A Polished Way With Patterns And Prints

Should this have been the new Marni?

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Arthur Arbesser is not really new name. Sure, the recent Milan Fashion Week autumn/winter 2017 collection was his 9th, but in the pantheon of Italian designers, he is barely up there. Yet, his four-year-old eponymous label appears to be jostling for space among those constantly redefining sex appeal and teasing what is tasteful: Marni and Prada.

The 35-year-old, we were told by so many fashion watchers, is the man to keep an eye on. His early collections were pretty enough, but they lacked something: that special quality that gripped. Sure, we saw the potential, but it was not, to us, strong enough to arouse serious interest. Until now.

The current collection is one of the most polished in the Milan season. Mr Arbesser, who at the start of his business, was making rather girlish clothes, seemed to have suddenly matured. His designs—the unconventional silhouettes, the propensity to tackle deceptively simple shapes, and a flair for mixing patterns—point to a future as bright as his clothes.

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We are partial to the liquid-metal fabrics (teamed with knits!); the paring of optical patterns; and the use of odd, traditionally unappealing colours. We are drawn to the clean, confident lines and the commitment to clothes making, not sensation stirring. Sure, there are not the 101 ideas of Gucci (and, as a result, the dazzle) or the every product category of Dolce and Gabbana, but, in Arthur Arbesser, there are clothes that are not conduits to the next crazy season; there are pieces you’d want to wear again and again—for sure, to an art gallery opening.

Being the media type that we are, we would love to attend an event in the black and white vest of diagonal stripes and vertical checks paired with checkerboard skirt of black and yellow. And for a dressier affair, we won’t think twice of jumping into the ruched copper skirt and the beribboned stole. What’s making us go over the collection again with delight is this: here are clothes that, in its sum, communicate a lost elegance that seems poised for a comeback as street style and “elevated sportswear” furiously raid the runaways.

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A graduate of Central Saint Martins of Arts and Design, Mr Arbesser came to media attention when he won Vogue Italia’s ‘Who is on Next’ competition in 2013, also the year his label was launched. Even more interest in him was aroused when he became one of the finalists of the LVMH Prize in 2015. Originally from Vienna, but now based in Milan, Mr Arbesser cut his teeth at Giorgio Armani, where he quietly worked for 7 years. Despite this grounding, there is nothing in his own collection that hints at the unique aesthetic that characterised his former employer.

In June 2015, he was appointed women’s wear creative director for the Italian sportswear label Iceberg, where he tempered the brand’s taste for cartoons with his own fondness for patterns. His name again lent creative heft to another when he created his first eyewear collection in collaboration with Silhouette. At the rate he’s going, Mr Arbesser will not only be a name to watch, but to follow. For us, what we did not discover in the new Marni, we found with pleasure in Arthur Arbesser.

Photos: Arthur Arbesser

Finding The Marvelous In Marni

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We once thought that Marni was the new Prada. That was in the mid ’90s, when Sex and the City apparently captured the zeitgeist. In that TV series, Prada was name-checked 14 times, just twice less than Manolo Blahnik (a respectable 16). So desirable was Prada at that time that we had hoped more labels with that familiar-yet-so-different-and-offbeat aesthetic would emerge and we found it in Marni, a brand forever associated with the art gallerist (as if only women ran art galleries, as if those who do mostly have a kooky sense of taste) and the art crowd.

Now, about twenty years later, we think Prada has possessed Marni. Francesco Risso, the guy who succeeded the brand Consuelo Castiglioni founded with her husband in 1994 has re-imagined Marni with the ghost of Prada, where he spent close to ten years, after time with Anna Molinari and Alessandro Dell’Acqua. Or maybe it was just us. Apparitions are difficult to make certain. Sometimes, you just sense it: a coat here, a skirt there, a touch of scarf, bits of fur.

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It was like Prada on a lull season. Not that that is a bad thing. One can never immediately and completely shake off one’s just-past near-decade. So for Mr Risso to bring along the not-quite-ordinary from his last employment to a house known for its alternative take on what constitutes modern elegance is possibly a good start for continuing the Marni brand of creative defiance. This first collection is interesting (even when we are generally reluctant to use that vague term) and will not alienate Marni fans, but we did feel that there was too conscious an effort in respecting the house codes.

Take some of the jackets, for example, specifically the one from the first look, in the colour of butter. Yes, the Marni shape was there, but the sort-of-cocoon back, while appealing, was a wee bit too deliberate. The back design was repeated, and slowly, the Marni boxiness emerged and stayed. We love the typical boxy cut of the Marni jacket, so naturally we were delighted that Mr Risso has opted to retain it. Of course, Prada is known for their sometimes boxy shapes as well. In that respect, it was perhaps synergy at work. Or was it just the apparition?

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By the time the prints and the mix of prints emerged, we found ourselves tugging at being convinced. Or could it be that, by now, odd pairings of patterns no longer fascinate? We can’t say for sure, but there’s something not quite art-crowd about Mr Risso’s prints and there is no surprise in the mix, not even when you run a length of decorative lace meandering down the skirt. Or the textures: what looked like terry with semi-shine leather (or PU, we can’t tell) just did not spell luxe. When look 45 (49 looks in total) appeared, the crazy cocktail of a floral funnel-neck blouse worn under a floral bra and matching outer and paired with a dotted skirt with drawstrings to create ruching, we had to commit the Marni we remember to the deeper recesses of nostalgia.

It’s not really been out in the open why Consuelo Castiglioni chose to step down. Rumours in fashion are always rife, and this one involves the brand’s owner Only The Brave (OTB), an Italian group that also controls Viktor & Rolf and Margiela. Could she have regretted selling it to OTB’s Renzo Rosso, who, according to W Magazine, is a “a flamboyant paterfamilias, who prefers provocation to political correctness”? We hope that Francesco Risso would be able to stand himself in good stead so that Consuelo Castiglioni would not need to make a comeback a la Jil Sander. And then disappear again.

Photos: Imaxtree

Oscar 2017: Safe And Sorry Made The Red Carpet

Has this been the dullest Oscar fashion put on show?

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By Mao Shan Wang

I woke up early this morning to watch the Oscars red carpet live stream. Thirty minutes into the ABC presentation, I wondered why I bothered. There I was, in a singlet and pair of netball shorts from Sec 4, staring at my PC screen come not-quite alive with Kirsten Dunst looking like a matron. Her dress could have been something left behind by the Bling Ring after they realized they’ve robbed the wrong house. As stars after stars take their obligatory camera call in front of the over-branded photo wall, I soon realised that there was more variety and taste in my muesli.

Still, I persevered so that I could see who wore what.

The Look-A-Likes

Nothing is worse that arriving on the red carpet after hours of preening, and the first thing you encounter is the mirror. That, for some women, is pure horror, even if that is a genre the Academy rarely ever honours.

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Poor Michelle Williams, the Louis Vuitton muse. I bet she left the choice of the dress to LV. And I bet she did not guess that a bi-coloured gown would be more bane than sane, nor that Emma Roberts would go to Armani Privé for a similar black and cream number. Even the evil step sisters wouldn’t wish this upon Cinderella.

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Silhouettes are always important, and actresses—no fashion plates, really—are known to go for the safest. That is why it’s not surprising that Charlize Theron, even a Dior model, would aim for a sort-of-goddess shape that has also caught the eye of Scarlett Johansson. To be fair to Ms Theron, she looked a tad better in the Dior. Ms Johansson wore Azzedine Alaïa, and I must say I was surprised. You see, even an Alaïa can look nasty on a wrong body. I don’t understand the saggy armhole that from the front made Ms Johansson look like she was hoping to have the breasts of Mae West. Or was it Salma Hayek’s? I wonder if they knew that somewhere on that red carpet, screenwriter Allison Schroeder also looked like them. Okay, let’s not draw her dress to their attention.

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Red lace, too, is always a safe bet, so safe that another actress might have the same thought. Perhaps Ruth Negga didn’t think of that. She’s been busy playing the fashion star of the award season, so it’s not surprising that she did not consider the possibility that another actress would upstage her at the Oscars. Until Ginnifer Goodwin arrives in Zuhair Murad, proving that Valentino isn’t the only go-to designer for some sheer and lace, and lots of red. Why any woman wants to look like they’ve emerged from the carpet really beats me.

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Curvy women like big skirts, spread out from the natural waist. If the shape of the skirt isn’t large enough to draw the viewer’s attention, then add surface ornamentation such as feathers or lace or embroidery. Octavia Spencer and Ava Duvernay are perhaps soul sisters, but surely they did not wish to look like mother doves from the same tree?

The Confectioner’s Delight

The tendency to show off is never weak on the red carpet. Sometimes you need the boast to play up something you do not have, such as innate style. Your best chance then is to seek inspiration from the baker of wedding cakes. You’ll be the centre of attraction, waiting to be sliced.

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Janelle Monae is an attractive woman, which means she could have offered more with less, but she chose a lot more—an Elie Saab overload. I can understand the desire for embellishment and exaggerated shape on a night like this, but surely all that boob show, embroidered birds, excessive frills are quite enough, even when together they are the stew that won’t sell. But add that pannier and you’re definitely in prom-queen-thinking-she’s-Marie-Antoinette territory. As for the black, have you not heard of charcoal cake?

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Although it was reported that Los Angeles was cooler than usual, it was still ideal weather to show that you know spring is near. But, in the case of British actress Cynthia Erivo, she looked like she had just emerged from a flower bath that had tar for water. The dress, by Australian label Paolo Sebastian, appeared to be splattered with flowers, leaves, curlicues, and lattice cutouts from some fey decorator’s garden. Since we’re on the topic of baking, we remember that most cakes decorated with all-over flowers are made of butter cream. Yes, the topping that, after more than a mouthful, is very jelak.

The Fichu And Other Evening Standards

Websites from E! to Elle enjoy trendspotting on Oscar night. Trend—by a simple definition—could mean what is popularly worn, and not on one night, but on those other nights of an annual event. So trends are easy to spot. Unsurprisingly, so many Oscar attendees are on trend.

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The one-shoulder of Halle Berry’s Versace gown is, or course, a standard. But what exasperates is not knowing which direction that sheer fabric emerging from the shoulder plans to flow. But perhaps that is less bothersome than her hair. I heard that she decided to go natural this year rather than getting her locks meet Tangle Teezer. But, seriously, a bird’s nest kept by a swiftlet with poor housekeeping skill is never a good do.

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The sweetheart neckline is always a safe bet, but one that looks like an outline of shrinking Playboy Bunny ears? Brie Larson chose this Oscar de la Renta to show that it’s alright to salute a certain mascot on Oscar night. The only thing is: the cotton tail has transmogrified into a swirl of black flounces that looks like oversized pencil shavings. Mind you, discards for the red carpet are eco-friendly.

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Okay, we know you have a near-backless dress, but do you really have to put chin to shoulder to pose? They don’t even do that on RuPaul’s Drag Race! Or was that a way to create a small ‘i’ with the rest of your just-as-bare arm? Or perhaps that was to draw attention to the withered flowers cascading down your discernible rear? Hailee Steinfeld in Ralph and Russo, as a 20-year-old Oscar veteran, you’re forgiven.

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So this is what it looks like when Meryl Streep ditched Chanel for Elie Saab. Quarrels never end well. Or, as Jimmy Kimmel wondered, “Is that an Ivanka?”

The White That Is Not A Bride

They love white on Oscar night, presumably for the suggestion of purity the non-colour affords. Sure, a pure actress is always more appealing than a slutty one. Still, white isn’t always a vision of wholesomeness, not when it has the same appeal as hotel towels.

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I am thrilled that a Raf Simons outfit made it to the Oscar red carpet, albeit in the form of a Calvin Klein dress. Naomi Harris stepped onto the red carpet in a bustier dress by the new guy in charge that made her look she just stepped out of a shower. As she stood for the cameras to feast on her, I really thought that the dress was made while she was having a shoot in a photo studio, and the only material available was the background paper. Unfortunate girl.

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So who says a bustier bodice cannot look like the back of a chair made from auntie Elsie’s quilt? Priyanka Chopra, in Ralph and Russo, showed what Hussein Chalayan always knew: a dress can be transformed from a piece of furniture. If it needs to be more convincing, use a quilted fabric. The Chesterfield can have a mate.

The Metallic Shimmer

The fashion police has been quick to identify all the gold (and attendant metallic) dresses a trend of the night. Gold is gorgeous, but as it is often pointed out to me, all that shines is not necessarily gold. It could be champagne, which, as we all know, very quickly becomes flat.

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I always pay attention to Nicole Kidman, not because she’s an Oscar regular, but because she did look good in that chartreuse Dior Couture (by John Galliano) dress in 1997, exactly 20 years ago. And I am hoping that could be repeated. Is there a red carpet equivalent of a one-hit wonder?  In Armani Privé, Mr Kidman looks lovely, but lovely does not red carpet fashion make. Lovely is easily lost… and forgotten.

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For someone who could not dance in a musical for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Emma Stone wore a Givenchy dress that made her look like she was about to break into the Charleston. Or, maybe that, too, would be difficult for her. There’s nothing wrong with the dress, of course. It’s all good for Ms Stone to reign as the American sweetheart everyone loves.

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Sofia Boutella wore Chanel. I am sure Karl Lagerfeld did not mean for her to go as a sequinned paintbrush. But who really knows?

Photos: oscar.com

So, This Is Donatella’s Swansong

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Since many media reports are close to certain that Riccardo Tisci will take over fellow Italian Donatella Versace after this autumn/winter 2017 season (with Suzy Menkes announcing on IG that she is “hearing all Donatella’s secrets and plans… But shhh! I’m not allowed to tell a soul”), it is in all likelihood that this was Ms Versace’s last collection for the house her brother built. Did anyone cry at the show? We don’t know.

Or, perhaps, there was silent hurrah all round? That may sound cruel, but for some, it’s about time. Ms Versace has led the family’s namesake label since her brother’s murder in July 1997, but it was not with immense success, at least not at the start of her tenure. According to Forbes, “the famed luxury brand was on the edge of bankruptcy in 2009”. That was a period of 12 long years after Gianni Versace died, during which the little sister, also his principessa, tried to augment the Versace image by creating it in her own likeness.

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Too her, some ex-Versace fans cried, and definitely too much of a muse’s take than a farsighted designer’s vision. To be fair, the role of continuing where Gianni Versace left off was not a calculated transition. Reportedly, she had no choice but to take it on. Donatella Versace, although a source of inspiration behind her brother’s gaudy and showy clothes, was not the natural designer many had thought she could be. She had spent a great deal of time, pre-1997, in New York, styling the Versace ads. While members of the media were generally supportive of her in her journey that eventually dropped the Gianni name from the label, the output under her watch wasn’t exactly the stuff that excited, the way her brother’s had transfixed admirers of his designs.

Amid rumours of partying too hard and using too much drugs, and then showing up late (very late) for work the next day (among other problems, domestic and professional), Ms Versace soldiered on. In Deborah Ball’s book House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, the writer noted that “while the fashion press treated Donatella’s first runway show gently, department store buyers and Versace shop owners (at that time, the now-defunct Link had distributorship rights in Singapore) were privately unimpressed.”

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To many observers, in fact, it was not her designs that kept the business visible, but the celebrity associations. Like her brother, Ms Versace courted stars. She is known to be close to models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, actress/Goop head Gwyneth Paltrow, singers Madonna (who has appeared more than once in Versace’s adverting) and Cher (who sang Danny’s Boy at a private, impromptu memorial for Gianni) and Miami nightclub magnate Ingrid Casares, also known as a “lesbian icon”. In return, she is feted. Dressing the right star for the right occasion, too, helped—such as Jennifer Lopez in that green silk chiffon dress for the 42nd Grammy Awards ceremony in 2000, a floor-length number with a strangely well-behaved plunging V-neck that people still consider the most unforgettable award-night gown.

According to The Guardian, Versace is now a £1.05bn business. Somewhere along the way, Ms Versace did something right. Although she kept much of the sex appeal closely associated with the house, she has largely re-designed its DNA to minimise what she considers a problem unique to gay designers. As she told The Times Magazine last year, “When they design for a woman, they design for the woman they want to be”—never mind that, before his death, Gianni Versace was in a long-term relationship with Antonio D’Amico, model-turn-boyfriend-turn-designer who oversaw the now-closed Versace Sports.

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A woman designing for women became the mantra for Ms Versace, but she isn’t the woman many of us socialise with. Donatella has a hyper-heightened sense of womanliness, in particular, sexiness. Her designs amplify and, not infrequently, exaggerate the female form to allow it to ooze in-your-face sex appeal. As with Gianni, minimalism—of the ’90s or later—was all Greek to Donatella. While she did tone down his flashiness and raucous mix of prints, she did not succumb to a quieter aesthetic. Although not as visible as before, the “baroque” prints, the medusa heads, and the frets—they still appear in Versace stores the world over. As with the cushions from the home line, the Versace loudness can’t be completely hushed.

Her supposedly last show in Milan was a veritable showcase of the Versace woman that Donatella has single-handedly fashioned. There is no shortage of power suits, body-hugging dresses, short swingy skirts, leg-baring slits, curvy translucent cut-outs, exposed navels, dilated cleavages; all conceived to prove that powerful, surefooted women can be sexually alluring. Despite  Even as her creative reign comes to an end, Ms Versace did not dial down the clothes’ foxiest-creature-in-the-room potency, which nicely corresponds with the Kardashian/Jenner-ruled world of social media.

We don’t know why, but some of the styling reminds us of D’Squared2. Or, has Ms Versace become just like the gay designers she described: designing for the woman she wants to be? The irony is certainly not lost there. Donatella Versace may be passing the design baton to someone else, but the house of Versace will be as brash as ever. If, indeed, Riccardo Tisci were to be the recipient, it may be more so.

Photos: indigital.tv, except top: Versace

Fashion Is The Thing With Feathers

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Has Prada bought a plumasserie? You would have thought so. Last season’s marabou and this season’s ostrich: Miuccia Prada must have been conducting her own Conference of the Birds. For certain, these are not the feathers favoured by Frederick Lee. Still, there are a lot more feathers in this collection than usual, no?

It’s not just the sway of feathers. There is the shake of leather fringes and the beaded ones too: visual distraction that are more akin to what showgirls wear than what Prada used to propose women don. These attachments are not just ornamentation since they are not static. Clothes have always had a kinesiological aspect to them. Prada thus adds more movement to garments with embellishments that swing and swag: the feathers bordered seams and hems, and trimmed shoes. They’re very much a part of the drag queen’s playbook. Or a coquette’s arsenal of tricks.

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Is this then a statement on the relationship between frou-frou and femininity? Prada started its ready-to-wear line in 1988 with fairly lady-like looks. However, rather than go all ‘femmey’, to borrow an L word, the brand has banked on its penchant for the offbeat—namely fabrics that have come to be known as awful since they seemed to be based on ’70s wallpaper and the colour of puke. Then came ornamentation usually associated with women for whom baubles and bling mean a womanly ideal. Paired with Prada’s gawky silhouette, the look is far from, say, Michael Kor’s lady-like, or glamour.

At the same time, Miuccia Prada has not let up on the ugly-pretty (or pretty ugly, if that’s how you see it) aesthetic that the brand has built itself on. Over-sized jewellery and now double rows of feather and fringes (oh, and furry belts) may seem to be on par with Gucci (ornamentation is always big in Italy), but the near-excess is mostly tempered with Prada’s pairing of prints and shapes. This season, there’s the illustrations of bombshells (isn’t that very Dolce & Gabbana?) by Robert E, McGinnis, who’s known for his cover drawings for the James Bond books of the ’60s and the movie poster of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We’re not clear who really likes wearing an illustration of a person on her body, but Prada is fond of incorporating icon-like images in their clothes.

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Then there are the deliberately not-sleek shapes. Of the latest collection, to note is the proportion of the lapels of the coats (in corduroy, no less!). The drop notch lapel is large, with the upper half so huge that it falls like a sailor’s collar in the rear. One of the ensembles that we find very appealing is the twin set, a-sweater-and-cardigan pair that is very much associated with early Prada. Here, the return is dotty granny, but with the charm of little sister playing with mom’s clothes. That means the pairing isn’t matchy-matchy, as twin sets are known to be, but as diverse as pulling things from the wardrobes of two different people. We like the a-tad-too-big cardigan—beaded too—that is teamed with cowry-shell necklace. How deliciously gauche is that?

Despite media reports that Prada isn’t doing well on the stocks exchange and on the shop floor, Miuccia Prada isn’t succumbing to market demands. This is not to say that what she does isn’t commercial. In fact, Prada fans will be able to find those items that they have always loved in the collection, and still be able to uncover those pieces they do not own. Although she stays true to her aesthetic convictions, Miuccia Prada knows how to have a bit of fun, too. And, simultaneously, have a tease at well-loved—or frown-upon—feminine frills.

Photos: Prada

The Carousel That Goes Round And Round And Round At Gucci

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Can you tell the difference between last season’s Gucci and the current’s? And can you tell the difference between this season Gucci’s and the just-shown autumn/winter 2017 collection? No? Ah, you see… that is the point! As Alessandro Michele told Sarah Mower, there’s no need to “tell a new fashion story” each season. Repetition is the new black. Continuity is the new norm.

This is what the SBS Transit calls a loop service. From the start of his tenure, Mr Michele has placed us in a circle line—a carousel, if you will. Each look, right up to the current Milan Fashion Week collection, brings us back to where it all started: in the fall of 2015. And just in case you could tell that the trompe-l’œil sequined bows are replicates or the maxi-dresses reiterations, the models this time are placed at a distance from the audience, in a glass (or maybe acrylic) tunnel, a la Charles de Gaulle airport’s see-through tubes-as-escalators. Did the fish-bowl effect change things?

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The staging may be different, but it’s the repetitiveness in the clothes that spells out sameness, so much so that we have run out of things to say about Gucci. Really. We tried. Eclectic came to mind, but that is a lazy description. There’s so much going on in just one look, on one garment that Mr Michelle deserves better. How about cartoonish and freaky? Or overwrought and florid? Or psychedelic and manic? How about xiao ting tong?

Has minimalism had such a long reign that this is payback time for all-out-max? We have nothing against ornamentation and flamboyance (and don’t tell us Gucci isn’t flamboyant!), but must fancy, flowery, and fussy go together in the same way that it was so prominently introduced to us two years ago? After four collections (excluding the pre-seasons), is this much all that Mr Michele can express? Are we still amused, the way so many fashion editors pretend that they are?

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It is already appreciated that Mr Michele has given a fashion voice to red light district workers, their pimps, librarians, perpetual hippies, figure skaters, attention seekers, the Tenebaums, the MacDougals, magpies, tuhaos, geeks, nerdettes, the Carrie Whites of the world. Yet, it seems he’s still talking to this group, unable (or unwilling?) to re-draw borders. How many flouncy maxi-dresses does a woman need in her wardrobe if her life isn’t an all-day, all-night carnival, or Rachel Zoe on the job?

Sure, there’s the craft, embroideries, sequins, appliqués: stuff that involves handwork, all beautifully assembled. They come together in what Mr Michele calls alchemy, which could be euphemism for mad mix. Looking at a Gucci garment is like peering into a kaleidoscope for too long—it induces a headache. The first few pieces may be pretty, but they are ultimately bu nai kan (不耐看), as the Chinese would say, or unable to withstand long and careful appreciation.

Oh, one more thing: didn’t the people at Gucci hear that using umbrellas indoors is bad luck?

Photos: indigital.tv

London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

christopher-kane-aw-2017Christopher Kane

The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

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You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.

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Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.

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Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.

Photos: indigital.tv

Burberry’s Best Yet

Has stepping down as CEO been good for the creative output of Christopher Bailey?

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Finales of fashion show rarely come with surprises, or even more to see. Burberry’s presentation this morning (last night, London time) was one that truly ended with extras, as if designer Christopher Bailey wasn’t quite done with what he wanted to express. The models (re)emerged in the order they first came in, but this time with an extra article of clothing.

They were not given something essential to wear. No, these were not pieces you’d rush out to buy, but they caused quite a rush of excitement. At first, you wondered if these were another set of clothes, then you realised that the models were fitted in basically an extra outer. But there was nothing basic about them, not in Burberry’s sense anyway, which often meant the trench coat or the house checks. These were flourishes—ornamental pieces worn to stimulate the senses, or to end a show with a bang.

Mr Bailey has turned a brief 4-min-or-so finale into a showcase of intense creativity that could have passed off as a couture fling, or, conversely, graduate-show excess. These were elaborate pieces that, we suspect, will not be produced.They covered mostly the shoulders: flounced, layered, and tiered fichu; the chunkiest cable and fringed scarf; oversized, lace falling band; metallic feathered capelet, glittering aventail; pearl-strung passementerie, closed and opens ruffs; oversized feathered collar, and so many pieces that would have had Viktor and Rolf nod with gleeful approval.

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That this was a rather arty collection surprised not, for according to Burberry, the collection was “an exploration of sculpture and silhouette, material and process… inspired by the life and creations of Henry Moore’, the English artist and sculptor whose work ‘Large Reclining Figure’ currently sits outside the OCBC Building on Chulia Street. Mr Moore, who was from the same county as Mr Bailey: Yorkshire, is known for his exaggerated, alien-like shapes—usually curvy and undulating, sometimes corpulent. We did not see much of the Moore silhouette in the Burberry set—now known by the season non-specific ‘February collection’—but being inspired does not mean imitative.

What we did see is a startling show of asymmetry, quite in the spirit of Henry Moore. Asymmetric bodices and skirts are not new at Burberry, but those of such extreme skew and graphical placement are refreshing. Even the knits, British cable knits, were given a treatment that takes diagonal positions across the body. Some have mismatched sleeves. Much of the asymmetry was not just from left to right; it was from front to back, too. The lopsidedness was rather extreme in some cases: a one-sleeve, one-lapel jacket, for example, was pair with a vaguely Victorian blouse with profusion of ruffles on the side the jacket did not cover. Flat juxtaposed to the wildly textured is the new-born sister of Mr Bailey’s recurrent opaque to the sheer.

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As it is evidenced elsewhere, oversized seems to be the order of the day at Burberry too. This is perhaps to keep to Henry Moore’s exaggerated shapes. Consistent with the seemingly one-size-too-large proportion, most of the sleeves were extra long, which, by now could be just on the wrong side of novel. Still, the sum effect is one that is consistent with the loosen-up attitude towards dressing. Unless you work in a bank or similarly corporate institutions, you’re probably rather enticed by Burberry giving the slouchy and the bulky an affirmative tick.

This is not saying that the English Rose—youthful and charming lass with a hint of blue blood—is no longer the trim muse at Burberry. It is possible that, by turning away from the Rose garden, Mr Bailey is suggesting that his customers are grown up and ready to adopt a more adventurous and sophisticated wardrobe. Let’s not over-rely on the house codes—enough checks for the present, he seemed to mean; let’s not be so straightforward; let’s no trod on the path Top Shop will follow.

burbery-pic-5As per the see-now, buy-now business model, the latest collection is immediately available at the Burberry website to order

This aesthetic boldness came at a time that follows Mr Bailey vacating the seat of the CEO (last year), where he sat (while also steering the design studio) since May 2014. It injected a sense of anticipation and exhilaration not experienced since his debut at Burberry in 2001. For quite a while, and this could be attributed to the toil of caring for the company’s bottom line, Mr Bailey had not imbued his designs with much of the London cool that he so carefully and successfully cultivated when he took over. This was later augmented by the indie bands and singers that the brand has aligned itself with and also invited to soundtrack the presentations. Singer-musicians such as the latest show’s Anna Calvi and past performers such as Alison Moyet and Paloma Faith, as well as Burberry Acoustic (the webpage that showcases under-the-radar bands) have added to the brand’s non-mainstream creative cred.

Now, back to strictly designing, Mr Bailey has illustrated that he can more than tweak British classics. This collection showed a knack for adding and distorting without seemingly going overboard. Flash more than dash may be the prevailing mood in fashion, but Christopher Bailey isn’t surrendering to mindless ostentation (save the finale pieces). He just gets the balance right, punching things up without dragging them down. There is, as Depeche Mode sang, “more besides joyrides.”

Photos: (finale and website) Burberry.com, (catwalk, individual) indigital.tv

The Return Of An Old Favourite—Keypad, Too

The Nokia 3310, sold in excess of 100 million pieces in the 2000s, is rumoured to be re-released. Will it be the vinyl of smartphones?

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By Low Teck Mee

I have been out looking for a new phone. No, it isn’t for myself; it is for two elderly gentlemen who have as much trust in a smartphone as in the prettily-dressed Chinese woman with a Beijing accent loitering in the void deck. One of them is my uncle who thinks Android is a new form of fibroid and wanted to know if his wife should be sent to a gynecologist for a check. Two months ago, he was given a Samsung smartphone, but was completely at a lost when it came to using it. He would call me on his land line to say that the contacts that I had placed on his home screen had “strangely disappeared.”

The other is my father. My dad has always been a bit of a technophobe, and the smartphone had presented him with a strange problem: “why is it smart when I can’t use it to dial”, he once asked me. To make matters worse, both men—in the 80s, I should, maybe, add—are as adroit with a touch screen as a Wyomingite with a pair of chopsticks. My dad, especially, swipes his screen as if he’s doing an imaginary tick on a piece of paper. His index finger performs as lightly as a wrecking ball.

So, as you can imagine, I am left with no choice but to buy them a phone with the old-fashioned 12-key keypad. The problem is, I can’t find them, in Sim Lim Square or anywhere. Mustafa has a few, but they are tagged as “export models”. Since I am not sending my father and my uncle to, say, Tasmania, they’re probably of no use. I was told that you can still find phones with “normal keypad”  in India, but I am not about to visit cheaptickets.com to book a flight to New Delhi to find a handset (or two) and, at the same time, enjoy some Maharashtran air.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I read that Nokia is rumoured to be releasing the 3310, the phone once (still is, in fact) considered “indestructible”. The Telegraph even calls it “historic”. It should be said that while I have used Nokia phones (my first was the 8110, also known as the “banana phone”), I am not a huge fan of their design aesthetic, particularly their UI. Still my three-year affair with the 3310 beginning 2001 was more-than-pleasant one because I rarely had such a strong digital mate.

Not much has been revealed about the re-born 3310 or what Nokia will do to make it relevant in the era of Snapchat and Youtube. The original version, I still remember (even when I no longer own it, having traded it in for a Sony Ericsson K300) as being quite an unusually shaped phone—sort of oval-ish, with keys that were somewhat like eyes. It was definitely not brick-like, the way smartphones these days tend to be. And there was the case (plastic) that was blue, a nearly navy that was to me cooler than the standard black or silver, the white of its day. Mobile phones had by then become a fashion accessory, and colour, as it now is, mattered.

These days, few people remember that we did not need to recharge our phones three times a day, or more. We did not have to carry a battery pack. We did not have to remember to bring along a charging cable, or wear one as a bracelet. Nokia 3310 was supposed to last more than a week with a single charge. I don’t remember how often I had to charge mine. In fact, I don’t remember much about the battery life other than the fact that I could play Snake II on my set over a few days, without having to recharge it that often, the way we have to these days after barely an hour of Pokèmon Go.

Nokia has not released any statement about the 3310 (reportedly to be sold for 59 euros) other than the fact that new phones under the Nokia name will be announced during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on 26 Feb. Will the new iteration come with a camera? Will it be able to receive WiFi signals? Will we be able to download apps?

I can’t wait to find out. Buying a new phone is always exciting and fun. The Nokia 3310 redux may be more so.

Photo: Getty Images

Four Words: Fashion’s New Fave

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I am an immigrant.” As simple as that, repeated until the message (hopefully) drives home. Fashion, as we have seen, isn’t afraid to be political. And fashion folks are not afraid of facing up to a certain political climate. Defiance can have an attractive look.

Individuals from the fashion industry, “at the urging of W magazine”, was filmed between shows during the just-concluded New York Fashion Week to utter those four words. These include models such as Natasha Poly, Doutzen Kroes, Jordan Dunn, and Winnie Harlow (above); stylists Edward Enninful and Grace Coddington; photographers Craig McDean, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin and Mario Sorrenti; and designers Maxwell Osborne & Dao-Yi Chow, and Diane Von Furstenburg.

It is a very diverse cast of players, showing that xenophobia is not an immigrant. Bravo.

Photo: screen grab of I am an Immigrant video on YouTube

Marc’s Own Loud

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Marc Jacobs has always been the star of New York Fashion Week. It is, however, less certain if, of late, he’s the star of New York fashion retail. If the rumour about the brand’s parent company is to be believed (that they are worried about its performance), maybe there is some belt-tightening going on at Marc Jacobs.

That could perhaps explain the show’s eyebrow-raising bare-bones presentation. There was no backdrop or props, no raised runway, and, gasp, no music. Just the cavernous interior of the Park Avenue Armory, a favourite show venue. This could have been a dry-run, a rehearsal, but it wasn’t. This was fashion’s answer to the black box theatre. To make matters more interesting, possibly tense, smartphone photography was not allowed! While the American media quickly suggested that it was “the no-frills NYFW antidote we needed”, we’re inclined to believe that it reflects the current financial reality behind the label.

So take a bad situation and make it a talking point. Why not? After all, Marc Jacobs is about talking points, even if they’re not about the clothes. Just last season, Mr Jacobs had to apologise for the use of dreadlocks on white models after so many people accused him of cultural appropriation (what about stylistic appropriation?). A Marc Jacobs show has always been known to be a huge, hot-ticket affair. To many, it is been mostly akin to a Puccini production. So for a pull-back such as this, it could be either artistic expression or budgetary constraints.

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A quiet staging does not mean quiet clothes. The show was called Respect, and we immediately thought of Aretha Franklin. That she might actually wear some of the pieces in the 42-look collection reflects Mr Jacobs’s flair for plunging the past and coming up swanky. In his show notes, which the media has been quoting, Mr Jacobs stated that he was inspired by a little-known documentary series called Hip Hop Evolution. He also reiterated that he is a “ a born and bred New Yorker” and explained that “this collection is my representation of the well-studied dressing up of casual sportswear.”

And that was where the unsurprising laid. By “sportswear”, Mr Jacobs really meant the sportswear that defines American fashion, as well as the sportswear (or sports clothes) that now dominates streetwear. In this respect, he is doing what so many other fellow designers in New York are doing. As we saw them, the clothes were not inventive and the styling was stock.

And sure, Aretha Franklin’s Respect was a 1967 hit, and hip hop emerged in the ’70s and came to prominence in the ’80s, but Ms Franklin remained very much a pop-music icon through those decades. Let’s look at the ’70s then: if Good Times were to have a present-decade run, Willona Woods would be dressed by Marc Jacobs. Why, Ms Woods could be working in a Marc Jacobs store! That these were and are how black women like to wear their clothes is not lost on a generation weaned on the eye-catching styles of Rihanna and Beyoncé. These are ensembles that draw neighbouring eyes to the wearer. Or as Good Time’s JJ would say “Dy-no-mite!”

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Marc Jacobs excels in creating looks, even before Hedi Slimane did at Saint Laurent. Hippy, geeky, disco, trash-glam, glam-trash, anything pre-1990s, he’s game, and, chances are, he has already got them up his sleeves. We sometimes wonder if he has spent most of his formative years in a thrift store the way some bookish types almost live in a library. Thus, typical of his collections, there were retro shapes, disco glitter, and ghetto fabulousness. Sometimes, it is not an exaggeration to say that Mr Jacobs operates like an illustrious film costume designer.

An old US Harper’s Bazaar article delighted at the fact that “a Marc Jacobs is like a college girl’s great army-surplus-store find—except that it costs $2,900 and is made from incredible sumptuous cashmere.” Does that mean his clothes are derivative? Or, worse, not terribly new? There’s no denying Mr Jacobs is a compelling stylist, adept at capturing cultural moments and putting out campy compositions. Beyond that, we leave it to you to decide.

Photos (top): Getty Images; (catwalk): indigital.tv

Yeezy-Peasy West-Fest

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The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan Tweeted very recently that “Kanye West finally stopped talking and complaining and just showed some clothes. And well, they weren’t bad.” Does that mean it isn’t “boring” (she told New York magazine last year that Yeezy 4 was “worse than bad. It was boring.”) In the latest review for the paper, she wrote, “That doesn’t mean the clothes were eloquent— to say that is not cruel criticism of West.”

It is not hard to get used to the blah. Fashion churns out so much without meaningful content that after a while, we are no longer disappointed with blandness. Ms Givhan was not the only one who took to the 5th Yeezy collection kindly. The New York Time’s Vanessa Friedman also Tweeted somewhat approvingly: “Kanye West’s latest Yeezy show was an exercise in—restraint? Believe it.”

Just five seasons ago, the media was indignant with Kanye West’s Yeezy debut, with most, if not all, keeping to various descriptions of boring. Last season, so many were mad about “the hot mess” they were thrown into that the immediate reaction was, never again. But now, with Season 5 (is it still so serialised?), they are back and seem to have gotten used to Mr West’s A-to-A-and-back-to-A design path. The disapproval of Kanye West cannot be extended indefinitely. Instead, you try to factor his creative output in the present scheme of things. Mr West is so important to American popular culture—so at its forefront, it seems—that you can’t dismiss him for too long without appearing out of touch. In addition, to the media, he is a “news maker”.

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Therefore, to be more positive (and we should in these acrimonious days of the new American era) is one step forward in the understanding of how things came to be the way they are. Kanye West is in a solid partnership with Adidas to be a bona fide fashion designer with global reach. Adidas is, of course, a big player in the clothing and footwear business, with marketing muscle to influence the media to be more supportive, even just a wee bit.

Mr West himself seems to be playing along. He has remained low-key (even not taking the customary bow at the end of this catwalk finale and not granting interviews thereafter) and he staged the presentation in a fashion venue (Pier 59 Studios), not in a stadium or on an island. The show was to show off his clothes, and not, as a side piece, to launch or preview an album. Although he still did things differently (most of the presentation was a video screening), it was, by most account, a semblance of a fashion show. No model limped or fainted. And, as reported by Cathy Horyn for The Cut, they were styled by Carine Roitfeld. There was an attempt at infusing the show with credibility.

Still, were the clothes really that palatable? By now the Kanye West slouchiness and street-wear fierceness do not encourage the lips to part with uttering WTS or WTF. We really wanted to see something refreshing this time, but, admittedly, our prejudice got in the way. To be certain, the clothes do look pulled together even if in a way already established by Vetements, whose designer Demna Gvasalia Mr West considers a genius. Mr West even declared on Twitter last year that he’s “going to steal Demna from Balenciaga.” So there is nothing more to say about Yeezy that won’t sound trite or persistently negative. So let’s concede: Yeezy isn’t going to convince the non-fans and Kanye West won’t be in the running to lead Givenchy, and the brand is here to stay.

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Nevertheless, we are intrigued by the new sub-brand apparently called Adidas Calabasas, now already trumpeted and worn by the Kardashian-Jenner brood. These were not immediately identified in the show or in the images now circulating online, but it seems that, more than the main line, they bear an obvious Adidas branding: the trefoil or the three stripes. From what we could see, Mr West has not covered grounds that Adidas’s other collaborator, the Japanese brand Kolor, has not already tread. Sports clothes tweaked for city pavements and airport departure lounges are as refreshing as another Yeezy Boost release.

Still we should not underestimate Calabasas. We thought nobody was going to buy the Yeezy clothing line, yet, if the reports are to be believed, they have constantly crossed into the sold-out category. This is even more remarkable when the line so far has not really been blessed by the press. So Calabasas could be destined for unimaginable success on the support of fans alone. Pablo definitely knows that.

Calabasas, as we have noted before, is a city in the hills of west San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. That is why on some of the Yeezy/Calabasas tops, the words “Lost Hills” appear. Calabasas is possibly Mr West’s nod to his wife’s influence or appeal. It is here that the Kardashian sisters initially dabbled in fashion retail when they opened their first shop in 2006 called Dash. Anyone who keeps up with the Kardashian knows that at the start of the series in 2007, the sisters were not exactly the epitome of fashion, even when they captured what may be considered the Calabasas look. It appears to us that this aesthetic fits no other description than the apt ‘lian’. Kanye West, too, isn’t doing his Calabasas differently.

Photos: Yeezy