Still Carrie Bradshaw

SJP narrates for Vogue

In season 4, episode 2 (also called ‘The Real Me’) of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw said, “When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” Vogue was so much a part of Ms Bradshaw’s life that it had a cameo role in the six-season, 94-episode TV series; leading to an episode in season 4 called ‘A Vogue Idea’. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Carrie Bradshaw’s alter ego Sarah Jessica Parker was asked to narrate the e-series The History of Fashion in Vogue for the title’s online edition.

Vogue and Carrie Bradshaw were so intertwined that despite the shorts’ title credit that read “narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker”, the voice-over sure sounds like Ms Bradshaw. In the first of what Vogue calls “a series of ‘five points’ videos by decades”, SJP opened the peek into the late 1800s and the 1900s by saying “Start-up wasn’t part of the vocabulary of 1892, when Arthur Baldwin Turnure started a weekly journal of fashion and society called Vogue.” This could have been “Once upon a time, an English journalist came to New York…” of the debut of SATC, minus the close-up of the text appearing on the computer screen and the vibraphone tune of the main theme before that.

Sex and the City was very much a self-narrated account of Carrie Bradshaw’s New York life, which included three of her friends. The gossipy unfolding gave the series much of its authenticity and intimacy, and it made Carrie Bradshaw the protagonist so many rooted for, even when her neurosis and self-inflicted pain were sometimes too much to bear. That voice, that pitch, that urgency—all so identifiable as prelude to Sex and the City’s celebration of sex-as-you-wish liberty and blatant consumption that even on a program about the history of one of the world’s most recognisable publications you sense that maybe there’s going to be who slept with who after who bought what.

Thirty seconds into the first episode of Sarah Jessica Parker Narrates 1892-1900s in Vogue, SJP says that Vogue was a “journal of society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life.” She may be referring to another era far removed from the one she’s in, but she could be describing the world of Carrie Bradshaw, minus the sexual escapades and tearful heartbreaks. When SJP revealed with such wonder that “crackerjack” Condé Nast purchased the publication in 1809, she could have been referring to Capote Duncan (the publishing executive who nearly bedded Charlotte York), or Mr Big.

These short videos were conceived to celebrate Vogue’s 125th year, but they’re not exactly a broad look at the past. In the face of debates over whether Vogue is relevant, they only serve to remind us that the magazine has come this far and will go further, much further.

Screen grab from

They Do Feel Like Socks

Nike Sock Dart SE Premium

Which came first: the sock or the shoe? Fashion historians don’t always agree on that one. Problem is, early shoes, by appearance alone, could be deemed socks since they were basically a piece of fabric (mostly from pelt) used to wrap the feet. But since the enfolded hide may not be comfortable, they were stuffed with grass. The grass (presumably as dry as hay), to historians, could, therefore, be considered socks, which means, there is the possibility that shoes and socks came concurrently. If that were so, why couldn’t one dispense with the other by making footwear as durable as a shoe and as comfortable as a sock?

In the field of modern sneaker design, this conundrum has constantly interested and inspired sneaker makers since the ’70s. As one of many stories goes, the co-founder and serial innovator of Nike, Bill Bowerman, was on a mission to create a sock on a sole for athletes who suffered from blisters wearing the company’s stitched and seamed shoes. That led to the Sock Racer of 1985—an unusual sheath of a sneaker that was strapped down on the outer arch of the foot. There was, unsurprisingly, no stopping the evolution of that concept, and soon the Air Flow (1988), Air Huarache (1991) and Air Presto (2000) came out successively with much success.

The latest sock-sneaker to join the family of slip-ons at Nike is the Sock Dart. This is, however, not a new shoe; it first appeared in 2004, in six colourways, with virtually no hype about its strengths. It is not clear if the fist-gen Sock Dart was a success, and many now think it was not since the strange-looking shoe was discontinued. Then came 2014, when a limited-edition version was released as collaboration between the newly conceived Nikelab and Fragment Design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara. Nikelab, a new entity of parent Nike, basically creates fashionable styles of both footwear and apparel based on current or previous design ideas; it must distinguish itself from the main line with quality and the ability to set trends.

How did Hiroshi Fujiwara get himself involved in this? According to the story that circulated around the time of the re-imagined shoe’s launch in 2004, it was Mr Fujiwara who prodded Nike’s design master Tinker Hatfield to consider reworking the Sock Racer’s form factor into a new shoe. At that time, Mr Hatfield was reportedly exploring the possibility of a born-again Air Presto, as well as developing a circular knit construction for shoe uppers that were similar to socks (apparently, a prototype emerged that was based on a real sock). The latter, as we now know, is the Flyknit.

Nike Sock Dart SE Premium pic 2

When both sneaker gurus were pouring over the Air Presto—as early as 2000, Mr Fujiwara was presented a sample of the Sock Dart. As followers of game-changing sneaker fashion will know, Mr Fujiwara has quite a weakness for shoes with not terribly conventional, feet-flattering shapes. His enthusiastic reaction to the Sock Dart was probably enough for Mr Hatfield to consider the shoe’s post-Yeezy appeal and potential. This is, admittedly, speculation since we don’t know Nike was aware of Adidas’s design plans with Kanye West.

We will also not shy away from acknowledging that we did not immediately take a shine to the Sock Dart when it first appeared. At our initial encounter with the shoe in Tokyo in 2015, we thought that it was a little too formless and broad, a bit too low-tech, too orthopedic, in fact—which meant that we could not ignore its geek leaning. Truth be told, we were a little too preoccupied with the Air Max Zero, that unborn older sibling of Air Max 1 belatedly delivered that same year.

We met the Sock Dart again last year in the Sneaker Space of Dover Street Market in London. This time, the meeting was totally amiable.  The Sock Dart was a version that came suffixed with “SE Premium”. Despite its better-grade branding, this still looks like what we came across a year earlier. But now, the “sock-like mesh upper”—as Nike calls it, rather than the similar Flyknit—was a two-tone weave not unlike an Oxford cloth. That, paired with the speckled midsole, makes this Sock Dart especially appealing and an ideal companion to jeans. The oddness, this time, oddly just didn’t look so odd.

Once the feet went inside, the comfort level was indisputable. However, they felt like socks rather than fit like socks. Like regular sneakers, there was room between toes and the mesh, which wasn’t such a bad idea since the lack of snugness meant the feet could enjoy natural motion, and you might forget you’re wearing shoes. If you need the Sock Dart to be secure (for running, for instance), you can adjust the perforated silicone forefoot strap by pushing the small nubs on the bottom piece against any of the holes. With no lacing needed, this sneaker is always ready to be slipped into and go. Who does not appreciate such ease?

The Sock Dart SE Premium is unusual and quite unlike other Nike footwear such as the Air Jordan in its lack of blaring branding. The Swoosh does not appear as a massive smile along its sides, not even in the rear. Instead, Nike’s trademark is but a tiny tone-on-tone tick at the base of the forefoot strap and a little lick in white at the top of the tongue. To those unfamiliar with the Sock Dart, you could be wearing a pair of Muji shoes!

The Nike Sock Dart SE Premium, SGD225, is available at select Nike stores, as well as Photo: A.B. Tan

The Quiet Master

Film | In a new untitled documentary, the fashion insider’s designer Azzedine Alaïa is revealed, but only just

Azzedine AlaiaAzzedine Alaïa at his drafting table. Photo: Joe McKenna/Consulate Film

There are designers and there are designers, but none so unconcerned with the drama of the fashion world and its pursuit of excess as Azzedine Alaïa. His refusal to genuflect to the fashion system, whether in Paris or elsewhere, sticking to his own world in his atelier in the Marais, a historic part of the capital in the 4th and 5th arrondissement, makes him as much a mystery as a marvel.

In this new, 26-minute, black and white short made by the Scottish stylist Joe McKenna, considered one of the most respected in the business, who once published his own now-very-collectible and hard-to-find, two-issue (1992 and 1998) magazine called Joe’s, Mr Alaïa is put in the spotlight, but it is friends, models, journalists who are doing the shining. Filmed over a few years in the designer’s atelier during Mr McKenna’s free time, the film feels like an extended trailer than a major oeuvre, snap shot than biography.

Yet, it’s a pleasurable film, if only because there is no moving picture material out there on Mr Alaïa. Any reveal is better than none. Much has been said of the designer’s skill—how he drafts and cuts his own patterns, how, at one time, he even sewed the dresses himself—and why those who wear his designs become life-long fans, but very little is offered about the processes behind those undeniably beautiful clothes, or about the thinking of a quietly defiant man. In this respect, we still know very little of Mr Alaïa’s motivation and inspiration.

Azzedine Alaïa Couture 2011Two of the outfits from the couture 2011 show that appeared in the film. Photos: Azzedine Alaïa

Although the lens trails its subject, the camera does not capture Mr Alaïa saying anything to it. Instead, designer Nicholas Ghesquiere (the only male interviewee), stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele (who styled Anna Wintour’s first US Vogue cover in 1988 that saw a Christian Lacroix couture top paired with jeans), the ex-stylist, ex-fashion editor (British Tatler and Vogue), and now architect Sophie Hicks, still-practising stylists Grace Coddington and Katie Grand, journalists Cathy Horyn, Vanessa Friedman, and Suzy Menkes, and models Naomi Campbell (who calls Mr Alaïa “papa”) and Veronica Webb do the talking.

These are people who doubtlessly and ardently admire him and are intensely protective. Ms Campbell even revealed that Mr Alaïa took her in after she lost her possessions during a sojourn in Paris in 1989, and that he still avails a room in his residence to her. Although we’re told that Mr Alaïa “has a temper”, like many passionate artists, we’re not shown an instance other than his throwing a hanger at an assistant, when he lost composure to rage. Or, if fury or self-control has influenced his designs. Through these intimates, we are seduced into believing Mr Alaïa has no shortcoming.

This is a film strictly for followers of Mr Alaïa’s work—a celebration of the female form and an extolment of sexiness with none of the perverse expression seen in fashion today. It is also for fashion culture buffs who may be thrilled to see some rare footages of old Azzedine Alaïa shows (“another echelon” for Cathy Horyn)  in which supermodels of the ’90s gravitated (somewhere in there is also the now-reclusive Grace Jones). It sometimes feels like a knowing nod among friends for more friends rather than a vivid disclosure for the uninitiated, of the man and his creative output. And a substantiation of the already known fact that very much of Azzedine Alaïa’s designs start at the drafting table—a mark of a true couturier.

Able Models: They Shoot Too

If you don’t need to be able to sing and dance to star in a musical, and win an Oscar for the role, you don’t need to be a photographer to shoot an ad campaign

Versus SS 2017 ad

Fashion has always been about chums. The more sociable you are, the more likely you’ll get into everyone’s good books. You are not only a friend to designers, their friends, stylists, make-up artists, hairdressers, fellow models, and just about anyone who matters in the industry; you’re also a friend to the world. Social media makes sure of that.

Social media is also where you launch your career. Gigi Hadid and pal Kendall Jenner have exploited social media well. They have not only used it to kick-start, but advanced their profession. Now, Gigi Hadid has taken it one step further. Her Instagram posts have become the basis for an ad campaign. Or, if online Harper’s Bazaar is to be believed, “The model stepped behind the camera to shoot the Spring 2017 Versus Versace campaign.”

Model-turns-photographer: how refreshing! Ms Hadid is, of course, not the first Instagirl to lens fashion shoots. Her BFF Ms Jenner has already shot an editorial (including the cover) for Love magazine. The jury’s out on whether that’s any good, but one thing is clear: the pictures do not look any different from entries in the shooter’s IG page. And that, too, can be said of the Ms Hadid’s photos for Versus, which features boyfriend Zayn Malik (a Versace collaborator) and Adwoa Aboah. Like everything else you see on IG, they will be forgotten tomorrow.

You will forget because these are photos you’ve seen before: a couple of beautiful people bored out of their wits in a not particularly attractive room (here, celebrity-magnet Chateau Marmont). These are individuals behaving naturally in their natural habitat, but no, these do not Juergen Teller make.

Why does Versace need advertising that looks like Ms Hadid’s IG posts? Why can’t they just pay her to upload selfies of her and her gang in Versace in both their accounts? Is the iPhone camera to be blamed? Is traditional studio photography dead? Has Mario Testino become too expensive, or too overused? Is there a shortage of professional photographers?

And you thought immigrants are out to steal your job!

Photo: instagram/gigihadid

At Sacai, Tweed Goes Sporty

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 1

Some people might think it is inappropriate, even sacrilegious, to employ high-end fabrics in a non-high-end way. You would not take silk gazar, for example, and turn them into casual clothes, even if there’s no rule against such a use, except perhaps aesthetic consideration. For Sacai’s Chitose Abe, there are no such self-imposed limitations. She uses fabrics as artists use paint; she mixes them up. In doing so, she gives some of the oldest cloths new purpose. For autumn/winter 2017, tweed, a traditional Irish/Scottish fabric in use before the 19th century, for example, in her hands were fashioned into outers so type-breaking they made Chanel jackets look rather frumpy.

Sacai is known for her aesthetic hybrids, and the results often defy characterisation. For her recent show, she crossbred high-brow tweed with outdoor wear and the result is deliciousness only skilled mixologists can offer. How does one describe her not-country-club tweeds? It’s tricky, but we’ll try. One of them that we really like is a navy and green parka-meets-anorak, within which bouclé tweed was worked into (top). Not quite what you might pick for a climb in the mountains, but it’s certainly for tranquil days tending to your resort in the Swiss Alps.

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 2Sacai AW 2017 Pic 3

And would you add openings to tweed skirts the way they create slits in the knees of jeans? Ms Abe knows women like gashes in their bottoms, and she obliged, but these were not mindless rips, calculated to titillate, or repulse. Instead, they’re side openings with zips, which means the skirts could be customized to fall in a certain way, based on how zipped up they are, or not. The same idea was applied to pants. Yes, those pants! They have the attitude of a pair of cotton cargos and the swagger of the nicest wool crepe slacks. But they are in tweed!

Her cross-breeding does not only bring disparate garments from different categories of clothing together, which she frequently does, but also within a dress type or style. Take military wear, for (another) example. Ms Abe is fond of the field jacket, but this time, she’s created something that looks like the navy and the armed forces happily co-exist: a peacoat married to a parka!

Sacai AW 2017 Pic 4Sacai AW 2017 Pic 5

From the start of the Sacai show, we saw designs that took into consideration the femininity women will always return to despite the vagaries of fashion or the gender-ambiguous leanings of street style. Case in point: the first look should really have been pyjama dressing except that the composition—cut, fabric, and embellishment—looked destined for a front-row seat of a fashion show than under a comforter in a bedroom, or, for the more adventurous, a bar-side stool in a pub. If Grace Coddington was really bent on wearing pyjamas to the Met Gala of 2015 (China: Through the Looking Glass), she really should have picked something like this.

What we find so inspiring is that Ms Abe is able to project a vestige of cool without sacrificing the advantage of craft, beauty, humour, intelligence, and modesty. Her clothes are not overt in any of those qualities that make the wearer ooze sex or trickle foolishness. Despite the possibly frenetic mixing within just one garment, each piece is a charming confluence of clever design and palatable novelty.

At one time, there were rumours that Chitose Abe was asked to go to Dior. If only it were true.


When Clothes are Blah, The Show Has To Be A Blast


The 35m rocket stood in the middle of the Grand Palais like the Obelisk of Luxor at the centre of Place de la Concorde. Guests arriving to witness Chanel’s fall ready-to-wear presentation must have been wowed by the spacecraft as pilgrims in 1400 BCE visiting the Luxor Temple were when approaching the entrance’s twin obelisks (before they were split, with one arriving in Paris in 1833).

Karl Lagerfeld has been Chanel’s ringmaster since the brand’s fashion shows became more than just a catwalk event. He’s been dreaming up so many of these massive mind-boggling sets so that the audience would be awe-struck that it’s become hazy as the smoke from the Chanel-branded rocket when we recall the number of them. But remember we do: the carousel of fall 2008, the iceberg of fall 2010, the giant globe of fall 2013, the supermarket (or was it a hypermart?) of fall 2014, the boulevard of spring 2015, the brasserie of fall 2015, the casino of fall 2015 (couture), and the airport terminal of spring 2016 (which is the second air travel-related theme after the hangar of resort 2008).

And now, this rocket. “This is what you call one giant leap for mankind,” declared the online edition of Harper’s Bazaar. Really? Is Neil Armstrong turning in his grave? And for, “the rocket ship was, of course, the pièce de résistance”. Then, what about the clothes?

Chanel makes garments that please, but they are not exceptional enough for the media to rave about or awful enough for detractors to hate. Bouclé or no bouclé, Mr Lagerfeld offers mostly variations of a theme. It’s what keeps Chanel alive. Even if Chanel omits shows from their image-making thrusts, women will still buy the handbags, camellia brooches, and earrings with the double Cs.

Despite the presence of the rocket, there was nothing space-age or galactic about the collection. If there’s not anything you can say about the clothes without sounding yet again like a deferential fan, then perhaps something can be said about the experience attending a Chanel show. They are smart. And an experience isn’t a mesmerising one if there was only a static ship. That’s why the lift-off during the finale, although, anti-climactically, the Chanel rocket did not shoot through the roof for the stars. But it was dramatic enough. The resultant oohs and ahhs washed over any potentially anaemic reaction to the clothes. For the attendees, this was probably the only rocket launch they’ll ever attend. And that’s good enough.

It’s been said that these big productions with their equally massive sets that could put any West End show to shame may boost a luxury brand’s top-of-the-pack standing. If so, what should we make of Balenciaga showing in a set-free basement? Balenciaga on a budget?

Photo: Chanel

Awkward Elegance As Balenciaga Turns 100

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic intro

Cristóbal Balenciaga of the golden age of couture was a designer with a fondness for dramatic silhouettes. He created clothes with a sculptor’s eye, and manipulated shapes with a potter’s hand. He made black as chic as any colour (which itself is now the subject of an exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris). He redefined the space between fabric and the body by creating the tunic dress, the baby doll dress, and the cocoon coat. That daring was seeded 100 years ago when he, then aged 22, opened his first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain. And stunningly expressed 80 years ago, when his first couture house was established in Paris.

Cut to the present: autumn/winter 2017 season. Demna Gvasalia literally skewed his already off-beat proportion for Balenciaga. He showed outers with a centre-front buttoned to the shoulder, effectively challenging the traditional idea that a jacket’s pivot point (or break point) is in the middle. This, Mr Gvasalia told the media, was in response to many of the old Balenciaga photos that he had seen, in which women often held the front of their jacket that way.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 2

How this new way of wearing a jacket feels isn’t clear (unless you’re one of the models of the show) as there must have been a pull at the underarm area considering that the fore seam on one side would have been affected or shifted. From the video of the show posted online, the models did not look uncomfortable, perhaps because of the generous armhole and, in some cases, the oversized shoulder pads that Mr Gvasalia favours. The right side of the jacket worn across the body to the left had the effect of a blanket shawl swept aside. Will this distort catch on?

The off-centre shifts that Mr Gvasalia has made with Balenciaga no longer warp our view of what this storied house stands for. Maybe we’re getting used to them. Or, maybe, some semblance of elegance had pervaded Balenciaga and it was an appealing spread through. Despite the odd way to fasten an outer—also applied to a toggle coat, a pea coat, and a bubble coat (that was styled in such a way that the model looked like a gypsy awaiting the kindness of tourists during winter), Mr Gvasalia showed a surprising number of instantly appealing looks that made this collection his best to date.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 3

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 4

We will be the first to admit that when his Balenciaga first appeared, we were perplexed. But when your lenses are refocused, sometimes things become a little clearer, if not lucid. Now, with homage to hookers of yore rife at other French houses, Mr Gvasalia’s flying off on a tangent seems oddly appealing. We were especially drawn to the oversized pencil as well as pleated skirts, worn—rather, belted—in such a way that the excess fabric at the waist folded forward as a flap. There was a sense of nostalgia in the tented dresses that recall the couture master’s baby doll versions. Is imagining women actually wearing these approachable clothes a no-no? If not, let’s do.

Balenciaga in its heydays was the man to go to for women who wanted something special. The clothes that were made and bought were actually worn. If fashion lore is to be believed, the Countess von Bismarck, former Mona Harrison-Williams, the Kentucky-born socialite, wore only Balenciaga, even when gardening. If fashion legend Diana Vreeland is to be beloved, “The Kentucky Countess” ensconced herself in her Capri villa for three days when Cristóbal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968—presumably, to mourn. Wearability was not taboo at the house of Balenciaga. If Mr Gvasalia’s latest season is any indication, he’s restoring Balenciaga’s to its rightful pro-customer place.

Balenciaga AW 2017 pic 5

As if to proof this point, he showed a capsule of nine dresses that was ode to the Balenciaga couture of yesteryear: the icing on the 100th anniversary cake. These would have been familiar to those enamoured with the Balenciaga of the ’50s and ’60s, such as the Countess von Bismarck, if not for the models’ streetwise gait. Although their carriage (did they even know they were wearing couture?) wasn’t the same as those from 80 years, these dresses won’t disappoint the camera-toting horde that is Mr Gvasalia’s peer.

Mainly updates of the baby doll, as well as the flounced and tiered dresses, they were made charmingly irreverent by the pairing of a matching, oversized shopping bag to each, reminding us that this was 2017. One standout design: a take on the Amphora gown of 1959, a totally chic lantern of a dress that deserves to be revived and appreciated. The spirit of Balenciaga lives, even if only momentarily.

Photos: (top) Balenciaga, (catwalk)

And You Wonder Why Women Won’t Sit Properly

Saint Laurent SS 2017 advertising

Ugly clothes, it seems, aren’t quite enough. They need to be marketed with ugly images of models in ugly poses too—triple the ugliness. The house of Saint Laurent got themselves in a bit of a spot a couple of days ago when uproar broke out over two of their latest advertising images for the spring/summer 2017 season. We won’t describe the pictures; we let you see what the indignation is all about for yourself.

The photos used in the Saint Laurent ads do open us up to one question: Why is the pose of the model, rather than the clothes she wears, the focal point of a fashion advertisement? It is perturbing to think that this is a reflection of the evolving taste of the consumers of fashion, but it is more disquieting to consider this an indication of how women now see themselves: individuals who can be viewed between their legs, and not face, first.

Of course, a woman seated with her legs apart is so common a sight that no one will think it a show of impropriety. After all, we are no longer in an era when not wearing a petticoat is tantamount to not wearing a brassiere. The panty now cheerfully looking out to the world between the shredded crotch of denim cut-offs is so inoffensive that nobody really cares anymore how a woman sits, or squats, or stoops.

And so she places herself on a chair, seat, or floor as she pleases, legs spread in a way that nearly renders her asunder. Or feet up on the seat so that a heel can cushion the backside, or a knee can serve as chin rest. Comfort is key, we have been told, and that means you do not loll at home, you do it before a camera. You do not kick up your heels when nobody is around, you do it when there is an audience. You do not curl up in private confines, you do so on any chair, anywhere—on the ground, in the air.

The Saint Laurent ad controversy comes just a week after Kellyanne Conway, President “Taped Tie” Trump’s able Counselor, was photographed seated with her legs tucked behind her rear on the sofa of the Oval Office. Ms Conway was, of course, more modestly seated compared to the model in the Saint Laurent ad, but it does draw our attention to the fact that many women now choose to take to a chair in a manner that challenges traditional ideas of lady-like demeanour.

Drawing a viewer’s attention to a woman’s full-frontal crotch is, of course, not new. Just last year, Calvin Klein Underwear put out an advertising image that was framed as an up-skirt shot. Something is also being said when mothers do not chastise little girls for seating with their underpants in full public view, even when unintended. Such indifference and advertising media that has adopted perceptibly suggestive poses in place of nudity to sell clothing allow the young to be weaned on the scanty as standard

Nudity in the media has lost much if its potency. It is a visual marketing device since the ’70s—it has been in use for too long. Yves Saint Laurent himself posed nude in 1971 for his first men’s fragrance in a campaign shot by Jeanloup Sieff. He did not have a shred of clothing on, yet one cannot say he was the epitome of a sex god. As we are now constantly told, just because there are no clothes on does not mean it’s sending out a salacious message. A nude body is no prelude to sex. In order to communicate sex, the message today has to be obviously about sex. Even with clothes on, fishnet stockings too, sex can be the core suggestion when you zero in on the area of the body where sex usually takes place. Better still, the legs positioned like a triangle that frames the other triangle.

But how does making visual the object of another’s voyeuristic or onanistic pleasure help sell clothes? Maybe selling is not the point, controversy is.

Does Rei Kawakubo Now Mostly Design For Museums?


With the Comme des Garçons retrospective, Art of the In-Between, starting the first Monday of May (exactly seven weeks from now), it is not unexpected if you thought that the just-shown CDG autumn/winter 2017 collection was conceived for for a date with New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

According to The Met’s Costume Institute, this year’s aptly-named spring exhibition—traditionally kick-started by the Met Gala, where, as Bret Easton Ellis would have said, “the better you look, the more you see”—“will examine the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, known for her avant-garde designs and ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability.”

Ms Kawakubo is, of course, the agitator-designer behind the label Comme des Garçons. While CDG is gaining massive grounds in terms of popularity, Ms Kawakubo has remained largely unknown, a long-term mystery. Until a couple of days back, there were hardly any recent photos of her in the public domain. Few have spoken to her except her staff, and even then, that privilege reportedly goes to only a handful. This enigma no doubt augments the brand’s appeal. That what she has shown on the runway in the past ten years have been largely unpractical and unwearable only ups CDG’s alternative-therefore-desirable cachet and prestige.


The Future of the Silhouette, her latest collection (and, indeed, not just this one) begs the question: “Are these clothes?” If clothes are what we wear to cover our body, then indeed they are. But if they are items worn to enhance, expose, or beautify the shape of the body, and in doing so, allow the wearer to fit into a society that shares this definition, then CDG may not have offered clothes. And if they are not clothes, what are they? The question is harder to answer when so much of Ms Kawakubo’s output defy the present-day anatomy of what constitutes good-looking garments, with holes for neck, arms, and legs.

Rei Kawakubo once said, “Fashion is something you can attach to yourself, put on, and through that interaction, the meaning of it is born.” Attach? As in pinning a brooch to a blouse, or clipping a carabiner to a belt loop? Put on, as you would with a shoe, an article of clothing that does need to take the shape of the part of the body in which it encases? Ms Kawakubo’s avoidance of the word ‘wear’ possibly refutes the notion that clothing has a functional role as much as proposes the idea that, as attachment, our clothes need not follow the contours of our body. The body is a base on which any shape can be attached to.

And that was what she conveyed at the show many attendees thought would be a prelude to The Med. The first outfit could have been an uncoloured, oversized tennis ball distended to cover the body, arms confined within. A bulbous paste-on of a dress looked like it was made of insulation material. A cocoon of rough and speckled fabric with a face peeping out an opening was akin to a child pretending to be a tree. And the transfigurations did not stop, or the textural anomalies. While others use the likes of sequins for surface decorations, Ms Kawakubo employs what could be suckers of cephalopod limbs.

No form was too impractical, too strange, or too at odds with the body. In the past four seasons, CDG has ceased to show clothes that match any semblance of what all of us have in our wardrobes. Sure, before that, there were her characteristic oddities, but a dress still looked like a dress. Now, they are mutant fabric shapes, as if designed by pre-schoolers for imaginary beings with face, lower arms, hands, lower limbs, and feet like humans but not the rest of their fantastic forms.


These clothes are composites of alien yet organic shapes—conjoined protuberances. Ms Kawakubo has always been partial to bulges and distensions, a love affair that can be traced to the spring/summer 1997 collection called Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body, popularly referred to as Lumps and Bulges. While clothes from that season were largely seen as an attempt to exaggerate female curves, her present silhouettes are more than Quasimodo-peculiar. These strange, not immediately recognizable forms are beguiling because no one makes them. And no one knows how they are to be worn.

Other questions abound. How are these clothes made? Are there any paper patterns involved? Are the clothes designed directly on the body? How does one get those shapes to hold? How does it feel inside one of them? These questions are as intriguing as those directed at the clothes’ wearability or the admirers’ sanity are unrelenting. In searching for answers, we sometimes wonder if the construction of these un-clothes-like clothes shares the same base or framework as those worn by individuals playing SpongeBob SquarePants. Fashion really need not only appeal to the heart; it can appeal to the mind too.

The CDG aesthetic is so established and so appreciated by diehard fans that Rei Kawakubo no longer needs to show what to her is mainstream fare. Instead, she uses the main Paris catwalk as focal point to showcase what for others are inconceivable, or, maybe, to parody herself. In doing so, she has again and again vividly illustrated that there is no limit to creativity. To regard her designs, as some do, with the same eye one sees Gucci, or the same benchmark one applies to Chanel is like Impressionist fans disparaging the work of the Cubists. Totally understandable why The Met went a-calling.


Despite garments that make many wonder who would buy them, Ms Kawakubo still offers something that are wearable and, indeed, covetable: footwear. These rather conventional shoes for autumn/winter 2017 are counterpoint to the way-out, armless blobitecture of what is worn above them. Since none of what she proposes as clothes would look appropriate in heels, Manolo Blahnik or not, Ms Kawakubo has again chosen to collaborate with Nike to birth the oddly feminine Nike Lunar Epic Flyknit (above), a trainer with a bow just above the toe box. Is that not commercial and wearable?

That, for some, is the genius of CDG: leave the wearable stuff to the sub-lines and collaborations. The effectiveness of this strategy cannot be underestimated. CDG has such a distinct aesthetic that it transcends trends. Most CDG garments are so unusual that they either look of the present time or so extraordinary that it has nothing to do with time except the wearer’s own chronological perception of what is current and what is not. Lines such as Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons, Tricot, and Black carry the CDG torch without even a flicker, and they continue to perform extremely well for the brand.

The main Comme des Garçons collection that enthralls those lucky enough to see it in Paris will thus continue to be creative expressions untethered to design conventions of the day. Rei Kawakubo had said that she is inclined to “make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks.” Maybe now, that includes a museum where she would go, no matter what runs through her spouse’s head.


Lanvin Lame, Dior Dismal

lanvin-vs-diorSimilar silhouettes at Lanvin (left) and Dior (right). What gives?

Fashion these days is fashion with a capital F. But sometimes, it’s boring with a capital B. Paris Fashion Week is increasingly the embodiment of such extremes. The F is, of course, sometimes B, with the B more and more because of E, the capital initial of excess.

Despite all the high-drama, high-octane, here’s-all-the-sex-you-need-in-a-dress ubiquity, inclement weather et al, some brands are traipsing the now frequently trodden path of the excruciatingly dull. Fashion watchers and armchair analysts attribute it to the need (order from above?) to sell. But on the catwalk, where many of us look to for inspiration and direction, do we need to see clothes conceived to bear the weight of commerce?

In the not-so-distant past, we looked to French houses for leadership and for ideas to lift our wardrobes above the humdrum. With the offerings of fast fashion now legit style currency, labels with history steep in couture need to go above the fray, or, to borrow from business parlance, build higher barriers to entry. Just this morning, a design student was overheard saying, “Nah, Dior has nothing for me to copy.” Fashion plagiarism is a problem and a practice that must be discouraged and frown upon, but if imitation is flattery, what does it mean when no one wants to copy you?

Two of the most storied of French names seem to be in a position that may amount to that dilemma: Lanvin  and Dior. Bouchra Jarrar and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the respective design directors of both houses, have taken the position of not challenging the status quo, our aesthetic sensibility, and their own selves. Instead, they have both adopted the I-am-a-woman-who-knows-what-women-want stance, churning out clothes that, quite frankly, made us yawn.

There is nothing special about these clothes. The thing is, you do not go to Lanvin or Dior for the mundane, or pieces to duplicate your wardrobe. Perhaps buying habits these days are different, but surely, within all those fine exemplars of wearability, some garments can stimulate our appetites with distinction, if not originality?

lanvin-aw-2017Lanvin autumn/winter 2017


The shoes of Alber Elbaz are, no doubt, hard to fill. So, perhaps, Bouchra Jarrar did not attempt to try. Why bother if they will never fit? Slip into those shoes, therefore, she did not. Instead, she took her own mincing steps to create a Lanvin that dares not dream… big.

A first outing for a major brand may be considered easing into the job. But a second season should give us an idea of what is definitively shaping up. So far, it is clear Ms Jarrar isn’t the equivalent of, say, Nicolas Ghesquiere when he took over from Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Still, we’re hoping to see something that’s a lot more concrete. Instead, we were served with loads of predictably feminine silk chiffon (what’s with the identical opening and closing dresses?), unsurprising satin-and-lace pairings, that sweetie-poo pink, the various necklines of what we call jiaobeijiu (交杯酒 or the lock of the forearms between lovers or newly-weds as they exchange a cup or glass of wine to drink) knot, unspectacular pants and more unspectacular pants, all in a mix that would surely entice hardcore Jamie Chuas.

Jeanne Lanvin was, of course, no Gabrielle Chanel or Elsa Schiaparelli; she had neither the youthful ease of one nor the witticism and humour of the other. Mme Lanvin had ultra-feminine tastes, best exemplified in her preference for the fitted bodice from under which long, full skirts sumptuously bloomed—the robes de style. Ms Jarrar seems to have a weakness for the same silhouette, only now her full skirts were sheer, and the shorts-like panties asked to be looked at. All this could be seen as a 2017 update. But how does one place or understand the lacklustre lace shirt styled with an insipid skinny black ribbon that Sasha Pivovarova wore? Mme Lanvin may have made a mark with understated elegance, but she sure did not design characterless clothes.

dior-aw-2017Dior autumn/winter 2017


A name such as Dior is always associated with something new, even when we’re not alluding to The New Look (the American description of Monsieur Dior’s debut, the Corolle). Sure, it can be argued that during Marc Bohan’s tenure (1960—1989), newness was not exactly the star of the shows, but it can be said that novelty and innovation were evident with successors such as Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, as well as those for men’s wear, Hedi Slimane and Kris Van Assche, and for fine jewellery, Victoire de Castellane. Even Yves Saint Laurent, who succeeded Christian Dior in 1957 after the latter’s death, dared to be different with the Beat Look of 1960. So what’s new with Maria Grazia Chiuri?

The autumn/winter 2017 collection was not Valentino 2.0, but it was a rather literal take on three qualities always associated with the house of Dior: “romanticism, feminism, and modernity”, also the three qualities she augmented at her previous house of employment. There will always be women for whom these characteristics are essential in their wardrobe, but, at some point—which, for us, is now—boredom would set in. Correct us if we’re wrong, but we sense that Ms Chiuri was communicating a rather political message: now that I am the first woman to design Dior, let me show you how a woman dresses.

So, she offered separates inspired by men’s work wear—denim dungarees and boiler suits! And shirts—very vanilla, slim fit tops—that went with both pants and skirts (pleated, gathered, and ruched for plain is the bane of fashion today). Between embroidered chiffon and velvet, a woman needs to show her tougher side. And when she needs to reveal gentleness, there are always corseted bodices and their see-through cousins, cold shoulders, and tiered skirts to rely on. And to be certain she’s not off the sportswear/hoodie-the-basis track, she is served a relaxed version of the bar suit with a hood! If Kanye West were to design Dior, that would be a touch of genius, but this was Ms We Should All Be Feminist!

To be fair, Ms Chiuri is a lot more surefooted with her second Dior show. The choice of black and darker shades of blue, as well as the pairing of navy and black hinted ever so gently at an attempt at a concept, albeit just chromatic, and, even when collectively, the colours are akin to what Japanese retailers such as Journal Standard have been employing in at least one part of their seasonal collections (let’s not talk about how those inky hues were made popular by the Japanese invaders of Paris in the early ’80s).

But beyond that, what can we say that won’t sound like we’re negative? One thing was glaring to us. Many of the silk chiffon and tulle skirts were worn with solid-colour underpants that look like shorts. Sounds familiar? Indeed, if you were to change Ms Chiuri’s colour palate with that of Ms Jarra’s, the design directors could easily trade positions. Dior for Lanvin, Lanvin for Dior. How about that? Soul sisters unite!


The Dumb That Went For The Dumb


By Low Teck Mee

I admit: I was dumb. Hype had me. I was sold to it. The dumb was duped. I was quick to find the idea of a re-issued of Nokia 3310 appealing. What, in reality, would I do with a handset that is a “dumb phone” but goes by the more euphemistic description “feature phone”?

Truth be told, I have not had a hands-on with the new 3310; I was not at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the phone was announced. What I know is based on what I have perused thus far. But once I read what is out there about the Nokia reincarnation, I can’t help but feel let down. Serve me right. Just because everyone is talking about it doesn’t mean I want it.

To be sure, I did not really want it. I was looking for a phone with keypad for my father and uncle. When I came to know of Nokia’s plan for the old 3310, I was excited by what I maybe able to purchase for two technology-averse patriachs. At the same time, I was seized by nostalgia, remembering the good days when cellphones were still novel and you could buy them in a myriad of styles and shapes, unlike now, when, in terms of silhouette, smartphones are as sexy as chocolate bars.

The new 3310 retains the curvy form factor of the orginal. Against everything we see these days, it’s quite a buxom. (Nokia did have a flair for unusual shapes. Remember 2003’s 7600 that was shaped like a leaf?) Even the 3310’s buttons are oval, not like those digital ones on our screens that seem to be inspired by mahjong tiles. So too is the enlarged screen: not rectangular—now looking like a wine goblet flatten by an elephant’s step.

Inside, it is a lot less similar that the oldie, but not anywhere close to what we’re used to in a smartphone. The 3310 does not operate on Android or Windows. Instead, it’s built on Nokia’s own OS, which means no downloadable apps… yet. To make it worse, this is a 2.5G phone, meaning you can’t use it here, come 1 April, when all our telcos only support 3G and up. If that’s a deal breaker, this will surely make you balk at the 3310: there is no WiFi connectivity! A little comfort may come in the form of a colour screen and a camera, which, gasp, is only 2MP-enabled. Retro fashion, I understand, many people love, but retro-spec tech?

New gadgets have become so constant in its perceived newness that we are so easily enticed by them. Even with 3310’s only-just newish skin above barely newish technology, we (maybe it’s just me) become rapidly seduced. Smartphone makers should not be too concerned with a faded name such as Nokia, yet they and tech reporters were all agog with the possibility of relieving the glory days of the 3310.

Sadly, the game-changing technology that had us all enamoured with smartphones is really no longer changing anything—not in the way we live, the way we work, the way play, the way we use our phone. Isn’t today’s phone already packed with everything including the proverbial kitchen sink?

A retro buy such as the Nokia 3310 should hold little attraction to me, but I do sometimes wonder: if we can’t move forward, is it so bad to slide back a little?

Fresh As Spring Air For Fall


It’s just so refreshing to see the work of a designer not duty-bound to trends. Jonathan Anderson does not walk alongside the diffident; he does not need to hold what’s in vogue by the hand to steady his gait. He has a distinct way with tweaking the familiar for smile-inducing results. He has a flair for giving what are considered classics, such as a tea dress, and making them modern, without taking away the insouciance. He has the capacity to offer the unexpected without alienating. All these he does with great élan for Loewe.

Looking back at his brief tenure isn’t necessary; study his latest collection and one immediately sees not only freshness but clarity, not just potential, but a future. Mr Anderson does not depend on scarily extreme ornamentation or meaningless sexiness to forge an identity for Loewe. He looks at what women are inclined to buy (possibly splurge on) and refine those items judiciously, to the point that they there are different and unusual, yet identifiable as welcome wardrobe occupants.

Loewe AW 2017 Pic 2.jpgloewe-aw-2017-pic-4

So, we were charmed: Peaked lapels can truly peak so that they are parenthesis for a beautifully patterned neckline of a sweater. A Bertha collar can have a scallop edge and be embroidered but totally escape looking Victorian or girlish. A tartan dress can appear a little-bit-country, a-little-bit-avant-garde and all-alluring. An bold-stripe dress can, with pleating, be skewed so that there’s nothing linear about the result. A classic sweater can go with a craft-like skirt that’s composed of circles like grandma’s old yo-yo quilts. A one-sleeve can be layered atop a capped-sleeved dress without making the wearer look like she’s marching to some deviant nightclub. This is only the beginning of a list—54, if it were to be numbered.

As Mr Anderson continues to push LVMH-owned Loewe to a new pinnacle, new fans were wondering why they had not known of the Madrid-based brand’s ready-to-wear line before. Until Mr Anderson’s arrival at the house, few people were aware that it had a very sizeable ready-to-wear business established in the ’70s. In Southeast Asia, Loewe is mostly associated with leather goods—the Amazona bag, launched in 1945, a perennial favourite. Despite its hitherto low-key fashion division, some of the rag trade’s most notable designers had contributed to the line. These include Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Narciso Rodriguez, and Stuart Vevers (now at Coach), Mr Anderson’s predecessor.


But what was never attempted before Mr Anderson was to let the brand take a more directional course. Mr Anderson’s appointment is a typical LVMH masterstroke: bringing designers who can rock the boat, but only just, unlike John Galliano who rocked Dior’s so hard he fell off it and was never brought back aboard. Mr Anderson has created a vibration so pleasing that, in the process, spun clothes consistent with the adage, fashion makes me people dream.

Mr Anderson is a two-brand designer, deftly keeping the energy level up for both Loewe and his eponymous label, staying close to an almost otherworldly romanticism without the need for extreme aestheticism. Designers feeding social media frenzy tend not to get the balance right. Thankfully, Jonathan Anderson is not one of them.