Oh, Prada, Ong Shunmugam’s Been There, Done That!

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A Singapore-based label showed it before an Italian. How about that!

At its recent spring/summer 2017 presentation in Milan, Prada sent out five sets of samfus, distinguished by kitsch and a healthy dose of camp. For fans of Ong Shunmugam, Prada’s take on the samfu (衫裤 or shanku in Mandarin) is as new as frog buttons since their preferred homegrown brand had shown the Oriental top-and-pants combo before—in 2014 and 2015. See, Prada, Ong Shunmugam is ahead of you.

Why does it matter? Because Ong Shunmugam’s designer/founder Priscilla Tsu-Jen Shunmugam is the darling of the local media, not to mention the Singapore Tourism Board, all completely charmed by her revivalist approach to modern sartorial reinterpretation. It isn’t really known if her popularity (or 2015 Her World Young Woman Achiever award) has been good for business. Yet, this Malaysian daughter of Singaporean fashion can now be affirmed as the visionary that so many inexplicably think she is. Prada’s samfus, several seasons later than Ong Shunmugam’s, validate the latter’s “rethink of traditional garments”, and, possibly, posit the brand was right all along.

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The remake of the samfu cannot, of course, be considered new. Designers of the West—Giorgio Armani, one among many—have looked at the cheongsum’s much dismissed (and dissed) sister when they cast their source of inspiration to China, or when they think they can sell noodles to the Chinese. The thing is, for many here in Singapore, the samfu is closely linked to the early years of our country’s founding and not the later boom years of stupendous economic growth. The samfu was mostly worn by the working class—amahs (or majie) and Samsui women, not primarily by ladies of leisure or admirable financial standing. Until Ong Shunmugam came jauntily along. It is, however, uncertain if their samfus enjoyed widespread adoption.

One of the most visible samfu appearances on the world stage of recent years was the USD1,190, limited-edition Michael Kors version worn by Grace Coddington at the 2015 Met Gala to celebrate the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass. The “pajama set”, as the US media called it, stood out in a glittery sea of sheer and body-hugging gowns that have become gala-night standards of red carpet habitues. To the Americans, Ms Coddington’s choice of dress for “the Super Bowl of social fashion events” may be exotic or, according to the Hollywood Reporter, “dreamy”, but to many of us in Asia, it was, at best, underwhelming.

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So the Italians now show the Americans how to do what is essentially an outfit of Chinese origin. Ong Shunmugam could have assumed the mantle, but maybe it is not easy to manoeuvre from Chip Bee Gardens. Moreover, to go in front is possibly not on the cards for the 6-year-old brand that, until recently, operated like an alteration service in the basement of Hong Leong Building, mainly an office tower. Prada, on the other hand, has always been the pied piper of fashion, and they have led many a willing into their unconventional but charming, surprise-filled world. To followers, Prada always plays a hypnotic tune.

More importantly, Prada has Miuccia Prada, Ong Shunmugam does not. One ignores convention, the other sticks to the commonplace. The difference between the two—not that comparison is in order—is really chronology: Prada is about what’s next; Ong Shunmugam what’s now. Where wit and whimsy are characteristic of Prada (check out the flared cheongsum with breast pocket!), it is, even if it sounds censorious, the opposites, banality and nothingness, that has clung to Ong Shunmugam.

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Prada’s introduction of a two-piece very much associated with southern China, though now outmoded, is not cultural revivalism, but in the wake of Marc Jacob’s recent New York Fashion Week show of white models with dreadlocks, a do that quickly spawned unwelcome online backlash and Internet memes, is Prada as guilty of what the Americans deem “cultural appropriation”? The Europeans, familiar with the adapting of design codes not from their own culture for re-imagining, knowledge, and expression—Chinoiserie, dating back to the 18th century, comes to mind—are probably less concerned with American sensitivities born of US race-relations woes. The thing is, fashion has always intersected with other fields—art, for one, not just culture. In a globalised world, cross-pollination—the way the sanguine among us prefer to call it—can yield happy hybrids and ethically diverse entities.

And beauty too, such as Prada’s take on the samfu. Yet, for the brand that pitches “ugly is attractive” so seductively, there is subversive sophistication as well. Sure, it is hard to imagine any Chinese woman wanting marabou fringe for the seams of sleeves and pant legs (“Because it was the most silly piece to put with reality,” Ms Prada told Suzy Menkes), unless she is Fan Bingbing, a diva who could carry herself with the delicacy of a songstress of yore, who would not look too self-indulgent, as she lounges, between sets, in a backstory-filled changing room. Prada, in Milan, can evoke the bygone extravagance of a faraway world, even if it is more Pearl S Buck than Pearl River Delta.

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However appealing their samfus, Prada does not share Ong Shunmugam’s noble intent of restoring the distinction and conspicuousness of ethnic dress. It does not crusade for the tag of “an Asian label, by an Asian designer, for Asian women”. In fact, it mines from dress styles that span continents for consumers everywhere. It does not trumpet the need to use cloths of historical importance, but those fabrics that speak of its past dalliances with ugly prints and unappetising colours. It does not need to cross Asian lands to score traditional textiles to lend authenticity to its experiments with Asian dress forms.

Unlike Ong Shunmugam that wears Asian-ness like a badge, authenticity obviously isn’t Prada’s main aim. Although the tops of the samfus—worn belted—are beautifully cut close to the actual garment (the piping and button treatment are graphic counterpoint to the busy print of the fabric), the pants are veritably too tailored, which, of course, run counter to the pyjama-bottom-like floppiness of Ong Shunmugam’s fus. Prada’s foray into the past fashions of Chinese womenfolk is possibly a token embodiment of Asian modernism while Ong Shunmugam’s is so steep in cultural references that they have a contrived anthropological ring to them.

Prada, you’ll never surpass Ong Shunmugam’s deft hand for the hackneyed.

Photos: Prada

Off-White In Cement Grey

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The hitherto quiet building 268 Orchard Road is slowly turning to be a centre for alt-brands. Now, the all-glass entrance is flanked by two stores featuring labels that visitors to its neighbours—Robinsons Department Store on its left and the soon-to-open Apple flagship on its right—are not likely to desire with relish or open wallets. Joining Christian Dada, which opened about five months ago, is the luxury street-wear brand Off-White.

Born in 2014, Off-White is considered an Italian label by place of birth—Milan—rather than by nationality of its founder/designer Virgil Abloh, who is American. In Europe, the Chicago native is credited for upping the game for street wear by introducing the “luxe” (or, as Vogue described it, “elevated”) version of a category that, until now, has largely been snubbed by the couture-guarding establishment. In his homeland, Mr Abloh is possibly recognised more as a DJ/art director than a fashion designer. His art direction for the 2012 Jay Z and Kanye West album Watch the Throne received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. He’s also known to be part of Kanye West’s inner circle, as well as on his payroll as creative director, a position that no doubt, influences the outcome of his employer’s Yeezy line.

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It is perhaps to be expected then that you might think that Off-White is a blood brother of Yeezy. Thankfully, despite a shared genesis that can be traced to hip-hop, there’s no discernible spill over of the Yeezy aesthetics. It is also different from Mr Abloh’s first fashion venture, the mostly-T-shirt Pyrex Vision. Still, the reliance on rapper-preferred staples such as hoodies, track pants, and army-surplus separates feeds the average shoppers’ understanding of what Drake and Rihanna and co like to wear, however narrow the comprehension might be. While there is, to the fashion design purists, no real ‘design’, Off-White does pay considerable effort to product development. The clothes enjoy post-production effects such as washes and artificial ageing—the distresses that, for so many, are where the appeal of athleisure can be found.

The thing is, Off-White’s main man has yet to show convincingly that those designers related to the hip-hop scene rather than fashion can produce consistently innovative designs. These days, ‘design’, of course, needs to be redefined. The fundamentals may have not changed much but the approach has. Fast fashion is part of the re-writing of the definition, and many young designers who consume the end products lap up design seen through fast-fashion lenses. Mr Aboh’s “elevated” designs share much of this dynamic. Being a DJ, he can’t disconnect remixing from designing. The allure of bringing together disparate elements is so strong even outside music that many in the hip-hop business go into fashion as a natural progression of their careers.

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The Off-White store at 268 Orchard Road also goes by the barely detectable moniker Window. Whether this is a window into a world of anything depends on what you desire to see. If it’s incredible newness that you’re hoping to uncover, then perhaps this is the wrong window to open. If it’s to witness what more can be done to street-wear standards, then perhaps, there’s something here that will titillate your yet-to-be satiated desire. The store was surprisingly busy on the Wednesday that we visited, and those that came did not come for what could be worn to a boardroom meeting or a wedding. A guy trying on a loose T-shirt clearly has a collector’s loot of HBAs at home.

The store, jointly designed by Mr Abloh and the New York architectural firm Family (that also, perhaps not coincidentally, designed Kanye West’s set of his 2013–14 Yeezus tour) and operated by D’League (the company behind the soon-to-be-revived Surrender),  is essentially a space barely seduced by paint brush. Exposed concrete all-over is, of course, not new, but here, you feel that the interior is inspired by the set of Saw. From the main entrance (at the atrium of the building rather than from the street), you walk into a shoe-box shape sectioned into what could be rooms in full, bare-concrete glory. If you do not look beyond your immediate space, you’d miss them. These out-of-sight recesses have the advantage of luring you into believing that there are hidden gems to be found.

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Counterpoint to the warehouse-bareness and greyness is a stretch of greenery in the middle of the store, where bamboo has a starring role under a make-belief skylight. A central park, if you will; an oasis, a sign of life, even when it looks clearly placed than planted. The hotel ballroom approach to greening may appear artificial, but it gives the severe and rather symmetrical space a softness that perhaps the clothes alone cannot.

Could this dense foliage be metaphor for something more natural and calm? For sure, fashion, of late, has not been that way. But maybe we’re reading too much into it. Beyond the bamboo, there are really just clothes—elevated, maybe, but not way up anywhere.

Off-White is at 268 Orchard Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Feels Like A Watch

casio-wsd-f10-smartwatchBy Low Teck Mee

The styling caught my eye and the weight seduced my senses. When I touched Casio’s new “smart outdoor watch”, WSD-F-10, I was totally sold. Here is a smart watch that looks and feels like a real watch—yes, the one that tells time, not the one named after a fruit (adding a crown does not fool me) or those round-faced wannabes.

My enthusiastic response to the watch can be better understood if you know that I have been waiting for Casio to release an Android Wear-enabled watch for a long time. One of my favourite Casios is the Mr-G 110 from long ago, and I have always hoped that Casio would issue the watch as a smart reincarnation. With its square-ish face, I have always thought that that particular MR-G would be perfect candidate as an activity-tracking companion to a smart phone.

But it was not to be. Still, the launch of the WSD-F-10 is very much welcomed. Here, the watch reminds me of the lens of the brand’s action camera, the Exilim EX-FR100: a round face framed by a case in a vivid colour, in this instance, orange. Sure, with the black strap, this seems ideal for Halloween, but there is also a sporty vibe that outdoor types would appreciate.

A Casio watch is known to be tech-packed and remarkably durable (apparently the WSD-F-10 is “compliant with military standards”), so I shan’t elaborate. This smart watch is no exception. Performing as dutifully as other Android Wear watches do and apps aside, it comes equipped with accelerometer and gyrometer, which means whether you’re trekking in the mountains or waiting for a trout by a river, you’re covered.

The best part about the WSD-F-10 is that it does not look like a smart watch. No one would guess it isn’t G-Shock’s slimmer sibling. That, to me, is damn smart.

Casio WSD-F-10, SGD 699, is available at Casio stores. Product photo: Casio

Ready-To-Wear Is Now Ready-To-Buy

Are you rushing out to shop?

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-windowGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger video screen and window display at the Raffles City store

Like many of you, we saw the live stream of the Burberry show on its website yesterday. This time the staging was called The September Show rather than Spring/Summer 2017 as it would otherwise have been known, and it was a platform for both men’s and women’s wear, devised to encourage and meet the urge to spend. The video was 24.35-minutes long although the length of the actual catwalk presentation was 19 minutes. So fast moving was the video that it was hard to see every style in detail or remember what pieces beckoned. We remember that the first impression that struck us was that this could have been a Gucci show.

The clothes were, perhaps, more compelling now that it is possible to buy them after we saw them—a pro-consumer move that was proposed by Christopher Bailey (who relinquished his CEO position to concentrate on creative direction) in February this year. Despite the initial enthusiasm behind the idea, nobody could say for sure how this approach—so uncharacteristic of the catwalk-to-consumer path and time frame of the past—will work out for both retailers and shoppers.

For the purpose of experiencing what the brand thinks will be a thrill of getting something as soon as it appears on the runway, we identified a Burberry cavalry jacket as a potential buy and decided to see if it shall appear in the store soon after to seduce us into wielding a credit card.

burberry-sep-2016A rack of Burberry clothes from The September Show sat discreetly away from the main selling floor of the MBS store

First stop this afternoon was the Burberry store in Ion Orchard. When we walked in, there were surprisingly more customers than service staff. Despite the filled racks, we could not identify anything from The September Show. When a salesperson was available, we asked her about what we came to see and she was quick to say that the collection was already in the store, but the viewing is by appointment only. She offered to take our name to give us a time slot. We declined and she then said that we could come tomorrow to join a “special event” organized for Pin and Prestige readers. Or, “if there’s a style that you really want, we can help you order online.”

When even that failed to entice us, she patiently went on to say that the collection will then be moved to the Burberry store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and make a final appearance back at Ion Orchard before it is dispatched, after 2 Oct, to neighbouring cities. This seems to be a trunk show, we thought. She added, “Singapore is very privileged to be the first country in Southeast Asia to see the collection.” According to her, the clothes will then be sent to Bangkok and Seoul. Is it a full collection? Will we see it again? To both questions, she wasn’t sure.

We tried our luck at MBS. The staff here was more sympathetic and happily showed us to a quiet recess of the store—a private lounge—where a low rack of clothes sat as if in a corner of a warehouse. We immediately identified a pink sweater, but the cavalry jacket we wanted wasn’t there; the cape-coat cousin was. Not willing to let down a pair of keen walk-ins, she suggested that we return on the 23rd for “a special event at the ice skating rink. There will be a screening of the show, and you can buy the clothes afterwards.”

tom-ford-at-mbsAt Tom Ford, one single rack, barely filled, of the collection shown at New York Fashion Week

Since we were in MBS, we decided to pop over to Tom Ford, who, too, is adopting the “see now, buy now” model. The staff here was utterly delighted that we had asked for the “New York Fashion Week collection” (we did not know what to call it). She showed us the rack at the rear of the store. There were exactly ten pieces of just five styles. Sensing our disappointment with the smallness of what was in stock, she said, “there will be more stuff coming in on the 30th, but I am not sure if they’re from the runway show.”

We asked if the men’s collection arrived too. She led us to the adjacent section and pointed to a velvet, mirco-dotted, two-button blazer worn on a mannequin. “For men, we only have this one.” It was a near whisper, with regret breathing clear. When did the clothes arrive? “The New York show was on the 8th,” she pointed out helpfully, “we put out the clothes on the 9th. Of course, the clothes arrived in Singapore before that, but Mr Tom Ford won’t allow us to display earlier.”

Mr Tom Ford’s grip was clearly felt this far. He told Derek Blasberg in CNN Style early this month that he would be doing “something new: you will be able to buy the clothes as they come down the runway.” That’s, of course, not the case for us here since there is a 24-hour time difference between Madison Avenue and MBS, but next-day availability is probably speedy enough for those who buy into Mr Ford’s “grown up” elegance dripping with ’70s glamour. Interestingly, Thom Browne also referenced the ’70s, but that’s like a different planet.

tom-ford-mens-jacketFor men, the Tom Ford store at MBS had only one jacket

Still on planet MBS, by then heady with the smell of over-consumption, we decided to traipse over to Ralph Lauren. Mr Lauren had announced during his show, via a note left on the invitees’ seats, that he was “offering every look, every accessory, every handmade detail immediately in my flagship stores around the world and online.” The Singapore flagship’s window on B1 was homage to the quiet colour beige. Inside, it was as hushed: not a word was heard, not a sound. We approached two sales staff and asked, as we did at Tom Ford, for the “New York Fashion Week collection”. Both women looked at us quizzically. The collection that was shown last week outside the RL Madison Avenue store? One of them said, unsmiling, that “there won’t be any new collection as our store will be closing.”

We had not expected our on-the-ground research to be met with such dismal news. Business must have been so bleak that even Ralph Lauren could not wait for their own potentially game-changing and profit-turning “see now, buy now” approach test-run in its own store. Has simultaneous showing and selling met a premature death in Singapore before the idea can be conclusively said to be a success or letdown?

The purpose of “show now, buy now” is to tap the excitement from seeing a presentation, whether on site or online. Sell while it’s trending could be today’s version of the now infrequently used strike while the iron is hot. Fashion and trends are no longer embargoed till clothes reach stores or circumscribed by the catwalk on which they appear, once to a small coterie of people who care about such things. Let loose from the moment the first model appears on the runway, fashion now is a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-celeb phenomenon that seems to arouse desires than dampen wants.

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-displayGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger store display at Raffles City

The “everywhereness”—to borrow from author Laurence Scott’s description of the digital world—of fashion prior to retail has not enrich sellers and shoppers. A rethink of the flow from concept to consumer is, for many brand owners and their CFOs, as vital as cost control. As Tom Ford put it to CNN, “When you can buy something online and have it delivered the same day to your house in lots of key cities like you can now, it seems odd that you would look at clothes online and they would be everywhere, but you can’t have them for five months.”

Wait was definitely not something fans and followers of the model Gigi Hadid had to do.  Her collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was available during the New York Fashion Week presentation via touch screens set up on site, a one-time fun fair at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. On our island, the clothes were available the day after the show. We wanted to see for ourselves how talented Ms Hadid is, so we went to the Tommy Hilfiger store in Raffles City (the collection is also available at Ion Orchard and Vivo City—an impressive three points of sale).

“See now, buy now” was a serious and highly visible proposition here. The store was fronted by an island display full of the results of the collaboration (more than anything we saw at the other brands), the window was dressed with two cardboard cut-outs of the model fully garbed in the nautical-themed clothes bearing her name, and, on their left, a video screen was alive with flashing stills of Ms Hadid in poses that won’t give K-pop princesses a run for their money.

A sales staff did not hesitate to point out to us that two items were already sold out: a cap and a thigh-length, double-breasted, wool-blend cape-coat. “What does the coat look like,” we asked, and she whipped out an iPad to show us a product photo. “How many pieces were sold,” we ventured further, genuinely curious. With delight and will to convince, she said, “One.”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Dress Watch: The Sensuous And Snug

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Thierry Mugler is so very much of the past that even with the Thierry dropped from the brand—as well as a newly designed logo (no more lightning-bolt signature), you wonder if what you’ll confront is the aggressive “glamazon” that once characterised the designer’s work when you come face to face with the clothes.

At the launch of the Mugler fragrance Angel Muse last Thursday at Manifesto, five styles of Mugler outfits from the spring/summer 2016 season were on display to the endless fascination of those who still remember what Mr Mugler once did and the indifference of those who really do not bother with brands that are not trending.

What’s really alluring to us is this two-tone navy wool-blend dress, no doubt an object of desire for the body-con brigade. If you look carefully, there are three neck/shoulder components that are adored by women for whom the concealment of shoulder and décolletage is totally aberrant to good taste. You can imagine seeing this outfit in the queue to get into 1-Altitude.

In just one dress, cut to love the body, there is the crisscross halter neck and off-shoulder sleeves that together offer cold shoulders! There’s also the bib-front bustier of the quadrilateral bodice, unexpectedly positioned beneath the halter top so that the cleavage is conspicuously blocked. To a psychiatrist, this dress may be suffering from a dissociative disorder, but to women who love to face the world radiating overt sexuality, this dress has only one personality: sex bomb.

Designer David Koma has, in some ways, kept to Thierry Mugler’s love of emphasising bust, waist, hip, and derriere, but he’s made it more in keeping with the Kardashian aesthetics. The shape of the back of the dress, for instance, is expertly controlled by clever seam work and dart placement so that the curves of the wearer’s rear side will not be down played. There’s technical savvy here that recalls Azzedine Alaïa.

Thierry Mugler’s aggressive glamour (some call it “fetishist-looking”) of the ’80s and ’90s that celebrated the hour-glass body, while not a massive commercial success, was very much lauded for its daring. In 1997, the company was sold to the French cosmetic firm Clarins, and in 2003, the fashion line was closed and discontinued before the rebirth in 2010 under the stewardship of Nicola Formichetti. The Mugler name became largely a fragrance entity. 

After fashion, Mr Mugler, 67, often cited as odd—even bizarre, reinvented himself as Manfred, a Tom-of-Finland-style avatar, rippling with muscles. Rumours were circulating at one time that he has turned into a porn star, no doubt fuelled by nude photos of the by then very buffed man circulating online.

In the spring 2008 Costume Institute show Superheroes, one of his outfits, a 1992 bustier with motorcycle handle bars spread atop the bust and stretching past the shoulder enthused and aroused Beyoncé so much that she coaxed Thierry Mugler out of retirement to designed the costumes for her 2009 world tour. For some women, Mugler still offers a wet dream of a dress.

Mugler dress, price upon request, is available at Manifesto, Capitol Piazza. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Little Black Box

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Art, as in life, is about the haves and the have-nots. There are artists who get to work with the best tools and there are those who manage with what they have. The same can be said of fashion designers who have the skill to draw and love doing it. Some use whatever pencils and pens they can find in the likes of Popular, while others such as Karl Lagerfeld employ the tools that are the equivalent of the materials used by Chanel’s métiers d’art partners—special illustration instruments from the house of Faber-Castell.

The pencils and such that Mr Lagerfeld employ must be of such commercial appeal that Faber-Castell has launched an illustrator’s kit—called unsurprisingly Karlbox, with the tag “Colours in Black”—that contains water-colour and coloured pencils, pastels, brush and fine-liner pens, graphite pencils, crayons, and attendant accessories (an astounding 350 pieces in all). This is a limited-edition kit, with 2,500 sets available worldwide. According to the sales staff at the Fabel-Castell store, there are “about 40 in Singapore.” How many wealthy Karl-loving artists do we have?

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The handsome housing alone will probably be a big draw, forgive the easy pun. Launched early this month, the Karlbox is no ordinary artist’s tool box. The box itself is probably worth a good portion of the cool four-figure price asked of the kit. Made of beech and lacquered in black (“inevitably”, according to Faber-Castell with no explanation) the doors are affixed with 36 pyramidal studs or “diamond point headed pins” that when closed shape up into a square formation. It is, to us, evocative of cabinets with pyramid-block facing, rather than “a Chinese wedding cabinet” that Vogue sees. This is serious stuff, produced by a 255-year-old art supply manufacturer, not the kitschy Jean Paul Gaultier coloured pencils sold as memento for the travelling exhibition From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.

Inside the Karlbox, it’s a dollhouse for pencils and kindred instruments. There are seven tiers and six drawers, all organized by colours. What’s fascinating is the close-ups of the Karlbox in its promotional video—shot like a fashion film, but looks more like a cosmetic commercial for eye pencil colours. This is clearly pitched at fashion illustrators rather than artists. If Andy Warhol were still among us, maybe he’ll be enticed by designer pencils.

Karl Lagerfeld X Faber-Castell’s Karlbox, SGD4,588, is available at Faber-Castell, Ion Orchard, and Tangs. Photos: Faber-Castell

 

Is Adidas Desperate?

yeezy-season-4-g1Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 shown last week during New York Fashion Week. Photos: Yeezy

Everyone’s keeping up with Kanye (too), so let’s not talk about the Yeezy Season 4 show (or what some members of the media called “a hot mess”) that was staged last week. (In case you’re allergic to hoodies and really don’t know what happened, it was, by most accounts, a “disaster”.) Let’s discuss, instead, what Adidas is doing with Yeezy.

Back in June, Adidas made a public announcement of the formation of adidas + KANYE WEST, an “entity” that the German company sees as “the most significant partnership ever created between an athletic brand and a non-athlete”. That, marketing students, is an example of puffery. What we shall see, expectedly, is more of Yeezy sneakers, clothing, gear, and even eponymous stores. 

It was also widely reported that Adidas bankrolled the Yeezy Season 4 show after keeping away their cheque books for 3 and 4. Staged on New York’s Roosevelt Island and so poorly managed that it fanned the chagrin of those who attended, it isn’t clear how the show could benefit Adidas in the long term.

Sure, there’s publicity to be had from the media grumble, but is this the kind of foundation for adulation an established brand would lay with a potentially successful collaborator? Added to the incomprehension are the Yeezy clothes that have, hitherto, not escaped the bland and uncreative designs, first seen in Season 1. Has the man been so busy with blinding his followers with his publicity antics that they cannot see that he’s in a fashion rut?

yeezy-season-4-bootsThe Yeezy boots that caused more than one model to trip. Photo: Nowaygirl

Perhaps Mr West knows that he can’t push Yeezy any further. In an interview with Vogue.com just hours before the Roosevelt Island show, he said he prefers to substitute fashion for “let’s say ‘apparel,’ especially for the style of clothes I make.” A seductive euphemism if there ever was one. He then qualified his word choice by claiming, “I’m not saying that this is a fashion proposition, I’m saying that this is a human proposition.”

That sounds pretty close to Adidas’s game plan for the collaboration. As the brand’s chief marketing officer Eric Liedtke said to the media when the pairing with Kanye West was announced, “This is what Adidas has always been about, empowering creators to create the new.” Or giving celebrities, rather than sportsmen, what they have always been good at doing: ring up the noise.

It is often said that, unlike Nike, Adidas isn’t big in the sporting arena—at least not in the US of A, where success there often means global recognition. For Adidas there is also the niggling problem of Under Armour closing in. Adidas probably had to rethink endorsements after a series of failed partnerships with sport stars. These include the high-profile but still-not-rising NBA player Derrick Rose, who, in 2012, was awarded a “lifetime deal” rumoured to be worth around USD260 million over 14 years. Then he got injured and injured and injured, and Derrick Rose fronting Adidas became less and less and less visible.

yeezy-boost-750The first sneaker launched by Adidas and Kanye West in spring last year: the Yeezy Boost 750. Photo: Sneakernews

Big-name athlete association is integral to sporting goods brands. Nike had their money on the right guy when they signed with Michael Jordan, a Chicago Bulls star player. That pick was so spot-on that in no time, Air Jordans became a legit sub-brand under the Nike umbrella in 1985, and the launch of each style, till today, is still closely watched by sneakerheads and collectors alike. That the shoes were associated with Nike’s celebrated designer Tinker Hatfield didn’t hurt either. Adidas closest sport-celeb offering is the Stan Smith (named after the tennis player of the ’70s), a basically one-product category that’s been flogged to death.

So Adidas had to look outside of sport to raise its profile among consumers. Turning to celebrities—especially singers—isn’t a surprising move. The Three Stripes have always had the support of rappers as early as the ’80s, culminating in the RUN DMC single My Adidas of 1986. In the music video, not only were the trio decked in Adidas, they were even shown emerging from a RUN DMC/Adidas chopper! Street fashion, brought to music television by rappers, was on its way to being a multi-million business.

It was reported that the Adidas mention was completely self-initiated. Regardless, that song led to a USD1.6 million endorsement deal signed between Run DMC and Adidas. Hardly unexpected when you had rapped to the world, “my Adidas and me, close as can be/we make a mean team, my Adidas and me.” Their Adidas referred specifically to the Superstar, worn without laces. As if to relive those glory days, Adidas release a RUN DMC-co-branded line this year. Are we to expect a Missy Elliot collection? Maybe not, since we already have the Yeezy. Kanye West, the hip-hop star, will now change the fortunes of Adidas as RUN DMC did. Sport can wait.

run-dmc-adidas-teeRun DMC Adidas T-shirt, featuring the two names’ original logo. Photo: Adidas

The retreat of sport in the Adidas branding became more palpable with the push of adidas Originals (no idea why they prefer to spell it with a lower-case ‘A’), as part of a new division conceived in 2000 to advance the emerging popularity of “sport style”. It is under adidas Originals that Stan Smith was reborn and aggressively promoted. Yeezy too benefitted from the marketing might of Originals, but Kanye West isn’t the only rapper it has tapped. Others include Mr West’s G.O.O.D. Music label mates Big Sean (e.g., last year’s ZX Flux) and Pusha T (e.g., EQT Running Guidance ’93, also last year).

Do rappers have a particularly appealing taste that other singers in, say, rock or jazz do not? Or is it their visibility, as well as what can be heard from them that entices? One of the most audible (and still remembered) is Mr West’s very public outburst directed at his ex-collaborator Nike. It built up to the concert rant of 2013, when the rapper taunted Nike via the audience in a packed Bridgestone arena in Nashville, Tennessee: “Do you know who the head of Nike is? No, well let me tell you who he is: his name is Mark Parker, and he just lost culture. Everyone at Nike, everyone at Nike, Mark Parker just let go of culture.”

There must be something appealing about publicly berating the hand that once fed you, so much so that Adidas is willing to risk the same thing being done to them to go into partnership with a known hothead. It does look like it is true that publicity of any sort is better than no publicity. Let them talk about you, never mind if it’s a rant. Since its launch, Yeezy has spawned equal parts rant and rave. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe Adidas is keeping Mr West so happy that they will not receive the same treatment if things should turn sour between them.

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017Revealed this week, Alexander Wang’s pairing with adidas Originals. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

adidas-x-alexander-wang-ss-2017-editorialadidas Originals by Alexander Wang editorial for Vogue. Photo Juergen Teller/Vogue

Why has Adidas become so bent on banking on celebrities to push their wares or elevate their brand? Because, these days, it is the thing to do, even if the best you can get is Rita Ora. Tommy Hilfiger, too, was once preferred and endorsed by rappers, but look at where the brand is today. They’re so threatened with irrelevance that they’ve (re)aligned themselves with celebrity—this time, the K-clan mirror image Gigi Hadid. And it isn’t enough that she is their face; she has to have a collection purportedly co-designed with her. Celebrities these days have more clout than designers. Designers have to be celebrities or use them to yield similar influence. Just ask Olivier Rousteing.

While Adidas continues its on-going collaborations with designers such as Stella McCartney, Yohji Yamamoto—Y3 is considered to have presaged the current love for athleisure—and Kolor’s Junichi Abe, they have not quite earned the cred and clout that Nike has with Junya Watanabe, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi (who, a runner himself, created the running-centric label Gyakusou), and recently Sacai’s Chitose Abe (a stunning collection conceived with Nike Lab). Nike has generally been rather judicious with their designer collaborations. Up next is Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear designer Kim Jones, whose last sport-brand collab was with the British label Umbro ten years ago. Nike has mostly paired itself with those considered the crème de la crème of the fashion business—champions of design, rather than seekers of fame.

Not to be outdone, Adidas has gone to team up with Alexander Wang, who showed an all-black capsule collection with the Trefoil logo given the dao treatment—turned upside down—during the recent New York Fashion Week (now considered season-confused since there were designers who showed autumn/winter 2016). Adidas latest choice is, of course, far from unexpected. Mr Wang had given the Stan Smith top billing when he designed a whole range of clothes inspired by Adidas’s most-known sneaker in 2014.

barrack-obama-in-adidas-2016An undated picture of Barack Obama wearing Adidas tracksuit circulated on Twitter this year. Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

His latest is homage to the Adidas tracksuit, all black, as most fashionistas desire. But do they bring anything new to the table, or, if you like, jogging track? Yes, he has toyed with the logo, but so has Junya Watanabe for Lacoste. He has outlined the three stripes, but so has Y-3. Mr Wang’s take on the tracksuit picks up after Gosha Rubichinskiy’s resuscitation of those by Sergio Tacchini and Kappa (even the Juergen Teller-lensed communication material featuring Madonna’s son Rocco Ritchie shares Mr  Rubichinskiy’s eastern-bloc aesthetic). And the all-black get-up? Even Barack Obama has worn his version, Adidas no less.

The thing is, Alexander Wang, whose own design does not distance itself from the aesthetics of fast fashion (that’s why his collaboration with H&M was a better fit than that with Balenciaga), need not have to try that hard. Adidas isn’t known to excel in the marketing of design-centric lines such as the critically-acclaimed but doomed sub-brand SLVR (launched in 2009 and discontinued in 2014), last designed by Dirk Schönberger, Adidas’s creative director for its Sports Style division. With Mr Wang, Adidas can simply let the former’s online and offline cool do the work.

Adidas’s ardent embrace of Kanye West also attests to the prevalent sentiment that design doesn’t matter. Mr West may offer what, in New York parlance, is “dope shit”, but it’s the shit that seems to rile observers such as Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, who, in a taped interview with Access Hollywood Live two days ago, called the outfits “dumb basic clothes” and the designer behind them “a sphinx without a riddle”. Mr Gunn deserves more fans.

Funnel For A Rucksack

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Despite the tote’s increasing popularity, the backpack has always been the go-to bag. Understandable since it allows the palms to be free for modern necessities such as smartphone or old-fashioned habits such as shaking a hand. Despite its popularity, the backpack has rarely enjoyed a rethink in terms of design. That’s why this Lemaire backpack is immediately alluring.

There’s the shape: a truncated NS men’s Alibaba bag, but from the front view shares the organic form of a gourd, such as the one carried by one of the eight immortals (八仙) Li Tieguai (李鐵拐) or Iron Crutch Li. How auspicious since the gourd symbolises longevity, and to some, the ability to ward off evil!

But what are especially appealing to us are the clothes-making touches it sports. Instead of a top flap for closure, the bag has a wide draw-string top—just like gym pants—that can be pulled or released to adjust the opening. Buttoned tabs on both sides suggest epaulettes, adding to its overall military styling. An exterior pocket with concealed zips expands its capacity, while a single strap just below the scrunch top allows the bag to be carried in the hand.

Inside the full-cotton backpack (lined in the same fabric), is a single-compartment capaciousness that can easily accommodate everything—and some more—an urbanite would require for his or her daily commute. Perhaps, more significantly, with a style that can be called distinctive.

Lemaire soft backpack, SGD465, is available at Manifesto, Capitol Piazza. Photo: Jim Sim

Watched: Yohji Yamamoto | Dressmaker and The First Monday In May

Last week, two fashion films were screened at the Capitol Theatre as part of A Design Film Festival Singapore 2016. Both were as different as blouse and skirt even if they were, ultimately, about creative clothes

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By Mao Shan Wang

It is to be expected that at screenings of films about fashion, there would be more fashion students than industry folks. It is no different when Yohji Yamamoto | Dressmaker was shown recently. That is, of course, a good thing since it is often said that the young are learning from fast channels and what’s shared such as on social media than from long-form communications such as books and film. However, at the end of the screening, I wondered if the students were more daunted than motivated.

Part biography, part philosophical musing, Yohji Yamamoto | Dressmaker is a documentary that will crush the dreams of design students. Not long into the film, Mr Yamamoto extols the virtues of working and gaining experience, rather than fame. “After graduation from art school,” he said, “you cannot be creative. No, no, it’s impossible.” This is, of course, not a new refrain. Similar to what he told Business of Fashion’s Imran Amedin in May this year, “When I speak with young designers, I tell them, ‘Shut your computer, don’t look at the computer… if you really want to see real beauty, you have to go there by walking. Go there and touch it and smell it. Don’t use the computer. Otherwise, you won’t get real emotion.”

I am not sure if watching Yohji Yamamoto | Dressmaker is an emotional experience for my fellow film goers, many of whom could not tear away from their smartphone—the handheld computer—during the screening, but it was for me. “Creation is life’s work; creation is how you spend your life,” says Mr Yamamoto in his characteristically slow and deep voice—not unlike a monk’s. “You cannot divide life and creation; it’s impossible.”

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Yohji Yamamoto examining the movement of a skirt during a fitting

Such is his certainty: the indivisibility of not just life and creation, but of conviction and craft, hand and fabric, eye and form. It’s like how some people can’t split love and marriage. In the film, you repeatedly see Mr Yamamoto squat during fittings to study his designs, especially of skirts and pants. A lesser designer might consider that an ungainly stance, but not Mr Yamamoto. The fitting sessions, in fact, truly shows the designer’s skill and mettle. It is here, where he is sometimes half-hidden behind a standing mirror, sometimes hunkered down as the fit models walk past, that I see a createur truly concerned with the 360-degree view and fall of clothes. His designs, from every angle, have to be perfect.

Perfection, I have often been told by design lecturers, is something students today do no pursue. The young are only keen on following fashion, to produce some semblance of fashion, not the epitome of it. Mr Yamamoto once said, in the 2011 documentary This Is My Dream, “I’m not interested in fashion generally; I’m interested in how to cut the clothing—dressmaking, clothing-making.” With computer-aided designs embraced by both designers and manufacturers, the rigours and the creativity behind dressmaking may be lost… forever. It is, therefore, heartfelt to see a designer working in the traditional sense of ‘designing’.

So much of what is shown at work is away from the digital realm, or at least the film does not dwell on the dependence on software and the like. This deep passion for craft enthralls if only because it seems so removed from our present world. Yohji Yamamoto | Dressmaker isn’t a fashion film in the vein of those that seek to glorify the visual excesses of over-the-top designers. The close-ups of Mr Yamamoto working tug at your heartstrings.  To paraphrase Tom Ford, who said in the 2015 documentary series Visionaries: Inside the Creative Mind, “you can feel rather than think.”

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From left, Anna Wintour, Andrew Bolton, and ex Mrs Murdoch, Wendy Deng

In contrast, The First Monday In May is about the dazzle and the glamour of New York’s major fashion spring event, the Met Ball. At the same time, it spotlights the one woman who pulls the two together—Anna Wintour. At the start of the film, she’s shown, in Chanel couture, with her back to the camera—drawing attention to her very creased elbow—before turning around in slow-mo like a movie star at a movie opening. Is the by-now over-exposed American Vogue’s honcho still so fascinating that she merits a film camera trailing her?

Sure, there’s a lot of the behind-the-scene toil, but even that seems glamorous. I am not sure if this documentary is really about the Met Gala (specifically last year’s China: Through the Looking Glass that shows Chinese culture’s influence on Western fashion), one night hailed by Andre Leon Tally as “the Super Bowl of social fashion events” or the glorification of an editor who has, like Diana Vreeland in the 1970s, positioned herself as the sole instigator of fashion as museum spectacle. Ms Wintour has not only made hers a notch more memorable (and deserving of a documentary); she has made them climb onto the category ‘blockbuster’.

the-first-monday-in-may-pic-2Andrew Bolton making last-minute adjustments to an Alexander McQueen dress before the start of the show

The film may have benefitted from the gravitas of Andrew Bolton, the Thom Browne-clad head curator of the Metropolitan of Art’s Costume Institute, but it still can’t escape from being fluff. Is it surprising, for instance, that Ms Wintour and her crew would have had a frustrating time confirming the guest list or seating those invited? Is it enlightening that an event of this scale would have experienced technical and logistical hiccups? Is it eye-opening to know that Rihanna would have cost a fortune if you wanted her to attend and sing? Who’s not aware: the audience or one of Ms Wintour’s bimbo-minions who said, “We can’t lose her, right? We just didn’t realise how expensive”?

What’s revealing, though, is that Ms Wintour is less attuned to the world outside fashion than we think. When she made a fuss about shifting a column to accommodate the tables she wanted and commented that “it’s only a column”, she had to be corrected by a museum staffer: “It’s a Tiffany column.” Is toughness an impenetrable façade to conceal the indolence of the mind? The First Monday In May is as much a celebration of clothes as getting as many glamourous, veneered people in one room to lend credence to the otherwise under-rated art of dressmaking. However strong the glamour factor, it isn’t moving.

Photo (top): Jim Sim. Film stills courtesy of respective film makers and producers, as well as A Design Film Festival

When There Are No Cars, The Clothes Come Out

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In what was a car park, two floors beneath ground level of the Sony Building in Ginza, a mini fashion emporium has opened. The subterranean space is unadorned, which is rather at odds with the mostly swishy stores above ground. This is one of Tokyo’s swankiest shopping districts. Is this why Hiroshi Fujiwara’s new retail concept is placed under the glitz?

In The Park.Ing Ginza, a two-level store, Mr Fujiwara is perhaps bringing street wear back to the street, or, in this case, underground concrete parking lot. This is Tokyo retail quite unlike others. In spirit and in the product mix, it brings to mind Dover Street Market Ginza, just three blocks away, but the similarity ends there. Park.Ing, by contrast, is closer to the term ‘market’, which is then similar to Comme des Garçons’s Good Design Shop (in Omotesando), a veritable general store much like a chap huay tiam (杂货店).

park-ing-ginza-pic-2Movable industrial fixtures for The Park.Ing Ginza

Mr Fujiwara has given the space a jumble that is jaunty. That is to be expected since his approach, to many street style watchers (even those in his native Japan), is more with it than his former personal assistant and pal Nigo’s, now ensconced at Uniqlo (but still with the benefit of his own retail outlet, Store by Nigo in Laforet, Harajuku). Park.Ing is a showcase of Mr Fujiwara’s curatorial flare. You don’t only find Park.Ing-branded products; you’ll also find those that seem to share the retailer’s sense of sensible street wear that can be sensational.

In this regard, fans see Park.Ing as the next chapter of the POOL aoyama, Mr Fujiwara’s previous concept store, which closed shortly before the former opened in March this year. The POOL aoyama was a veritable headquarters of Japanese cool. Its collaborators—from Undercover to Uniform Experiment—speak as much about the founder’s eye as the clout he enjoys. The ‘Pool’ T-shirts—clearly cooler than an obvious ‘Cool’ and a clever jibe—was one of the most coveted garments during the store’s reign, and they still are.

park-ing-walkman-sweat-topPark.Ing’s Sony Walkman tribute in a form of a sweat top

For Park.Ing, Mr Fujiwara continues to work with people who shared his vision for Pool (is the initial P in both names deliberate?). He has kept the original creative team and continues to collaborate with Kiyonaga Hirofumi, the man behind SOPH and Uniform Experiment. In the already potent mix is Daisuke Gemma, the creative director at one of the hottest Japanese labels today, Sacai. This really means a steaming brew of products only the Japanese can bring together with such conviction and panache.

And there are the inevitable T-shirts, which remain deliciously anti-cool and borderline cultish. What is really interesting to us is his take on corporate/consumer-name branding, a trend started by Uniqlo and validated as haute by Vetements. In conjunction with Sony’s 70th anniversary (and the building’s 50th), Mr Fujiwara has created a couple of short-sleeved sweatshirts bearing the logo, right in the centre, of Sony’s nearly forgotten product range Walkman—in its original font to boot. There’s also another version featuring DAT, Sony’s much snubbed Digital Audio Tape (SOTD tech contributor Low Teck Mee was thrilled beyond words at the sight of them!). These may be lost on the Tidal generation, but for many there is something alluringly retro and snobbishly other-gen about them.

the-park-ing-ginza-paper-bagThe white paper is as plain as a grocery bag

Therein is the appeal of Park.Ing. The store is stocked with street wear, but they aren’t predictably cute as A Bathing Ape, hardcore (and expensive) as Mastermind Japan, repetitive as Neighborhood, art-core as OriginalFake, or work wear-centred as Freak Store. Mr Fujiwara, 52, approaches fashion retail like the DJ that he is: sampling from only the most captivating sources. We can’t say for sure, but perhaps age has grounded him to output the practical without sacrificing wit and fun. It is really street wear for older customers (especially those who have shed their bond with business attire). And mostly with the important hint of exclusivity.

Mr Fujiwara is indeed the one to play pied piper to the matured crowd (more so since Ginza is no Shibuya). Once a Harajuku habitué who had worked in World’s End, the London store opened by his idols Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McClaren, he later embraced hip-hop and was considered the first to introduce rap music from the US to Japan, even teaching fellow DJs the turntablist technique of ‘scratching’. Fashion came later, in 1990, in the form of his own label Goodenough, thought to be the country’s first street wear label and a key player in the burgeoning street scene centred in Ura Harajuku, or the “back of Harajuku”.

park-ing-hang-tangThe Park.Ing Ginza hang tag in the form of a car park ticket

T-shirts have always been a consistent part of his output since Goodenough (a couple were reprised for Park.Ing), and his aesthetic sense can be traced to Stüssy. Mr Fujiwara was a member of the International Stüssy Tribe—in fact, the group’s first Japanese member. The influence of his early days never really left him, and he has been able to take the visual cues of surf (as opposed to skate) culture and throw in dashes of hip-hop, pop, and whatever is capturing the imagination of cool-cat urbanites to generate approachable products that speak of the mood on the street.

Hiroshi Fujiwara is also very much connected to Fragment Design, a one-stop, multi-discipline studio he started in 2003 that does not really produce anything other than put out judicious collaborations. That runs the gamut from Louis Vuitton to Off-White to Nike to Levis (the Japan-only Fenom line): projects that strengthen his standing as street style’s Zeus, who also happens to play the guitar and sing.

The Park.Ing Ginza proves, just as the POOL aoyama before it did, that with the right mix, in an unexpected location, and awash with attitude, retail can be viable and, as they call it in Pokémon Go, a lure.

The Park.Ing Ginza is at Sony Building, B3F, 5-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo. Photos Jiro Shiratori