They Come in Pairs

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A single pendant is a lonely pendant, and a lonely pendant is likely to remain so. As Charlotte Brontë once said, “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” So that loneliness does not become the pendant, the British men’s jewellery label Northskull London makes sure theirs come paired.

It might be said of the buying of jewellery for a man that few would consider the undertaking to be as worthy of encouragement as the buying of a PlayStation for him. And since the world still has no “courage to raise sons like daughters” (although daughters are raised more like sons), as Gloria Steinem noted, we are less inclined to bestow upon men the gift of jewellery.

The thing is, even if your friend is no Niffler (Fantastic Beasts and Harry Porter fans know what we mean), pieces for the neck, wrist, and fingers need not be the stuff of feminine charm to make them guy stuff. Military dog tags, although not ornamental by function, are jewellery nonetheless, and some dramatically impact the life and identity of the wearer, among them James Howlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine.

This Northskull London twosome is, in fact, like ID tags in that they come as a pair, although not identical. Two silver-plated discs (the brand calls them “medals”), one with an arrow cutout and the other a chevron pattern, meet, not as Jekyll and Hyde, but fraternal twins. In them, we see long-term, handsome friendship with T-shirts.

Only seven years old, Northskull London already calls themselves “the world’s leading retailers of men’s jewellery”. Marketing speak aside, the brand does offer some very appealing pieces for men. Their Legacy signet ring, for example, is reason enough to not wait till the nuptials to consider dressing the finger—any finger.

Northskull London Mantz necklace and pendants, SGD420, is available at Pedder on Scotts. Photo: Northskull London

A Quiet Shade Of Blue

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By Raiment Young

The areas flanking Horne Road in the vicinity of Lavender MRT station have, in the past two years, become a hipster hangout much like Tiong Bahru had before. Sure, the young and the arabica– and robusta-aware come here for the cafés (last count, about half a dozen of them) rather than lifestyle or fashion stores. But I think all that may change. Singapore’s still (sadly) under-rated men’s wear brand Biro has just opened their first store and they may do for the periphery of Little India what specialty coffee wholesalers and retailers Papa Palheta did for this part of the city when they opened Chye Seng Huat Coffee Café (CSHCC) in 2012.

Before you think Biro’s store is in another hardware-shop-turn-indie-cool-retail-post, let me say they really have not gone down that path. The brand’s solo brick-and-mortar debut is inside Kitchener Complex, a still-unattractive building that, despite renovations, I think still bears the hallmarks of HDB architecture from the ’80s. In fact, the store is hidden in a corner on the third level of Mahota Commune, a chirpy market/eaterie opened six months ago by the family behind Prime Supermarket (one of their branches was originally at nearby King George Road). Mahota Commune is dedicated to organic produce and what a staff member told me are “raw foods—no processing—and those from sustainable farms.” It may sound a little too new-age-y, but it really isn’t. There’s an old-Jasons-Supermarket-meets-Akomeya-Tokyo vibe about it that I found immensely appealing and comforting.

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The rear-area store that goes with the Commune and yet stands out is known as Shouten by Biro (shouten is shop in Japanese and shares the same characters with Chinese: 商店). Opened just two days ago, it is the brainchild of Biro founders, the brothers Chong Kenghow and Kage. The small space looks like a Japanese transplant from, say the Tokyo neighbourhood of Kamimeguro, and the first thing that beckons is the blueness of the shop. I sensed that it is an indigo-themed space. Standing in front of the store, I knew I was not wrong, and my mind was busy with thoughts, which could be transcribed as “I like this a lot.” Chromatically, this was triumph of mono over poly, especially when the overall tactile and visual qualities seem to suggest rural Nippon craft.

Just to be sure that this isn’t a pop-up store (i.e. temporary), I asked the brothers if the arrangement with the landlord or lessee is permanent or long-term. “Yes it is,” confirmed Chong Keng How. “We were approached by the people from Mahota Commune. They like our stuff, and we like their concept here too. The space is a nice fit.” And just like the multi-use larger floor, Shouten by Biro is not restricted to one product category or what they have come to be known for: men’s clothing. In fact, it goes comfortably with the umbrella term lifestyle. This is a general store and clothing (primarily T-shirts and jeans) takes up a rather small part of the space, which, unexpectedly, is also habitat to accessories, bath products, and stationery.

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Kage Chong, Biro’s principal designer, was keen to introduce me to the Tokushima indigo—the ai pigment used in dyeing or ai-zome (believed to have existed since the 10th century)—which gives almost the whole store its alluring patina of blue. Tokushima is a region in the eastern end of the Japanese island of Shikoku, and it is Tokushima, Japan’s biggest domestic grower of the indigo plant, that supplies most of the natural dyes to the jeans factories of Okayama, dubbed Japan’s denim capital, if not the world’s. But what truly piqued my interest was the hardwood floor planks used in the store and on its walls.

These, as I learned, are from the Japanese lumber dealer Dairi Lumber Company (unsurprisingly, from Tokushima) that is known for their indigo-stained exterior and interior building materials, such as those used on the floor that I was standing on. The ai tint of the wood, interestingly, isn’t intense; it appears as if watercolour was brushed over it, allowing the grain of the wood, and its natural colour, to be discerned. The best part is that these cedar and pine planks are available for retail. Kage Chong elucidated, “When we stumbled upon these wood floor planks, we feel they’re so much like our DNA. We just had to do something about them.” And they sure did. At Biro’s shouten, it’s now not unimaginable living in an interior with the blue that gives jeans the colour that we have yet tire of.

Shouten by Biro is in Mahota Commune, level 3, Kitchener Complex. Photos: Galerie Gombak

Flat, Cute, Adored

By Mao Shan Wang

When I mistakenly asked if Craftholic characters are as mouthless as the epitome of Nippon cuteness Hello Kitty, the brand’s designer Ikuko Yamamoto quickly pointed, unsmiling, to the ‘mouths’ of the two indescribable life-size creatures prancing around us on the third-floor atrium of Raffles City. For a moment, I wished I was mouthless.

Ms Yamamoto was here to participate in the opening of the Craftholic pop-up in Raffles City, which has themed its Yuletide celebrations “The Whims and Wonders of Christmas”. Craftholic may be whimsical but it’s hardly wondrous. Still, its popularity cannot be underestimated. As I left Raffles City that evening, I overheard a loud teenager in the standard, outside-of-school uniform of slip top and shredded denim cut-offs telling her companion, “I already have nine of them. There’s no space on my bed for me to sleep.”

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Craftholic’s phenomenal rise is unprecedented. According to the telling of Ros Lee, a Tokyo-based Singaporean product designer behind the ceramic brand Polkaros (available at K+ Curatorial Space at Scotts Square) and photographer who has shot the merchandise of Craftholic’s parent company Accent Corporation, Ms Yamomoto “created a series of characters… that became a big hit in Japan overnight. What was meant to be a print design for a blanket became a series of popular home furnishing characters.”

These characters, recognisable by their basic shapes and nearly expressionless faces, generated massive interest when “a very influential model in Japan” purchased one of them and posted it on her blog page. Her followers went crazy and thronged the Craftholic flagship store to buy the stuffed creatures. In two days, they were sold out. “People were bidding for it online and the prices went berserk!”

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Ms Yamomoto was less fervent in her version of what led to the birth of Craftholic. Through an interpreter, she said that she’s always been interested in designing and craft. I asked her if this has any similarity to a rag doll in terms of how it came about, and she said she does not know what a rag doll is. Her interpreter whipped out a smartphone and Googled it. She was shown a picture of a rag doll and she said, “no.”

I then wondered what accounts for Craftholic’s popularity and her reply sounded totally blasé: “Because it’s simple and fashionable and it can fit any interior and lifestyle.” Are women more impartial to kawaii than men? “Both men and women can accept it.” What’s fashionable about Craftholic? “For example, every season, we have different pattern; every season we launch a new collection.”

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Seasonal collections, thus, give Craftholic edge over, say, Hello Kitty and co, but do people buy dolls the way they buy clothes: with seasonal needs and quirks. That question, I kept to myself, fearing I would have digressed. Instead, I asked her if she has considered making a film of her motley characters (at the same time remembering seeing paper cut-outs of the Craftholic family). Ms Yamamoto smiled for the first time, visibly lightening up.

“I have never thought of it,” she said, betraying a mere hint of amusement. Bent on pursuing the Studio Ghibli track since the two prancing persons-in-a-doll-suit on the grounds of the pop-up store showed the character’s potential as action figures, I asked her who she’ll pick to direct a Craftholic movie if one were in the offing. “No one in particular,” she replied, and then added that it would probably be a female director since “anime is dominated by men.”

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Fortunately, the world of Craftholic, as Ms Yamamoto said earlier, shows no gender divide. The characters themselves, too, seem genderless although their flatness is, to me, oddly masculine. Some people call Craftholic “hug cushions” even when you’d think that huggable means fully-formed. To me, they’re pillows given arms and legs and facial features, and they remind me of a no-particular-use teddy bear that was given to me when I was a child. It was in the shape of the traditional English teddy; even the colour was traditional, but it was unbelievably flat, and it went by the unsurprising name Pancake.

Flatness is also thinness, which may explain Craftholic’s appeal among young women. Craftholic characters are rather flaccid too, which, could downplay potential sexuality that may be ascribed to the creatures, even when, unendowed, the likelihood is diminished. The tameness can, therefore, be made to appeal to all age groups, and can spawn applications beyond zakka goods (a uniquely Japanese reference to those that enhance one’s home and life). Girls in Japan are reported to sport their favourite Craftholic character (or characters) on their nails. As we know, the Japanese can make kawaii go very far.

Craftholic pop-up store is at Raffles City Level 3 Atrium till 27 December. Photos by Zhao Xiangji

Want You Now ‘SeeULater’!

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When it comes to footwear for winter holidays, the first stop for many here is mostly at Timberland, and the first choice, the brand’s ubiquitous and much-knocked-off 6” Premium Boot. That’s hardly surprising when the boot silhouette or high-cut style is not a must-sell for retailers. Except for basketball shoes, it is not exactly a breeze through Queensway Shopping Centre when it comes to finding kicks that look suitably winter.

That is why Adidas Consortium’s SeeULater boot conceived in collaboration with the Tokyo retailer Mita Sneakers caught our attention. Amid the Ultra Boosts in assorted colour combinations (black is, of course, the most popular), this particular shoe’s rugged form was mountain top sticking out of a thickness of conifers. The mid-sole is especially fetching, with the speckled two tones that suggest hard-wearing mineral or stone, something a petrologist might find interesting. The interior of the shoe is a neoprene sock—a la Nike’s Air Huarache—and this is in the grasp of suede toe box and counter panel in dual-colour pairing not unlike the mid-sole. The chromatic combination underscored by the teeth-like, pale grey outer sole is indeed striking. The Japanese sure know their colour aesthetic.

The SeeULater is, in fact, a hiking shoe first released in Japan in the mid-90s. Perhaps due to the intermittent releases, it has become a bit of a cult boot among sneakerheads. Mita Sneakers’ version is, according to Japanese media, ode to Tokyo’s Ameyoko Shopping Street, not far from Ueno Park, where many shops there sold the SeeULater in the 1990s when it was wildly popular. But Mita Sneakers isn’t the only one to give the SeeULater a dramatic makeover. In the season earlier, another Japanese label, White Moutaineering, released a black-Primeknit-upper-on-white-mid-and-outer-sole version to much acclaim. The shoe reportedly sold out in no time, possibly due to the overwhelming reception it received when designer Yosuke Aziwa showed it at the Pitti Uomo in January.

As they say, you simply can’t keep a good thing away. Looks like the latest iteration will enjoy the same fate.

Adidas Consortium X Mita Sneakers SeeULater hiking shoe, SGD229, is available at Limited Edt Vault, 313@Sommerset. Photos: Adidas/Mita Sneakers

Return Of The Singapore Fashion Awards

sfa-2016-pic-1Class 95FM radio DJ Yasmine Cheng hosted the Singapore Fashion Awards with aplomb

As fashion awards go, this was low-key: plain-weave rather than jacquard. Last Friday’s Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA) 2016 at the National Gallery wasn’t like the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) sit-down-to-dine ceremony. Yet, it was not less important. Our city has not been one that’s big on saluting fashion talent. There is, of course, the annual President’s Design Award Singapore, but that does not go to a fashion professional yearly. There’s also the clubby StyleXStyle awards’ nod to fashion folk (so far, Trailblazer Awards 2016 and StyleXSG50 Awards), but those seemed more like popularity contests than one that truly acknowledges talent.

The SFA is organized by the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TAFF). According to the press release issued by TAFF, SFA “aims to honour the industry greats as well as give recognition to the brands and/or individuals’ potential to be the stars of the fashion industry locally, and make a mark on the global fashion landscape”. TAFF’s CEO Lynette Lee took it a step further: “There are many talented designers in the fashion industry and many have established their brands locally and internationally. We feel that the time is right to recognise and elevate the designers and brands that are putting Singapore on the fashion map.”

displays-on-the-stepsThe work of the nominees, such as Max Tan (above), were displayed at the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery

Singapore Fashion Awards 2016 was, for many (including members of the media), an “inaugural” presentation. Truth is, it really isn’t. In fact, TAFF’s president Mark Lee told the audience at National Gallery’s much-feted Supreme Court Terrace that there was a hiatus between this year’s presentation and the last, which was “more than ten years ago”. SOTD’s editorial team came together to work this one out, and we believe that the last awards were handed out in 2003, just three years after its inauguration, during Singapore Fashion Week, a very different version from the one staged last month, also at the National Gallery.

Our nation’s first-ever Singapore Fashion Awards was staged in August 2001 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom to cap the Singapore Fashion Week (SFW), then an umbrella event under which the Singapore Apparel show was once the main event in SFW’s earlier years. At the first Awards presentation, eight individuals were honoured. They included Photographer of the Year, Fashion Stylist of the Year (Editorial), Hair Stylist of the Year (Editorial), Make-Up Artist of the Year (Editorial), Male Model of the Year, Female Model of the Year, and Label of the Year. Joanna Fong, then deputy director of TAFF, told the media that the awards distinguished “the bright and the brightest” of the fashion industry. Oddly, no fashion designer then was bright enough.

biro-sfa-2016Live mannequins wearing some of the nominees’ designs such as this by Birofashion-presentationA brief show of Frederick Lee Couture before the start of the award presentation

Present-day TAFF’s Ms Lee put it more prosaically—“recognise the contribution and achievement of those in the fashion industry”—and it was this lack of rah-rah that characterised the presentation and the list of nominees. The categories—and they’re just that, suggesting neither one-of-a-kind nor one-and-only—are quite different from those of 2001. This time round, awards go to Emerging Designers of the Year (fashion and accessories), Top 3 Most popular Brand of the Year, Honorary Award, Best Collaboration of the Year, Best Marketing Award, Outstanding Contribution to Fashion (make-up, styling, photography, and hair-styling), Designer of the Year (accessories and fashion).

The nominees of the SFA were selected by a group of industry veterans, referred to by TAFF as “judges” (and the competitive nature of the Awards is not lost when the presenters announced “the winner”): CEO of TAFF Lynette Lee, editor of HerWorldPlus Niki Bruce, former editor-in-chief of Elle Singapore Sharon Lim, owner of the now-defunct Link Tina Tan, founder and managing director of Mercury M&C Tjin Lee, fashion designer Thomas Wee, and “digital influencer” Andrea Chong. If there’s one conspicuous difference between the present and earlier SFA, it is the appointment of social media darling Ms Chong, who, in a video post on YouTube for HerWorldPlus, described a Beyond the Vines outfit as a “blazer-vest-dress”—a split personality of a garb if there ever was one. She sits atop the list of photos of the judges on the SFA website, no doubt to give the event the necessary social-media clout, and to bring SFA into the present digital decade.

winner-ginlee-studioGeorgie Lee accepting the Emerging Designer of the Year Award on behalf of her sister from presenter Dick Leewinner-onepointsixoneOne.61’s Jennifer Alejandro accepting her Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories) Award

The first awards of the evening—Emerging Designer(s) of the Year—went to the fashion label GinLee Studio and the accessory brand One.61. Ms Lee’s triumph (her award was accepted by her sister, Georgie, as the former was in Israel) is unsurprising as her clothes are generally well-made even if they do not seduce those who look for designs that break new ground. Although GinLee Studio is touted as a Singaporean label, Ms Lee—a Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts School of Fashion alumna—is, in fact, largely based in Israel (where her husband is from), while her showroom is in Singapore.

One.61’s victory (read as one point six one, and not to be confused with the New York fashion label OnePointSix) came as a surprise: the handbag brand was formed only in 2013 and consists of, to our knowledge, five styles so far. Designer Jennifer Alejandro, formerly a TV journalist with Channel NewsAsia, makes handcrafted bags inspired by the architecture of Singapore. Her “winning entry” (these two categories saw submissions from nominees to convince the judges of their talent and skill) is a kitschy bag in the shape of the rotunda of the former Supreme Court, surely a thrill to the National Gallery, a venue sponsor of SFA.

winner-beyond-the-vinesBeyond the Vines’s Rebecca Ting giving her acceptance speechwinner-by-invite-onlyBy Invite Only’s Trixie Khong expressing thanks for the awardwinner-love-bonitoLove, Bonito’s Rachel Lim and Viola Tan receiving their award from TAFF’s Mark Lee

As if to underscore the fact that Singaporean labels that are accepted and admired do exist, TAFF offered not one, but three Top Most Popular Brand of the Year awards (they include both fashion and accessory brands). In its selection criteria, “strong social media presence” seemed to be more important than “creativity of design and quality”, which was placed second in a list of four. It is not surprising then that the accolade went to those labels that are especially buzzy online rather than offline, and to those that are adept at playing down any weakness in design with trending hype.

Beyond the Vine, a one-year-old label by married couple Rebecca Ting and Daniel Chew; By Invitation Only, the jewellery brand conceived by Trixie Khong in 2011; and Love, Bonito, that favourite born-online label among those tired of Forever 21, are the three deemed most popular. In the minds of the many attendees, there was no doubt that Love, Bonito—now run by two of the original three founders, Rachel Lim and Viola Tan—was the one whose popularity can be attested by its 103,000 Instagram followers. Love, Bonito may lead IG followers, but that’s no indication they are fashion leaders.

recipient-thomas-weeThomas Wee posing with guest-of-honour Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and Ministry of Trade and Industry

Thirteen years after the last Singapore Fashion Awards, the come-back event paid homage to “accomplished designers in the industry… who have contributed to elevating the Singapore Brand of fashion at home or on the global stage.” The Honorary Award was presented to revered design veteran Thomas Wee, and it sealed Mr Wee’s indisputable standing as one of our fashion greats, even when that was already ratified at the time he was inducted into the CNN Power List of 2011 as one of the 30 people who shaped Singapore. While Mr Wee has intermittently showed abroad and thus elevated brand Singapore on the global stage (his last show overseas was in Surabaya in September this year during the city’s Ciputra World International Fashion Week), it is here, at home, that Mr Wee has left an indelible, if not influential, mark. It is not yet heard, but we hope someday soon, some designer will say, “I’m inspired by Thomas Wee.”

Collaborations, although not a big, publicity-generating business in Singapore, got a boost too. The Best Collaboration of the Year Award went to Love, Bonito’s pairing with Tex Saverio, the Indonesian designer who has dressed pop heavyweights such as Lady Gaga and Ayumi Hamasaki. This was not Love, Bonito’s first collaboration. Back in October 2013, during the now-defunct Fidé Fashion Weeks, the brand showed a capsule collection that was conceived together with the French couturier Julien Fournié. This immediately elevated the brand once known by the City-Plaza-sounding name of Bonito Chico into a serious fashion label. While it isn’t clear how the collaboration with Mr Savero fared, this recognition, their second of the night, may propel Love, Bonito to unimaginable heights.

Love, Bonito, too, was awarded the Best Marketing Award, which made them the biggest winner of the evening. This so thrilled BFFs/partners Rachel Lim and Viola Tan that they were not, in their jubilant outburst, able to return to the stage in time to receive their final award. Love, Bonito may have a stronger marketing program than their fellow nominees, but we are not certain that what they have generated is effective or attractive. Based on what has been hitherto put out online, Love, Bonito’s marketing efforts are remarkable by how ho-hum they have been.

recipient-celestine-sngMake-up artist Celestine Sng delivering her acceptance speech

Fashion has always been more than brands and the designers behind them. The whole universe includes many cameo players. This year’s Outstanding Contribution to Fashion went to Celestine Sng (make-up), Johnny Khoo (styling), Wee Khim (photography), and David Gan (hair-styling). The recipients in this category were a little unexpected, yet expected. In the era of the “digital influencer”, these four familiar names seemed decidedly pre-Facebook.

Make-up artist Celestine Sng, a former manager with the Estee Lauder Group (and the only one in this category who came to receive the award), is now more into producing commercials than working on models’ faces. The other three, they’re certainly no stranger to SFA—past and present. The stylist Johnny Khoo, a former marketing manager who made a name for himself in the ’90s with work he gleefully described as “deviant” (shot in HDB estates), as well as sending Christopher Lee to the 1997 Star Awards in an apron, had already won the same award twice—in 2001 and 2002. Photographer Wee Khim, who is married to the alt-folk-singer-turn-café-owner Jessica Soo, too, bagged the same award twice before—in 2002 and 2003. David Gan won the Hairstylist of the Year at the debut of SFA in 2001. The Malaysian-made-good-in-Singapore had not received his Singapore citizenship yet. That night, he was so moved by the recognition that tears welled up in his eyes while he received his plaque—perhaps a realisation that he had indeed come that far. And this was even before the very public pat on the shoulder that PM Lee Hsien Loong gave during the National Day Rally Speech of 2006.

winner-carrie-kCarrie K’s Carolyn Kan accepted her award as Thomas Wee looked on

Carolyn Kan of the jewellery label Carrie K was awarded Designer of the Year (accessories). Ms Kan, who was a former general manager of M&C Saatchi, is no stranger to being awarded. Back in 2010, she was Elle Singapore’s Jewellery Designer of the Year, and Carrie K has remained a favourite among the members of the press. Started in 2009, the brand has also caught the attention of overseas retailers, such as Yuji Yamamoto, the fashion impresario son of Yohji Yamamoto. The younger Yamamoto represented Carrie K and helped the label establish distribution points in Tokyo, such as Seibu in Shibuya. It is our hope that Ms Kan’s award will push her to achieve more, especially in the area of creativity—the type that seduces as much as surprises.

It was not unexpected that Designer of the Year (fashion) went to the In Good Company boys, Sven Tan and Kane Tan. Many had, in fact, hoped the duo would be honoured. The support that they have garnered is remarkable—even unprecedented—given how difficult it is for Singaporean brands to win the adoration and dollars of Singaporean shoppers. IGC has been a retail hit since its inception in August 2012, and with their own flagship in the heart of Orchard Road showcasing a striking range of their own products as well as those by others who share their distinct aesthetic, they seemed to be on the path to greater things.  Although both Tans told the media that there was “no expectation to win”, it was obvious to many that, against the other two nominees, IGC is leaps ahead with their winning designs and visible (and appreciated) quality. Fashion—indeed Singaporean fashion—can do with more of those.

winner-igcIn Good Company’s Sven Tan accepting his award with a speech as his co-designer Kane Tan (on his left) looks on

It is commendable that the Textile and Fashion Federation has decided to bring back the Singapore Fashion Awards. Honouring talents has always been a good way of raising standards and encouraging betterment. Awards can create awareness—in the case of the SFA, in Singaporean fashion. For the consumer, an award is an indicator of trust. But trust is a two-way street. In order to trust in what an award symbolises, the award must come to stand for something. Winning one must mean something. Those selected for the awards must be worthy of nomination and the nomination must be of some worth. Visible social media presence alone is no indication that a brand is first-rate. Quietly working on one’s craft away from online glare does not mean one is out of touch with the digital environment.

Fashion, both as craft and enterprise, is not exclusionary; it involves more than just designers. Brands such as IGC are aware of that. Their collaborative efforts, including pairing with skincare brands, independent artists, and devoted food outlets, indicate that they are tuned into the idea that fashion is inclusive, and involves an eco-system that goes beyond the vines, to steal the name of a just-awarded brand. SFA, as it ventures further down the road (and we hope another hiatus won’t come too soon) should expand its scope to other associated fields, such as journalism, graphic design, advertising, visual merchandising, and technology.

Sure, the award presentation is a resource-intensive investment. Even the trophies and plaques cost a considerable amount (TAFF could reprise the idea used in 2002 when the awards came in the form of customised stuff animals conceived by the graphic designer Theseus Chan). But it should be noted that what’s key here is ‘investment’. Invest to gain, to strengthen, and to add value. And, there should be no doubt, for the long run.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji and Chin Boh Kay

Pills For Thrills

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With the controversy it has aroused, we thought Moschino will not be bringing in these bags. But there they were, strikingly displayed in the Paragon store window, the blister pack of pills taking the place of the flap cover of the bag, clearly more noticeable than any strip of capsules at a pharmacy.

Designers such as Moshino’s Jeremy Scott have a predilection for provocation. It’s tempting to say that it’s all in the name of humour and that we should be able to see it for what it is. But what is also discernible is a very real addiction to opioids in epidemic proportion, so much so that there are stores, such as Nordstrom in the US, that have yank the bags and kindred merchandise out of their shelves in the wake of online activism. It isn’t clear what store buyers were thinking when they committed to the purchase of Moschino’s ‘Capsule’ collection.

The use of a capsule as design motif for non-medicinal/medical purpose is, of course, nothing new. But it is, as far as we’re aware, the first time an entire strip of pills is used in such a straightforward and unembroidered way. In airports with extra-tight security, will such a blatant display of love for pills be allowed to pass?

Moschino’s capsule bags and clothing are part of the brand’s spring/summer 2017 collection released as part of the “see-now, buy-now” brand reaction that seized quite a few labels on both sides of the Atlantic two months ago. There’s no negating that the pill bag is a trend item and, as such, has to be released the moment it hit Instagram or Snapchat. In addition, Jeremy Scott has always been a jokester first, then a designer. And you’ve got to let the joke spread fast before it gets stale. Even medicines have a consume-by date.

Moschino blister pack pill handbag, SGD1,160, is available at Moschino, Paragon. Product and catwalk photos: Moschino

Unconcerned By USA Today

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By Raiment Young

I’ve been looking at chests—full-bosomed, expansive, and sunken chests. Or, rather, the chests have been looking at me. Lest you should think there’s something improper—salacious even—in that, let me say that chests are sometimes mobile message boards and they ask to be looked at.

It was three days after the American presidential election. The world was (and, by most accounts, still is) shocked with the results. Some of us were in need of explanations. What happened? Why has the result been so unexpected and hair-raising? What does the future now hold? These questions were clinging to me like sweat when I was going down the escalator at Outram MRT station, heading towards the platform of the Harbourfront-bound North-East line. Diagonally beside, going up, was a tall and brawny guy, about 25, in a navy T-shirt. On the front, stretched across his pectorals, were three white letters U, S, and A, each the size of his palm.

There was an air of indifference about him. Yet, the trio of letters was heaving and called out for attention like squeezable toys beckoning an appreciative squeeze. Just as I thought that I may have paid too much attention to my subject’s attire, he caught my gaze. I turned away quickly and in a flash he was gone. What, I wondered, did he see in the mirror when he wore that T-shirt earlier in the day? For some reason, that question remained with me all the way to VivoCity.

At Singapore’s largest shopping mall, going up the escalator to the main concourse, the back of a man in front of me also caught my eye. The rear of his polo-shirt read USA, with the U partially obscured by a child’s blouson draped selendang on his shoulder. Why was I seeing these three letters again? Less than 500 metres away, a bespectacled man emerged from the Gap store and walked towards me, wearing a T-shirt also with those insidious letters forming a parenthesis between his biceps. Behind him, a buxom lass in ripped shorts and an identical top! Was some phantom following me?

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In America, the political winds have changed and political fortunes have switched hands. But here, many don’t seem to care. (Even the joyous announcement that our next president will be picked from the Malay community was largely met with indifference.) On the MRT train a couple of days ago, an American man was telling his Singaporean companion that he “does not feel like going back to a changed America.” She asked, “Why? What has changed?” He explained to her what had just happened in his country. She asked again, “Is that bad?” Yesterday afternoon, when I told a kopi kaki that I was perturbed by the result of the American election and the ensuing rancour, he asked, “Why do you care what happens over there?” Just this morning, when I asked a fashion sourcing agent what she thought will happen if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement were scraped, she looked at me quizzically and said, somewhat agitated, “The Americans can do what they want, what.”

I am not advocating anti-American sentiments—nothing like that at all. But can what America presently seems to stand for, following the election, still be desirable in the form of a three-letter graphic that can be worn ardently and proudly on one’s chest? Is North America still a nation that we look up to, so much so that we want brand USA as a sartorial badge of honour? Can America still assert any influence over our wardrobe choices when its soft power is weakened amid mixed national messages?

Before Gap made its entry into Singapore through a franchise arrangement with FJ Benjamin in 2006 (and before online shopping really took off), most Singaporeans got their fill of Gap jeans, khakis, and ‘USA’ T-shirts during travels in the US. Those with a generous holiday budget might pick something by Ralph Lauren, whose pride for country is worn on his sleeve and, in the case of his merchandise, on the conspicuous chest. Once back home, wearing an immediately identifiable T-shirt with either the name of the city in which it was bought or just USA splashed across the chest was proof that the wearer had been to the home of Coca Cola. Even for those who had somehow acquired such a top without stepping on American soil, the cool factor could not be overlooked. USA in oversized font perhaps affirmed USA the cultural powerhouse. The wearer was plugged into the zeitgeist.

By the time Abercrombie and Fitch arrived on our shores in 2011 with a splashy marketing campaign involving hunky men parading outside their sole Orchard Road, lit-like-a-nightclub store in nothing more than a pair of deep-red track pants (exciting even grandmothers), the allure of American brands was on the wane. Sure, there was the initial throes of excitement from late adopters or those still enamoured with A&F’s over-laundered, over-appliqued, and over-branded merchandise, but, for the most part, style-conscious individuals have moved on. The Americans may have birthed athleisure as a style and product category, but T-shirt USA was not part of the equation.

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The reality is that the young are no longer weaned on cool Americana. I think A&F may have killed their appetite the moment its former CEO Mike Jeffries was reported to be unwilling to sell to “fat chicks” and had admitted that A&F is “exclusionary”. Perhaps more than that, A&F’s sunshine-y, all-American aesthetic (for both boys and girls) was slowly moving into the shade. The vintage-looking T-shirts, as one example, were no longer desirable when the rest of the world had moved to less wholesome and more extreme, indistinct, and deliberately unrefined graphics. Only gay boys were still buying into A&F’s pseudo-hetro athleticism.

Add to that was the downswing of American apparel brands. By 2014, A&F and fellow American labels were looking increasingly as tired as their too-familiar clothes. The situation worsened when, that year, American Apparel was reported to be heading towards the same trouble as A&F (both brands saw the firing of their company heads) and in October 2015, had to file for bankruptcy protection. Early this week, the Associated Press filed a story stating that American Apparel sought a second one—two in slightly over a year. Joining the bankruptcy protection club was Aérospostale—as reported by The Wall Street Journal in May. In Singapore, Aérospostale closed a couple of stores, and its future is not certain.

While other American brands may not be under such dire straits, their popularity, too, was looking as massive as the president elect’s. According to Statista, teens of the US are increasingly uninterested in brands that once held sway. Seventeen percent of girls, for example, are no longer interested in Aérospostale this fall season, while 12 percent are not inclined to buy Abercrombie and Fitch. But this is not unique to the US. On our shores, random poll among teens indicate that they have not stepped into A&F in the past six months, neither are they planning to do so in the near future. If you look at what the kids here are wearing these days, I suspect American high school jocks and the cheerleaders they go after are no longer sources of inspiration.

Rock and roll is born in the USA, but fashion, not quite. As my best friend from Malaysia once asked imperturbably, while pointing at the founding director of Condé Nast Archive Charlie Scheips’s book American Fashion, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” American apparel may not have the sophistication of design aside, there’s also America itself. The just concluded election shows us an America we’ve suspected exists, but not usually seen. Sure, we should not define Americans by the president elect’s campaign rhetoric, but the xenophobia, the misogyny, and the downright avoidance of grace and elegance of thought and expression have made ugly even the last vestige of American style. Can USA be an abbreviation for cool again?

Update (22 Nov 2016): Shortly after we published this post, it was reported by the Hong Kong press that the city’s Abercrombie & Fitch flagship on Peddar Street will be closed, leaving Hong Kong with no standalone A&F stores.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Frederick Lee, Too, Serves Up An Omelette!

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Sometimes, designers are like cooks. Cooking is not about originality. It can be done using common ingredients, and methods no different from those already employed among cooks. Simply put, a shared knowledge base. A cook is as good as the delicious food he produces. Goodness of quality is affirmed as long as his cooking is tasty. The food does not have to be original. Original dishes are rare since so much of what we eat is mostly passed down or reproduced from what have always been enjoyed, such as the omelette.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Frederick Lee has chosen to walk the paths of cooks since he is known to be a good one. At this year’s Vietnam Fashion Week, where he has been showing annually since 2014 under the auspices and promotion of the Asian Couture Federation, Mr Lee took the whisk already wielded by Guo Pei and whipped up an omelette of a train. To be sure, his is more a squishy popiah skin (a bar was fitted in the middle to keep it stretched out) compared to Ms Pei’s ponderous jian bing (煎饼 or Chinese pancake). Yet, there’s no denying that there’s visual parallel. You may use different pans, omelettes are still omelettes.

What made the dress and the train stood out even more during the catwalk presentation in Hanoi on 6 November is that the collection was called ‘Red’. Indeed, the entire show comprises of gowns of scarlet, until the final piece: an interjection in a vivid golden yellow. This was clearly meant to be a show-stopper (even if those that preceded were unqualified show-stoppers too), and you can’t help but marvel at the similarity it bore to the cape-dress Rihanna made astonishingly famous. Frederick Lee is not really celebrated as a beacon of originality, but must he really be such a fan of the obvious? Or was he designing in favour of a hashtag?

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The gown, in fact, seemed to exist for the sole purpose of carrying the omelette-train, which contrasted so dramatically in its visual semi-splendour to the plain and oddly sportif bodice that, in order to give the upper body sufficient punch, an oversized and over-blinked body jewellery (as stole?) was necessary to keep the balance, or to screen what did not overwhelm underneath. This does not take into consideration the overwrought headdress. You sense Mr Lee telling himself: “If she can do it, so can I” rather than “Anything she can do, I can do better”.

Since Mr Lee started showing abroad, we’ve missed him a lot. Ever the consummate showman and master of the meretricious, he does not disappoint, leading overseas audiences to believe that, in Singapore, we have a huge bevy of women with the occasion and inclination to wear his brand of couture. Mr Lee likes referencing cultures, especially those that easily lend themselves to campy delineations. He’s done African (somewhere in Africa) and ornithic (particularly birds of prey as well as display) and now, in Hanoi, he’s interpreting Chinese, however risible the attempt may be.

If originality is dead, authenticity is one step from banging on death’s door. Guo Pei mining deep into her native traditions to reprise the crafts that she likes is understandable, even laudable. Singaporean designers taking for themselves a Chinese culture that is so far removed from their own is tantamount to appropriation or parody, and can pivot on the pretentious. Omelettes may be omelettes wherever you cook them, but they don’t necessarily taste the same.

Photos: Vietnam International Fashion Week

Orchard Road Killer

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By Low Teck Mee

The one appeal of our increasingly digital life is its immateriality. We listen to music, watch movies, and view photographs by playing files. We read—assuming there is still appeal in that—on an e-reader or phablet. We ask for paperless bank statements, movie tickets, and boarding passes. We organise social events and put out invitations on Facebook; we even request the company of our friends at our wedding with e-invites! The Cloud, where we now store so many of these possessions, has practically de-materialised our very material world. Even the “cold hard cash” that Madonna once happily sang about is meaningless with the advent of Paypal and Apple Pay. Yet, ironically, it is online that we’re acquiring and purchasing very material things.

In a virtual vastness pregnant with products, limited offerings in real-world destinations such as Orchard Road look decidedly dull. Fact is, no one can negate that online shopping has adversely (and triumphantly) affected Singapore’s major shopping stretch. What’s disheartening is that Orchard Road is not seriously fighting back. While it (still) laments that there’s a dire lack of shoppers looking beyond shop windows, cyberspace is bursting with stores that out-stock, out-thrill, and out-sell the busiest spot on what we’re persuaded to believe is “a great street”.

The call to shop is never more strident online. Our in-boxes and timelines are constantly besieged with messages, ads, and links to sites that help us navigate the infinite, yet crowded, online marketplace, never mind if we do not frequently end up on the landing pages. Amid the many sites and those exasperatingly pertinacious, one stands out: ShopandBox. Here’s not your average choose-click-buy platform. ShopandBox does not offer products per se. Instead, it connects you to stuff specified by you in a store/place/city stated by you. Subsequently, an actual—not virtual—personal shopper will do the buying and “boxing” (since these are mostly not digitisable products) on your behalf. It does, therefore, appear that many, many things are within your reach. ShopandBox looks poised to ring the death knell for Orchard Road.

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I did not explore the three-year-old ShopandBox until recently, and it was pleasure from first click, just like playing Pokemon Go for the first time (even if that initial encounter now seems such a long time back). Sure, it is hard to be readily lured to ShopandBox’s prosaic name, but if you shouldn’t judge a book by its e-cover, you should not assess a site’s appeal by what it’s called. No one will blame you for mistaking it as a storage service for your shopping. However, once you’ve entered their conversely more appealing, vaguely Kinfolk-ish portal, you’ll be so caught up with the seemingly endless possibilities that you’ll forget there’s laundry to be done and the baby to be fed.

Personally, I have not been getting retail kicks by clicking on “add to cart”, which seems to me a description of an act that’s evocative of a rural way of life, but I can see that e-commerce, specifically B2C (business to consumer) transactions, is not only burgeoning, it’s virtually exploding. Pervasive media reports inform me that by the end of this year, worldwide B2C online sales will reach USD1.92 trillion. Staggering figure considering that small-fry I probably contribute only 0.001% to that sum.

To my delight, ShopandBox employs a “submit order” button. But before you get there, there’s shopping to be done. The site spells the procedure in four, straightforward steps. There are, in fact, only three since the last won’t be done by you. To make things easier, especially for repeat and seasoned visitors, there’s a box on the homepage where you can request for what you already know you want and the system will do the rest. And rather swiftly too.

ShopandBox touts itself as a site for “global personal shopping”. Two words there jump at you: “global” and “personal”. You can really shop for almost anything, anywhere—28 countries, so far (discount all of Africa though)—and someone on the other side will pick the items up for you. Yes, it’s really having a living and breathing person run your errand (the Chinese have an excellent word for it: paotui or 跑腿, literally running legs). But those doing your bidding are not known as ‘shoppers’, since you, in front of your notebook or smartphone, are already the shopper. Instead, they’re known as ‘boxers’, which sounds like inductees of a fight club, but it makes sense since it is they who are the ones to box your purchases for shipping.

tai-xin-lung-and-rebecca-chuaCo-founders of ShopandBox, Rebecca Chia and Tai Xin Lung

The husband-and-wife team of Tai Xin Lung and Rebecca Chia (a Malaysian and Singaporean working out of Melbourne!) that dreamed up the idea for ShopandBox started by deploying those they know as boxers. “All of us have, at some point, asked our overseas friends to buy and send stuff to us,” Mr Tai said. “So we thought: why not develop this into an online service? We started the business by using our family and friends just as we had before.” These have since grown into a network of boxers around the world. Unlike shopping sites such as Qoo10, where anonymous handlers (and sellers) process your order, ShopandBox assigns a boxer to you. As your boxer—including a former beauty queen in the US—is known to you, some trust in the transaction can be established.

This one-to-one approach adds a personal touch to a normally cold and anonymous deal. When boxers are unsure if they have the right item, for instance, they could take a picture of the product and send to you for approval. If you need suggestions, the boxer could also offer them. In fact, some of the listed boxers have “recommendations” that you could browse through. What I find especially appealing is that you could also request for the boxer to go to a specific store in the city where they’re based to buy exactly the item you already have in mind. That could avail to you product releases specific to a certain country, which means you could be wearing or using something not available here.🙂

ShopandBox , in fact, goes beyond their perfunctory name. For popular items, such as the Playstation VR, they offer price comparison across five cities (cheaper in the US than in Japan—who would have thought?!). This can be found in the page called The Blog, where a host of ideas and suggestions can be found in the form of articles. Okay, the writing is not exactly the stuff of the Pulitzer Prize, but it does get you going, or, in the case of the city guides, in a mood for shopping.

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To me, the biggest appeal of ShopandBox is the freedom and flexibility it affords when shopping online. You start with knowing already what you want. Nothing is curated for you; well at least not when you don’t need it. And you’re not confronted with a mind-boggling array of merchandise. This is not Taobao, the gaudy online pasar malam that bombards you with so much that you do not know where to start. This is not Net-A-Porter, a site that many consider the “ultimate shopping destination”—now seducing you wih an e-mag on its homepage to better showcase its wares. This is not Luisaviaroma, with their categories and themes. This is not Amazon, which seem unable to completely shake off their bookseller image. This is not Farfetch, again just scores of merchandise even if they fetch from afar. ShopandBox may yet go to the end of the earth, but they have boxers in places distant enough to bridge desire and the desired.

When asked what’s next for ShopandBox or what is done so that it won’t be a convenient stop for the mundane, Mr Tai said, “We hope to grow the number of more sophisticated customers, not just the 18 to 25 year-olds.” Could this mean that the older, more affluent shopper isn’t embracing online shopping with the same fervour as the young?

With the world’s merchandise a click away, it is irrefutable that fewer people are doing their shopping on Orchard Road; fewer still the older consumer. The overall figures continue to look bleak. According to a May report in The Straits Times, retailers were raking in 3.2% less in February when compared to the same period last year (not that it was better then). If you exclude motor vehicle sales, the drop was even steeper: 9.6%. More than six months later, the situation does not seem to have improved. Orchard Road, I hate to say, ShopandBox is here to stay… and slay.

ShopandBox mobile app is available on Google Play and Apple App Store. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

The Intrecciato Goes Floreale

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In view of how women these days like clothes that are “edgy” or, in favour of Instagram, over-the-top, pretty is as appealing as granny underpants. In fact, pretty has less a place in fashion now that ephemeral is arguably lost in a sea of sporty get-ups that no longer only dominate in the domain of the athlete. This month’s “Pretty Chic” Vogue may asks to differ, but, on the ground, it really is quite different.

The floral print on Bottega Veneta’s signature intrecciato finish of the above shoe, the ‘Trippie’ pump, is, therefore, refreshing because it appears as you thought pretty has gone back to the prairie. Dainty floral print is, however, having a moment, thanks to Vetements, but this is prettiness that can be connected to the kooky stance of Courtney Love rather than the haughty bearing of, say, Elizabeth Bennet.

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There’s something extra appealing about Bottega Veneta’s child-like flowers—they appear on the unique intrecciato weave which is usually in plain, solid colours, as seen in their ubiquitous bags. In fact, woven leather and florals usually associated with folk art are a pairing that is consistent with the trend towards craft, or craft-like finish.

However, what may not widen the Trippie pump’s appeal is its utterly vanilla shape that the brand describes as “classic”, but women may find a little too yesteryear. The patent calfskin shoes with modest 8-cm (3.1”) heels, for some, may recall those worn by their grandmothers to tea dances of the ’50s. However, a throwback in our present time of looks indeterminate may not be such a bad thing.

Bottega Veneta ‘Trippie’ pumps, SGD1,010, are available at Bottega Veneta stores at ION Orchard and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Photos: Bottega Veneta

Crossover Common: Has Gucci Stepped Into Uniqlo Territory?

Take away that large Gucci label, and it may not even be thought of as Uniqlo merchandise. It could be any brand’s, marooned in Ang Mo Kio Central until it finds a happy shopper. Or, anywhere—including online stores—that hawks unremarkable T-shirts for strictly Peanuts fans looking for a bargain. It is Snoopy charm you can usually buy for a song.

Yet, it’s there in the Gucci rack, sandwiched between other weightier garments that look decidedly expensive. This T-shirt, with a neckline too stretched and a wash too laundered, looks like a bum lost in a Hollywood Hills mansion. In fact, so beat up it is that there are holes in the T-shirt even before they’re worn. You’d think some careless teenager left his T-shirt here! Gucci described it as a “vintage effect”. Could this be something more highfalutin: posh poverty?

Or maybe there’s some irony here that totally escapes us. Something along the lines of the new used? According to Gucci, “Alessandro Michele takes his love for the animal world a step further with a number of styles featuring cartoon animal characters from the Peanuts.” Further, of course, does not have to be upwards. If so, could this indeed be towards Uniqlo’s domain?

What really makes the situation fascinating is that Uniqlo has a practice of working with established cartoon franchises for its UT line. These include mass-recognition names such as Disney and the less-known such as Dick Bruna, the Dutch illustrator behind kawaii major Miffy. The question is, for a cartoon character as common as Snoopy, do we really need to pay a three-figure sum so as to wear comparable cuteness on our chest?

Gucci isn’t the first Italian brand to be enchanted by American cartoon characters. Back in the ’90s, there was Iceberg. And they, too, were Snoopy-mad, putting out Joe Cool tees to popular acclaim. It was then charming because, amid the Italian swank of the era, it was a little cheeky for a European label to adopt American icons. But now that maker of uniforms for urbanites Uniqlo is already into cartoons for all, is Gucci’s take whimsical, or even clever?

Perhaps it’s Hedi Slimane—a name that no one talks about now—who had set the precedent when he introduced those inartistic and wildly expensive T-shirts for Saint Laurent. The because-we-can attitude was in sync with the rising, we-don’t-give-a-shit outlook of Mr Slimane’s followers. There’s nothing cute about that, but that’s precisely why they appeal. Trash the adorable so that you can rock whatever it is that rocks you.

Gucci Snoopy & Woodstock cotton T-shirt, SGD560, is available at Gucci stores. Photo: Gucci

Jungle Drag

All calm at H&M’s Grange Road store

Now we know why the queue was so short last night. And why, even by the late hour of 9pm this evening at the H&M flagship store on Grange Road, the crowd was woefully thin. As a young guy in a black The Vaccines tee said to his shopping companion again and again—clearly in disbelief, “This is very disappointing, leh!” And then added emphatically, “Balmain got people queue (sic). This one nobody gives a shit!”

Here, the entire area designated as the Kenzo X H&M zone, just on the left side of the main entrance, was not a mad-grab aftermath. Racks were still full with clothes that looked unravished and table tops were still not depleted of its colourful offerings. You would never have guessed that the collection had already gone through more than 12 hours of sale and enjoyed the hype of overnight queues. No shopper was ravenous. It was as if feeding time was over.

Accessories remained neatly arranged on the display top with no hint of an earlier crush

Perhaps the situation at Ion Orchard was better, we thought. As we headed that way to see for ourselves the chaos over there, we bumped into an acquaintance who is, by reputation, a collaboration junkie. “Were you in the queue last night?” we were burning with curiosity. “No lah,” said the Chinese national without her usual you-really-know-me grin. “Don’t want anything,” she explained. “They look like they came out of the night safari!”

Surprising, therefore, that while so many of the fashion set are nocturnal creatures, so few are enticed by what could be party clothes. Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Huberto Leon has assembled a collection (minus the sweaters and coats) that could easily take you from countdown under the stars to downtown under a mirrored ball (admittedly, we’re already in New Year mood). To be honest, we did not think that at first. When the initial pictures of the collab came out, we thought they were clothes from the wardrobe of a gay tiger.

At Ion Orchard, the racks remained well stocked
Faux-leather shopping bags beckoning like Japan’s fukubukuro (福袋), commonly seen at retail stores during the New Year season

And true enough, over at Ion Orchard, H&M’s first-floor corner for their collaboration with Kenzo looked like a fully-catered party no one attended. As with the other store, racks remained packed with merchandise waiting to be seduced by moneyed hands. A few browsers inspected the merchandise, nothing picked. To be sure, the wearable and usable were all sold old, such as T-shirts, mini-skirts, the backpack, and the ‘scuba’ pouch. For the rest, the call of markdown is near.

This morning when we checked our news feed on Flipboard, there was nothing such as last year’s “Terrifying Footage of Shoppers Laying Waste to a Store”. This time, on Us Weekly, just what we had already expected: “Kenzo x H&M Is Already on eBay for Way More Than the Retail Price.” And on eBay they’ll probably stay.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji