From Maxi-Cash To Maxi-Dash

Local pawnbroker Maxi-Cash goes into luxury business, offering merchandise that are distinguished by the euphemism, pre-loved

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky PlazaMaxi-Cash at Lucky Plaza

The selection is impressive: a major-league medley of Chanels, Hermèses, Pradas, Guccis, Rolexes, Cartiers, Panerais, Audemars Piguets, and all the gold jewellery that you would need to make a very impressive trousseau. These were all available at the launch of LuxeStyle, a new brand by pawnshop chain Maxi-Cash. This, however, isn’t the pawnshop of your grandmother’s time; this is the pawnshop of today, one with verve, if not persuasive style.

And it was with palpable vigour that Maxi-Cash launched their sub-brand at the Grand Hyatt’s function rooms called Residences yesterday, accompanied by visual merchandising and styling workshop calibrated to impress. The major high-end brands were represented with such force that you would have thought that this was preface to the International Luxury Conference. Many of the items were in such pristine condition that it was hard to guess, at least initially, that they were second-hand. Could this be why Maxi-Cash is creating a parallel luxury shopping experience for those less inclined to pay full retail? Re-sellable is without doubt a very attractive condition for a pawnbroker.

LuxeStyle is, according to Maxi-Cash’s CEO Ng Leok Cheng, the company’s “latest pre-loved luxury retail line.” Despite what that suggests, LuxeStyle is less a line—such as their own brand of jewellery LeGold—than a retail concept that caters to an economic climate generating desirous wants and the appetence for material goods with appreciable value. Mr Ng added, “the objective of LuxeStyle is to provide more than just a transaction, we aim to be the leading styling resource in Singapore.” But when the members of his staff were asked where the displayed luxury items were from, they would only say, “we have our sources”, at the same time refuting the suggestion that the merchandise is unredeemed items from their pawnshops.

Maxi Cash store @ Lucky Plaza pic 2Maxi-Cash is also a retailer of their own jewellery brand called LeGold

Truth be told, we’ve never stepped into a Maxi-Cash outlet before. So we visited one—a branch on Victoria Street. Unlike the pawnshops of the past, at Maxi-Cash (and a host of others) you won’t be approaching a counter and peering through the grille. Here, glass-top display units, recalling those in department stores of the ’70s, line both sides of the store and house the stuff for sale in a manner as inviting as any jewellery shop. We did not see a single handbag or timepiece. Maybe it’s the store’s location: just next to the New Bugis Street (aka Albert Street), a veritable day-and-night pasar malam. So we thought we should check out what is touted as “the first-ever pawnshop to begin operations in Orchard Road” instead.

Contrary to its moderately high-brow show-and-sell at the Grand Hyatt, Maxi-Cash’s Orchard Road store—specifically in Lucky Plaza, about half a kilometre away from the hotel—is a modest shop and a very small depository of luxury goods. The interior is similar to that of the Victoria Street branch; only here, one of the two store windows was filled with what LuxeStyle is about: bags, watches, and jewellery from the major fashion houses. Inside, no more bags were seen, but watches and jewellery were hard to miss.

Despite its small selection, passersby were enticed by the Maxi-Cash window. Although during the time that we spent observing, no one took the attention beyond the shop’s door, it is clear that there is considerable interest in pre-owned Chanel Classic Flap bags and the like. The selling of used luxury goods has, in the past five years, become big business, if the success and growth of brick-and-motar stores such as the American chain What Goes Around Comes Around and Fashionpile are any indication, or online sites such as the hugely popular Paris-based Vestiaire Collective, now boasting over five million members worldwide and offices in five countries.

Maxi Cash watchesWatches are a key product category in the offerings of LuxeStyle

Also known as “re-commerce”, previously mainly associated with the bigger luxury markets of the West, this trade is quickly gaining ground in Asia, where China, despite the political clamp-down on ostentation, is leading the growth in the sale of luxury goods. Consumption, as we have seen in mature markets such as Japan inevitably gives rise to disposal, which itself leads to more consumption. And there have been companies such as the Nagoya-based Komehyo—a second-hand luxury goods dealer with more than a dozen stores throughout Japan—that have led the way in retailing used products. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Komehyo has recently announced a joint venture to expand into China, underscoring the very real potential of peddling the pre-loved.

Here, Maxi-Cash’s entry into prime vintage, which according to CEO Ng Leok Cheng “was formalized this month”, is seen as somewhat belated. Competitor Money Max has introduced Love Luxury, a marketing initiative that even piques with programs such as “Learn How to be a Smart Fashionista”. Before pawnbrokers came into the picture as a serious player, brick-and-mortar operators such as Madam Milan and The Attic Place, and online portals such as Bagnatic were taping into the slow but steady acceptance of used designer bags. But unlike many of the physical stores, the public-listed Maxi-Cash enjoys a visibility that comes with 41 outlets on our island. LuxeStyle, although not present in every one of them (13 for now), has the advantage of leveraging this network.

Pawnbroking as financial service has a long history in Singapore. In the 1800s, when it slowly enjoyed economic visibility, a pawnbroker was considered somewhat condescendingly to be a “poor man’s banker”. According to reports, Singapore’s first known Chinese pawnshop Sheng He Dang (生和当) opened in 1872. By the mid-1900, pawnbroking was a thriving business that, interestingly, saw mostly Hakka proprietors. The pawnshop that many remember from their younger days took its form and look from those that emerged in the ’70s, when the pawnshop was starting to be seen in more places. At that time, registered pawnshops totalled 50. Despite the advent of modern credit products, pawnshops have not succumbed to the threat of obsolescence. In fact, according to the Ministry of Law website, there are presently 224 registered pawnshops here.

Maxi-Cash launch product displayThe product display at the launch of LuxeStyle

That pawnshops such as Maxi-Cash have to change is part of the shifts that have affected all manner of retail. These days, people not only pawn but sell their prized possessions as well at a pawnshop. The re-selling of unredeemed pawned items or those sold outright to the pawnshop should move to the same momentum as any modern retailer. Yet, none (as well as specialist re-sellers) has approached the sale of luxury items the way Komehyo and their Japanese counterparts have: set the goods in a surrounding that they deserve.

Instead, the luxury bags, watches and jewellery share space with existing merchandise in display confines that are not initially built for their more posh inhabitants. It would seem, therefore, that the target audience of many pawnshops-turn-purveyors-of-luxury-goods is more attracted to the lower price (in the case of Maxi-Cash, “at least”, the staff chirpily pronounced, 30 percent less than regular retail) than the trappings of luxury.

At Maxi-Cash’s Lucky Plaza outlet, flanked by a minimart that goes by the name Asagao and another pawnshop, the competitor Money Max, the presence of LuxeStyle is not discerned, except for what is seen in the Orchard Road-facing window. Inside, members of the staff are friendly enough, but amid the loud chatter of a seller trying to get a good price for what could be his wife’s valuables, it is easy to forget that it was bags—maybe watches—that you had come in for.

LuxeStyle is in Maxi-Cash stores islandwide. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Nike Goes Luxe

It’s about time

Air Max 90 Royal

For too long, luxury brands have barged into sports shoes territory by outputting their own take of popular sneaker styles. Right now, we’re thinking of the persistent intruder Louis Vuitton. Then there are designers who put their spin on their favourite kicks under the invitation of sports brands. We’re thinking of Riccardo Tisci and Olivier Rousteing, both giving Nike shoes a makeover—the Air Force 1 and Free Mercurial Flyknit X respectively, just two among other styles that both have worked on.

Now, Nike’s fighting back. Last year, for Air Max day (which, this year, fell on 26th March, three days ago, with the campaign tag “kiss my airs”), the world’s most popular shoe brand released an Air Max 1 dubbed ‘Royal’ that sneakerheads were quick to call the most luxurious ever while the media hailed it a “stellar release”. Then, five months later, came the Air Safari, also given the Royal treatment. SOTD did not get to see the Royals until the end of last year, when we came face to face with the Air Max 90 Royal, not once but twice—in London, at Dover Street Market and Footpatrol.

As the name suggests, Royals receive a rather regal treatment when it comes to materials and finishes. Supple suede, as the main upper, is a material of choice and here, Nike made it one-tone (the Swoosh and other branding look embossed). This is further enhanced with leather details that truly augment the built’s premium feel and look.  Indeed, the Air Max 90 has never looked this fine.

Air Max 90 Royal Pic 2

The softness of the suede somehow tones down an otherwise hunky shoe, so much so that the normally thick tongue is now a thin skin that sits very comfortably atop the foot—even when you’re sockless. The typical padding of the Air Max 90 seems reduced too, which makes the Royal version rather streamlined. But more unique (and the pull is clearly here) is the quadrilateral that frames the visible air sole near the heels: it’s now in a piece of leather that goes right under the outer sole, sitting firmly among the grips. Perhaps because of this, the Royal is a tad heavier than even the leather versions: 6 grams more.

A piece of leather is also slipped between the upper and the midsole, forming a corridor, on top of which the quadrilateral sits and is top-stitched. The natural tan of both immediately brings to mind Hender Scheme’s take of sneaker classics, such as Nike’s very own Air Presto, in which designer Ryo Kashiwazaki re-imagines the world’s favourite kicks in hand-crafted, natural and unstained leather. The irony of this is not lost: even a giant such as Nike cannot escape the influence of the indie-shoe maker.

That Nike would forge a path alongside luxury brands is not surprising. Through the years, they have been releasing shoes that go beyond the USD200 threshold, culminating in the self-lacing HperAdapt, which was sold at USD720—not counting what you’ll find on eBay. In fact, since the introduction of NikeLab in 2014 (with only a few boutique-like stores around the world—last count six), Nike has been offering “exclusives” way beyond their typical price points. Sure, all eyes are on the Nikelab VaporMax—launched 3 days ago—but that being completely new is, as expected, sold out. The Air Max 90 is the most elegant in the Air Max family and a luxurious version is always welcome.

Nike Air Max 90 Royal Cool Grey, SGD359, is available at Limited Edn Vault, 313@Sommerset. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

One Original Oblong

 

Aeta Box shoulder

By Mao Shan Wang

The shape is as simple as a book. Or maybe a Bluetooth speaker. Or, if you prefer something more prosaic, a brick. And, yes, geometry gurus will point out to me that, to be specific, this is really a rectangular cuboid. However you wish to describe this polyhedron 😉 , it is a bag and it is one that is appealing simply because it is so simple.

Okay, I know I will be mocked for talking about such a plain object when the trend is now to go for a decorated fascia, such as Gucci’s crazily floral-embroidered Dionysus, Chanel’s camellia-festooned tweed Flap, or Anya Hindmarch’s symmetrically appliquéd by Bathurst. But sometimes amid all the exterior excess, an unembellished shell is totally alluring. All of us have moments when we want to don just white tee and denim jeans—intact, not ripped or shredded.

There I was, walking without paying attention to my surrounding when the bag called out to me. The plainness was a total standout—its regularity and rigidity such an antithesis to Loewe’s Puzzle bag. I was, admittedly, enticed. The bag held in the hand like a favourite tome, but not at all heavy. The construction of the bag reminded me of a card box’s—with right-angle folds and totally visible edges. There was a feeling that this is shaped by hands.

 

Aeta Box shoulder pic 2

This beguiling box of a shoulder bag—called Box, of course—is produced by the Japanese maker Aeta, known for its craft-like approach to making bags. They use only cowhide, all sourced in Bangladesh, where, according to Aeta, the bags are also made in close collaboration with the crafts people there. As indicated in the brand’s communication, “Aeta translates to ‘I could meet you’ in Japanese and puts heavy emphasis on the value of every encounter” (the people factor again). And not, just in case you’re wondering, named after the indigenous people of the island of Luzon, the Philippines.

While the exterior of the bag is dyed black, the interior is left in a natural tan (so are the edges, which form a nice contrasting perimeter). There’s one pocket inside that lies flat against an internal wall, leaving the inside a roominess that is exactly the shape of the rather flat bag. Its lack of bulk also means it won’t be, as it leans on your hips, an intrusive nuisance to others in the crowded confine of, say, the MRT train.

What I especially like about the Box is that it can accommodate a lot of what we tend to carry out very neatly. As most of our mobile possessions—book (assuming that is still carried around), smartphone, and battery charger—are not irregular shapes, they fit nicely into the Box, allowing for a tidy arrangement and the maximum use of space. Isn’t that good for our lives—a bit of order?

Aeta ‘Box Shoulder’ bag, SGD470, is available at Fresh Service, Isetan Scotts. Photo: Aeta

Tokyo Won’t Be Added To A “Big Five” Any Time Soon

Despite their best efforts, Tokyo Fashion Week is not quite on par with New York, London, Milan, and Paris (held twice a year in that order), but does it matter when Tokyo itself is still the most exciting city on earth for fashion?

Lithium AW 2017Lithium autumn/winter 2017 show

It’s been a long and somewhat rough journey for Tokyo Fashion Week. The autumn/winter 2017 showing just concluded in the Japanese capital, but it’s not been fodder for media frenzy, viral memes, or ten-trends-to-watch-out-type reports. Most of what has been coming into news feeds have been along the lines of “The Strongest Street Style from Tokyo Fashion Week”. Sidewalk, it seems, was more captivating than catwalk.

Not that they have not tried. It’s been 32 years in the making, yet, somehow, the big league has escaped what has been Asia’s premier and possibly oldest fashion week. Its inability to soar could be the problem with identity. While many insiders refer to it as Tokyo Fashion Week (just as the Big Four have become identified by the city in which the events take place), it, in fact, began life as Japan Fashion Week (JFW), which emerged in 1985, no doubt prompted by the success of the Japanese designers in Paris in the early ’80s. Prior to that, people in Tokyo remember an event called TD6 (or Top Designers 6) emerging in 1977, organized by the show producer and musician Yoshiro Yomo, who has collaborated with Issey Miyake in the latter’s early shows in Paris, where prêt-a-porter, institutionalised in 1973, is precursor to today’s fashion weeks.

Japan Fashion Week remained largely a gathering of a motley group of designers from across the country to show collectively until 2005, when the Council of Fashion Designers restructured it in order to attract the best local names (Japanese designers still preferred to show overseas: Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons have never left Paris since their respective debuts there in 1981). It was also when the Japan Fashion Week Organisation was formed to guide JFW in the direction that will bring about bigger international acclaim, if not lure more international buyers. In 2010, it went into partnership with IMG Fashion to attract big-name corporate sponsorship and in 2011, unsurprisingly, Mercedes-Benz became the title sponsor until last year when, surprisingly, Amazon Fashion came into the picture, branding it—what else?—Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. Still following?

House CommuneHouse_Commune autumn/winter 2017

It is not yet clear what Amazon can do for a fashion week. Mercedes-Benz is understandable (although Persil or Tide makes more sense), but Amazon Fashion, a recent sub-brand of the e-commerce behemoth, has mostly been associated with merchandise that’s not quite “fashion”. That’s not the only reason why fashion brands are avoiding them; there’s also their pricing strategy (read: not high end). Amazon has been a (discount) book seller for a good part of their existence and then a general merchandise portal. High fashion is not (yet) a major sell although, if you type Louis Vuitton in their search bar, you do get a list of LV bags sold, not by LV, but sellers such as Chic Designer Bags On Sale.

According to the Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo website, which completely replaces the old pages headlined by Mercedes-Benz, the city has already joined the Big Four: “Out of the world’s fashion weeks, those held in Paris, Milan, London, New York and Tokyo are regarded as having the most potential for disseminating information due to their history and the amount of buzz surrounding them. These five fashion weeks are the most known fashion weeks in the world and have much influence of the fashion world.” The reality is a little different. For many of the members of the media, as well as the buying brigade, Paris is, as Refinery 29 wrote, just three weeks ago, “the final stop on the international whirlwind known as Fashion Month”.

To be fair to the Japanese, they did try to get Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to a quick start. The first show was on 20th March, one day shy of two weeks from the last Paris show. But that is not quick enough for the international pack if you consider that Paris Fashion Week began immediately after Milan. Even if you factor the time difference between Europe and Asia, no one needs thirteen days to recover from jet lag. Once, you’re outside Fashion Month, which is not lacking in grumbles that it’s too long, it’s going to be tough to get people back into another circuit.

AulaAula autumn/winter 2017

Scheduling aside, people know who they are going to see when they go to New York, London, Milan, then Paris, plus a few they don’t know for good measure. Chances are, you don’t really know what you’re in for in Tokyo. All the names that you are familiar with and that you like, you have already checked out in Paris: Anrealage, Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Kolor, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Sacai, Toga, Undercover, Yohji Yamamoto. So who will you see in Tokyo?

It may seem a little harsh to say that all the strong ones have left the nest, but it is not immoderate to say that those who show in Tokyo are perhaps not quite ready to take their place alongside the world’s best. Having followed the Tokyo scene regularly for decades, it does appear to us that those who remain in their home turf tend to be too Tokyo, which means, they are markedly Japan-centric. That in itself is not a bad thing since it is known that many Japanese labels are quite happy to cater to the domestic market alone. But for those from the outside looking in and hoping to find more of the Nippon artistry that makes Paris Fashion Week more exciting, they may be unraveling the wrong seam.

Members of the media, buyers, and influencers swoop down on New York for the city’s love of sportswear, (further) takes on the ’70s, First Lady-worthy gowns, and, if they must, joke that is Christian Cowan, with Paris Hilton taking to the runway. Then they cross the Atlantic to London to see the stuff that will advance fashion, and all the Brit-classic redux they can take, while wondering where in the happy mix will be the next Alexander McQueen. After that, they fly into Milan to witness Italian tailoring the umpteenth time, and also take in the good taste, and in recent years, the bad too. Then it’s off to Paris for the refinement left over from haute couture, and, since the Japanese invasion, the avant-garde, and, since John Galliano at Dior, sumptuousness and historicism. If there’s anything left in the overseas budget, it’s off to Tokyo, but what can they hope to find in the land of Cosplay?

Hare AW 2017Hare autumn/winter 2017

What Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo has up against it is not so much the other fashion weeks, but the city itself. Tokyo, as regular visitors and first-timers would attest to, is a veritable catwalk anywhere you go in the city centre, even in the neighbourhoods away from Shinjuku and Shibuya and the triumvirate of Harajuku/Aoyama/Jingumae. The most interesting things are also happening at retail level, and not just among designer labels but across chain stores too. Buyers who are attracted to the wares and wears of Tokyo often go straight to the brands to discuss biz op.

The popular brand Beams, for instance, receive constant inquiries from overseas retailers keen on representing it in their home market. Sometimes it’s the fans that go directly to the brand, such as M.L Trichak Chitrabongs from Bangkok’s Heavy Selection. Mr Chitrabongs, a graphic designer by training, has been an ardent fan of the artisanal denim label Kapital. When he became the design director of Heavy Selection, the shoe-maker-turn-fashion-retailer with 200 plus stores throughout the country, he took the opportunity to go straight to the Kojima-based company to seek the distributorship for Thailand.

Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo as middleman is, therefore, somewhat redundant when so much of the city could be walk-in business potential. The 50-odd labels that participated in the catwalk shows could hardly come to represent the staggering variety that is fashion in Tokyo alone. As showcase, it is unneeded since the city too is a living platform for fashion that is actually being consumed. So many of the participating designers bore aesthetic similar to the merchandise in mega-emporiums such as Marui (also known as 0101), which touts itself as purveyor of “world-acclaimed apparel collection of Tokyo styles”, that it is hard to discern what is truly special at Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo.

EthosensEthosens autumn/wniter 2017

The difficulties facing Tokyo is compounded by competition from fairly nearby cities: Shanghai and Seoul. Sure, fashion week in Tokyo has a longer history, but upstarts are not too concerned with the past of those that came before them. Shanghai Fashion Week (8—16 April) is gaining ground even if interest is aroused only because Chinese designers such as Yin Yiqing and Zhang Huishan are making waves in Europe. Seoul Fashion Week (27 March—1 April, immediately after Tokyo) is on the radar due mainly to the unwavering interest in K-pop and K-drama, but what if both are no longer exciting the indiscriminate young? In some ways, Seoul, too, have a problem similar to Tokyo. Buyers have long been visiting Seoul to source for their stores, but the catwalk has not really been the conduit; the packed wholesale complexes of Dongdaemun operating in the dead of night have.

According to AFP, the Tokyo calendar attracts 50,000 visitors, and that, apparently, is “just a quarter of the total number that attend New York’s two annual fashion weeks, and also lagging behind London, Paris and Milan”. Despite its lack of pull, is Tokyo still the place to see groundbreaking designs?  It has not been a given that you will always get to witness the likes of Junya Watanabe, but given the city’s design culture and history, there are opportunities to view things one have not seen before, even if Japanese avant-garde has become somewhat saturated. Watchable names such as Yu Amatsu’s A Degree Fahrenheit don’t necessarily show on runways, and house brands of stores such as Tomorrowland and United Arrows continue to rack up sales without the benefit of fashion week showing.

There are, of course, some interesting, if not totally compelling, shows in this second installment of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo. We’re piqued by the designs of Lithium, House_Commune, Aula, Hare, and Ethosens, whose respective designers are making wearable clothes desirable without resorting to craziness or indeed the complex forms of their predecessors who have brought Tokyo to the world’s attention. However, this handful isn’t quite enough to elevate Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo to commanding heights. For now, it would have to be Big Four plus one.

Photos: Jiro Shiratori

As Unsexy As Ever

And that is a good thing

COS pic 1

By Mao Shan Wang

COS has never been big on selling the kind of clothes that makes you feel like Kim Kardashian or the women who walk too regularly at night outside Orchard Towers. And that’s one of the reasons why I am a fan. But more than that: COS offers clothes that do not make you look foolish. In this age of some very strange antics and bodily representation on Instagram, I do think appearing sensible is a boon to one’s sanity. But sensible does not have to be boring. This has nothing to do with normcore, if that icky word is still in use. COS has proven again and again that minimalism can be compelling. Minimalism need not be pigeonholed.

This is the 10th year of business for COS, and, since its inception in 2007, has been producing eminently wearable clothes that do not remain on the side of dull. As if proof is needed, they have just released (actually, yesterday) a limited-edition, 10-piece (five for men, three for women, one for boys, and one for girls) collection to celebrate their anniversary and it clearly illustrates the advantage of clean that is COS. Good design, it is often said, lets the cut and the fabric do the talking, and what voluble and vivid message this is.

COS pic 2

As COS tells it in its eponymous magazine for spring/summer, “Every item… started life as a continuous rectangle of material. During an exacting design process, the space between individual pattern pieces was minimized, raising the bar for precision garments whose smart elements fit together like a puzzle.” Smart: everyone desirous of using smart gadgets in a smart city would appreciate that deceptively simple, but surely rigorous approach to design. I sure do. Okay, I am not speaking for all of you.

Appealing is the working with the one-dimensionality of fabrics, and using geometry to create something that can be worn on a clearly 3-D body. This would involve a highly-skilled patterning team, and the one at COS is. They would not shy away from toying with the space between the body and cloth, creating clothes that are not bashful of their roominess and boxiness. There is particular attention paid to symmetry so that every item has the beauty of balance. There’s also the play with lines, such as the curve on the side of the double hem of the men’s shirt-jacket. It takes after the curvature of the sleeve head, again underscoring the geometric interplay that is central to the design approach of this capsule.

COS pic 3

COS has likened the silhouette and softness of the collection to Japanese clothes, especially the kimono. While it is true that body-contouring is less a design element in Asian dressmaking (the kimono, for example, is fashioned without taking into consideration the contours of the body) than it is in the European’s, but to me, the un-bandaged silhouette of COS is also synonymous with those of other lands, such as the Middle East—the ancient Israelites, for example, wore robes in the shape of the T, known as kĕthoneth, of which Joseph’s colourful one is possibly the most known, being central to the Biblical stories of the Old Testament.

The less-structured form that COS has adopted is in line with the hitherto somewhat discreet push for a more relaxed approach to dress that has rather Oriental overtones (but not, obviously, the bluster of Gucci). Proponents include Craig Green, Rick Owens, Nakamura Hiroki of Visvim, Hirata Toshikiyo and Kazuhiro of Kapital, and Alexandra Byrne, whose costume for the 2016 Marvel film Doctor Strange is no doubt inspired by the garb of kungfu masters of yore.

I’d be the first to admit that the minimalist style (and styling) of COS has its limits. Amid ceaseless online and offline visual stimulation and provocation, these clothes, though powerful in their purity, are just too impotent to arouse. Is this why at yesterday’s opening-day sale of COS 10 (as the capsule is referred to in the store), there was no queue, no rush, no rack-side mayhem? Or was it because this was a no-big-name effort? Quiet begets quiet, and, unsurprisingly, calm came to sit alongside the clothes.

COS ‘10-Piece Capsule’ is now available at COS, Ion Orchard. Photos: COS

Cable In Disguise

By Low Teck Mee

It’s amazing how frequently devices and peripherals are now given a touch of fashion. I’m not talking about the odd iPhone case made more desirable when marketed as designer product. Or the digital bits and pieces given the tech colour of the season (don’t you remember “rose gold”?). I’m talking about those that are rightfully a fashion item, such as this Kyte and Key bracelet, under which lies a very useful charging and data cable.

The question I am hearing now is, don’t we already carry such a cable? Of course we do. Most portable devices that we buy come with an OEM cable—on one end, either a lightning or micro-USB connector, but, in practice and everyday life, do we remember to bring it along when we are not at home or in the office?

A friend of mine has a forgetful boyfriend (their relationship is, thankfully, not quite 50 First Dates). When not desk-bound, he carries along without fail a portable battery charger in his scruffy Eastpak messenger, but somehow, the charging cable is prone to be left behind. Kevin McCallister will know what that feels like. To make matters a little perplexing for my friend, her lover’s smartphone is an iPhone 4s with an equally aged 1,432 mAh battery that goes flat faster than a can of Coke. Since the battery charger and the cable are frequently not a twosome, he often finds himself with the former, but not the latter. Until she decided that he has to find away to strap the cord on a part of his body. That’s where the Kyte and Key wrist wear comes into the picture: she bought him one.

Kyte & Key Cablet

Kyte and Key is known as a maker of “luxury” connectivity units posing as fashion accessories that easily become your personal devices’ BFF. Fashioning cables as wearables is, of course, not a new idea. If you go to Sim Lim Square, where it is not quite the PC and cellular haven it once was, you’ll be able to find all manner of USB and lightning cables that are in the form of bracelets (bangles even!) and key holders and such. Many of these look more suited to sit among your daughter’s play things than to peak from under your sleeve during a board meeting.

These days, many of our gadgets are no more single-purpose devices (when was the last time you used your phone to make a phone call?). It is, therefore, not unexpected that our connecting and charging implements (already dual use there) serve more than what they have come to be used for. And since USB OTG (or by the full name, universal serial bus on the go) has become a mobile standard, allowing your smartphone (or other digital devices) to ‘talk’ to each other, you can basically add peripherals to it, such as a card reader or fan. The cable is more necessary to our digital lives than before.

This cable-ID bracelet, which Kyte and Key calls a “cablet” not only looks, but feels like a premium product. The cable is concealed within a braided leather bracelet and the connectors are hidden under the ‘hood’ designed as a quick-to-open hatch. I’m impressed that they have even bothered to acquire MFI certification for the lightning version. As a luxury item, the cablet comes with a carry tray that slips out of the packaging like a drawer. This tray, which looks like something you might find at Hermès, is also ideal for those stuff you also tend to lose when not assigned proper storage: more cables, memory cards, USB drives, cufflinks, or earrings.

Founded by Antonio Bertone, former chief marketing officer of Puma, in 2013, Kyte and Key alludes to the experiment that scientist/statesman Benjamin Franklin purportedly conducted in 1752 to understand the nature of lightning. The makers of the cablet may not have struck on power that can change the world, but they sure have created some very handsome and useful things indeed.

Kyte and Key Cavoletto Cablet for iOs and Android devices, from SGD19.90, is available at Robinsons and Tangs. Photos: Kyte and Key

Dapper in Duxton

Monument exterior

By Ray Zhang

Everyone keeps saying retail is dead. Let them say it often enough and you start to believe it. I sure did, until I stumbled upon this surprise of a store. Monument Lifestyle is a first-storey shop-house boutique/café in Duxton Road. It handsomely negates the belief that the business of selling is over. Not only is Monument Lifestyle, opened just two weeks ago, in the tricky trade of fashion retail, it’s in what is considered one of the slowest in sales: men’s wear.

With its minimalist, glass-fronted exterior and a stylishly placed store name—full-caps, sans-serif, sitting above the descriptor “Goods and Café”, I thought I had past a shop transplanted from Tokyo’s Daikanyama. Duxton Road despite its potential as a shopping street in the same vein as, say, London’s Mount Street in Mayfair has mostly become a stretch where eateries—some good, some not so—come to roost. Monument Lifestyle is likely good news for the neighbourhood if the full capacity of the café on a weekday afternoon is any indication.

Cafe @ Monument

And that, perhaps, is the crowd puller: the coffee. Amazingly, I did not detect the aroma of Arabica when I wafted in. But the clink of the joe being made was definitely heard. My curious palate was keen to savour the coffee, touted at the store front to be sourced from the San Francisco roaster Four Barrel (trendy-name affectation: no plural noun!). I gravitated towards the source of that familiar sound and found myself at the white-tiled service counter that said, not unambiguously to me, hipster cool. I was delighted to spot in the menu a cold brew, but when I asked for it, was told that they did not have that, denting my initial enthusiasm. I ordered an iced latte instead. I was then asked if I would like something to eat. A trio of limp pastries under a clear cake cover did not beckon, but before I could say no, I was told that “the toast is very good”.

And it was. As befits what many would call an atas coffee joint, the toast here isn’t made from plain white bread—nothing so prosaic. Rather, it is a thick slice (yes, just one, cut diagonally into two) of brioche (in loaf form) that has a brief affair with the toaster. Thankfully, it didn’t stay there too long and the characteristically richer-than-bread texture did not dry out, which would otherwise have been very Ya Kun. Although I like brioche toasted, I am not sure the French would do that to Viennoiserie. I was later told by a member of the staff that the brioche is sourced from an “artisanal baker”.

What I particularly like is the topping: cinnamon (from a selection of other flavours I now cannot remember). But rather than the vapid stuff in a pepper shaker you find sitting on the service units of coffee chains, this is cinnamon-flavoured Masarang sugar, a sweetener made from the Arenga palm (grown mostly in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines) that is mellow in taste, not cloying, and, for those mindful of the glycemic indices of food, is blessed with a moderately low G1 of 35.

Monument interior 2

A café within a space designated for the sale of clothes is not, of course, a new business pairing. Before PS Café became a free-standing operation, it was part of a store known as ProjectShopBloodBros. And there was Front Row at Ann Siang Road—in 2005, the store sat above Singapore’s first Dean and Deluca café on the first floor. There’s also the always busy Tanuki Raw (that took over Café Kapok) at Kapok in the National Design Centre. Some have miraculously survived, such as the frightfully kitschy Latulle in Wisma Atria, while others did not, such as Parlour, that doomed campy in-store café by Ashley Isham in Orchard Central.

The problem—admittedly, for a lack of a better word—with two-in-ones is that one may be overlooked for the other. Even with not-unattractive visual merchandising of Monument Lifestyle, there’s a very real chance people will past the sartorial offerings—the “goods” parts that flank the store—and head for the food and beverage. So enjoyable was toast and coffee that I nearly missed what at first glance were very ordinary, Shenton-Way-types-on-a-weekend-jaunt clothes.

The merchandise mix is unmistakably American surf country. I quickly saw spring break. If that was not immediately discernible, there was the broadcast of Katrina and the Waves singing Walking on Sushine! In fact, the store seems to reflect the backstory of proprietors Dustin and Iris Ramos, both Filipino-Americans who have spent a great deal of time in the West Coast of the States. Dustin Ramos, one of the staffers told me, was an avid surfer.

Monument interior 3

So this is not Surrender or Colony Clothing. With its pale wood panels above painted walls that, in some parts, were stripped to reveal the original masonry of the building and the use of erected surfboards (here, a quartet served as a partial divider between dining area and retail space), the store reminded me of the Tokyo and Sydney outposts of the New York brand Saturdays, only busier. And the clothes too have the same laid-back vibe, which is akin to that of such typically American brands as Rag and Bone. In fact, I rather saw it as Brooks Brothers minus the business wear, put together by a design team who spent an inordinate amount of time by the beach watching surfers backsiding and bikini babes watching them watching.

I suspect the casualness of the selection is deliberate. Since many guys don’t wear business shirts to work if they don’t have to, a store such as this will appeal to their dress-for-start-up-networking sensibility. In other words, this is not the place for anything edgy or can be mistaken as Off-White. But if you can’t get enough of basics—those that will help you score with the general female population, you will find something to buy in the mix of (over?) washed-for-comfort shirts of Alex Mill, created by CDG Homme Deux-wearing Alex Drexler (son of J Crew’s Mickey Drexler); ready-for-the-mall T-shirts and shorts of Faherty, dreamed up by the surf-loving dude-brothers Mike and Alex Faherty; standard surf wear by Katin, conceived by the boat-cover-sellers-turn-beach-wear-retailers, husband and wife duo of Nancy and Walter Katin; and the flip-flops of Dallas-based Hari Mari.

And I also suspect that average Joe won’t be able to tell the brands apart. The aesthetic is so uniform that despite a content of different labels, all the clothes in Monument Lifestyle look (and feel) like they came from the same factory floor. On the other hand, for many guys, this could be a plus as there’s comfort in uniformity—an assurance that can be had when things are not too different from another, or from their existing wardrobe. Perhaps with such a homogeny, retail won’t die. This little store in sleepy Duxton Road could be successful, if not monumental.

Monument Lifestyle is at 75 Duxton Road. Photos: Galerie Gambak

Art In Street Style

Surrender collab pic 1

Whether fashion can be considered art is a constant debate among practitioners on both sides of the divide. There may not ever be real consensus over the matter, but that has not deterred Surrender from presenting fashion as art. To augment its status as Singapore’s premier outlet for street style, the store has put together a display of nine one-piece-each-only jackets, the DRx Romanelli X Cali Thornhill De Witt Capsule Collection for Surrender as evidence that art is very much alive in street wear.

And they are priced like art—S$4,750 each, a sales person told us. Well, that may not be so staggering if you consider the price of a Gucci denim jacket embroidered with flowers, butterflies, and birds: US$4,950. Who are Surrender’s collaborators to daringly ask for such a handsome sum?

DRx (Darren) Romanelli is an LA-based designer and marketing wunderkind associated with the 2014 revival of the New York sneaker brand British Knights although his shoe collaborations go back to 2010 when he paired with Converse to amp up the Chuck Taylor All Star And Stripes. Those familiar with Japanese street wear may know Mr Romanelli as the designer behind Sophnet’s F.C.R.B Collection, also known as Football Club Real Bristol—only thing is this club is an imaginary one dreamed up Sophnet’s founder Hirofumi Kiyonaga. But so credible and legit is F.C.R.B Collection that Nike has an on-going collaboration with the brand.  Interestingly, Surrender had been a stockist of both Sophnet and F.C.R.B Collection, which may explain the rather cliquish approach to their merchandising.

Surrender collab pic 2

Cali Thornhill De Witt is a Canadian who was relocated to Los Angeles when he was three. As a teenager, he was linked to Courtney Love’s band Hole after touring with them. And has largely been a part of the music scene in LA, having worked for Geffen Records and, later, his own record company Teenage Teardrops. He has also directed music videos and designed album art, and is known as a “cult artist”, with works that seem to mirror skate life and lean heavily on text, such as “Crying at the Orgy”: an all-round, multi-tasking creative type. But the largest feather to his cap was designing the wildly successful merchandise for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo tour. Unsurprisingly, both he and Mr Romanelli are friends.

The jackets, therefore, have a whiff of the hotchpotch perspective of US West Coast music, fashion and art scene (which Hedi Slimane was—notoriously?—smitten with), calculated to be visibly and achingly cool. All reversible, they are made from different clothing, or what the original Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal called “found pieces”. It is not clear if these are used clothes, but if they are, it is not surprising: Mr Romanelli is, as Hypebeast calls him, “the mad scientist of vintage clothing.”

Each of them—from hoodie to blouson—sports a white letter painted conspicuously on the back and they come together to spell the name of the store. Hence, the nine. Placed together, they do make a rather compelling installation piece. But are they really art? We leave that to you to decide.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

Apple Is Inspired By The Hongbao

iPhone 7 and iphone 7 PlusWhy did we not see this coming? A hongbao red of an iPhone. If only Apple released it earlier, parents who dote on their children would be able to give them this during Chinese New Year in place of the traditional red packet. That would make some kid’s CNY a very happy one indeed.

But this is no ordinary red. Or Valentino Red! This is a red with metals in it. Apple has partnered with the (Product)RED campaign, to offer this colour, presumably for a limited time and in limited quantity. For those of you who can’t remember this, (RED) is an AIDS awareness initiative started in 2006 to engage the private sector to raise funds for the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa. Apart from Apple, some of the initial partners included Nike, Gap, Penguin Classics, and Armani. For Apple, this is the tenth year of their partnership with (RED) and the right time to release a red iPhone.

Red themed App StoreThe red App Store for World AIDS Day last December

In fact, this could be seen as a continuation of sorts for Apple since they did team up with (RED) for a red App Store last year. It was conceived for World AIDS day on the first of December. Could that be a test to see how users would react to a red interface over which red-themed apps were available? With the red iPhone now a reality, it is conceivable that was well received. What Apple product or service won’t be?

This could be one of the boldest colour offerings by Apple, but, to be sure, they’re not the first to adopt the colour of, well, (ripe) apple. Like much of what Apple avails, other brands were ahead, such as succumbing to scarlet: HTC and Nokia Lumia, just to name a couple.

Apple’s last colour choice was the jet black finish for iPhone 7 after the wildly successful rose gold option for iPhone 6S, which itself came after the oddly un-hip candy colours of the 5C. With changes in each version of the iPhone so undramatic (underwhelming even), chromatic leaps are probably the only area where Apple can offer a bold, visible change. Apple’s products are still so covetable, so would this new shade attract, rather than deter, would-be thieves?

The (Product)RED iPhone 7, SGD1,218 or iPhone 7 Plus, SGD1,418, will be available at Apple resellers such as Nubox from 24 March. Photo: Apple

Time To Get Used To This

Nicki Minaj attending a fashion show with one breast exposed and, on our side of the world, the mother openly breastfeeding her child in an MRT train mean one thing: we’re witnessing a new norm… and, possibly, the death of outrage

Nicki Minaj, Paris Fasion Week’s hottest front-row celeb. Photo: gq.com

Fashion is a mirror image of the times, we have been constantly told. And that was what Anthony Vaccarello held up for Saint Laurent last month (actually, also last year): the reflection of the style of our time. How wrong we were to think no woman would wish to have her breasts feel the warmth of sunshine and the caress of afternoon breeze, unhindered by the presence of cloth, in full public view.

The first to prove us wrong was Nicki Minaj. Her constant scantiness makes Madonna’s bra-as-outer-wear antics look positively vestal. Now, Ms Minaj is into showing a whole breast—its entirety not the least diminished by the use of a pasty. This was clearly one bare bosom at the Haider Ackermann show in Paris last week, and one uncovered for maximum social media impact. At first, she was accused of copying Lil’ Kim. Possibly indignant, the Anaconda singer then did something very clever; she came out saying that she was, in fact, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s work (reportedly the 1908 painting Femme a l’éventail). That dirty old man!

The thing is, art has always depicted women with one exposed (mostly left) breast (as if two are over-expressive and titillating). Ms Minaj did not explain why she picked Picassso. She could have been inspired by so many other painters of one exposed breast, from Francesco Melzi to Auguste Renoir to Paul Gauguin, but she chose a leading Cubist known for eroticism in his work. It is possible that in directing her motive to something related to art, Ms Minaj was saying that her exposed breast was an artistic expression. Life never used to imitate art this way. Wasn’t it all in the artist’s vivid/weird imagination? Surely women didn’t think such exposure inspirational?

Picasso femme à l'éventailPablo Picasso’s Femme a l’éventail. Photo: Musée de l’Ermitage, Leningrad

The second was the woman breastfeeding in an MRT train, and now in the middle of the furore that has divided Netizens this past week. She should have taken the cue from Nicki Minaj. Her exposed breast was a nursing breast, and art is full of bosoms as source of infantile sustenance. Her rejoinder to the post on Stomp could have gone something like this: “I was inspired by Hans Baldung, specifically Virgin and Child.” Surely that would not have caused quite such a stir as the rebuke: “Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not.” Or, the rant: “Anyway, it’s just a breast. We all have it. Be it female or male. It’s meant to be used to feed a baby, I don’t see anything wrong with using it to feed a baby… Maybe girls should stop eating bananas/popsicle in public as some might find it sexual too”both from her Facebook post, which was defiantly accompanied by more breastfeeding photos.

(Let’s leave aside the fact that men do not usually lactate for now.)

As noted by historian Margaret R. Miles in her book A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast 1350—1750, bosoms were considered religious symbols. Of the Virgin’s symbols: “in early modern Western societies in which Christianity was the dominant religion,” Ms Miles wrote, “her bare breast, appearing in paintings and sculptures, signified nourishment and loving care—God’s provision for the Christian, ever in need of God’s grace.” Who would want to incur the wrath of our National Council of Churches (NCCS) by criticising a woman who merely exposed her breast the way Mary did?

Without the religious advantage, it is, of course, naïve of that woman to think that she was not going to get a secular reaction to her very secular (and public) display. There are basically three ways to respond to this: negatively, neutrally, and positively. Interestingly (perhaps, hearteningly?), many reacted positively—even encouragingly, with some saying it is the most natural thing for a woman to do. The breast’s provision to the child, so many in the pro camp seem to say, obliterates its very nakedness, so much so that you see—if you did see—nothing more than a mother feeding.

Hans BaldungVirgin and Child by Hans Baldung. Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

But that trending photograph revealed something else. In her substantial FB post, that woman also said, “I just want to dress up and be a normal woman…” Here, if one were to equate “dress up” to what she wore on that fateful MRT ride, one could see that being in one’s best clothes meant one need not don very much of a dress (according to Lianhe Wanbao, she was on her way to participating in Mrs Singapore. Now you see). She was, therefore, dressed up since dressing up with little that constitutes an outfit is now a normal-womanly thing to do. Her easy-to-pull-down strapless top and a skirt (possibly shorts)—so brief that it is not unreasonable to suspect that both are of equal lengths—bear out the observation that, increasingly, it takes very little cloth to make clothes.

If so much of what we see online is not fake (catchword of the year), fashion is not about clothes. How much you cover is immaterial. Materials, in fact, are secondary just as coverage is no longer the real reason to wear clothes since so little is covered. As more and more celebrities and stars have shown, fashion can exist without garments, or, with incomplete garments. Once the stage personae of more audacious performers—from Josephine Baker to Gypsie Lee Rose to Dita Von Tesse—whose rectitude of motives were never really questioned since their dare-to-bare ways were mostly restricted to the theatre, the exposed body is today very much a part of everyday dress.

As it turns out, the uncovered buttocks of the past years weren’t the last fashion frontier (Azealia Banks, you’re passé!) Now, we aren’t even sure if the bare breast is. The fine line between decency and indecency strangely sits on not much expanse of space—the nipple. Unblocked, it causes offense in the same way the narrow border between the glutes seen will crack the barrier of politeness. The obscuring of the areola, within which the nipple lies (the exit point of breast milk), therefore, lessens the lewdness of the breast bared and, in many nations, stays within the confines of the law. Whether covered by a pasty or the mouth of a hungry infant, the areola unseen, it appears (or suggested by the MRT woman), strips away the sexual aspect of the sole naked bosom. You must appreciate, instead, the epitome of womanhood or, baby in sight, motherhood. Or a fashion statement.

Lil' KimRapper Lil’ Kim pre-empting Nicki Minaj at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.  Photo: Getty Images

For a long time, fashion advertising has allowed us to wean on the normality of the barely covered breast. Who can remember a time when Guess models did not appear to be on the verge of full exposure? But there has always been the divide of they-are-models/we-are-real-women. It’s quite different now. In today’s fashion, familiarity does not always breed contempt. Rather, it fosters assimilation, more so than in art. With social media adherents willing and eager to push fashion messages further towards the extreme, women are willing to follow whoever they follow under the security blanket called “in charge of my own destiny”. Or, as Ivanka Trump says, “Own your femininity”.

Even self-confessed feminist Emma Watson has no qualms of exposing—even not in their entirety—her breasts, as seen in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. To the disapproving masses, she would later say, “They were claiming that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs. Feminism is about giving women choice… It’s about freedom; it’s about liberation; it’s about equality.” And she meant not just the freedom, liberation, and equality of the mind, but the body too. She added, “I don’t know what my tits have to do with it”. Which sounded like: I can flash my chest as men can, and do. The interesting thing is, her leading man Dan Stevens had not had to pose in a shirt completely unbuttoned in any magazine to promote Beauty and the Beast.

Ms Watson’s position seems consistent with the agenda of Free the Nipple, the 2014 American docu-film and campaign that not only pushed for gender equality, but also put forth the argument that women be allowed to bare their nipples in public if they choose to. This goes swimmingly with what women have, of late, been told they can do with their bodies, regardless of shape and condition: as you please. They can emulate models or social-media stars, even when they are neither models nor social-media stars. They can show any part of their body on Instagram, even when the world will bear witness to their display and there could be backlash. Eff those who can’t deal with this reality. If dominance is part of what constitutes popularity, then the increasing visibility of bare breasts is going to point, if it has not already, to how we shall dress, and how undisrupting to social norms it shall become.

Saint Laurent SS 2017A one-bare-breast-dress by Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent, spring/summer 2017. Photo: indigital.tv

A dress or blouse or jacket that does not require the portion that covers or enhances the bosom is perhaps also indication that the bust of the garment is redundant. It is quite possible that designers want to do away with that part of the dress, just as many seem to want to rid the area where the shoulder meets the sleeve, allowing it to go “cold”. Anyone with knowledge of dressmaking knows that the bust is often tricky to construct. Fashion students in pattern-making class are known to hate pivoting darts, so much so that many do away with them. The result is often a cut-away bodice comprising two pieces of cloths simply for front and back. Either that or a stretchy fabric such as jersey to cling to every curve and protuberance.

It would be wild speculation to think that Anthony Vaccarello was trying to shirk from creating the most beautifully formed bust on the Saint Laurent dress by not including one, even if it was only on one side. Although in that outfit Mr Vaccarello did not quite “free the nipple”, his predecessor did. In 2015, Hedi Slimane created a permanent and irreversible wardrobe malfunction with a dress that literally covered only half the body, exposing a starkly naked breast. No member of the media seemed particularly disturbed, with vogue.com calling it “fall’s hot topic on the runway”. It must have been, for Olympia Le-Tan even designed a dress with a trompe l’oeil left-breast-exposed—just in case there were those who wanted to bare, but did not dare.

It is suggested that the present fixation with exposing the boob is really backlash against too much easy androgyny and minimalism bordering on the monastic. There’s nothing wrong with an aesthetic that is expressly and visibly female. However, there are no half-measures in fashion. If we look back, we’ll remember that the décolletage soon gave way to the plunging V; the peeking thigh soon gave way to the glaring rump; the blushing crack—left open by the “bumster”—soon led to the full-moon derrière; and the buttocks soon gave up the seat to the bosom. If today is one breast out, will tomorrow be freedom for the other side?

This Is No Lady Dior

A visit to the Dior store in ION Orchard this afternoon to acquaint ourselves with the debut collection of Maria Grazia Chiuri brought us face to face with the Dio(r)evolution calfskin bags, first seen on the runway last October. We knew they would be loud, but we didn’t realize they would be this loud. By that we don’t mean that the bags are bombastic by design. Rather, it is the brand name screaming in full caps that caused our eyebrows to rise higher than usual.

Not since John Galliano’s J’Adore Dior T-shirts of 2004 has there been such bold and blatant branding on Dior merchandise. The four letters emblazoned on the front of Dior’s newest bag make the dangling charms of the Lady Dior look terribly discreet, and definitely far more charming.

However we looked at it, the Dio(r)evolution is not quite the marked change that the name suggests. A symmetrical and structured oblong of a bag, it is not particularly large. Inside, lined with suede in the same colour as the exterior, is a single compartment, with a pocket attached to the front. It is a purely functional interior designed to be capacious enough to accommodate the mobile possessions of a modern lass.

A window is cut out of the lower half of the flap cover. It reveals the “slot handclasp”, a horizontal band that allows the user to slip four fingers behind it (thumb aside, outside) should she wish it as a clutch. On this is the large “aged silver-tone metal Dior signature”, which, interestingly, is a letter for each finger. At a quick glance, the user holding the bag could be wearing a knuckle duster!

This bag debunks the myth that Dior touts only the lady-like Lady Dior and those made in its image. All the visible hardware on the Dio(r)evolution looks like supplies from the ironware section of a craft store. So are the swivel clasp snap-hooks. The strap, too, looks hardcore—as wide as a razor strop, more akin to those of a camera bag than a shoulder bag. Step back: the Dio(r)evolution looks ready to go with a pair of creepers than kitty heels.

Oversized alphabets fronting bags are, of course, nothing new. Look at Louis Vuitton’s Twist. That, however, has a decorative and functional aspect to it as the letters are cleverly fashioned as a clasp. Those on the Dio(r)evolution are there for the same reason Supreme’s are on the latter’s products. Designed as an inset—a framed glorification of its name, the Dio(r)evolution serves only to remind us that conspicuous consumption, like the tide, may ebb, but it always comes back in.

Dio(r)evolution Flap Bag with Slot Handclasp, SGD4,700, is available in black or white at Dior stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Sometimes, A Book Needs To Be Dressed

Beahouse book cover

By Mao Shan Wang

I wish for my books what some women desire for their pets: suitable attire. But this has nothing to do with wanting to dress my books to reflect my considering them extension of myself, the way it tends to be with pet owners. (Admittedly, a well-dressed book could point to what the legendary editor Carmel Snow called a well-dressed mind.) Or to present a fancy exterior that tells the world clothing is not strictly a human priority and propriety. Rather, my books are given an outfit only when they’re being read. And because a book in use tends to be exposed to some rather tough conditions, they should be protected. Hands ready for gardening are always happy to see a pair of good gloves.

Truth be told, I have only two sets of clothing for my books, and both for those I tend to carry around than the tomes that mostly reside in my small library. One of them, bought in Beijing some years back, is a simple black jacket in a cotton that recalls those worn by coolies of the past. It’s a simple slip-case much like the plastic versions that were once sold in Popular Bookstore and were used to protect our school books. This one attracted me because of the side designated as the cover. On it are the Chinese characters xiang si (相思 or to yearn) embroidered in red. Next to the two words is a little dot, which could be a Chinese period, but, if you’re alert, you’ll realise that this is, in fact, a pictograph. Collectively, they read xiang si dou ((相思豆), referring to the red lucky seed, the Chinese symbol of love and longing!

The other is a recent purchase. I was drawn to it because it said “free size” on the packaging. Although the description is in Japanese, it was not difficult to make out from the illustration that this cover could fit a lot more books than my old one, which is essentially one size. Produced by Beahouse, a Japanese maker of cloth and leather book covers, it hints at a rather old-world way of carrying books around, much like the book band is associated with a practice no longer prevalent. What is it about the reading culture of China and Japan that makes readers want to protect the covers of their books? I have never seen, if they are to be seen at all, anyone here using a bought book cover; I have only seen books the result of terrible abuse.

Beahouse book cover pic 2

This made-in-Japan wrap, also in cotton, but of rather fine twill, is a 44cm by 45cm near-square that is folded from the top down to the three-quarter mark, and then from the bottom to the half-way point. The top fold is held in place by a vertical stitch in the middle while the bottom is unstitched, which means it can be adjusted to take any book with size ranging from the average paperback to the standard hardback. At each end of the folded rectangle is a Velcro strip that can be fastened to allow the book cover to fit snugly.

Having your own book cover this versatile means you do not have to pay for books to be plastic-wrapped. It is very annoying that in Singapore such a service is charged by booksellers. Kinokuniya makes you pay S$1.00 per book, although their stores in Bangkok offer it for free (no charge at Asia Books as well). Moreover, in this age of green living, a reusable book cover, like a reusable shopping bag, can play a small part in our quest for eco-equilibrium, never mind that we are no eco-heroes.

I am one of those who like to carry a book in my bag. Uncommon such a habit might be these days, I have not given it up, as I do read during my commute on the MRT train—a sight, I suspect, is as often witnessed as a person without a smartphone. Inside my bag, the book is always in communion with the umbrella, battery pack, sunglasses, earphones, digital music player, and the miscellany that inevitably ends up in there. Books, unlike the rest in that community, have a weak body. When properly clothed, they can survive the unwelcome chafing that prolonged close contact may bring. A handsomely jacketed book, too, may spark a conversation with a fellow commuter, pedestrian, or shopper. No fancily-dressed pet required.

Beahouse Free Size Book Cover, SGD26, is available at Tokyu Hands, Orchard Central. Photo: Zhao Xiangji