Sneaker Makeover: The Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary Stand-Out Collaboration

 

Onitsuka Tiger Strpes sketchOnitsuka Tiger Stripes are not three parallel lines (or five!) that have dominated athletic shoes of certain European origins. Theirs are, in fact, not entirely linear: a pair of curved lines that splits from a joined stroke emerging from the heel criss-crosses two straight, nearly parallel lines that stretches downwards from the lace guard, all ending in the mid sole. To date, the stripes are unlike anything seen on sneakers. They’re unique and, although not consistent with those on the big cat in its name, are as organic as any you might find in nature. To us, the composition with a nod to asymmetry also recalls the sensuous lines of ikebana.

There is, however, a less poetic backstory to the birth of the Stripes. As Onitsuka Tiger tells it, the Stripes were one of five final selections picked from a 1966 design competition that saw more than 200 entries. The aesthetic appeal of the five designs were not enough, they were subjected to tests by athletes and experts from Kyoto University to determine their performance worthiness. The Stripes that we’re now familiar with won. Onitsuka Tiger said that the “encompassing concept, integrating the design’s vertical stripes into the lacing, brought more stability to the surface material and significantly improved the shoe’s fit and durability – factors that turned out to have a direct impact on athletic performance.”

The newly selected Onitsuka Tiger Stripes did not make an immediate entrance into the marketplace until 1968 at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico, where the whole Japanese contingent entered the stadium in the newly minted Mexico Delegation shoe. Japan, interestingly, had hosted the previous Games, and it is understandable that they would want to make a dramatic entrance as sort of a follow-through. The Stripes made a conspicuous debut on the world stage, and the Mexico sneakers would become one of the most popular shoes to first appear at an Olympic event.

Onitsuka Tiger @ Peddar on ScottsThe Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition at Peddar on Scotts. Photo: Galerie Gombak

It’s been 50 years since the Stripes were picked to sweep down the outside quarter of Onitsuka Tiger shoes. While they have not enjoyed marketing zeal to the extent of, say, the Swoosh, they’re still very much part of the identity of these Japanese sneakers that have stood on their own in a sea of European and American brands. For the golden celebrations here in Singapore, Onitsuka Tiger has teamed up with footwear retailer Pedder on Scotts for a special commemoration, M66: Of Different Stripes, where 50 Singapore-based “creatives” interpret the Mexico 66 (once known as the Limber trainers)—in a pairing called the ‘All White Kicks’ Collab—to celebrate the birth of the Stripes.

Fifty may not be a grand number, but given Singapore’s lean creative population, it is large enough to cast a spotlight on the state of creativity on our island. Try as we did, it was hard to suss out an interpretation that could have us excited. These were the works of a motley group, comprising fashion designers, illustrators, stylists, and media types, and their contributions were very much a reflection of the type of work they already do. There was no discernible stretch of the creative muscle.

However, one shoe did truly stand high on its heel: a completely morphed version worthy of an anime hero by the designer Vik Lim. Here’s a pair that literally towered above every other contributor’s shoe; a transmogrified urban-gladiator-sandal-turn-power-sneaker. Mr Lim, who is presently the research and innovation manager at Williams-Sonoma Group, has created a sort of shield at the top-front of the Mexico 66 without obscuring the key identifier of Onitsuka Tiger sneakers: the Stripes.

Vik Lim X Onitsuka TigerDesigner Vik Lim’s striking reinterpretation of the Mexico 66. Photo: Onitsuka Tiger

Extending the leather of the upper from the front—atop the lacing (thus using the laces as fastening)—with an external tongue, he’s made a low-cut sneaker into a near-boot, offering a message that speaks with the same enthusiasm as stickers in place of text in digital messaging. This cut-and-stitch approach essentially explores one question: What can I do as a creative person that isn’t what is expected of us all? At the opening of the exhibition, Mr Lim was overheard telling an appreciative guest, “This is minimal work with maximum impact. I didn’t want to do anything to the shoe itself since it’s a classic sneaker.”

So he built upon it instead, perhaps to deliberately stay clear of the paint, draw, or embellish approach that others were expected to do. True to his dressmaking background, the added upper was first drafted on paper before the design was traced onto the leather to be cut. This is to ensure precise fit and the right proportion that will not diminish the actual shoe. Each piece was then assembled by hand, and it was perceptible that the execution bore the flair of a seasoned cobbler.

There are essentially two versions, but for the exhibition, Mr Lim took one from each to form an asymmetric pair. They are distinguished by the kid leather tongues—one, a sort of trapezoid with rounded edges and the other, fringed as in the kiltie of golf shoes—and the height of the ankle straps. From afar, they reminded us of the leather tabi—Japanese socks that are worn with traditional clogs or slippers—from the late Momoyama (Peach Hill) period (mid-16th century), when the military elite of the shogunate rallied for an alternative beauty of rustic simplicity. Interestingly, there was a sock-like sneaker that Onitsuka Tiger issued in 1953 called ‘Marathon Tabi’, but this is visually unrelated.

That Mr Lim had infused his design with a discernible Japanese aesthetic is hardly surprising. Having trained in the ateliers of Hiroko Koshino from 1988 to 1989, and won the first prize of the Asia Collection Makuhari Grand Prix in 1998, Mr Lim’s affinity to Japanese visual elegance is understandable. His designs for the Kimono Kollab of recent years were testament to his penchant for bringing modern sensibility to old-world craft. And his overlay for the Mexico 66 continues to pay homage to the brand’s Japanese roots, while not playing down his love for decidedly hand-spun and low-tech approach to design.

Vik Lim X Onitsuka Tiger pic 2The tongues and and straps of the overlays of Vik Lim X Onitsul Tiger Mexico 66 at the Pedder on Scotts exhibition. Photo: Galerie Gombak

The result is a re-imagined Mexico 66 that would not be out of place with the collections of Rick Owens, Craig Green, or the old master, Yohji Yamamoto, and is clearly not for the skinny-jeans brigade. It is also in keeping with the spirit of sneaker designs today: classic, old-school, and not rigidly structured. Yet, there are those who sneer at his shoe’s lack of bombast, and at its too-drastic reworking of the base silhouette.

This, to us, is reminiscent of the re-workings of iconic shoe designs attempted by other brands that, interestingly, did not incur the dismay of sneaker fanatics. In the fall season of 2008, for instance, Comme des Garçons released a pair of sneakers in collaboration with Nike that took aficionados by surprise. It was a take on the Nike Dunk High (an NBA court staple), but no one had guessed that it was. With an enveloping leather upper held together by a zip where laces should be, they looked like work boots or, if you’re more imaginative, galoshes! The basketball-shoe birth identity was nearly obliterated. Although no longer available, it remains much sort-after among collectors.

If creativity, as it’s often said, is bringing something new to an existing form, then Vik Lim X Onitsuka Tiger’s Mexico 66 is creativity persuasively expressed. While others succumb to indolence by filling blank spaces between the shoe’s toe box, stripes, and the criss-cross heel counter with scribbles, splashes, and even stickers (Daiso?), here is a designer who perceived the world differently in order to uncover unexpected shapes and to link ostensibly disparate elements in an eye-opening way. This, perhaps, is no different to what founder of the brand Kihachiro Onitsuka saw one summer evening in 1951, when he ate a bowl of salad with octopus, and realised he could mimic the creature’s concave suckers on the sole of shoes. Who knew the fated-to-be-sushi tako could inspire?

The Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition, M66: Of Different Stripes, is on at Peddar on Scotts till 14 August 2016.

Out Of The Game

This past week, two companies that were established ten years apart and had defined the era in which they began, were sold. Donna Karan was let go by LVMH and picked up by G-III Apparel Group and Yahoo was snapped up by Verizon. Both sales brought to an end a time when American fashion and Internet search were defined by the two respectively. Fashion and tech, more than ever before, wait for no man… or womanDonna Karan body and Yahoo homepage

Donna Karan ‘body’ of 1980s and Yahoo’s homepage circa 1990s

She was up there with the big boys Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, but the brand that Donna Karan founded is presently in a limbo. Not that the other guys are doing any better. Calvin Klein is, as of now, still without a designer, and Ralph Lauren, well, when was the last time you bought their polo shirts or ties? After she stepped down as designer of her own label last year, the brassiere-averse Ms Karan said in the New York Times that “I would love to work more with them, but Vuitton has given me the cold shoulder.”

Whether the snobbish French truly ignored the one-time Queen of Seventh Avenue, we may never know, but if she did not sense the stopping of her main line and its subsequent sale coming, then her ears were likely trained on the wrong listening post. How did it come to this—when a designer that John Fairchild puzzlingly called in 1989 “America’s Chanel” ended up being paid no notice? Has she not pondered?

The French critic and semiotician Roland Barthes said, when comparing Chanel to Courrèges, “the unchanging ‘chic’ of Chanel tells us that the woman has already lived (and has known how to); the obstinate ‘brand-newness’ of Courrèges that she is going to live.” As with the Courrèges woman, the Donna Karan woman was going to live, at least at the start. By the time LVMH acquired the brand in 2001, she would likely have already lived. Yet somehow, a life lived wasn’t joire de vivre. Is the LVMH snub then affirmation that the French have always considered their American fashion counterparts less than equal?

It may be inviting censure to say that Donna Karan’s fate was predictable, but for some of us, the brand’s decline coincided with the moment LVMH bought it, five years after its splashy debut in the New York Stock Exchange in 1996. Taking the company public, according to Ms Karan’s memoir My Journey, was something she had resisted. An IPO, she thought, wasn’t a natural solution to the cash flow problems the company was then experiencing. While shares increased 25% on the first day of trading, the rise, down the road, did not lead to a soar.

Donna Karan 7 easy pieces collection

One of the looks of the Seven Easy Pieces collection in 1985. Photo: AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis

When LVMH purchased the company, Donna Karan International’s performance wasn’t what an investor might call sterling. According to Ms Karan, she tried delaying the signing of the contract when she was warned by her psychic that Mercury was in retrograde (or going backwards in the sky). The acquisition, to some, was indeed an odd one. Ms Karan’s new-age leanings aside, why would a Euro-centric French company be interested in an American brand so unlike anything they had already own in their stable? What’s in it for them other than just a business move?

No one was so deluded as to believe that Donna Karan International was going to up the power quotient of an already powerful conglomerate. In fact, fashion companies going public wasn’t commonplace and Donna Karan’s weak position on the NYSE cast a rather discouraging gloom over American designer fashion at the time (although Ralph Lauren did go public a year later in 1997). Concurrently, Ms Karan’s clothes had lost much of the Seven-Easy-Pieces aha moment of the early years.

Donna Karen New York was one of the earliest labels to cater to the needs—both practical and sartorial—of professional women. In fact, Ms Karan was so associated with clothing for the careerist that she seemed unable to win over new fans when, in later years, her designs appeared less boardroom-ready and more progressive. But career wear (now, that’s a term we have not heard for a long time) did give way to styles that were very different from what Donna Karen stood for in the mid-Eighties, a time when many remember her for those Seven Easy Pieces.

The thing is, if you try to uncover the septet behind the Seven Easy Pieces collection that debuted for fall 1985, such as Googling the description, you won’t be able to find any specific seven. What it was in essence was a collection built around a core garment—the leotard-inspired bodysuit or, simply, the ‘body’, that had snap-button closure under the crotch. When it was initially available in the first Donna Karan boutique at Isetan Orchard in the late ’80s, then buyer of the brand (and division merchandising manage of Isetan) Eric Lee called it a “foundation garment”. Women loved the body, we were told, as it held in place what would otherwise have been a top that was prone to shifting and untucking. Other clothing can be teamed with the body (in Singapore, it was the star piece often worn without an outer), and it soon evolved from a swimwear-looking one-piece to a hybrid conceived with a pullover or a shirt, all the while the bottom half remained snug and secure as a panty. The body, not as underwear, was truly unseen before.

Donna Karan bodysuit

Donna Karan’s bodysuit that was shown in her debut collection in 1985. Photo: Thomas Innaccone 

The Seven Easy Pieces were not specifically identified, and they changed with each new collection. Even the Donna Karan website is vague, describing them as “a modern system… where a handful of interchangeable items work together to create an entire wardrobe that goes from day to evening, weekday to weekend, season to season.” But fans and impressed members of the media could see that they invariably included shirts, sweaters, jackets, skirts, and pants. Looking back now, the Seven Easy Pieces seem ho-hum, but at that time, they were a heaven-sent. According to Ms Karan’s account to the press, “So many women find assembling the right clothes bewildering… They’ve discovered fast ways to put food on the table, but they do not know how to get their wardrobes together easily.”

For these clueless women, Ms Karan created a way of dressing that was akin to a uniform, only more customisable. Seven Easy Pieces allayed women’s fear that fashion had to be complicated to be seen as fashion. It was a novel idea, and could have, perhaps, embryoed at Anne Klein, from where Ms Karan received her professional training, and where she tenured for 11 years, during which she took over as designer (together with school mate Louis Dell’Ollio) when the namesake founder died in 1974, aged 50, from breast cancer. In fact, the early years of Donna Karan New York sometimes seemed like Anne Klein 2.0—souped-up sportswear-as-work-wear. It wasn’t really seeing double as both lines were backed by Tomio Taki of Takihyo Co, a Nagoya-based textile company that was instrumental in the rise of Donna Karan after Anne Klein’s death.

The body soon lost its shine just as dressing for success in strictly practical clothing—although inspired by men’s wardrobe but designed as a counterpoint to it—lost its appeal. Donna Karan’s sense of career-smart luxe, while still championed by the likes of BFF Barbara Streisand and US presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton, was at odds with an increasing preference for unapologetically feminine—even girlish—styles. Ms Karan, who exemplified (and still does) her own idea of what stood for professional elegance, continue to produce clothes that women soon did not really care about. The New York scene was changing rapidly too, lead by Marc Jacobs, and later Alexander Wang—both their shows always so headline-grabbing that Donna Karan’s were deemed skippable. Keeping apace did not seem terribly exigent for the Queen.

DKNY 1989Donna Karan and models posing in Time Square in 1989 to promote DKNY. Photo: Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

To be fair, Donna Karan did make clothes that women desired. Apart from the body, there was the sarong skirt (to add softness to a skirt suit) and the cold-shoulder top/dress (to add sexiness to the after-office outfit. According to Ms Karan, the shoulder is one part of the body that does not grow fat). She created a desirable luxury with re-imagined American sportswear basics that would, years later, be seen in brands such as The Row. She has also put New York on the map when the city wasn’t really considered on par with Paris or Milan. It isn’t certain how French and Italian women reacted to her clothes, but here, women found her designs as appealing as those from Europe, and especially suitable for the new-found success in the workplace.

In trying to reach even more women, Donna Karan created one of the earliest bridge- (or diffusion) lines—DKNY, a collection that arguably paved the way for today’s ubiquitous fast fashion. DKNY, with abbreviation for a name and a modified Helvetica font (both deemed at the start unattractive but would later proved to be game-changing), was inspired by the designer’s daughter Gaby, and, thus, aimed at the younger crowd. It wasn’t Ms Karan’s first lower-priced line since she was instrumental in the creation of Anne Klein II, believed to be America’s first bridge-line.

Although DKNY was meant to be the more accessible of the two major collections of the brand (which eventually saw other spin-offs under DKNY, including jeans wear and even home ware), it was DKNY that was maintaining its popularity with its more forward-looking designs. So not yet relieved of its full potential that when LVMH decided to halt one of the collections, it was the main line Donna Karan that was shown the stop sign. DKNY was given the kiss of life in 2015 not by a prince, but two princes of fashion—non-white to boot, Public School’s Maxwell Osborne and Chow Dao Yi, both recipients of the CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year award in June 2013, and later in October, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s top prize.

Donna Karan AW 2015Donna Karan’s last collection: autumn/winter 2015. Photos: Yannis Vlamos/Indigitalimages.com

The installation of the Public School designers at DKNY was, presumably, to give back relevance to the brand. By the early Noughties, DKNY has lost much of its bearing that could be traced to the street culture of the city in which it was born. While street style is still very much alive and has even influenced the French fashion establishment, including the time-honoured haute couture, it isn’t the same as it was when DKNY was established. These days, street wear is very much hybridised—a crossbreed of influences that come from vintage sports clothes, hip-hop styles, and skate wear, and amplified by a showy presence on social media. DKNY, despite a more with-it communiqué, simply won’t stand out.

Relevance is an elusive quality and is perhaps even more crucial to the survival of a brand than even creativity. It is acknowledged that LVMH had not been able to turn around a Donna Karan that was once the uniform of successful business women—perplexing when you consider that this is a category of consumers that has swelled in numbers through the years. Perhaps, more pertinently, LVMH was not able to restore relevance to a brand that had not moved to the changing rhythms of the times. The situation was complicated by the decline in the status that American fashion once enjoyed, especially among the middle class, and made worse by the lost of appeal of even mass labels such as Gap, American Apparel, and Abercrombie and Fitch.

It’s not farfetched to say Donna Karan’s fate mirrors Yahoo’s. Although they are admittedly dissimilar businesses, they were both struggling against a shopper/user base that had grown to be vastly different from when they started. Consumers have indeed become a lot savvier. In addition, there were no viral products to propel both brands forward or bring fans to them. Yahoo used to be the search engine of choice by most, but when Google came along, they were not able to match the latter’s simplicity of interface and ease of use, and in time, could not keep up with the ascent of social media and, perhaps even more significantly, the rapid adoption of mobile devices.

A successful past is no promise of relevance in the present. Donna Karan and Yahoo simply succumbed to the notion that all good things must come to an end.

A Fornasetti Moment

Dior AW 2016 windowDior’s autumn/winter 2016 window at ION Orchard. Photo: Galerie Gombak

Lips are in. Rows and columns of them. Redden, scarlet with a hint of sensuality, non-speaking, they’re here. Luscious or not quite full, parted or sealed, they are the symbol of the season (and the next). Lips may suggest sex, but those in the limelight now have little in common with a Monroe pout. They’re Fornasetti’s vermillion zone—emphatic but not quite seductive.

Dior’s current window displays are backed by such lips set against black and white discs, as in Fornasetti’s plates—the roundness accentuating the crimson curves. This repetition of lips, lenticular too, may not arouse carnal thoughts, but there is an erogenous vibe that would never have surfaced if Raf Simons were still the helmsman of the house. What does it mean? A break from the romantic, not sexual, leaning of his past tenure?

CDG Homme Plus spring summer 2017CDG Homme Plus spring summer 2017 Pic 2Comme des Garçons Homme Plus spring/summer 2017 featuring Fornasetti prints. Photos: Indigital

A window display once taken down may be forgotten. But the Dior window is a foretaste of things to come. Just last month, in the spring/summer 2017 presentation of Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, Fornasetti prints—those distinctive red lips set within a circle—appeared conspicuously as repeated patterns. This is Rei Kawakubo reprising dots, the shape she loves as much as squares, usually arranged as checkerboard.

Like Yayoi Kusama’s dots, there’s almost no sensuality in the all-over Fornasetti lips, even less on rather unsexy men’s wear. Repetition, it would seem, diminishes the lip’s sensual appeal. Even if the lips are not encircled, such as those on Prada’s pleated skirts from spring/summer 2000, they offer no seductive allure. The skirts are pretty, for sure, but they’re hardly sexy. Prada, of course, does not do sexy and obvious symbols of sexiness are just too banal for the label. Obvious ugliness is often desired, obvious sexiness, no.

Prada lip skirt close upPrada’s lip print from spring/summer 2000. Photo: Prada

Gucci heelsGucci pumps: irreverent or sexy? Photo: Gucci

However, lips with another brand could be of different service. At Gucci, those on the Mouth Embroidered Leather Pumps pucker for a different reason. The open-toe, T-strap heels, on which an embroidered pair of pink lips outlined in black is placed inches above the toe cleavage, are a calculated composition of elements designed to amplify sexiness. If the wearer has seduction in mind, these Gucci shoes—sexy by virtue of brand history and branding and, therefore, by default—will have something to say. Lifting a foot coddled in this shoe could be an invitation to a kiss!

The use of lips in fashion, whether as detail or pattern, did not usually encourage such raciness. One of the earliest adopters of the lip as a motif on dress was Elsa Schiaparelli. A jacket from the mid-1930s was given lips to frame the opening of the besom pockets. For Schiaparelli, a friend of Salvador Dali, however suggestive a pair of mouth on the waist may be, it really was more an expression of surrealism than sex.

Fornasetti scarf and trayFornasetti’s Occhi scarf and Bocca tray. Photos: Fornasetti (left) and Polyvore (right)

Similarly, while Piero Fornasetti’s famous lips were based on an actual woman’s, they were not drawn as reflection of lustful desire, even if their repeated use bordered on the obsessive. He never even met his subject. Born in 1913, Fornasetti grew up in Milan, but had gone into exile in Switzerland at the start of World War II. It was here that Fornasetti saw the face of Lina Cavalieri—the beautiful Italian soprano who had sung with Enrico Caruso—in a 19th-century French magazine (by then Cavalieri was well into her sixties). It was the visage that launched a thousand plates. When Fornasetti died in 1988, he left behind over 350 iterations of Cavalieri’s by now recognisable face on dinnerware, glasses, paperweights, cushions, chairs, and side tables.

Like Mona Lisa’s beguiling smile, Fornasetti’s drawings of Cavalieri’s lips (not always painted red) do not seem to say anything—they’re not even particularly emotive. Present-day viewers unaware of who the lips belong to may not even tell that from between them, a voice once entranced audiences at the Metropolitan Opera. Whether on a dinner plate or on a Comme des Garçon jacket, they seem to state what The Go-Go’s have said (or sung) in 1981, “Our lips are sealed.” And, unlike Jon Pasche’s logo for the Rolling Stones, no tongues, please!

Big Bang: Lagerfeld Shoots G Dragon

G Dragon Vogue Korea

By Mao Shan Wang

A guy on a cover of Vogue (any issue in the world) is so uncommon that when one appears, he beckons. Vogue Korea celebrates its 20th Anniversary with not one but three covers of G Dragon for its August issue, all shot by Karl Lagerfeld. The most arresting is this with Kwon Ji-Yong’s back, exposed like a Tang courtesan’s.

To be honest, I didn’t know at first that he is Big Bang’s lead singer. I couldn’t tell since he is not facing me, not beaming a smile. At a quick look, his side profile with the slicked-down hair (in black instead of his usual dyed brights) reminded me of the late Tina Chow. There’s something gamine about his face here, just like that of Ms Chow’s. And the pose with the partially bared shoulder and back is rather similar to how Andy Warhol and Antonio Lopez photographed her.

When Karl Lagerfeld shot this picture, perhaps he too saw in the viewfinder what I now see on the Vogue Korea cover. Mr Lagerfeld knew Ms Chow, and he must have remembered how striking she looked. It’s highly possible that he was feeling nostalgic. And it, too, is possible he was channelling Degas. But this isn’t the 1800s, and G Dragon was not caught After a Bath, so he was clothed in a Chanel cardigan, worn front-to-rear, unbutton to almost the small of the back.

The exposure reveals three of GD’s not-outrageous tattoos. On the nape, the archangel Michael spreading his wings, inked by Anil Gupta, a New York-based Indian tattooist dubbed “the most expensive tattoo artists in the world”. It was rumoured that GD forked USD1,000 an hour to get this piece of skin art. Admittedly, it looks better than Justin Beiber’s pair of mere wings. At a glance, it looks like GD has worn a crochet necklace, like the cardigan, the wrong way round.

Further down, just below the right side of his shoulder, is the partially blocked line of “too fast to live too young to die”. Whether this refers to the book on Sid Vicious or the Malcolm McLaren store that came after Let It Rock, before Sex, it isn’t certain. Further south on the spine, there’s the word ‘GET’, which, according to GD watchers, is part of a trio of words—including ‘TO’ on the left arm, above the elbow, and ‘HER’ on the right side. Whether it’s to form ‘TO GET HER’ or ‘TOGETHER’, I, like you, are none the wiser.

Then there is the curious glove. Seeing it, I thought of Philippe Pottier’s photos for 1950s Christian Dior, as well as the illustrations of Pierre Mourgue, both often showing Dior models with gloves. GD is considered the epitome of modern K-Pop style, yet here, he has on a vestige of elegance that has little following after the New Look faded. There seems to be a deliberate playing down of GD’s own sensational hip-hop togs. Perhaps, an old-world accessory for hands, used not to protect against the cold, can amplify the wearer’s glamour, never mind that the regular front-row seats in Paris Fashion Week already do.

With Big Bang hot on the Forbes list of the highest-paid celebrities (at no. 54), GD probably does not need to strengthen his allure by playing androgyne on the cover of the Vogue of his homeland. But to sit for Karl Lagerfeld is consistent with the unceasing coming together of hip-hop and fashion. G Dragon is clearly in fine form.

Photo: Vogue Korea/Karl Lagerfeld

The Sport Moccasin

Visvim FBT Prime

Can ethnic shoes be modernised? If Visvim’s FBT is any indication, yes they can be. Designer Hiroki Nakamura has created a moccasin-sneaker hybrid that is so unlike anything sneakerheads are hankering after that they’re only picked up by “insiders”, including music men with especially deep pockets.

The Visvim FBT stokes the romance some of us have with things from faraway, cultures strange and unfamiliar, tactile crafts reminiscent of travels. Clearly based on Native American moccasins, the FBT is, however, not something you’d pick up in a Los Angeles tourist gift shop that also hawks gaudy miniature totem poles.

This is not some revivalist’s vanity project; these are not the equivalent of Michele Alessandro’s campy Princetown fur-lined mules for Gucci. Mr Nakamura is genuinely passionate about American culture of yore, especially from the east coast. His love of Americana—a version that the Japanese has spun into a category known as ametora—is the underpinning of his Visvim label.

Visvim FBT Prime BrownIn a sea of sneakers rich with tech and formed with all manner of unimaginable materials for the upper, it is refreshing to see Visvim stick to a silhouette so elemental and with a fabric so uncompounded as suede. These shoes are not old-school, they’re old world—therein lies the charm. The FBT saw many different issues in the past, but it is the current version—the FBT Prime—that is winning more fans. FBT, by the way, is the abbreviation of ’80s New Wave band Fun Boy Three. According to Mr Nakamura, he was shown one of the LPs of the British trio by Fragment Design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara. On the cover was lead singer Terry Hall wearing a pair of moccasins. The rest, we leave it to you to imagine.

The FBT Prime is a mid-cut sneaker with vegetable-tanned cow suede upper, given a shaggy appeal with an extra, same-fabric removable collar that is fastened with knotted cords, forming a loose fringe. The upper sits on a Vibram sole unit (vulcanized rubber) that is reportedly designed specifically for the FBT Prime. Visually, they may need some getting used to since the silhouette is not as slender as the Stan Smith or as hunky as the Reebok Pump Fury, but worn below the cuff of jeans rolled high, they project a charming bohemian vibe.

These shoes do not require a test run. As expected, they are really comfortable kicks. The suede upper cocoons like a shroud, never hugging the feet too snugly but still provide a nice overall fit. The FBT Primes are surprisingly light, which make them nicely inconsistent with their autumnal looks. And one more point: they hold their shape beautifully, and would not spread like leaven bread as traditional moccasins tend to.

Visvim FBT Prime Black

Yet, the FBT Prime may not be cool enough for those more into the latest Boost (come to think of it, Kanya West’s Yeezys share similar relaxed forms of the FBT). But they may appeal to a certain, not-necessarily-bohemian group that likes their footwear with hippy leanings. There has to be, for not only are the FBTs well-accepted, a similar shoe hand-built on the Nike Air Max 1 sole is generating tremendous interest. Randy the Cobbler, based in Arizona, is doing such brisk online business with his version of the fringed moccasin-sneaker that, at the time of this writing, he is not taking any more orders.

Hiroki Nakamura and Randy the Cobbler aren’t the only ones riding on the cresting interest in the ethnic aesthetics of the West. Skate industry veteran Taka Hayashi, a long-time collaborator with Vans (and a Cherokee in a previous life, I suspect), has been drawing from Native American motifs to output for the brand’s premium sub-line Vault. The covetable results with names such as “Buffalo Trail”, “Nomad”, and “Chimayo” are telling and point to the direction footwear design could be heading.

Visvim’s FBT line will only heighten the sport moccasin’s appeal even, for most, the price could be a deterrent. But when it comes to desirable sneakers, no matter how costly they are, few will consider exorbitance a deal breaker.

Visvim FBT prime, SGD990, is available at Surrender. Photos: Visvim

Adidas Originals Pairs With An Independent

Adidas Originals X Italia IndependentBy Raiment Young

When it comes to fashion eyewear domination, Italy’s Luxotica group has remained largely unchallenged, so I am repeatedly told. Yet, there are those labels that have been able to go on and do their own thing and still offer creative designs and sensible price. One of them is Italia Independent, the label created in 2007 by Lapo Elkann, dubbed as “the coolest Italian in the world”, who also happens to be Gianni Agnelli’s grandson, and, accordingly, the heir apparent to Fiat.

Perhaps, owner of the label is less important than the designs. Until its debut store in New York last year, not many know of Italia Independent. I had an upfront encounter with their much lauded eyewear eight months ago, during a visit to Florence. It is somewhat inexplicable, even up to now, that although I was in the leather capital of Italy, I was very much smitten not with shoes or bag, but with eyewear. And those of Italia Independent were so alluring that I was seeking them out at every eyewear shop I encountered, all the way to Rome.

Adidas Originals X Italia Independent sunglasses AOR003The sunglasses were especially fetching not for the reason that they were attention-grabbing, oversized, or radiating obvious Italian-retro-cool (such as Persol, another Luxottica brand), but because they imparted a certain sleekness that has nothing to do showiness, such as those of the brash love children of Raybans and some designer shades, you know the type that seems to attract look-at-me fashionistas.

One of the earliest labels to tap Italia Independent’s indie appeal is Adidas Originals. Launched first as footwear in 2014, the Adidas Originals X Italia Independent sneakers did not immediately make waves. I was not particularly impressed as they appeared a tad too designed to me. It would take what the brand is truly known for to bring attention to the collaboration. Last year, their eyewear debut was considered one of the most appealing and also testament to Italia Independent’s strength and ability to built fun on top of the technology behind the glasses.

Adidas Originals X Italia Independent sunglasses AOR010And one of them tech is what Italia Independent calls “thermic”. A special treatment is applied to the surface of some of the frames, and when these are exposed to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (yes, our daytime temperature), they change colour to expose a base texture, in this case, a repeated pattern based on Adidas’s trefoil logo. This technology is developed by Italia Independent and was awarded Innovation of the Year in 2014 by MIT Review Italy.

Not that I am charmed by this chameleon quality since colour mutability on eyewear, to me, borders on gimmicky, but I have no doubt many others would. What really is even more appealing is the construction of the glasses. They are undeniably sturdy and incredibly light, with a fit that’s really comfortable. Fitted with lenses that protect the eyes from UV rays, these are sporty shades that are destined to face the harshest mid-day light. And since Italia Independent eyewear is, as far as I know, not yet available here, these are the ideal intro to what you’ll otherwise miss.

Adidas Originals X Italia Independent sunglasses for men and women, from SGD185, are available at Nanyang Optical and select retailers. Photos: Italia Independent

These Organic Forms

 

Khourian Beer backpackKhourian Beer is not, as the name may suggest, the latest brew in lager land. Evocative of hops and malts it may be, the brand is, in fact, the deeply conceptual work of architect Sebastian Khourian and his life partner, designer Daniela Beer. Just a year old, the Spanish leather goods and men’s wear label is drawing attention with their beautifully structured bags for men and women that stand out in a market crowded with products of mostly flat-surface quadrilaterals.

We were drawn to this hexagonal ‘Hypsometry’ backpack—its shape so unusual and deliberately 3-D that we had to touch it. Made of leather moulded to have the bulk of polycarbonates, the bag could have been a prop from a sci-fi film set in a dystopian future. Yet, there’s something old world about it too. Maybe it’s the vegetable-tanned leather (individually tinted in layers and polished with seven waxes) or maybe it’s the distinctive, pentagonal, three-hole wood handle made of exotic zebrano, macassar ebony, or peltogyne (purpleheart) timbers.

The distinctive lack of flashy hardware and deliberately indiscreet logos is truly refreshing, but that is no indication of lack of luxury. The cream-coloured interior of the carapace is lined with leather too, with black criss-cross leather harness on one side for storing articles such as notebooks that need to be secured. The result, unfortunately for some, is the weight of the bag: it is quite heavy. Heft, in this case, is a measure of the creators’ artisanal finesse.

Khourian Beer leather ‘Hypsometry’ backpack with wood handle, SGD4,750, as well as clutches and handbags are available at L’amoire, Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade. Photo: 44Store

Go, Go, Go!

Can Orchard Road retailers learn something from the world’s hottest game?

Pokémon Go

By Low Teck Mee

There’s a new game coming to your smartphone. To play it, you can’t loll on your living room sofa or ensconced yourself on a toilet seat, or be bound to your work desk. In fact, you’d have to get off your butt. And you’d have to be somewhere—anywhere but indoors. You’d have to move—yes, from point A to B.

The game, as you may have already heard, is Pokémon Go, and it has taken the world by storm even when it has so far been launched only in three countries. It is reported to hit Singapore (and the rest of Southeast Asia) soon, with rumours saying that we can download the app as early as next week.

For the truly impatient, I’m not sure that’s soon enough. Outraged that he couldn’t play the game on our backward island, a Vietnamese-Australian man working here recently charmed local Facebook users when he shared, under the familiar blue top bar, what was on his troubled mind: “You can’t fucking catch Pokémon in this piece of fucking shit country”. Alas, posting frustrations isn’t like posting selfies.

Like a child deprived of a favourite toy, the guy wasn’t able to balance on the edge of reason. As passionate as he was about Pokémon Go, he did not acquaint himself with the known fact that developer Niantic was holding off rolling the game in other regions, including Asia, as their servers have been crashing due to the wildly overwhelming response. Forbes even said that “the launch has been an unmitigated disaster.”

Pokémon Go outdoorsPokémon Go outdoors 2Screen grabs of Pokémon Go promotional video

Fury destined for social media rarely ever takes into consideration the responsiveness of others. It is understandable why the outburst is maddening for so many citizens.Despite scoring 2nd out 144 countries in the Global Information Technology Report 2014 by the World Economic Forum and despite being ranked last year by Akamai Technologies as the nation with the world’s fastest average Internet speed, our city is still thought to be stuck in some crap hole.

Barbs didn’t bring any Pokémon out and none were caught. With the resultant Netizen anger, also directed at his employer, the guy lost his job.

Not until this online fiasco did I really pay attention to the craze that Pokémon Go has become. Launched just last Wednesday, the game has caught on so dramatically that there’s talk Hollywood is interested in making a movie of it. Very soon too, it seems, as no studio is going to make an Angry Birds out of this one.

By now, many know what Pokémon Go is, but for those alien even to Candy Crush, the game allows players to hunt down, capture, and train Pokémon, much like the way it was when played with the mid-Nineties Game Boy consoles, only now you just need to toss a ball—known as Pokéballs—at them rather than battle the Pokémon. The action is set in the real world as seen through the smartphone’s camera. Pokémon Go prods you to walk around and call at Pokéstops to stock up requirements such as Pokéballs, potions and incense, all paid for with Pokécoins of course.

Pokémon Go screen shotsPokémon Go screen shots

Most interesting to me is the augmented reality (AR) in which the game has to be played. It had me thinking of what such a premise could do for businesses trying to ensnare people into location-based activity, such as offline shopping. What I also find compelling is that with Pokémon Go, “go” is the operative word. Here’s an app that, in bringing into play, the user has to move or proceed to or from a location, physically. You have to be in an actual place, surrounded by landmarks and people. Most mobile games before Pokémon Go does not entice you to leave where you already are, at the point the game is played.

“Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon,” goes the encouragement on the Pokémon Go website. That sounds to me like a rallying call Orchard Road retailers desperately need to communicate.

It is, of course, ironic that it takes the virtual world to get people into the real world just as it is bizarre that Pokémon Go’s dimension is accessible via our own. It is, however, such a co-presence that can potentially narrow the gulf between online and offline retailing. If the game has shown that the reality—even augmented—is, in fact, in the app installed on people’s mobile devices that draw them out of their comfort zones, then perhaps similar apps can also be used to lure shoppers into a store to spend.

I suspect retailers know this, but it is possible that none is willing to invest in such an outdoor-bound gaming/cellular experience. Or, perhaps, too many are occupied with battling e-commerce, taking on those online stores that put people comfortably in their own sheltered domains that these traditional store owners are not able to conceive or fathom a digital and augmented pathway that connects shoppers to their very physical front door. Orchard Road sure needs PokéStops.

Pokémon Go homepageThe homepage of Pokémon Go

If retailers are unwilling to put in the development cost of creating this augmented trail to their stores, perhaps they could collaborate with Niantic to designate their premises as PokéStops. Already such an idea has been proposed. And it isn’t terribly new since it is fundamentally like the known commercial spaces identified as stops in Ingress, another Niantic-developed AR game.

I should say that, like most people here, I have not played Pokémon Go. But based on user reports, it is quickly addictive and awfully fun. When was the last time Orchard Road had the ability to elicit such a reaction? Maybe with a GPS-enabled app and cute overlays on real-life locations, the tide will turn. Never mind the risk of the disgruntled f-bombing social media sites because they can’t get what they want. The Web community has its ways with dealing with people like that.

In the end, as we transit from the virtual to the augmented, what most of us want from retail or an afternoon shopping is an immersive experience, one that captures the imagination, and allow participants to have some fun. Orchard Road, when Pokémon was first introduced, may have had those qualities, but that was a different time. These days, digital longings as much as material desires define the modern consumer.

Now, which Pokémon do I want to pounce on? Not Pikachu. It’s Purin (also known as Jigglypuff)! But the real question is, how do I capture the smartphone zombies that will now surely overrun the city when Pokémon Go finally arrives?

The Phoenix Does Not Soar

Guo Pei G1

If Chinese designers are ready to take the French fashion world by storm, it isn’t Guo Pei. Although she captured the imagination of global fashion with that yellow coat last year, paraded on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was mostly derision that got her worldwide exposure. That, as well as Rihanna’s IG account.

Still, you can’t say that is not commendable when the massive coat was only worn in the time the singer was gliding and posing on the red carpet. Once inside, she changed into Stella McCartney for dinner, Maison Margiela by John Galliano for her performance, and Maison Margiela again when she hosted the after-party. That hors d’oeuvre (or was it breakfast?) of a Guo Pei coat served one purpose: to make an entrance. It could not do more, such as allowing the wearer to sit and have a meal, or do what she needed to in the course of the night.

Despite its brief appearance (which is far much shorter than anything an actress wears to the Academy Awards), the coat shot Guo Pei into the stratosphere. Prior to that, a fortunate few in Singapore saw it during the Asian Couture segment of the now defunct Fidé Fashion Weeks (2013). No one could have guessed that an outerwear that looked like floor covering from the chambers of the empresses of imperial China would one day make it to the steps of USA’s most renowned museum.

Guo Pei G2

From Beijing, the world became Guo Pei’s oyster. Shortly after that exposure on American soil—that included two gowns in the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, which Rihanna attended in the yellow show-stopper—Paris came a-calling. At the end of last year, she was asked by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, together with Iris Van Herpen and Yacine Aouadi, to show as “invited members” at the couture week for spring/summer 2016. Last week, Ms Guo returned with her second couture collection in Paris. Both appearances make her only the second Chinese woman after Yin Yiqing (who is currently an official member) and the third Asian after Japan’s Hanae Mori to participate in the couture calendar in the French capital.

Her first showing six months ago could be considered sussing out what might work in the home city of haute couture or what might stand out in the company of the masters. The second did not seem to suggest that she has absorbed anything from the earlier experience, but a continuation at playing up, even more strongly, her own idealised world of high fashion—mainly informed by a culture still enamoured with post-Mao era’s idea of what was Western fashion, which was essentially of another age. Ms Pei began her career two decades ago, before China consumed fashion the way it does now. Her company Rose Studio (the name itself harks back to a past when femininity could be neatly represented by a hua or flower, but would now be considered tu or unsophisticated) emerged at a time when Western fashion was beyond the reach of most, even their ken.

China has changed, but the output of Rose Studio has not represented this transformation. Among discerning fashion consumers in her native Beijing, Ms Guo’s designs are considered egregious to what is truly desired and worn. The young, rather than consider her the Chinese equivalent of, say, Vivienne Westwood (who, too, is often inspired by her own nation’s past), deem her out of touch. Although she claims to make real clothes, Ms Guo caters mainly to wives of the political and business elite, encouraging the talk that her work has more to do with wealth than taste.

Guo Pei G3

At her Paris debut in January, Ms Guo told the Chinese media that she “wanted everyone to feel the depths of her emotions” (“我要大家能感受到我那些深处的情感”). Sure, that’s in keeping with what Paul Cezanne said: “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” Hers were, however, not clothes borne out in emotions, but fantasy. For autumn winter 2016, she showed dresses and gowns for Barbie playing Disney princess (there was a ball gown Belle will surely want to wear to dance with the Beast), outfits that common folks might equate with what a consort of a head of state would wear (first lady Peng Liyuan’s designer of choice, interestingly, is Chinese label Exception de Mixmind’s Ma Ke), a Chinese-aesthetic-affirming bedazzled dragon, and a bizarre pouf skirt that looked like a collapsed curtain. If a Chanel woman is a French archetype of unattainable chic, the Guo Pei woman is an Oriental example of avoidable clichés.

Before Paris, Ms Guo’s so-called couture collections—wholeheartedly lauded and endorsed by the Fidé Fashion Weeks-linked Asian Couture Federation—presented a hyperbolic view of what Chinese interpretation of Western fashion could be: sentient of showiness piled on with gaudy applied arts. Now, she’s toned down the exaggeration, in both silhouette and embellishment, showing what she, perhaps, thought a Westerner may wish to (or able to) wear. The target customers are now less likely to attend official dinners in banquet rooms of head-spinning red lacquer and blinding chandeliers. Even if they do, they would still need a dress that has more usefulness than an entrance maker.

It may not be the case, but let’s postulate: Guo Pei—a self-proclaimed patriot—participated in Couture Week to bolster China’s attempt at peddling and pushing its soft power across the world. Although not a global brand, Guo Pei has ambassadorial clout. The Met exhibition gave her that. Her gowns—many bearing a long back that reflects her strange obsession with trains—sweeping through the Bourse du Commerce may not reinforce the image of Chinese fashion, but they could increase China’s cultural footprint overseas. Could this be duwai xuanchuan (external propaganda), just more glamourous? Take too lightly, perhaps we shouldn’t, a phoenix with a mission.

Photos: vogue.com

Coke Creeps Into Couture

Viktor & Rolf Couture X CokeViktor and Rolf’s autumn/winter 2016 couture. Photo: Marcus Tondo/Indigital.tv

Just as you thought haute couture is where you might seek refuge from the street-style influence that now pervades the outside of this rarefied world of fashion, in slips a soda pop logo among the silk tulle. Viktor & Rolf’s autumn/winter 2016 couture show opened with a rather unexpected article of clothing: a sweat-top emblazoned with the logotype of Coke.

Shock perhaps wasn’t the immediate reaction as surprise did not even register. Nothing in fashion is shocking anymore just as no celebrity misbehaviour today is ever truly scandalous. But a sweatshirt with a recognisable font that you often see in a supermarket or the fridge in a mamak store does suggest that perhaps something was mis-sited—a collection maybe? Did Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren decide to show ready-to-wear instead of couture in a show season dedicated to the latter? It wouldn’t be at all surprising if it was the case. After all, these are confusing times. If the recent Couture Week’s opening act was a prêt-a-porter showing (Vetements!), why can’t there be another of the latter somewhere in the middle of the former?

It is, however, not likely that Viktor and Rolf will miss a couture showing even if their collections have not always been a hit with the press, the way Chanel’s always have. The duo’s shows are usually much anticipated as they are inclined to sending down the catwalk clothes that may be seen as subversive in view of the traditions that haute couture has always tried to protect. Still, the appearance across the chest of a four-letter word that could also mean an illicit drug is unanticipated, even when post-DHL T-shirt craze, commercial branding that has nothing to do with fashion should not raise eyebrows.

Coca Cola, of course, has a special place in fashion. Karl Lagerfeld’s near-obsessive consumption of Diet Coke (reportedly to lose weight) is now legendary. In 2010, he has even designed a limited-edition Diet Coke bottle featuring his full-body silhouette in black. Since then, Coke has collaborated with designers on their bottles up to last year, when J.W.Anderson too got into the act. It’s been 130 years since Coca Cola made its appearance as a flavoured sparkling drink. So, perhaps, Viktor and Rolf’s Coke sweat-top is a tribute of sorts rather than an outright endorsement.

Coca Cola itself is, interestingly, no stranger to clothing production. Back in the September of 1985, when John Parr’s St Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, the soft drink maker launched an apparel line Coca Cola Clothing together with Murijani Corporation, the producer of denim jeans named after Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper’s mother. Ms Vanderbilt is part of a New York family that was once one of the wealthiest in the US. Although she is considered to be the first to create the category called designer jeans, she found success mainly in perfumes.

Coca Cola Clothing 80sCoca Cola Clothing of the ’80s featured in a magazine editorial

Murijani Corporation’s collaboration with Coca Cola did not make waves on the fashion front although for a while the rugby shirts with the soft drink’s logo were popular (especially among hip-hop artistes of the early ’90s). Fashion trivia buffs would, however, be interested to know that the early Coca Cola collections were designed by Tommy Hilfiger, who had just left the jeans label Jordache and was about to start his namesake brand, also backed by Murijani Corporation.

The launch of Coca Cola Clothing was a relatively modest affair. As it was the era of MTV, Murijani Corporation backed the production of a “rock/fashion” music video Creatures of Habit to market the line. It was performed by an unknown (even till today) singer called Barbara Hyde and directed by Jeff Abelson, who was behind some of the popular videos of that time, including Ray Parker Jr’s Ghostbusters. Despite the pop platform and a plan for 50 stores around the world called, unbelievably, Fizazz, (as it turned out, only one in Tokyo opened in 1987), Coca Cola Clothing did not take off.

In 2007, they tried again. Now, it’s under “Drink2Wear”, an initiative that attempted to, according to the company, “create value through sustainable fashions”. T-shirts made from a fabric that mixed recycled PET bottles and cotton and featured exhortative text such as “Rehash your Trash” were created. Sales were perhaps encouraging as the line was expanded a year later to include loungewear, caps, and totes. Then that fizzled out.

Millennials would not have heard of clothing by Coca Cola even if they have seen T-shirts ablazoned with the logo in the weekend markets of Bangkok. As if to correct that, Coca Cola made a come-back collection in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, this time designed by a Brazilian called Thais Rossiter. It banked on the athleisure trend that was slowly but surely showing up in urban fashion. Sadly, it was, as one observer remarked, “a joke”. 

Coca Cola should have learnt from Apple’s needless error. In 1986, just as the company’s products were winning a sizeable fan base, it launched The Apple Collection—gaudy Apple-branded clothing, accessories and “lifestyle products” that were supposed to entice fans into buying into what may be considered an early form of the Apple ecosystem. It requires no guessing that no one took a bite of that offering.

Although Coca Cola-branded wear was never wiped out from retail, no one bursting with fashion credibility would touch it. Then the spring/summer season came and a few fashion posts appeared in social media showing women in vintage Coca Cola T-shirts. Was the fizz released because of the trio of Coca Cola dresses shown by Fyodor Golan during London Fashion Week early this year? Or did that yellow, uniform-as-cool-tee started it all? Or perhaps it happened earlier, in 2014, when Moschino’s Jeremy Scott showed that fashion can appropriate commercial symbols to imbue itself with cool when he mischievously riffed on McDonald’s double arches?

Whichever the case, even couture has now caught the bug. Who’d ever thought that Coca Cola would have its day in high fashion today? What will they think of next?

It’s Paint!

Dior Homme hand-painted jeans aw 2017Skinny jeans have been enjoying a good, extended run: for more than a decade. Its popularity simply won’t fade. But these days, skinny isn’t quite enough; they’d have to be snug as leggings. Spend an afternoon anywhere along Orchard Road, and you’ll see guys (and girls) in jeans so limb-clinging, they could have been shrink-wrapped on the legs. Indeed, so tight are the fit of them jeans that they are sometimes called “paint on”. What if that’s applied literally?

At Dior Homme, someone is really doing the painting, by hand no less. But we do not think it’s Kris Van Assche getting his hands dirty. His latest jeans for Dior Homme, in very limited quantities, the staff at the store will remind you, looks like a pair left behind by an especially industrious house painter who has only one pair of work pants. The more imaginative among you may think it’s made from a sheet of overused work-site tarpaulin!

These are standard Dior Homme slim-fit, five-pocket jeans on which a surface treatment is applied. As a product of the house of Dior, there is art to the painterly finish. Firstly, it is monochromatic (with shades of grey between black and white), rather like grisaille. Secondly, the informal brush strokes on the cotton twill are applied to form a check effect. Thirdly, the paint has a tactile quality about it—roughness like those of oils or acrylics after they’ve dried naturally.

Dior Homme jeans AW 2016 look 36The hand-painted jeans first seen on the Dior Homme catwalk in January 2016

It’s not clear what paints are used. We can assume it’s not gouache or Dulux water-based. And it doesn’t look varnished. The salesperson wasn’t able to enlighten either, which points to only one way to care for them: do not wash. Never subjecting them to a spin cycle is probably the sensible way to treat this pair of four-figure pants that, on the surface at least, is art.

Caress this frameless, wearable painting and the hand senses the hardness of the top coat. Lifting the jeans up, the uncommon heft is immediately discernible. You are tempted to try them on and you do. These are very stiff jeans, and they’re not easy to put on, especially when they’re skinny too. Once, they’re on, you realise that you may not easily move in them. Climbing up a flight of stairs, you immediately feel, will be tricky. Squatting, you can’t imagine!

This pair of jeans clearly needs time for the wearer to break into, but the process maybe long-drawn since you are not likely going to wear it often or wash it regularly. Still, for the fashionista, it is likely the ultimate pair of jeans, possibly more desirable than Maison Martin Margiela’s low-top sneakers with Jackson Pollock-ish paint splatter.

“Monsieur Dior gone skater boy” was how Mr Van Assche described the mood of the collection to the media back in January after the autumn/winter show. While that is hard to imagine (Monsieur Dior was, after all, rather rotund, and communicated a sartorial sense that can be described as proper), it is not difficult to see that the future in surface treatments of jeans could be thick brush strokes rather than random tears and shreds.

Dior Homme hand-painted cotton twill jeans, SGD2,600, out now at Dior Homme, Ion Orchard. Photos: (top) Jim Sim, (bottom) Dior Homme

Partners In Crime

Vetements & co SS 2017

The two-year-old Vetements is on collaboration high. For its spring/summer 2017 show—pushed ahead of Paris Fashion Week in late September as opening act of the couture season for autumn/winter 2016 (you’re not the only one confused by that), the brand of the moment is working as a twosome. No, threesome… well, foursome… er, actually, eighteensome! It’s a confusing arrangement that has delighted many fans—members of the media, no less.

In what is seen as “impressive”, the Vetements team tapped into the expertise of 18 brands (listed in the above illustration) to augment—or supplement?—its newest collection. They run the gamut from supplier to the US military to shoe maker of choice of tai tais. Of the lot, half of them are American brands, one is Canadian and one is Japanese and the rest from across the EU, pre-Brexit.

Sure, numerous collaborations on one catwalk have never been shown before. No one wishes to dilute the USP of a brand this way. But numerous collaborations in a store by a single label (or a stable of labels) are not out of the ordinary. In Japan, the Comme des Garçons flagship and satellite outlets have been stocking their multiple collaborations since the ’90s, and they draw enthusiastic shopper response.

Vetements X Juicy CoutureOne of the surprising collaborations: with Juicy Couture, which, until now is not considered cool

Collaborations with specialty clothiers, shoemakers and such have been very much a part of Japan’s design and retail culture. And they’re not unique to designer labels since chain stores such as Beams and Beauty and Youth are serial collaborators with mass as well as artisanal brands. For many years, these have kept the Japanese retail scene very much appealing, not only to the locals but foreigners as well.

Also in Japan, relatively obscure brands that Vehements is now pairing with, such as Alpha Industries and Schott, are not that unknown. In fact, they have their own free-standing stores in Tokyo. These brands are not necessarily part of the fashion landscape of the West, but in Japan, they satisfy the hunger for American “authentics”, which arose in the wake of the end of World War II, and Americans—the victors—were regarded as the embodiment of modern fashion.

Japan’s craze for style Americana—known (not deliberately derogatory) as yankii—and the quality of American fashion it can produce is well documented. So successful have they been at keeping quintessential American work and military wear such as denim jeans and flight jackets true to their original form and function that the Japanese have won legions of fans outside their own country for the revival of out-of-favour fashions and lost or unpractised crafts.

Vetements SS 2017 Pic 1The androgynous ensembles of Vetements spring/summer 2017

Paris-based Vetements’s brand-America-heavy collaborations have, therefore, a precedent. It is likely that their un-French choices have to do with the Gvasalia brothers, Demna and Guram, both Georgians, running the creative and business sides of the fashion label respectively. As one-time refugees escaping civil strife, it is possible that, like the Japanese emerging from a world war, they have a passion for what style Americana is perceived to be for those seeking freedom. The widespread availability of clothes in the US, the styles that can be expressed on the streets, and the volubility of hip-hop to the Gvasalias perhaps express an alluring democracy of fashion.

This sense of liberty is rather evident in their teaming with Juicy Couture, the very un-couture of American labels, once mostly associated with LA actors and actresses going to the neighbourhood store to buy milk in ‘Juicy’ velour tracksuits, better still if the top and bottom were bedazzled. But the glory of Juicy Couture is now gone. It is not immediately obvious how Vetements will be able to resuscitate what was known as “sparkly California glam”, but, by what’s shown on the catwalk, it seems that even the trending French label may not be able to reverse Juicy Couture from being hopelessly déclassé. Juicy Couture may now bask in the firmament of cool on the shoulders of a well-hyped newbie, but would they still twinkle as soon as the latter moves to the next collaboration?

Selecting non-high-fashion brands perhaps speaks of Vetements’s claim that their choices come from the simple fact that members of the design team do not wear designer clothes. It’s perhaps “honest” to not speak of lofty personal sartorial aspirations. The collaborations could be just a practical move since this is a way to add to their collection and still retain the common-to-cult cool that they have started with those DHL-branded T-shirts of last season. Or it could be indolence: just get someone else to do your work! Still, not all collaborators are on the lower rungs of fashion credibility. Vetements still needs the perceived endorsement of brands such as Brioni (maker of the suits), Manolo Blahnik (those thigh-high boots) and Comme des Garçons (the shirts) to suggest that the Gvasalias and co are on par with the big names.

Vetements SS 2017 Pic 2The utility styles of the apron/overalls in collaboration with Carhatt

Have the collaborations brought anything unusual to the table? Vetements fans will be thrilled to know that the brand’s off-kilter aesthetic is as pronounced as ever. The anti-sexy, big-is-better, long-is-laudable mix will prove irresistible to those completely sold on the Vetements way of wearing clothes that just has to sit askew. Even belts necessarily hang to one side, touching the floor. There seems to be excess of everything: fabrics, shoulders, sleeves: the superfluous perhaps refreshing in a world where tight and abbreviated still hold sway.

For the women’s wear, despite the seven flimsy dresses, the look is androgynous, or rather, suggesting that, since the collection features clothes for both sexes, gender-ambiguity is the way forward for Vetements. Over-sized blazers worn with roomy shirts these days can cover the masculine and the feminine. What’s interesting is that the Vetements visual strength is so strong and persistent that the typical looks of the collaborators do not come through. Not only are gender lines blurred, categories and the street-couture divide too. As the definition of modern elegance continues to be written (and re-written), for now, jumbling all up is how our mixed-up world rather likes it.

Illustration: Just So. Photos: Fashionista/Imaxtree. Editor’s note: three consecutive posts on the work of Demna Gvsalalia is reflection of the timing of shows and events unfolding in fashion presently than indication of commercial arrangement with the brand to promote their wares. All reports are independently filed