By Raiment Young
Is it worth the queue: just to see what’s for sale at the ‘Kanye West: The Life of Pablo Temporary Store’? To me, the answer is not in the affirmative. But this is likely a once-only pop-culture event. I wanted to see for myself what the craze was all about, and to be acquainted, for the first time, with Kanye West-linked clothing. In uncovering the stuff behind trends, we sometimes end up wasting our time. This was one of them.
If you didn’t think there would be a queue, you probably only equate Famous with what happens after a certain Joseph Schooling won an Olympic gold. According to early media reports (and confirmed by security personnel in attendance at the site), people started getting in line as early as 2am on Friday morning so as to have a head start on gaining entry into the Pablo pop-up, as it is also known.
The queue outside an unmarked shopfront
It should perhaps be stated that I am no fan of Yeezy’s music, fashion, and antics. And I do not feel like Pablo. But I am curious about the work of this born-again fashion designer with a day job as a hip-hop singer-songwriter. Yet, I am not inclined to sacrifice sleep and other productive use of time to join a queue for hours in order see what I fear would be a non-event. So, I decided to try my luck this evening, the second day of the much-talked-about retail affair.
The Temporary Store occupied one half of the two-unit The Art Space @ Suntec in Tower 1 of Suntec City. This part of the mall has not experience such visitor traffic since it officially reopened last October after a massive mall-wide renovation. According to a service staff at the café Ovidia & Co, about 500m away, the number of people that turned up when he started work at ten on Friday morning was “crazy”. When I arrived at about 6pm (the shop closes at 8), I joined a line that was no more than 20-people long. A security guy dressed in a black shirt under a black suit—looking decidedly like a bouncer at a nightclub—was calmly organising the queue so that people did not stand blocking neighbouring retail units. I remarked that I had expected to see more shoppers, he said, “You should see yesterday.”
Stretching that to small talk—perhaps to relieve the monotony of his work, he continued with a forewarning: “Everything is sold out. You have to do pre-order.” There’s nothing we can buy today and take away? Smilingly, he replied, “Nothing left. The jackets were first to sell out.” Which jacket? “The military jacket. Singaporeans are really willing to pay $400 for it!” The disbelief in his voice didn’t escape me. I asked him if he was given a preview and if he had bought anything. “No, lah! I only listen to his music.”
Inside the Life of Pablo Temporary Store
Which is more loved: the music of Kanye West or his fashion? It was hard to tell. The shoppers before me mostly looked under 25, with no visible clues that they were into the Yeezy aesthetic. They hardly looked like devotees. A Caucasian woman in front of me told her Singaporean companion, “If I can’t find anything for myself, I’ll get a T-shirt for my boyfriend.” Behind me, one of three possible NS lads said with purpose, “Better get at least a T-shirt.” A guy walking past the queue remarked to another, “Yesterday, my friend spent 240 dollars.” “On what?” the receiver asked. “On the Pablo, lah.”
The number of people allowed in each time was “about 20”, the sentry at the door told me. Once inside, you’d understand why the Louis Vuitton store-style crowd control was needed. It wasn’t a huge space, but it was spacious due to only three racks of clothes and the small group of shoppers. Not allowing the store to be packed with customers gave it a sense of exclusivity. Staff members came forward to offer a style sheet and to explain the pre-order procedure. You were then asked to browse. I asked if there was a time limit. They told me to take my time.
Making payment at the cashiers’ counter
I was admittedly disappointed by how underwhelming the shop was. It reminded me of my first visit to the Supreme store in Tokyo. Here was a physical space that did not tally with the brand’s subliminal stimulation. For all that Supreme has been hyped to be, the experience it offered at retail level was regrettably below par. The Pablo setting did not appear to be the work of a retail genius. Like at Supreme in Tokyo, the products here were lined against the walls, leaving a huge central area quite empty, as in a museum. But the clothes were not exactly stuff akin to art.
You won’t be wrong to think that perhaps Mr West was celebrating National Day with us. Excluding two items already completely sold out (the military jackets), everything was either red or white. Was the merchandising put together with the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts? Or the NDP show committee? But, these clothes pale in comparison to SG51 merchandise sold at Giordano, just a few doors away!
The cotton jersey T-shirts with ‘Singapore’ printed on the left side, along the waist
The digitally printed style sheet that was distributed so that shoppers could pre-order their desired pieces
It surprised me that all the cotton items—T-shirts (long- and short-sleeved) and hoodies—are Gildan-branded. Gildan Activewear is a Montreal-based company that is not unlike the American brand Fruit of the Loom: they’re commonly used as blank garments on which branding and logos can be screen-printed. The Pablo tops are manufactured in Bangladesh, which makes the asking price of S$60 for a T-shirt steep. They also aren’t in keeping with presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call for Americans to buy American and to bring manufacturing back to home turf. Perhaps Mr West does not share Mr Trump’s vision: to “make America great again”. These are, of course, merely garb to promote a music album and the attendant concert tour, but they’re no ordinary concert merchandise since they’re tied to a man trying to impress the world as a fashion designer and only available (outside American cities where the concerts are staged) in a retail store setting.
Despite its cool-and-minimal-as-any-indie-retailer’s store interior, there was scant attention paid to visual merchandising. The tops were hung on wired hangers, typically employed in a thrift store or a neighborhood laundry. There was no particular order of products (say, S to L), and eager shoppers who did not care to return what they had picked to its original state meant the clothes were in disarray. Enthusiasm for the merchandise was palpable, regard for their in-store attractiveness was not.
The letters of Singapore arranged in a triangular shape placed visibly on one wall. The same design, too, appeared on the merchandise. The unique typeface is designed by LA artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt
For an egomaniac such as Kanye West, it was astonishing that there was no text of his moniker or even an image of him plastered across walls or the floor. Not even his alter ego Pablo was idolised. Nothing on the store front too. Just white walls, white doors.
At the cashier, shoppers were reminded that merchandise must be collected within two weeks of notice. A hastily-scribbled note was stuck to the counter top, announcing where the paid-for products are to be collected: at an un-named office in North Star Building in the Lee Hsien Loong stronghold Ang Mo Kio.
Behind me two Malaysian boys were clearly disappointed that, having travelled here specifically for this, they could not enjoy immediate gratification. One of them, hand still holding the by-now crumpled style sheet, grumbled, “This really sucks.”
Kanye West: The Life of Pablo Temporary Store is at Suntec City Tower 1. It closes tomorrow at 8pm. Photos: Zhao Xiangji