Raf’s Americana For Calvin

Calvin Klein SS 2018 finale

The Western shirts with the texture of satin that opened the spring/summer 2018 show was, to us, a little ominous, and an indication that Raf Simons isn’t moving on from where he started—the autumn/winter 2017 season, when he showed his first collection for one of the biggest American labels, Calvin Klein. Mr Simons is now in America, and he’s showing Americans the America that Donald Trump is desperately trying to bring back.

The colour blocking of these shirts for boys and girls (only boys and girls will wear them, no?)—five of them, with contrast collars, yokes, and pockets; in colours that would not be out of place among participants of the Rose Parade, hinted at something brash that we have not really seen from Mr Simons, clownish even, if we were to ride on the current box-office hit that is It. Does America change European designers when they arrive on her shores just as she did to Hedi Slimane, who would go on to wreck Saint Laurent with West Coast rock-trash aesthetic? What does it say about the still-complicated Euro-American sartorial relationship?

Calvin Klein SS 2018 G1

The near-kitsch, colour explosion shouldn’t be surprising. Back in July, the new Calvin Klein flagship on Madison Avenue, conceived by Mr Simons and his serial partner-in-crime, the artist Ruby Sterling, opened to shoppers with a bang of yellow—walls, ceiling, scaffolding, fixtures—under which other blotches of colours punctuate the space like spilled paint. This is a Calvin Klein we have never seen before. The neutrals that Mr Calvin Klein himself was known for have stepped aside for the colours of Guanajuato, the Mexican city that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mr Simons is, of course, not alien to colours. We saw how good he was with them at Jil Sander, but back then he was still considered a minimalist designer. Now, he appears to have gone a little Willy Wonka, with the American customers his many Charlies. Watching the live stream on calvinklein.com, the collection felt to us like a costume designer’s first presentation to Gus Van Sant for an upcoming film.

Calvin Klein SS 2018 G2Calvin Klein SS 2018 G3

Our bad; we had not read the show notes. As widely reported later, the collection is homage to American cinema, particularly those films that shock and scare. “American horror, American dreams,” Mr Simons told the besotted press. Here’s a Belgian showing Americans, tongue possibly in cheek, how to dress American, with B-grade dash. What can be more charming than that?

To be sure, there’s elegance to the clothes, even if there is, at least to most Calvin Klein Jeans and cK One consumers, an alt touch. Mr Simons re-imagines an America that few now recognise without excoriating the flashiness that has always attracted those who still take cheer-leading very seriously. Look beyond the gory movie references, the high-school pom-poms (that, in some cases, shroud bucket bags, or hang as tiered dresses), and the nod towards America that’s not along the coasts, and you may just find hints of ’50s couture and a way with transparency that is today’s nightie-for-day.

Calvin Klein SS 2018 G5

But Mr Simons also seems to be repeating himself. There’s the Andy Warhol photo-prints, which, undeniably reminds us of Mr Simons’s own collection of this past spring/summer season, which saw Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos applied onto shirts and outers at unexpected places. So which is more disturbing: Mapplethorpe’s male genitalia or Warhol’s car crash?

Reminiscent of his work at Dior (but in the colours that reprise those he did for Jil Sander) are the skirts—full and circular, only now, Marion and Joanie Cunningham’s present-day avatars might wear them. If we look at them from a filmic standpoint, as Mr Simons likely prefers, these are skirts the Stepford Wives (set in Silicon Valley?) would gladly and dutifully wear. How’s that for horror?

Photos: Imaxtree

There Will Be SGFW 2017

If you thought that Singapore Fashion Week will go into hiatus this year, you’re not alone. Many observers and those keen to attend consider it odd that, with just a month or so to go, SGFW has just about announced this year’s date, but not the line-up, or where the shows will be held

SFW 2017 home page as of 2 Sep 2017The Singapore Fashion Week homepage as of 2 September 2017 (and prior to this post)

Land on Singapore Fashion Week’s homepage, and you will be greeted with images and information that stood still since last year. The first photograph of the top slider announces the “highlight designer”, which, if you don’t remember, was Guo Pei. Just after that visual, under the crosshead Live Show, you’ll see the announcement of the first show, dated Oct 26, 2016.

Around this time in 2016, SGFW had already run almost six months worth of intermittent activities that, according to the event’s media release at that time, were put together “to increase interaction and engagement amongst designers, media, fashion industry experts and consumers”, all receiving obligatory exposure on SGFW’s Facebook page.

These included a LaSalle Graduate Fashion Show (a May presentation not connected to the main SGFW), an event sponsored by Nars that consisted of one “delightful morning of beauty-boosting breakfast and empowerment”, the accidental partnership for the launch of the book Fashion Most Wanted that lauded 51 women—“industry stalwarts”, a four-part video series on Facebook called Style on the Go that took “a peek into the busy lives of fashion week IT girls”, a #WeWearSG “campaign in support of local designers and labels” (just five: Max Tan, Stolen, Chi Chi Von Tang, Nida Shay, and ALT the Collection—all supporters of SGFW2016), and other un-stirring, for-sponsors shout-outs. There was also what was touted as the “very first Apprenticeship Programme”—above a designed-to-be-noticed headline “We’re Hiring”.

The lead-up to SGFW 2017, conversely, has been lacking in activity-led buzz. It is possible that “increased interaction and engagement” is not as required as before. One brand manager wondered: “Who attends those activities other than kaki lang (自己人 in Hokkien, or those on the side) of the organiser?” One (annual) activity did materialise: in February this year, the Tjin Lee/Mercury M&C-initiated programme Fashion Futures picked six brands into the fold: ALT, Ying The Label, Deboneire, Weekend Sundries, Nida Shay, and Wai Yang. It affirmed how much SGFW believes in this part of their commitment to supporting local.

SFW FB postOne of the earliest notifications that ran last month was a Mac visual, stamped with the SGFW logotype and a barely discernible date

Amid rumours that changes to the event are afoot, SGFW this year will run from 25 to 29 October, according to, first, a Facebook post on the page of Modestyle Marketplace on 24 July, and then in the top slider of their homepage early this month. Modestyle is a website/e-commerce platform dedicated to, well, modest wear. How did we get here? From the hashtag ‪#‎sgfw2017 in which Modestyle’s Facebook page was visibly linked.

We suppose, like this year’s “reserved” presidential election, SGFW is tweaked to be more inclusive (or exclusive?). Some observers consider this an act of desperation rather than inclusion as SGFW was suspected to be unable to lure enough designers—“international, Asian, and home-grown”, as Ms Lee told The Straits Times last year—to grace its catwalks. But modest fashion is a fast-growing and legitimate category. Even not-quite-modest Dolce & Gabbana is into it. To include it, SGFW appears to present itself as forward-thinking. It shall be interesting, therefore, to see how SGFW is able to elevate what until recently has been a fringe interest.

Is, however, SGFW’s courting of the modest wear market a tad belated? Back in April, there was the inaugural Singapore Modest Fashion Weekend (SMFW) staged at the Marina Bay Sands, and put together by event organiser RoseValley, with the lofty objective of “positioning Singapore as the region’s best destination for modest fashion brands”.

Second, a recruitment exercise for volunteers, which ran in Facebook on 1 August, with an announcement that applicants would have to be available from “26th to 28th Oct”. Three weeks later, there appeared, on 21 August, an SGFW Facebook message that Nars will return as official make-up partner. The accompanying product photograph sported the white SGFW logotype on the upper left-hand corner, and to the left of the three-line text sat the dates in red. It was so indistinct that you could have easily missed it. About an hour after that post, another photo appeared: this time of the LG Styler as “official backstage partner”. It, too, ran the said logo and date. And both also showed “26th to 28th Oct”.

Date changes of events that are usually planned a year ahead are not unusual. And there is the possibility that the wrong dates were communicated to Modestyle Marketplace, or the latters typographical error.  More important to potential attendees of the event: dates are announced. But what’s surprising is nothing extracurricular, as far as we could gather, has been scheduled this year in the lead-up to SGFW’s announced dates. Last year, up to September, there were 16 posts on SGFW’s Facbook page. This year, there have been 27 posts so far. Although they do not rally around SGFW with rousing cries, could this larger number be what we had initially thought to be the missing “increased interaction and engagement”? You be the judge.

SFW 2017 in ModestyleSeen on modestyle.com, one of earliest glimpses of what SGFW this year could be like and when it will take place

This year, Mercury has kept SGFW so well sealed that they make Apple’s notoriously secretive product launches positively open (the new iPhones were leaked before their reveal tomorrow. Surely you have heard of ‘X’ by now). But nothing these days are so air-tight. Just last month, there was talk in the industry that SGFW’s marquee name this year may be Cindy Crawford. When asked if it’s really true, the informer said that he isn’t sure, but he had heard that it was mentioned by “Cindy’s people”. We checked Ms Crawford’s Twitter page of 1.63 million followers, and found no excited announcement that she would be coming our way.

Amid this month’s fashion chatter, there was also the let-slip that the photographer Jayden Tan has shot some of SGFW’s publicity campaigns (he was one of their eager lensmen last year). Mr Tan himself has hinted at SGFW’s return when he posted and exclaimed at the end of August on Instagram that he “can’t wait to feel the adrenaline rush of @singaporefashionweek yet again”. Why, even the cover photo of his FB page is a snap of the backstage of the Guo Pei show!

One of the places we thought more information could be gleaned was Digital Fashion Week (DFW), which, last year, was absorbed into Singapore Fashion Week. The newest entry (as of yesterday) in DFW’s homepage is a retail event in a Jakarta mall: Rising Fashion, a “pop up (sic) store of curated designers from Singapore and Indonesia”. (That, regrettably, sounds devoid of elegance since you curate an art exhibition or a retail space and not designers. Even in a zoo, we doubt they are inclined to “curate” animals.) Word from that event was that DFW will still be handling the live streams of SGFW. Despite earlier pronouncements that DFW, by default borderless, will be brought to Jakarta, it is only the Bangkok leg that had materialised. Rising Fashion’s announcement on FB is preceded by a video blurb of sort that, like SGFW’s website, clearly showed an SGFW of last year.

Despite what some considered a poor match, SGFW and DFW coming together streamlined what had become a rather confusing and messy fashion week calendar. Two-as-one appear to comport with the needs and desires of the industry, at least on the surface. Notably, DFW’s adventure in Jakarta—hometown of DFW’s co-founder Charina Widjaja—seemed to have taken place independent of SGFW. A close look at the list of supporters of the Jakarta event saw a distinctly absent SGFW logo. Singapore Fashion Week in an Indonesian event may, of course, be a little odd.

DFW in JakartaThe Digital Fashion Week event in Jakarta in August

That SGFW 2017’s fairly late announcement may be due to the many obstacles that they have been up against is understandable. Unimpressive staging of SGFW and not-ideal venue when Mercury debuted the event last year aside, SGFW has been primarily disadvantaged by a serious lack of home-grown designers with products and means (cost is often cited as a main reason) to stage a fashion show. Also from the recent grapevine: not enough Singaporean designers have showed interest in participating, thinking that SGFW would not provide them with long-term benefit, valuable networking, and market recognition.

But the response previously was not so unenthusiastic. Priscilla Shunmugam of Ong Shunmugam told ST last year: “Designers should approach it positively as an opportunity to be discovered, rather than consider it an inferior platform”. However, this time, it is rumoured that Ms Shunmugam will not be participating in SGFW 2017, having staged her own independent show at the Violet Onn Satay Grill and Bar last month. If her opting out turns out to be true, the irony won’t be lost.

Singapore Fashion Week is not an inferior platform even if it’s stretching it to call our sole surviving major fashion runway event exceptional. SGFW, together with its former form, is one of the oldest fashion weeks in Southeast Asia. It would be a pity to see it relegated to memory, or overshadowed by new comers such as Vietnam International Fashion Week—presently in its third year. With their experience and an ambitious leader, Mercury M&C won’t be seeing anyone wrestle SGFW away from them any time soon. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do better.

Singapore Fashion Week is, as of now, from 26 to 28 October 2017. Watch this space for more details. Photos/ screen grabs: source

This post has been update to reflect Singapore Fashion Week’s official abbreviation: SGFW