts to be older. He has partnered Spongebob (31), Mario (of Super Mario fame, 31 or older), and the rather mature, equally silent Hello Kitty (42)!

Felix the Cat X Bape T3

Felix the Cat is, of course, much older. If his prototype, the scrawnier Master Tom, conceived in 1919 for the silent short Feline Follies, is taken into consideration, Felix is a near-centenarian at 97! Although his last appearance in film, to my knowledge, was a cameo on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there isn’t a discernible decline in the cat’s popularity, especially in the land of the kawaii. Felix himself, in fact, went to Japan in the 1920s, in the film Japanicky. In the land of geishas, he taught the Japanese how to sit on chairs—creating them from the number 4 and the capital H—much to the chagrin of a local priest!

His typical juvenile, even culturally insensitive, antics aside, Felix has endeared himself to Japanese city life to the point that even when his cartoon shows are no longer seen on local television and few of today’s Japanese children know who he truly is, his cheerful face still lives on, to my amusement, in the wrapping of the 56-year-old Felix Gum, a-JPY10 dagashi (literally, cheap sweets) that’s found in convenient stores.

The re-emergence of Felix the Cat alongside Baby Milo may revive the interest in a feline that has largely been overtaken by cooler and more “pop” characters. While I think many may consider it jejune to be so in love with a cartoon, message-free figures on a T-shirt beat rude wording that antagonises onlookers into confrontation in MRT trains. I am all for renewing the popularity of Felix the Cat, including his yellow bag of tricks (which I think bears an uncanny resemblance to LV’s Monogram canvas!).

Felix the Cat X Bape T4

There is, however, such a state as too much of a good thing and an eventual slide. By 2010, Nigo’s star label, once the untouchable biggie in Tokyo’s Harajuku, specifically ura-Harajuku (ura = “back”), where the brand quietly emerged, started closing shops in Japan, as well as in Los Angeles, where the flagship was once frequented by hip-hop stars. The in-the-know, cool kids on both lands had moved on to other trendy luxury urban brands such as HBA. In 2011, it was announced that Hong Kong’s I.T. Group acquired 90 percent of Nowhere, the parent company of A Bathing Ape. By then, Nigo was close to declaring bankruptcy.

Still considered an influential Japanese street-wear original, Nigo was soon hired as creative director under Uniqlo’s UT line. It is arguable if Nigo has really brought UT to another level other than involve his friend Pharrell Williams in a one-off project. Is there still a craze for street-wear in the style that Nigo once imagined it?

As much as Felix the Cat and Baby Milo together are a cute pairing, their appearance is but one in a long line of Baby Milo/A Bathing Ape partnerships with other brands that are fronted by adorable mascots. Increasingly, the collaborations, too, are looking predictable. Perhaps, the Ape needs a bath after all. Nothing like a good soak to wash away the stale to start afresh.

The Bathing Ape X Felix the Cat cotton T-shirts, SGD169, and other articles of clothing are available at A Bathing Ape, Mandarin Gallery. Product photos: A Bathing Ape

It’s About U

Uniqlo UUniqlo loves letters of the alphabet for its branding. The letter U is especially appealing to them, not just because, we suspect, it stands for the brand, but also because it sounds like and is often used in place of ‘you’. Its latest sub-brand Uniqlo U follows the tradition first seen in the T-shirt line UT and later, the 2012 collaboration with Undercover, UU. True to its Lifewear approach to design and merchandising, the latest collection is positioned to appeal to many of you.

What is, perhaps, even more appealing is that Uniqlo U will be headed by Christophe Lemaire, who just two seasons ago began a collaborative line with the Japanese retail giant. To be sure, this is not another ad-hoc pairing. Mr Lemaire is permanently installed as overseer of the newly-created label (he still gets to design is own name-sake brand, which is done jointly with his life partner Sarah-Linh Tran). According to the media release issued by Uniqlo, this is an “appointment of Christophe Lemaire as Artistic Director of the newly established UNIQLO Paris R&D Center and the new Uniqlo U line.”

Campaign Visual - UNIQLO Paris RnD TeamChristophe Lemaire, centre, with his Paris-based design team

For fashion folk quite enamoured with both brands’ “elevated basics”, Mr Lemaire and Uniqlo are a natural fit. His two-season collection for the Japanese fast fashion brand was considered the most desirable after Jil Sander’s four-season venture (also marketed under a one-letter brand, +J). Mr Lemaire is, of course, no stranger to mass market labels, having served as CD at Lacoste for ten years. His previous position at Hermès, before resuscitating his eponymous label, meant that he is a designer that is comfortable with handling both ends of the market. This appointment may be rather unusual among fast fashion labels but not at Uniqlo, where the current design director Naoki Takizawa formerly helmed Issey Miyake.

Uniqlo’s headquartering of the newly formed R&D centre in Paris is also an interesting move. We are tempted to speculate that, in its quest to be the world’s biggest fashion brand by 2020 with a target of US$50 billion a year, it needs an Euro-centric aesthetic. If Paris is still where brands believe fashion truly bubbles, a base in the city is well placed and Mr Lemaire well appointed. It’s also note-worthy that in Mr Lemaire’s design team of 14 for Uniqlo U, seven are Asians. And they’re all there alongside the artistic director in the publicity photo distributed to the media. Perhaps this is the spirit of U. No one man takes all the credit.

Uniqlo U will be launched in the autumn/winter 2016/17 season. Watch this space for actual dates. Photos: Uniqlo