Highly Conventional Forms


Naeem Khan dresses she who rules and roosts in the White House (until January 2017, anyway). His clothes have a familiarity not unlike the most recognized casa blanca in Washington, so much so that, after just a few minutes into his show for Singapore Fashion Week, we were able to guess what will come out next. This predictability is perhaps his selling point. Mr Khan’s clothes are not challenging; they do not deviate from what is expected of him—gowns that look good on the White House front steps, on international red carpets, and certainly here at the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery.

The spring/summer 2017 shown—“highlight” of the SGFW—on Saturday night was, according to seat-allotted show notes printed sans semblance of a layout (and in full caps too!), “dedicated to my mentor, Halston, whom I work for in the 70’s (sic).” Mr Khan is, of course, not the only person to be inspired by Halston. His compatriot Tom Ford, a Halston devotee, continues to walk his idol’s footsteps, whether he’s conscious of it or not. Although Mr Khan’s own work is less imitative, the first four colour-block jersey dresses left no doubt the source of his inspiration.


Ironically, it is in the homage to a past fashion god that the clothes looked most modern, even if they were a smidgen too Halston to align seamlessly with the embellished prettiness typical of Naeem Khan. The quartet of slightly flared dresses with geometric panels and strategic slits to reveal limbs, will no doubt appeal to GOOP girl Gwyneth Paltrow, or any woman who can live without a hint of blink.

However, that unadorned simplicity quickly took a back seat, which was, of course, no surprise. From then on, Mr Khan was in full force, and the visual serenity gave way to an off-shoulder baby doll dress that looked like a giant reticule with armholes. It was nearly completely embroidered, and from where we were seated, appeared beautiful, but it did look like someone (or some people) laboured over it. “A lot of my embroidery is made in India,” Mr Khan had told the media, which, although uncalled for, made us think of the other embroidery-loving designer Guo Pei.


Chinese embroidery goes back more than 5,000 years—the much-lauded su xiu (苏绣) of Suzhou, for example, is believed to have a genesis that dates to 2,000 years ago. Ms Pei, for all her love of dramatic styles, offered embroidery that looked light—silk-fan light, as if it was effortless needlework by one individual. It probably isn’t, but it looked that way. Mr Khan’s own family was in the embroidered textile business, and India, too, has a rich history of hand embroidery with many different regional styles, just like in China.

But for this collection, Mr Khan’s application just looked a bit too heavy, so much so that they seemed more like embroidered appliqué. Even the sulam-looking needlework looked overwrought. For those who love decorative excess, this is surely no problem. In fact, they “keep style-watchers gasping with admiration”, exactly just as USA Today said when describing one of Michele Obama’s Naeem Khan gowns.


For designers who love this much embroidery, beading, lace and floral prints (which, together, Mr Khan calls his “own signature materials”), somehow bridal wear is often part of the repertoire. And those wedding dresses that make Mr Khan the go-to designer, just like Vera Wang, appeared in the last part of the presentation. Mr Khan usually stages bridal couture in separate shows, so it must have been an extra treat for those who came to see what would have been just occasion wear. Well, bridal wear is occasion wear!

It seems such a long-gone past when wedding dresses closed the French couture shows. (We’re thinking of Yves Saint Laurent as we write this.) So it was fascinating to see Mr Khan’s bridal pieces, which seemed to be designed for Princess Leia Organa’s wedding to Han Solo. Okay, it was the headdress that looked like something Anakin Walker and Padmé Amidala’s daughter might have worn, but the Princess, if you remember, was fond of donning a bridal-white, ankle-length dress when fighting Storm Troopers. Naeem Khan’s wedding frocks are, of course, prettier, but, just like Star Wars, they articulate fairy-tale, even if this here isn’t “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

Cheongsams M.I.A.


Ong Shunmugam opened her Singapore Fashion Week ‘Cheongsam 2017’ show by sending out all the models at one go. They strode hurriedly by, as if in haste to exit the Supreme Court Terrace due to some unknown dishonor. We saw just as quickly that despite what designer Priscilla Shunmugam had been touting, this was not a cheongsam show. Were we duped?

When the first model re-emerged after the march past in a tri-panel peplumed number with stout Mandarin collar of contrast white like a clergyman’s, you knew immediately that Ms Shunmugam was going to take liberties with the cheongsam. Again. Not that that’s a bad thing, really, but our stand has always been unchanged: if you’re going to deconstruct or re-imagine a classic dress, do that dress faultlessly first!

By the appearance of the second outfit—a red, Mandarin-collared dress with a fitted bodice and flared, knee-length skirt, which looks uncannily like something OG would inevitably stock during the CNY season, we knew this was going to be just a stylistic update of what she’s been doing rather than a real re-imagination. This was the fashion equivalent of mobile app users’ regular confrontation—“bug fixes and speedy performance improvements”. Serve our dim selves right for taking the title of her show so literally!


We’ve always been delirious with joy by Ong Shunmugam’s serious, wit-free, and intelligent (a popular media description) take on traditional Asian wear. But if our adrenaline runs uncharacteristically low this time, what else can we say about the clothes? We were fanning ourselves with hopefulness even when dress after dress was two steps away from trite, but stronger was the feeling that the brand could be experiencing a slow exhaustion of ideas.

To be sure, there were details previously not seen in Ong Shunmugam cheongsams. Admirers would no doubt be thrilled, for instance, that the cheongsams now come with cold-shoulder treatment, arguably the high-street’s detail du jour. The rest of the sleeves—in bishop and bell-shaped styles (a pair on a white and blue dress looked like lampshades, to be more precise)—fell from the armpit level so that skin of the upper arm could be revealed to catch a bit of sunshine or conditoned air. Is this to make up for the concealment of the thighs since the side slits that distinguish the cheongsam were done away with?

Some of the pieces comprised of juxtaposed fabrics that appeared to be a take on the placement prints that Ms Shunmugam previously had a weakness for. The mix bore the spirit of colour-blocking that could back-tracked to the Seventies, with some pieces tracing the top outline of the bust as if there were bras worn atop the dress. It is understandable why purists consider hers “angmo pai” (红毛派 or Western) cheongsams. Indeed, her aesthetic sensibility differ not drastically from Lisa Von Tang of Chi Chi Von Tang. Why, both designers paired their cheongsams with flat-soled shoes! How uncanny was that? Just a trend in the making?

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct

What Was Taken Away At Stolen?

Despite a potentially pretentious presentation, last night’s Stolen show nearly stole the limelight of the entire Singapore Fashion Week, even before the event ended. Ely Wong has turned her debut at SGFW into a performance more in keeping with what normally happens on stage than a catwalk. Was she merely staying on trend by adopting the visual caper associated with Kanye West’s Yeezy Season shows or was this something with a cryptic, Lemonade-era message?

For a festival mostly devoid of an elevated runway, Stolen’s show configuration—right in the middle of the Auditorium Foyer of the National Gallery—of boxes and props and wooden chairs on which the models sat, stood, and seduced hinted at something far more intelligent than the usual walk-on-by that Singaporean designers favour. Coupled with the models’ war-paint makeup, this could be SGFW’s most directional show yet.

Despite showing in a major local fashion week for the first time (the brand has participated in trade events in the New York, mainly showroom affairs), Stolen is not a new label. Almost a decade of existence and a brief run at Robinsons later, Stolen has remained a fairly little-known label. It is considered a minimalist line, not in the tradition of Jil Sander, but more in the spirit of Phoebe Philo’s Celine. To us, as we watched her show for the first time, designer Ely Wong’s two-dimensional approach to design vaguely recalled the work of even more obscure Singaporean designer Grace Tan, whose early experiments on her label Kwodrent (now an “inter-disciplinary practice”) was manipulation of planes.

Stolen is about flatness and straight lines, and it is now even more so. How this linearity can be manipulated to bring about accord with the three-dimensionality of the human body, Ms Wong has, till now, not shown convincingly. From the start in 2007, her ideas have been conceptually strong, and she goes through the details of her work with a rigour uncommon among her contemporaries, but there is still scant evidence of technical finesse. There was talk once that as recent as a couple of years back, she had approached a veteran Singaporean designer to help her with pattern-making. It seemed nothing came out of that. Ms Wong still works primarily with an ad-hoc group of drafters and sewers, some of whom possibly cannot grasp her rather high-minded ideas.

These mostly stem from the upper back. Ms Wong is fascinated by the rear of the body, and her designs expose the spinal column and, occasionally, with details such as interplay of straps, underscore the beauty of the trapezius and the dorsum. For her spring/summer 2017 season, some of the backs are still uncovered or partly so, but there seems to be a shift of attention to the shoulder and the neck, which is an area of interest initially seen in 2014 when she introduced ruffs—though not quite Elizabethan—to crown otherwise plain bodices. Now, diaphanous pleats and overlapped panels were shaped into turtle necks, shoulder coverings in the form of abbreviated capelets, extra-long bibs (a plain one looked like a table runner!), and dorsal swirls, all fashioned on what were essentially column dresses loosely based on the Grecian ideal.

The show opened with a model reciting, in the dark, verses from Warsan Shire: a portentous “…my existence is not about how desirable you find me.” All rather performance-arty, but once the models came together in the finale, the colours—nude and whispers of pink and blue—bring to mind immediately the affected hip-hop-as-art leaning of (again) Mr West. Those exposed underpants in skin tone, too. In the end, when the picture was complete, you could see that Ms Wong still designs as if piling paper on top of another. There was almost no dart work, and certainly no unusual placement of seams prevalent in ‘shaped’ garments.

Perhaps true to the earlier not-a-crowd-pleaser proclamation, some members of the front row seem a little too eager to leave when the presentation ended, perhaps to rush off to see the Naeem Khan show, up next. They knew that would be less somnolent, definitely less plain, less linear. That’s the fashion women like Michelle Obama want, and will swoon over. That is why Ely Wong’s defiant “it’s-not-my-responsibility-to-be-beautiful” stance is the sole encouraging spark in the SPGW calendar.

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct


Toon Town Tang


Fashion is sometimes like a joke: there are good jokes and there are bad jokes. And, now and then, you don’t get the joke at all.  In line with the ‘Anime’ theme of the collection, Chi Chi Von Tang’s debut Singapore Fashion Week show opened with a video presentation of a purported sighting of a super vigilante—“an elusive powerful woman” that is “tall, slender, Asian, in her mid-thirties”. But this was not a motion-picture animation. Rather, it was an amateurish live-action “breaking news” flash that could have been one of the class assignments submitted at the Singapore Media Academy. As if all that was not enough, talents (the brand’s own staff, it was reported) acted out the scenes on the catwalk!

By now, we’re not left in the dark that the mysterious one-woman rescue mission is a Chi Chi Von Tang aka Lisa Von Tang aka Lisa Crosswhite. Ms Von Tang (for simplicity, will stick to this moniker) is a girl-powered go-getter of Chinese and Canadian descent, who has quietly worked on her Chi Chi Von Tang label about a year ago and came to some prominence when it was reported that one of her yet to-be-released pieces from the ‘Anime’ collection was seen on a guest at this year’s Met Gala to celebrate the opening of Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.

That cute number—with manga, not anime, illustrations by Canadian-Chinese artist Liao Mujia for the skirt—was picked up by our local media and celebrated as some breakthrough. Suddenly Chi Chi Von Tang became a label to watch. And watched we did. The spirited show was opened by Ms Von Tang’s favourite Malaysian model, the Seremban native Tinie Bibbaby, who storm-twirled the runway with a fierceness worthy of a Chi Chi Warrior, as fervent followers of “Chi Chi fashion” are called. It’s all very Mother Monster and her Little Monsters, of course. Ms Bibbaby wore a sleeveless top emblazoned with the question “Who is Chi Chi Von Tang?” (the back should have read, “Who cares!”) and shorts over which a printed fabric was somehow fasten to the waist as an open-front skirt. So pleased Ms Bibbaby must have been with what she was given to wear that prior to the show, she posted a 14-plus-minute live feed of the backstage action on Facebook, declaring how she and fellow model Tuti Mohd Noor “make Malaysia proud”.

The opening number immediately left you feeling that this would be about styling rather than design. Chi Chi Von Tang has been described as a “street-luxe” label with what the brand says is a focus on “statement jackets”. The debut collection early this year was “inspired by Chinese couture (oxymoron or not, we leave it to you to decide) and the fire and swagger of Grace Jones (still firing and swaggering?)”. And where’s the street and the luxe and the Chinese-couture? It’s all exemplified by the Chi Chi Warrior Bomber—a flight jacket with frog buttons added to it and ethnic fabrics for sleeves. Should the exploration of Chinese or Asian motifs be this simplistic or reductive?

Lisa Von Tang’s ‘Anime’ collection stays close in spirit to what she has set out to do from the beginning. The designer, by her own admission, “does not come from a traditional design background” and Chi Chi Von Tang “celebrates unique spirits, courage and color”. On the narrow runway in the Auditorium Foyer of the National Gallery last night, there was the predictable pastiche of styles loosely held together by Oriental details such as frog buttons and fringes. Whether any of these can be considered unique really depends on one’s cultural standpoint. In Ms Von Tang’s case, it is a Western mind reconnecting with her Eastern roots, hence the potentially tacky amplification of Oriental exotica. Ms Von Tang even crossed into Priscilla Shunmugam’s territory by sending out her interpretation of a cheongsam, which looked like something Sun Ho might wear if she were still shaking her booty to stardom in LA.

The disparate world of fashion is full of brands that are born in an alternate universe, a colourful recess that does not tune into the aesthetic common denominator that connects the groundbreaking designers of worth. Chi Chi Von Tang’s ‘Anime’ collection seems to be from that other cosmos, where “street” is euphemism for not pursuing refinement. In fact, to us, it has the requisites that will prompt Tim Gunn to say, “Clothes do not exist to humiliate their owners. Please do not force garments into performing psychological tasks for which they were not designed!”

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct


Totally Girl Girl


Danelle Woo has been quietly running her frilly Aijek label to enviable success. Regardless of where the line is carried, from the now-defunct Mporium to Tangs, her most visible stockist, Aijek has chalked up top sales, and has been enjoying a large following of customers who look at the clothes uncritically. On the sales floor, that is understandable: you see, you buy. But once the garments are shifted to a runaway, they attract far more intense scrutiny. Clothes on hangers can get away with many things, on models working a catwalk, it’s harder—a lot harder.

For her Singapore Fashion Week show yesterday, Ms Woo broke no new ground. Perhaps that isn’t imperative. Once you’ve built your line on a formula—essentially producing what’s already the rage and seen in the marketplace, you can bore your audience to tears, and people will say that you’re staying true to your signature. Aijek is easy to wear and easy to love. The thing with anything this easy, is that you may just as easily tire of them.


How many dainty rompers does a woman’s wardrobe require? Or, for that matter, cold-shoulder tops that look suspiciously like those you saw in Forever 21, just yesterday? Or lace dresses that will be picked up by a bride-to-be for her bridesmaid? There’s a pattern-book approach to assembling the collection: every conceivable neckline, sleeve or skirt length and shape, all manner of tactile properties in fabrics were given a fighting chance. (Interestingly, of the 35 looks Ms Woo presented, there was only one pair of pants.) This is a merchandiser’s way of pulling together a line rather than a designer’s: more, more, more; repeat, repeat, repeat.

An inductee of this year’s Fashion Futures (so too are Max Tan and Stolen’s Elyn Wong), Ms Woo basically offers the kind of ultra-fem clothes that straightforwardly qualify for webzine listicles: “10 outfits you’ll wear non-stop”, “20 maxi-dresses to buy for a BFF gathering”, “30 bustier numbers to stunt colleagues at the annual D&D”, “50 items your boyfriend absolutely hates”. It’s all well and fine, of course, but do these clothes deserve to be put on a runway?

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct

Who’s Cup Of Tea?

In Bangkok, a label such as Sheranut is a dime a dozen. They can be found across the city, in many stores where glamour in its lurid and exaggerated forms is appreciated and desired. Often times, the person behind the label is an attractive individual of some social standing who did not necessarily start out in fashion design, but through love of dressing up, retail therapy, and social-media-as-market-place, birthed a clothing label. The Bangkok’s fashion scene is awash with them, such as BFFs Sawitri Rochanapruk and Jirada Yohara’s Hahaha: The Happy Girls, blogger Nun Stannard’s Blatantly Blue, restaurateur Anchalee Vikasidnakhakun’s Anchavika, and fashion editor at Thai Marie Claire Guitar Patinya’s eponymous Patinya that, last week, hosted a private showing at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

And now there’s Sheranut, a two-year-old label conceived by Thai actress cum singer Sheranut Yusananda. Known by her nickname Namcha (literally, tea in Thai), Ms Yusananda is a recent full-fledged (co-)designer of her label after first finding modest success selling her wares on Instagram. Truth is, she does not have the pedigree of Pimdao Sukhahuta of Stretsis. Even her career in film and music is, to Thais, mediocre, at best. That’s why the brand’s appearance last night at Singapore Fashion Week, now supposedly poised to take the event to the next level, is a bummer, simply because SGFW deserves the best, not the commonplace or the accidental fashion designer.

Ms Yusananda may have served a deep-hued pot of tea at her first, er, brewing in Singapore, but it was a flavourless infusion. Despite a fierce presentation choreographed by Bangkok’s veteran show producer Sombatsara Thirasaroj, affectionately known as Tue (pronounced as ‘pig’ in Hokkien), with a military-style finale that recalls Vanessa Beecroft’s display for Kanye West, her clothes had sex and scintillation, but no substance. All the pumped-up skin-tight sexiness was oddly paradoxical to the intro, unveiled unexpectedly to the audience, who was called to stand to attention as a photo of the recently deceased King Bhumibol was projected on the rear wall of the National Gallery’s Auditorium Foyer, while the royal anthem Sanrasoen Phra Barami played, immediately recalling the ritual prior to a movie screening in a Thai cinema.

Once the clothes emerged, it was obvious the solemn prelude was a token formality. The first model appeared in a constricted skirt so tight she could barely strut. Body-hugging was really the order of the day; together with every cliché Thai designers have a tendency to embrace when it comes to sexiness with a certain sternness: the halter neck, the bare shoulders, the bare back, low V-front as well as back (so that some form of horizontal strap was required in the rear to hold the top together), the barely-there slip, the sequinned nude dress, swingy tented shapes, fringed skirts, ‘car-wash’ skirts and dresses, body stockings, and the obligatory skinny pants. The collection, with its oblique reference to tribal Africa (the face paint was more half-baked than convincing and the full-face jewellery was more joke than jaunty), was a hodgepodge more in common with a market such as Bangkok’s famed Chatuchak than the swank seen in malls such as the new Siam Discovery. A zebra-print pantsuit, Ms Yusananda might wish to note, does not Africa make.

To understand the appeal and the viability of a brand such as Sheranut, it is useful to know that the Bangkok beau monde includes a group known as “hiso”, a uniquely Thai word that’s a portmanteau of high and society. It is not necessarily a term of compliment or endearment. Hiso, sometimes scorned by the intelligentsia, refers to both male and female, and may include another category, the dara—stars. Sheranut Yusananda is not only a member of the hiso, she is—because of her other professions—also a dara. The hiso-dara is more often than not a fashion plate with a taste quite identifiable by the carefully struck balance of sexiness, trendiness, and pretend modesty. Sheranut’s debut here allows the uninitiated a peak into this distinctive world that has less to do with real design talent than the love of dressing the hiso-dara self. Fashion is actually secondary.

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct

Not Maxed Out


With his past collections, Max Tan’s work sometimes seemed gormless. You sensed that, like so many of his generation, his design education and inspiration is, respectively, derived and drawn from either Pinterest or Tumblr. Mr Tan himself has admitted—in an undisguised, three-and-half-minute video plug for Microsoft’s Surface (a sponsor) that preceded his spring/summer 2017 show at this year’s Singapore Fashion Week—that he gleans heavily from the online world. “I spend a lot of time on the Internet,” he said earnestly. “It’s a wonderful never-ending source of images and inspiration.”

Although Mr Tan is producing clothes that few, if not none, are churning out, it cannot be said with gusto that his output is completely original. His designs are imaginative, sure, but it seems to be imagination fired by what beckons from the computer screen, or in his present case, the high pixels-per-inch LCD touch pad of the Surface Pro. Through the World Wide Web, Mr Tan could garner from both visibility and obscurity to bring together ideas that are familiar and unfamiliar. The thing about such an approach—using cyberspace as research centre—is that anyone from anywhere can be also similarly positioned, looking at the same thing/site/page/link or plenitude of pictures, to knock together a collection. Isn’t this what students these day, including Mr Tan’s own at NAFA, do as evidence of research?


Staged last night on the opening day of SGFW, Max Tan’s latest offering has that sense of assemblage born of haste. Picking familiar themes that he has previously explored, he rehashes his usual slouchy tops and bottoms, throwing the one-shoulder seen at so many brands during Paris fashion week not too long ago for good measure. What appeared to be refreshing—the swingy outfits in striped fabrics—in fact recall those that he presented, while still unshackled from national service, for Singapore Fashion Designers Contest during SFW 2007, a second-place collection with a school-age resonance called ‘Borrowing from my Boyfriend’s Wardrobe’.

Followers of Max Tan’s brief 6-year, do-the-nation-proud career will be able to nod knowingly and appreciatively at the asymmetry, the distended shapes, the dropped shoulders, the handkerchief hemlines, and those superfluous, sometimes unlovely details that flinch not from his avant-garde standing and are completely IG-friendly. The 28-piece collection is replete with those Max Tan touches, which, to us, are too early in the fellow’s vocation to be considered DNA. But, we’ll give him this: here is semblance of aesthetic consistency.

While there were no surprises, it was heartening to see that Mr Tan has moderately refined his cuts, bettered the fit (gasp, there were dresses flattering to the body!), and improved on the finishing of his garments, which until now, tended to glare on the catwalk in their own inferiority. Could this be the upside of participating in the Fashion Futures program, which allowed him to acquaint himself with the US market under the auspices of the Council of Fashion Designers of America?


What was surprising was the no-show of those too-big and ungainly coats he loved in the past two seasons. In fact, coats were conspicuously absent, and with them, those terribly-drafted, clownish lapels. But just as you thought all was fine and dandy , out came a belted jacket with boulders for shoulders. While it was not unexpected that Mr Tan would cross into Vetements territory (after all he has repeatedly—and still does—traipse Comme des Garçons domain), the heart sank with despair, and fast. Did we not hear him utter so persuasively just minutes ago on screen: “I really do not want to just throw out the first thing that comes to my mind because I’ll just be referencing the past, something I’ve seen before”?

After Mr Tan closed his Capitol Piazza store suddenly and surreptitiously post-Chinese New Year this year (a nocturnal clear out, it was said), speculation was rife that business had failed and that he may want to quit the trade. Then he appeared in April in the W.E. X Togetherly pop-up space at Isetan Orchard. His showing at SGFW last night may put to rest that his label is in dire straits. Max Tan is a designer that’s very much a product of his generation, a fashion enabler tapping the gruntled liberalism that the digital age has provided, delighting sponsors with marketing muscle such as Microsoft. Like apps, Max Tan is coded for update, not necessarily an upgrade.

As Singapore’s brightest light, he was strangely not allotted the best show spot in the sprawling National Gallery. The Max Tan show was sited at the Auditorium Foyer, a basement space as large as a boardroom that, the following day, is show grounds for graduation presentations. He can’t cough out the rates organiser Mercury is asking for, even with big-name sponsorship? So small it is this auditorium that models had barely a one-metre wide catwalk to perform and camera lenses were consistently blocked by wide-brimmed hats and iPhones perched on flailing arms. Despite the disappointingly crammed conditions, radio DJ Rosalyn Lee, seated in the front row, was visibly thrilled with quite a number of the pieces, pointing to them as the models walked pass with the same delight as a child eyeing her favourite doll in Toys ’R Us. In some of us, Max Tan may not have found an ardent fan, but in her, he’s recruited an exposure-for-sure admirer.

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct

The Old Comes Here As New

For Singapore Fashion Week’s opening show at the National Gallery, Guo Pei brought over what she showed in Paris two seasons back


As guest designer of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, China’s  Guo Pei has been enjoying Parisian exposure for two seasons now. Yet, for the debut of the re-branded Singapore Fashion Festival—Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW)—this evening at the National Gallery, Ms Guo showed the older of the two: what she unveiled for the first time during Paris Couture Week in January this year: the spring/summer 2016 collection, now called the “Courtyard” collection.

Is it probable that, perhaps, Ms Guo does not take SGFW seriously? After all, this is not Paris, where the designer had set up an atelier last year to better impress the world. In fact, her label—as seen on her website—now reads ‘Guo Pei Paris’. Despite past attempts at establishing our island as a couture point of sale, it is possible that there are those who do not consider us a source of sizeable business. It is, therefore, tempting to surmise that Ms Guo was showing for the sake of showing, if not to humour the organisers of SFW.

Despite a collection not on the scale of the famed omelette dress or the mind-boggling 1002 Nights collection, Guo Pei’s work is not easy to appreciate or view as relevant. For those conditioned by the aesthetics of couture as it is known—essentially French and centred in Paris, Ms Guo’s predilection for princess gowns is barely palatable, let alone awe-rousing (the crowns were especially tawdry). These are, no doubt, special-occasion wear, but you can’t be certain if she’s designing a prom dress or a bridal kua, or the two rolled in one. The show was visibly Guo Pei’s very own Princess Diaries.


To be sure, fantasy has always been part of Ms Guo’s repertoire. From 1002 Nights to Samasara to Legend of the Dragon, her designs mirror a flight of the imagination that is manifestly an Oriental vision of a regal Western world. Although what she showed at the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery was not as dramatic and ethnic as her past presentations here, such as the Chinese Bride collection for Digital Fashion Week (now merged with SGFW) in 2013, Ms Guo clothes are still removed from the stylishness that is consistent with what women want today.

Certainly, the clothes are exquisitely embroidered, beaded, laced, appliquéd and fringed—surface treatments that have become known as “her DNA”. It is well to want to embellish, but to adorn without a judicious eye can be what the Chinese are inclined to call mei pin (没品) or lacking in taste. Ms Guo repeatedly claims to be inspired by ancient Chinese designs and crafts. That she feels passionately for decorative techniques of her country’s past is understandable, even admirable, but zeal that traipses into kitsch and costume is dangerous territory. Should Ms Guo be reminded that she’s not designing for a period TV series brought forward a few hundred years? This is not costume for Empresses in the Palace (also known as The Legend of Zhen Huan or 后宫·甄嬛传) updated for the 21st century!

The visual excess presents another problem: it is hard to see design finesse in areas such as cut and tailoring when there is so much adornment going on. Ornamentation, trimming, and gilding are only a part of couture. What goes beneath matters too. In fact, one never reads of Ms Guo’s work in terms of tailoring and draping. But, as we have noted before, Ms Guo may have some understanding of engineering since her heavy clothes would require a framework to sit on the body. Unfortunately, therein lies what’s disturbing. For many of the dresses, the body is merely a hanger, even for a professional model. In the second look of the collection, for instance, a bib-front dress looked like it had an embroidered tongue just plonked on the chest. Which came first—the heavily embellished panel or the dress? Or was the latter an afterthought?


It is not unreasonable to assume that Ms Guo’s atelier comprises mainly the flou, an assumption that could be consistent with the dressmaking she had learnt at Beijing Second Light Industry School, where she graduated ten years after the Cultural Revolution ended. In her couture, she shows very little tailoring and no stiffness and form associated with suiting—perhaps as recoil from the surfeit of Mao suits she saw and experienced during her formative years. In this “Courtyard” collection, Ms Guo offered three pairs of pants—all cut pyjamas style (or like auntie slacks) and none with the sharpness and snug of, say, Armani’s.

Strangely missing is the reference to “courtyard”. The Supreme Court Terrace is, of course, no courtyard. It is a new fourth-floor space designed around the rotunda that once sat atop the Supreme Court. Unlike her Paris show, which was made to look like a Chinese courtyard, albeit one that could have been transplanted from a restaurant on Beijing’s Guijie in Dongzhimen, the National Gallery show gave no hint of what was described by the media as inspiration derived from imperial ladies walking in a Chinese courtyard.

In fact, if there were any allusion, it was in the pacing of the show: soporific, compounded by music that’s on the side of monotonous. If the gowns in the end were meant to be the crescendo of the evening, it was really the confectionery at a wedding that nobody wants to eat. Whether the presentation was about ladies walking in a courtyard, Ms Guoi’s destination seemed less the wardrobe of customers than storied museums, such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris that staged her first solo exhibition in the city in July 2015. Art and fashion: whether the twain shall meet, Guo Pei won’t stop trying.

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct. Photos: SOTD

Craft, Heart, And Soul

cpcm-1CPCM in Tokyo, touted as the city’s first “craft and culture shop”

By Raiment Young

There’s a general lament that fashion retail is so boring in Singapore that it is, in fact, quite dead. When I ask friends to go shopping, the response invariably would be downbeat. Why? “So sian” is the top refrain. “All the same” takes second spot, followed by “What’s there to buy?” Are we as consumers really jaded by the offerings here or have retailers willingly placed an equal sign between them and the achingly dull?

I sometimes wonder if it really just boils down to our business owners’ lackadaisical approach to retail. I say this because the retail slowdown is not unique to Singapore. In Tokyo, the scene is clearly not rosier than ours. Bloomberg reported in June this year that Japan’s second quarter sales were “flat” and that “consumers aren’t loosening their purse strings.” Sounds familiar? Yet, if you walk down any one of the city’s major shopping thoroughfares, you’d think that people are spending and the shops have not given up on wooing.

Case in point: CPCM or Craft and Permaculture Country Mall. The 10,000 square foot behemoth of a space took me my surprise when I encountered it two months back, during what the locals told me was once of the hottest summer seasons the city has experienced. This isn’t so much a “mall” as a store on steroids. It’s huge, for sure, but it has conceptual heft—a point of view that clearly, deftly, and vividly says to consumers: “We are introducing a new shopping experience that everything you see in the store is for sale,” as they have expressed to the Japanese media.

CPCM 2.jpgThe wooden signage on the shop front of CPCM, reflecting the store’s country and craft theme

Dubbed a “craft and culture” store, CPCM is conceived by Takashi Kumagai, a photographer, a stylist, an art director, and a fashion impresario—essentially a multi-hyphenate who, together with the likes of Hiroshi Fujiwara, has paid much thought to how retail, as an experience, can be energised. And it is through efforts of these forward, risk-taking individuals that the retail landscape in Tokyo has not given in to the defeatist belief that the selling of fashion is presently a bleak business, a position so many store and mall owners in Singapore seem to adopt with resignation.

To be honest, I nearly missed CPCM as I walked down Meiji Dori, on the Jingumae side (considered to be part of Shibuya), in search of the Japan-only North Face Standard store. The heat was getting to me, and the smell of coffee-in-the-brew lured me into CPCM, where on the left side of the entrance, a coffee bar wi                                          cfv  vth the unlikely name of Garden House Crafts was set up. Once inside, I thought I was in a trading-post-as-Hawaiian-gift-shop, put together by some textile designer who has lived too long in John Wayne’s Wild West.

It was such a jumble inside that I wasn’t sure at first what I was confronting. Yet, there was a visual appeal that soon became apparent once the ripples calmed: craft and folk was clearly a main theme. It was also unmistakably Japanese, or an insouciant muddle that only the Japanese could pull off. Apart from their own CPCM label, there were other indie names that, in some cases, happily melded the forward and the country with hippy edge. For some reason, I thought immediately of Tangs’s failed label Island Shop—this is what Island Shop should have been, but could never be: a joyful melange of yesteryear details such as fagoting and smocking and easy-to-wear shapes such as tunics and pyjama-pants. Why, even the label has a joyous name: Happy!

cpcm-3In CPCM, a part of the store is apportioned to the American brand KTH

CPCM is not, despite its native vibe, solely a showcase of Japanese labels. Like most “curated” spaces in Tokyo, American labels are included and they sit seamlessly with their Japanese equivalent. Two names stand out. One is Simon Miller, with their Old West and Navajo sensibility, but interpreted in such a way that it won’t stick out in the coolest corner of the world. Designed by the duo Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford, the line, with its tough-wearing fabrics, offer softness that seemed to be squeezed from a hard place.

The other is RTH, an LA-based (surprised I was) line developed with details and techniques and fabrics that pays homage to the past. Conceived by René Holguin (whose hometown El Paso probably influenced the brand’s DNA), RTH’s design direction is so obviously special and unique that for its current season, they’re able to entice the equally inimitable Erykah Badu to front its campaign.

This was my third day in Tokyo, and what I saw in CPCM brought lucidity to my earlier sensing that something refreshing, if not entirely new, was afoot. A couple of hours before, I had visited Ships and Journal Standard in Harajuku, and both shops were interspersed with clearly craft-like styles—a bit Japanese rural (45 RPM comes to mind) and a bit 19th century Californian gold rush (Ralph Lauren’s now defunct Double RL?), with 1950s Ivy League-preppy thrown in for good measure. I was not sure if what I saw constituted a retail/design trend. Then I stumbled into CPCM.

shirt-and-teeLeft: Clip-spot cotton used in a RTH shirt. Right: Bandana print on a Rage Blue T-shirt

It was not just the trims and decorative elements that I had observed in these shops. There were also the fabrics: one of them, clip-spot cottons that I had not seen for a very, very long time. When I brought this up with a Singaporean product development and textile specialist based in Hong Kong, he said to me that such tactile fabrics “are the current trend, especially the clip jacquard.” Why then do we not see them on our shore? A buyer with a department store later filled in: “Here, we do not think of fabrics in terms of texture, only print.”

If that is the case, why then are we not seeing this print that is prevalent enough in Tokyo to constitute a trend: that of the bandana? The actual neckwear does not appear as a trendy item, but the square in which the paisley pattern appears in swirls or as repeated dots is adapted on many garments. The bandana print seemed to be the print of the moment, appearing on tops as well as bottoms. What surprised me was a T-shirt at the mass-market label Rage Blue, which, at its Jinnan store, is far from mass-looking. That T-shirt is, in fact, a cotton Fruit of the Loom crew-neck on which a bandana print is silk-screened across the chest, over the breast pocket, using actual Japanese indigo dye, aizome (which, because of its tendency to fade, requires the T-shirt to come with an extra, care hang tag.)

It looked to me that Tokyo’s fixation with craft was less to do with the arts and crafts movement that emerged in Japan in the 1920s, and more to do with the re-adopting of simple forms on which folk styles of decoration could be applied. This was possibly an extension of their designers’ near-obsession with work wear and classic styles of old America or a deliberate contrast to the avant-garde (still strong in Japan), or a romantic remonstration against the machine-made/dominant world of athleisure fashion.

visvim-gyreVisvim flagship store with its solid-wood cupboards and fixtures. Photo: Visvim

good-design-shop-cdgGood Design Shop and Comme des Garçons in Gyre Omotesando

I found it all very alluring. It reminded me of things from long ago, of life not defined by things digital, of circumstances that had soul. It was a return to simplicity, but not simplicity devoid of sophistication. These clothes were not minimal in styling, yet they were not bombastic in expression. It recalled Sunday best, dressing up for dates, and the extra but not outrageous bits that encourage the response, “that’s beautiful.”

A store that has a sense of craft about it is, however, not a new idea. One of the earliest brands to speak the language of craft was Visvim. At its handsome and solid flagship (timber aplenty) in Gyre Omotesando, a small, MVRDV-designed shopping centre on one of Tokyo’s swankiest streets, Visvim has showed successfully designer Hiroki Nakamura’s modern interpretation of craft and old-clothing style, such as the yukata, which is reiterated as the highly coveted ‘Lhamo’ shirt. Visvim, despite its failure in Singapore (closed about a year after it opened in 2012), Visvim is highly sort-after by stars such as John Mayer, dubbed “the Visvim king” by Complex.

Craft-centric as well is Comme des Garçons’s Good Design Shop, also in Gyre Omotesando. This is a veritable zahuo dian (杂货店 or provision shop), as SOTD’s editor likes to call it. Opened in 2011, Good Design Shop is as oddball as its neighbour Maison Margiela is asylum-like. Co-curated with Kenmei Nagaoka, whose own D&Department Project is a home ware store that combines craft, retro-styling and modernist leaning with infectious charm, Good Design Shop broadens CDG’s own predilection for the quirky. What you get are pieces of furniture and home accessories that would not be out of place in a HDB flat, circa 1972, and CDG’s fashion that are not shy of trims that seemed to be picked from the hill-tribe costumes of the Guianas.

super-tml-market-newomanSuper TML Market is anything but a supermarket. Photo: Super TML Market

Among the newly opened retail enterprises in central Tokyo, another enchanting space is the new concept store by Tomorrowland inside the spanking complex opposite Shinjuku Station, NEWoMan, opened in April this year. Odd name notwithstanding (but not un-Japanese), NEWoMan is unlike what for many are already Shinjuku’s ultra-sensory malls: Lumine 1 and 2. The latest addition (interestingly, also conceived by Lumine, and targeted at those in their thirties and forties) to the neighbourhood encourages tenants to offer what isn’t yet seen in the vicinity. And the result is a store such as Tomorrowland’s intriguing Super TML Market.

Curatorial finesse characterises Super TML Market. Jumble, too. Like the parent store, the Super TML Market is not only a showcase of their own goods, but those selected locally as well as from abroad. What I found utterly beguiling is a capsule of women’s wear that gives fairly basic clothes—such as a white shirt—a delirious spin. It was as if a child was entrusted the garment and allowed to run amok in a haberdashery! The result: trims and decorative bits that are given pride of place on garments with seemingly no consideration to symmetry or orderliness.

The need for innovation and newness in times of dreary retail performance is now more urgent when shoppers are happily ensconced at home and buying via the smartphone. I am not sure if online shopping can be considered enjoyable, but it is, for so many, certainly addictive. Japanese brick-and-mortar stores are not unaware of the competition; they are willing to take on the competition by staying awake to what can be churned out to capture the attention of the curious. Clearly, Japanese retailers are more conscious than their Singaporean counterparts that when you snooze, you lose.

Photos (except where indicated): Jiro Shiratori

The Tailor And The Magazine




Sparks flew recently between old-style fashion and old media. Making online rounds not too long ago was a response of sheer indignation by self-made custom tailor Kevin Seah to Singapore Harper’s Bazaar’s request for the loan of suits that will dress “male talents of varying sizes” at the publication’s anniversary celebration, scheduled for the approaching Singapore Fashion Week (26—30 Oct). The magazine had asked, via an “editorial assistant”, for “4 ready-made suits from Kevin Seah for our ushers during the event.”

The reply and chastisement were swift, no words minced: “Dear Harpers (sic) Bazaar, to treat us as outfitters for ushers is downright degrading for bespoke tailors like us! Shame on you! Please do your research well and find out more about us before you send us an email this low!”

The disdain is understandable. Kevin Seah recently celebrated their 7th year as a custom label and has, since their inception, banked on “suits that are finished 100% by hand” as the hallmark of their business. The tag ‘Bespoke’ appears below their name on the label and catergorises not only the type of tailoring that they offer, but underscores the quality the descriptor suggests. This is the finest in men’s wear, far removed from what Harper’s Bazaar requested: ready-made—a widespread offering today that in the past would have been considered ‘vulgar’.

The fine tailoring that Kevin Seah promotes and sells, if true to their claims, are imbued with qualities in make and finish that would contest and contrast the output of those from factories. Tailors of their breed take tremendous pride in their end products. (It should be stated at this juncture that we have never engaged the services of Kevin Seah; as such, we cannot vouch for the quality of their work. We’ve only been to their retail space in Boat Quay, a masculine shop with an Anglo vibe, heightened by a set of hunky Chesterfields. Setting, however, is no indication of sartorial superiority.) For Harper’s Bazaar—a title that should know better even if the Singaporean edition has probably never handled or featured a hand-made garment—to ask for ready-made suits from a custom clothier rings as much of ignorance as insolence.

Kevin Seah’s outrage was made known via a Facebook post, which was later mysteriously removed by FB. The inexplicable deletion aroused even more fury from Kevin Seah himself. “Someone complained to Facebook about my recent rant against Harper’s Bazaar Singapore,” he wrote and commented, expletives not withheld. “Whoever that did this, this is my fucking Facebook! Don’t come to my house and teach me how to decorate it!” Amid the spirited comments between his friends and followers, Mr Seah, who traced his beginning in fashion to when he “started doing haute couture”, posted a rather arty, monochrome photo-print of a clenched fist with the third finger pointing rigidly and defiantly up.

Feelings were hurt, ego dented, no doubt. It is not unreasonable to expect better from an esteemed publication such as Harper’s Bazaar. It was suggested that perhaps the sender of the request was an intern, although he identified himself as an editorial assistant. It is not immoderate to surmise that this was the doing of a very young chap, uninitiated in the echelons of the fashion world, yet carelessly assumes mass manufacture has a peer in made to individual order.

The communication between fashion magazine and fashion brand, too, reveals the very real generational divide between individuals of long experience and those weaned on Twitter. As over-stated as it may be, those still ensnared by youth, whose sole source of fashion education is between Pinterest and Tumblr, are blissfully unaware that life, whether in fashion or not, could do with some respect. The thing is, respect—to use a tailoring analogy—is really a two-way zip.

It’s All Brand New


It’s not every day you see a brand-new sneaker design. When so many sports brands are re-issuing or re-iterating tennis classics or models from the past (the ’70s is a fave decade), the recent showing of Nike’s VaporMax, presently designed with Comme des Garçons, is as refreshing as Vicks VapoRub.

Revealed at Comme des Garçons’s spring/summer presentation during the recent Paris Fashion Week, the VaporMax, in either black or white, appeared to be a sensible shoe consistent with the collection. Given what CDG was showing, it was not likely that the models would have appeared in stilettos—CDG isn’t that kind of brand anyway. The VaporMax, with its full-length, visible air soles, is the ideal footwear to bear the weight of what seemed to be heavy sculptures-as-clothes.

nike-x-cdg-shoes-catwalkScreen grab of the Comme des Garçons spring/summer 2017 show on YouTube, featuring the Nike VaporMax (left)

Nike’s air soles are doubtlessly one of the brand’s most compelling shoe features, and the new version will attract staggeringly enthusiastic response when it’s launched in February next year. The VaporMax was, in fact, announced some seven months back, but it was only last week that we got to see them in monastic motion.

Despite its new silhouette, Nike fans will recognise the aesthetic of the brand’s air sole, here still much along the lines of the Air Max, a sole technology that debuted in the Air Max 1 in 1987. The innovation has not ceased and has spawned close to ten iterations with no diminished appeal to the original Air Max, which stills enjoy yearly updates and is a collector favourite.

Nike X CDG VaporMax black.jpgThe black version of the Nike X Comme des Garçons VaporMax

nike-vapormax-soleThe sole structure of the new VaporMax

On the VaporMax, the air sole is now a complex of air pods in various shapes that are placed at key points that correspond with the vital areas of the underside of the foot for increased support and flexibility. We have not test run a pair, but it is reported that these shoes, with their Flyknit upper (that allows you to slip into the shoe like a sock), are incredibly light, a boon to sneaker fans who are used to and prefer the buoyancy of the Roshe Run.

But CDG did not only show one shoe branded as a collaboration. Two styles were worn on the catwalk—the other is an all-white, high-top take of the Air Moc. This is a major collab between Nike and CDG if you include the Dunk High shown during the men’s show in June. For Nike-wearing CDG fans, 2017 will be a boom year.

Photos: Nike

Do Pussy Bows Have Nine Lives Too?

melania-trump-wore-pussy-bow-blouseMelania Trump, in a pussy bow blouse, beaming with confidence. Photo: Getty Images

Art, they say, imitates life. Sometimes, fashion does too. This morning (our time), for instance. During the 2nd US presidential debate broadcast, just before the opponents spoke, the camera zoomed in on Melania Trump shaking the hand of former president Bill Clinton. That in itself wasn’t significant. But her outfit caused quite a bit of speculation on Twitter. Are the colour, apparently one of Hillary Clinton’s faves, and the matching top and bottom—although not a pantsuit—together a signal that the wife of the most controversial presidential hopeful in America’s democratic history is casting her approval towards camp Clinton?

Read what you may into her option, what struck us is the blouse, more specifically the pussy bow. Surely when “grab them by the pussy” is trending after her husband’s deplorable 2005 off-camera but hot-mic performance was exposed by The Washington Post, her choice of attire must mean something. Is she telling the world that, even after 11 years of marriage, there is no competition, and she’s still up for Donald Trump’s grabs? Mrs Trump is, by most accounts, a feminine woman. Surely she would not need a detail of dress once associated with Margaret Thatcher and what the latter had called “rather softening” effect in the corridors of power. Or was this merely Melania Trump following fashion?

saint-laurent-ss-2013Hedi Simane’s pussy bow blouse for Saint Laurent shown during Paris Fashion Week in 2012. Photo: Monica Feudi/feudiguaineri.com

As we know, in fashion, sometimes enough is just not enough. Since Hedi Slimane reintroduced the pussy bow at his debut for Saint Laurent back in 2012, this icing on the blouse has not melted or flowed down. You’d think that by now, it’s left out in the rain (excuse us, we’ve been humming the Richard Harris tune!) for too long. But up to the recent fashion weeks, the pussy bow isn’t showing any signs of retirement. We doubt even Mr Slimane had thought that what he revived would stick around longer than his tenure at Saint Laurent.

As if the trickle-down effect of that intro was not enough, the pussy bow was given a glamorous new lease of life by Gucci’s Alessandro Michele in 2015. It appeared in both the men’s and women’s collections, and has flourished happily since then. After so many seasons (and languishing in the likes of Forever 21), you’d think that this floppy bow that shares the disparaging slang name of female genitalia would have gone to its grave. It has not. Melania Trump showed how alive it is, even surrendering it in pink!

Pussy bows SS 2017.jpgJust some of the pussy bows of spring/summer 2017. Photos: Indigital

It is possible that Mrs Trump’s confidence in wearing the pussy bow to a globally televised event is bolstered by its continued appearance on international catwalks. This season, with new creative heads taking over heritage houses, it’s not unreasonable to hope that something that by now is a woeful cliché won’t pop up like post-precipitation mushrooms. Yet it did. At Dior, a pussy bow on a sleeveless blouse really had no reason to be on the runway, but it appeared—the tail ends swinging as gloriously as a flag on a windless day.

What’s the real appeal of the pussy bow anyway? It’s hard to say. Minimalism, together with discretion, has gone into hibernation while decoration and excess are having a magnificent moment. Some fashion items do not retire easily just as some trends have a grip that’s hard to shake loose. Will the pussy-bow blouse be the next denim shorts with shredded crotch? In the case of Melania Trump’s blouse—by Gucci, as reported—could it be intended irony or an allegory of wifely support? Some pussies, as Donald Trump learned with dismay and to his campaign’s detriment, just have more lives.