The (Still) Sweet And Gentle Side Of Japanese Fashion

If you think that Japanese fashion is the global sway of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto, then the newly opened Lumine will offer you the side of nihon no fasshon that is the antithesis of edgy


Lumine P1

By Mao Shan Wang

Collectively, Japanese designers have been so effective at marketing themselves as avant-gardists that many consumers sometimes forget that the Japanese have a softer, more saccharine, and clearly conventional side. Two days ago, Japanese mall operator Lumine opened its first overseas retail space at Clark Quay Central, showcasing Japanese fashion that Nanase Aikawa would love, despite her rock-chic leaning: clothes that, when worn, will get army boys go weak in the knees.

Lest I am mistaken, I am not saying Lumine’s offerings here are not up to scratch or plain conservative. They cater to women—and there are many of them—who do not, by any means, want anything other than to enhance their femininity, and in obvious ways. Girl—or little girl—power is well and alive. Even post-modegyaru, these clothes have not entirely shed their ‘cool’-meets-‘cute’ appeal. Truth is, there are really Japanese styles that celebrate this aesthetic, and they are awash with a sweetness that, for those not planning to form a girl band, may be a tad too lovable. Or, syrup-drenched, like ice-kacang.

In other words, if you are inclined to think that this may be a more commercial version of Dover Street Market, think something else—maybe the romance flick Narratage’s city-centre/suburban conventionality or you’ll get your knickers in a knot. My visit when Lumine in Clark Quay Central opened two days ago was met with a mix of mild disappointment and weak surprise. It is approachable a store as, say Iora (in any mall), but, to be fair, it has better visual merchandising, and warm and helpful service that, at least for now (the presence of their Japanese minders?), do kind of remind me of my Tokyo Lumine experiences.

Lumine P4

It is indeed a pleasant shopping space although, by the standard of Lumine in Tokyo’s Shinjuku alone, is disappointingly small. Covering a humble 10,000 square feet of the former Naiise space, it is stamp-sized, as opposed to Lumine’s Shinjuku presence, comprising five glittering shopping centres that are laid out around the world’s busiest mass transit station. And the best part is, there’s a Lumine for every shopper, from the teen bargain hunters who flock to Lumine Est (once known as My City) to mature women (as identified by the mall) of the swanky, barely two-year-old NEWoMAN, situated between Shinjuku station and Takashimaya department store.

That Lumine’s various incarnations sprout like bamboo shoots around train stations, especially in Shinjuku, is very much linked to its ownership. Lumine belongs to JR East, a train operator that’s part of the Japan Railways (JR) Group, the company that has put Japan on the world high-speed transportation map with their Shinkansen bullet trains. The various Lumine malls, or ekibiru (station building) that front Shinjuku station give the otherwise mass-of-steel, 10-platform, 20-track station not only a more palatable façade, but also generate incredible hustle and bustle, as commuters do spend time (and money) in these vertical shopping hubs. While the various Lumines aren’t where you’d go for Japanese labels that show in Paris, they do offer a staggering variety of home-grown brands through multi-label retailers such as United Arrows, Tomorrowland, and Urban Research.

While those familiar with the Lumine name could not quite grasp the Singapore store’s location choice, those who have become tired of Orchard Road’s predictable selection of brands and the shopping belt’s general sameness are quite pleased to visit, for a change, a mall not known for its fashion tenants. Sitting on top of the ground level of Giordano, L’zzie, BYSI, and Island Shop, Lumine does appear a cut above, never mind it isn’t an ekibiru, and the nearest MRT station, Clark Quay, is 250 metres away, below Hong Lim Park.

Lumine P3

I bumped into my friend May, a HR professional, whose first words to me were, “How? Disappointing, hor?” She was hoping to see more from the label and ‘select shop’ (as they are known in Japan) Tomorrowland, her favourite, and where she would shop without fail when in Tokyo, especially the Marunouchi store and the one in Lumine 1. “I am hoping to see Edition (a Tomorroland brand),” I said, “but it isn’t here, Still, it is a good start.” But she seems a little skeptical, saying, “I don’t think many people care about Japanese labels anymore. Look at Lowry Farm.” She was referring to the Japanese chain store that, at its peak, had eight outlets here. It shuttered in 2015, just three years after it opened, with the desire to offer shoppers youth-oriented Japanese styles that would not strain the wallet. The problem was, we didn’t look enough.

Shortly after we parted, a mother was heard telling her grown-up son, “都是女孩子的,没有男孩子的” (“All for girls; nothing for boys”). The poor chap looked like he was going to cry. Seriously! It is rather odd that the Lumine here has decided to omit men’s wear. Perhaps the space is just too small to cater to guys as well. I did see many leaving the store somewhat disappointed. Those who came with their girlfriends/wives/sisters and did not want to hang around racks of lacy prettiness chose to browse in the eyewear corner of Japanese chain Zoff, whose Lumine Est shop in Shinjuku is always swarmed with boys (and girls) in need of prescription glasses that can be had in less than 30 minutes. Yes, much like what are offered at first-to-market Owndays. Shortly past noon, Zoff was busy, and the low staff numbers barely able to cope. Unsurprisingly, it was filled with mostly male customers.

The other corner where you’ll find a disproportionate number of guys is at the Lumine Café, a surprisingly gender-neutral space that serves coffee, tea, and other beverages, and highly Instagrammable towering parfait-like desserts. I saw many chaps, who were likely office staff of Lumine, conducting meetings. Quite a few looked like they were abandoned by their still-shopping companions. The place felt like tea time at one of the coffee places in Raffles Place. The near full-capacity was surprising as Lumine Café does not serve food such as pastries, sandwiches, or salads.

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The retail concept of Lumine is not entirely new to our island. In the mid-’80s, at a time before Japanese fashion and pop music were overtaken by everything with a prefix K, shoppers here were hungry for clothing and kin from the Land of the Rising Sun. I remember the initial tenant mix of Liang Court, opened in 1983, which had positioned itself as a Japanese-centric mall, with Diamaru as anchor tenant. It was an orange—colour, not shape—building and I was not able to see what the chromatic choice had to do with Japan.

On the other half of the mall opposite the department store, below what was then Hotel New Otani, shops not divided by walls were selling Japanese merchandise that, at that time, where eye-opening rarities. Muji and Kinokuniya both debuted here. But it was the new conflux of Japanese stores that had fashionistas of the day flock to the not-quite-conveniently-situated mall.

On the second floor, I remember that there was an open-concept emporium called Marusho, which sold, apart from the girlish clothes that looked like they were transplanted from ’80s TV/movie/music star Momoe Yamaguchi’s wardrobe, some rather cute/crazy accessories/trinklets and pretty-as-confectionery bags. The merchandise here, while different from what shoppers had seen and gotten used to at the most popular mall of the time, Plaza Singapura (also anchored by a Japanese department store: Yaohan), wasn’t anything like the unusual offerings of the Japanese-labels-only Banzai, happily attracting followers in Lucky Plaza, which was a lot swankier than it is today.

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I don’t remember having bought anything at Marusho, but some guys I was hanging out with then were regularly improving the bottomline of the adjacent men’s space Mitsumine. My relationship (it was more of that than with those fellows!) with Marusho was clearly that between shop and window shopper, as their merchandise was too pricey for me, even when, occasionally, that had an irresistible pull.

Elsewhere in the mall (it could be on other floors, I can’t quite recall now), there were retailers selling frilly, floral, even more girlish clothes. There was a Tokyo Style, although neither Tokyo nor style comes back to me now, and a Tanako Accent Palour with demure clothes that was probably dessert for Japanese expat wives who convened at the many Japanese restaurants in Liang Court for lunch, but wasn’t able to tackle the end-of-meal sweets although they wanted to, which wasn’t a craving that retail therapy can’t satiate.

Marusho and co’s success paved the way for other Japanese emporiums, such as Meitetsu, which, in 1984, opened its flagship store in Delfi Orchard, in the same building the first entirely-dedicated-to-Singaporean-designers, Hemispheres, wowed young fashionistas. I do recall that the Nagoya-based Meitetsu was known as a “working women’s store”, which meant clothes—lots of white shirts or beige blouses with lace or crochet Peter Pan collars—that the customers picked to feminise otherwise overtly mannish corporate attire. In 1989, Meitetsu closed for renovations and when it re-opened, half of its original space was sub-leased to international brands such as Christian Dior, Mila Schon and Escada. Before the end of the ’80s, the interest in Japanese fashion had waned.

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Back to Lumine. I looked at every rack and was not able to see anything that wished to look back at me. Sensing that perhaps I may prefer something different, a cheerful sales staff directed me to the front of the store that faces the concourse of the mall. In this area, quite apart from the rest of the space, and zoned as Lumine Lab, distinguished by its bright blue accents and yellow (!) mannequins, customers may acquaint themselves with some of Tokyo’s design-forward pop-culture brands. Two women in front of me were going through the racks enthusiastically. One of them told the other, “The pieces here are more fashion.”

Lumine Lab is reportedly a “testing ground for experimental brands”. But at launch, there were gyaru staples, such as Emoda (mode gyaru’s motherlode of a brand), Mercuryduo (popular enough that in 2014 Sony collaborated with them to release a premium, limited-edition, and very pink PlayStation Vita), and Murua (another classic gyaru name), all interestingly not-new product lines of the Japanese mass manufacturer Mark Styler, whose many labels are now making major inroads into China, possibly to keep mode gyaru alive. The names may perhaps be unfamiliar to post-post-Noughties consumers here, more enamoured with K-fashion, but if you are into the mindless miscellany that is Exhibit, then perhaps you have found your playground.

To me, the really nice touches thoughout Lumine, including the café, were the clear glass vases in which assorted fresh flowers were bunched to evoke an air of insouciant femininity. Perhaps that was all the prettiness and sweetness needed. Lumine thought of spring even when it’s approaching winter in Japan.

Lumine is at level 2, Clark Quay Central. Photos: Galerie Gombak

East Meets East: Confluence Of Uncommon Creativity

At the Singapore Fashion Award (SFA) this afternoon, virtual unknowns Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon won Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) for their label Ametsubi. In a rare moment for SFA, the future looks bright


Keita and Elisabeth Nov 2017Designing newcomers: Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon. Photo: Jim Sim

Newlyweds Japanese Keita Ebihara and Singaporean Elizabeth Soon have been busy since returning, a few days ago, from Japan, where their label Ametsubi is based, to attend the Singapore Fashion Awards presentation. It is a family trip of sort, too, as Mr Ebihara’s parents are visiting the Singaporean in-laws in our city-state for the first time. So packed have their days been, Mr Ebihara admitted, two days ago, they have not done anything that could later be remembered as honeymoon moments. Heady from a marriage that was registered barely two weeks ago, on 11/11, ironically Singles Day in China (and some retailers in the rest of Asia), Ms Soon was happily showing us a photo of their Japanese marriage certificate—mostly filled out in kanji and katakana—on her iPhone.

Her husband was amused that she was still unable to get over the possession of the marriage cert and teased her about it. Undeterred, she said, Ariel-like, “It’s our first time; it’s my first time. Maybe, the Japanese wedding system is very common for you.” And added, “You are used to it,” quite unaware of what she might possibly have implied. Mr Ebihara smiled at her; his attention not quite ready to be diverted to the conversation at the table.

The Ebiharas’ good humour, easy laughter, and teasing nature belie the intellectual heft that imperceptibly characterised their Ametsubi collections. In sharing with us their design and product development processes—which took up one evening(!), they gave a deep impression of being designers who are not only interested in the exterior and visual effects of clothes, but equally in fashion as applied arts. Even in explaining how the name Ametsubi came about, they spared no effort to impress upon us with the haiku-eque significance of the name, rather than the semantics.

Ametsubi SS 2018 P1Key visual from the Ametsubi spring/summer 2018 campaign

“Ametsubi is a Japanese word,” Mr Ebihara explained. “It comes from the word ame, which means raindrops.” Ms Soon, taking a pen out to elaborate on paper, continued as she wrote, “The original word is ame-tsu-bu—that is water droplets. We took these characters (pointing the tip of the pen to the first two) and changed the bu to bi.” But that wasn’t all of it: “We met in Italy,” Ms Soon carried on, “and we are one (1) male and one (1) female, we chose [the Roman numeral from the] Latin alphabet ‘i’.”

There is more! “I am Japanese and she’s Singaporean, right?” Mr Ebihara rejoined. “In Japan, I hate rain, especially rainy season. Every day is wet and humid, and it is very uncomfortable. Normally, Japanese hate rain. But she, Singaporean lady, said to me, ‘I love rain’, because after the rain it is cool. Later we were talking about fashion, and how fashion is related to the environment. So when we discussed this, we thought this could be a reference point: I hate rain, she loves rain.”

All that for a name!

Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon delivering their acceptance speech at SFA. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

It is interesting that at this year’s SFA, there’s a couple in each of the two fashion designer categories: Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee of Nuboaix and Keita Ehibara and Eilzabeth Soon of Ametsubi. In many ways, the story of both pairs are similar, which illustrates a fact without alternative: that young designers face the same problems and hurdles, regardless of where they are based, who they are selling to. Undeniably, the Ametsubi duo has a leg up, as Japan has a lively fashion scene and an ecosystem that designers can tap into.

This afternoon, after receiving the trophy for the Emerging Designer of the Year, both designers were too moved with the honour to be able to articulate their feelings. Ms Soon could only say, when she stepped off the stage, that she wanted to cry. For many fashion observers, the win was hardly surprising. One of the judges Tina Tan enthused: “Their things are truly beautiful.” The other contenders, in fact, were up against two talents who are technically on another plane. Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon has shown that looking beyond the obvious augments flair to make fashion more engaging, more unique, totally desirable.

Fellow nominee Amos Yeo of AmosAnanda is a favourite among young TV stars. His clothes capture the spirit of a certain UK men’s wear designer-of-the-day, and cater to those who only care about the surface and not what’s beneath. And Rebecca Ting of Beyond the Vines has carved a distinguishable aesthetic of supreme gentleness, but she has yet shown that she’s adept at manipulating shapes and infusing her designs with details that can excite the eye.

Ametsubi DA graduation collection 2015

The 2013 graduation collection of Ametsubi’s Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon. Photos: Domus Academy

Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon met in Milan in 2013, when they were MA students at the prestigious Domus Academy (DA), ranked by BOF last year as the 19th best global graduate school for fashion. As Ms Soon recalled, “the first day of school was my birthday” and Mr Ebihara was there, mistaking her to be a Japanese lass, but spoke to her in what, by his admission, was then halting English. One renowned Singaporean who went to DA to complete his post-grad studies is the Paris-based designer Andrew Gn, after he graduated from Central Saint Martins. As DA programs are based on the idea of “learning by designing” and students busy themselves in “workshops”, the grouping and intermingling allowed Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon to interface frequently enough that pairing up as co-designers was an attractive idea.

Prior to their academic life together in Milan, Ms Soon, who was born in Canada and moved back to Singapore when she was six, was a student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies, where she graduated with a BA (Hons) in fashion design in 2012. In the same year, her graduation collection zipped to the UK to represent Singapore at the London Graduate Fashion Week, and was met with rave reviews in the English media, which noted her designs’ “powerful visual impact”.

Mr Ebihara, who was born in Tokyo, had gone to Sugino Gakuen, one of the top-10 fashion schools in the city to study fashion design; he graduated in 2009. Although he had “learned more about techniques: Japanese sewing and draughting”, he wanted to know “more about the product.” Terra Italiano was his greener grass on the other side.

While still in school, Mr Ebihara was selected to work for the Milan-based British designer Neil Barrett, and continued for four months after graduation in 2013. It was an experience that he admitted he did not enjoy. With his wife giggling in the background, he said, “to be honest, I found it to be very boring. Because their style is… how should I say? It was something I did not like too much.” While her husband-to-be was designing for a fashion house he did not take pleasure in, Ms Soon was picked to join someone she admired, the Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen, but she opted out of that opportunity. With her husband mock-chastising her, “you should have gone”, Ms Soon explained: “I had a housing obligation then. I signed a rental contract for a year, and I could not back out of that.” Mr Ebihara repeated himself, and she concurred, “I should have, but I was paying 700 Euros a month for that apartment. I couldn’t just go. And I was scared. I was 22, and I was spending too much money in Italy. I can’t go to Amsterdam and pay rent there and continue to pay rent in Milan. I was just scared of any monetary risk.” When asked if she’s a pragmatist, she pointed to her husband and said he is more “realistic”. Who is the dreamer then? Both laughed.

Ametsubi SS 2018 lookbookAmetsubi spring/summer 2018 look book. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

About a year after they left Domus Academy, Mr Ebihara and Ms Soon decided to firm up the plans for Ametsubi, and in September of 2014, the couple registered the company here. Before that, Ms Soon made a trip to Japan and contemplated living in the land of cherry blossoms. It could also be where the Ametsubi design studio would be based. A  couple of months later, everything the couple had in Milan was shipped eastwards, but it was not to Tokyo, where their friends had thought they would take up residency, but to Mr Ebihara’s family home in the prefecture of Ibaraki, known for plum trees.

Ibaraki-ken is 150 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, edged along the pacific coast. It would take about two hours by train to arrive at the heart of the capital city in the south. The decision to situate the Ametsubi office here is primarily to avoid Tokyo’s exorbitant rentals, no doubt a forbidding cost to a new fashion business. In Ibaraki-ken, the young Ebiharas were given a small house, “that sat on my grandfather’s land,” Keita Ebihara shared. His wife had earlier told us—with discernible pride—that he had taken upon himself to fit-out the design studio, and that included “building our own draughting table. And a cage for my pet hedgehog!” The studio consists of their living quarters too, which both happily said is upstairs.

Would a business card without a Tokyo address diminish the prestige of the brand? “We don’t think so,” Ms Soon said, “but being based away from Japan’s fashion centre has its negatives and positives. The positives: we’re undisturbed. Our creation is very pure, in that sense. We are not influenced by the [urban] environment, or ‘Tokyo Street’ [a trend]. We do not make Tokyo collection—there is a movement in Tokyo recently for young designers that is known locally as Tokyo colley, which is quite street, well ‘Tokyo Street’—there’s no other way to describe it.” This isn’t the mad-cap street style once seen in Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori or the less manic, Americanised get-ups of those who hang out in the so-called ura-Harajuku (backstreets). With Instagram eating into most young people’s lives, street displays—once a Sunday joy—are no longer necessary and are, in fact, oddly old-fashioned. ‘Tokyo Street’ is unmistakably post-kawaii, too; it’s a milder incarnation of its former self, its previous madness.

“The negatives,” Ms Soon continued, “means we have to travel a lot as we have to have our meetings in Tokyo and other towns, no one is going to come to us.” Mr Ebihara added, “We have to communicate with the patterner and fabric suppliers.” “And we can’t stay out too late, or it would be hard for us to go back. Our meeting usually starts early. If it’s at 8.30 in the morning, we have to leave by 5 or 5.30.” The social aspects of the business cannot be disregarded and not being in the heart of the action is a negative too. Ms Soon said, “It just means we have to try harder to be spoken about.”

Ametsubi SS 2018 G1Images from the Ametsubi spring/summer 2017 look book. Photos: Ametsubi

Talking about a brand with something to talk about is a starting point that’s easy to initiate. Between the evolution of a spark of interest and the full social media onslaught, however, few will get to know the developmental grind the Ebiharas have to go through to see a collection to fruition. Despite the outward simplicity of the clothes, much thought is given to every shape, every line, every seam, every detail, every fabric. Textiles are of a particular interest to the couple. Although their brand is still in its early years, they have started developing their own fabrics. Ms Soon was pleased to show us a sheer, salt-washed, water-resistant, polyester taffeta that they have co-developed with a mill and was even more delighted when she presented a lightweight poly-blend jacquard of repeated patterns of a somewhat pixilated motif mapped on a grit that they have designed, describing how it all came about and animatedly explaining the workings of a weaving loom fitted with a paper, patterning mechanism.

The passion became even more palpable as she went on to explain the origins of another motif that appeared in another jacquard, this time designed specifically to use as lining for their coats, jackets, and outerwear. “We wanted to do something that is like the old lining the British tailors used in suit jackets,” she explained, “but we did not want to use a medallion pattern, or a paisley.” As they are wont to explore unlikely sources, the Ebiharas started looking at something rather removed from fashion: cymatics. This is, simply put, the excitation of modes (a pattern of motion) in, say, water when a drop hits its surface. The water droplet image is not lost in its association with the name Ametsubi. But, more than that, Ms Soon, a self-confessed geek (“I love data and numbers”), was specific enough to say that the particular nodal pattern they have picked is based on the A-tone vibration of 220/230 gigahertz. This is mind-blowing stuff. And she wanted this water reference to be worn close to the body, hence the lining, “which touches the skin”, presumably to help the wearer feel, if not stay, cool. But how did this came about? “He just gave me some key words,” she continued, “such as ‘frequency’ and ‘harmony’ and ‘symbolism’; words like these,” tailing off with a giggle.  Yes, the mind boggles.

While all the thinking, research, and long hours of developmental work are not immediately identified in their designs, as equally lengthy time spent on embroidery does, Ametsubi is steep in detailed, but un-showy crafting that has a tradition that goes back to early Helmut Lang and Raf Simons. Ms Soon said, “When we’re asked to describe our clothes, we call them ‘high daily’.” The elevated positioning of their wearable designs adds up, as much has gone into making clothes that suits various body shapes. The Ebiharas took out a shirt—always a key item—from their spring/summer 2017 season to illustrate: It is designed without a yoke, with a back panel placed in such a way that a bias effect falls over the shoulder, allowing it to accommodate shoulders of any broadness and thickness. The same idea is applied to a jacket, only now, seams are manipulated to better accommodate the arm, and extra-long facing is added to the ends of the sleeve so that you can fold the sleeve up as a turn-back cuff to better accommodate different arm lengths of customers.  Even when they’re working in the relative remoteness of Ibaraki-ken, they’re sights are set on the very real world further afield.

We started following Ametsubi in 2015 when they showed during the inaugural Fashion Graduate Italia, a presentation of the best graduate collections from all the fashion schools in Italy, much like London Graduate Fashion Week that Ms Soon had participated in, three years earlier. Although there were only five looks, they impressed us with a sophisticated simplicity that was clearly built on far more complex ideas, unlike anything their fellow graduates were doing. At that time, Ms Soon was quoted saying, “We wanted to do something that could merge our cultures together, and merge our experiences in Milan. We focused on the details, as well as the shapes.” Although that may not satisfy those who need more by way of backstory or front-side flourish, we could see that Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon were onto something a lot more tangible, a lot more unconnected with what was buzzy at that time. Which, inexplicably, reminds us of Mama Cass singing, “You gotta make your own kind of music; sing your own special song; make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along.”

Photos (except where indicated): Ametsubi

Two Kites And The Sky

Rare is the men’s wear label that offers a point of view at the point of its inception. Rarer still is the men’s wear label designed by a couple, who, despite the feeble market, creates clothes men actually want to wear. Nuboaix is that atypical men’s wear label, strong of voice and poised to soar

Jessica Lee & Yong Siyuan of NuboaixDesigning couple: Jessica Lee and Yong Siyuan of Nuboaix. Photo: Nuboaix

At tomorrow’s Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA), the nominees of Designer of the Year Danelle Woo of Aijek, Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen, and Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee of Nuboaix are vying for the recognition with traits, skills, and flair that vary immensely on the scale.

Ms Woo’s Aijek, while a commercial hit, is far from design-driven; it speaks less of the designer’s gift than a market keen on the non-challenging; i.e. ultra-feminine styles that are often described as “effortless” to a superlative degree. An “everyday woman”, as Ms Woo describes herself to the media, she has conceived Aijek to “create something that was a middle ground”. Intermediate positions do not often win awards.

Ms Blackhall’s co-ed brand Dzojchen (pronounced, as advised, “doh-jen”) has the sleekness of a fashion-aware easy-to-wear line, with the male-leaning aesthetic of the women’s collection seemingly built on Freudian ideas. Working in Ms Blackhall’s favour is how the compliment ‘cool’ is often associated with her, how the social aspect of her life is just as cool, and how numerous the cool girls, such as fellow ex-model and ardent supporter Rebecca Tan, she hangs out with are. Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, by cool alone, has many rooting for her to win the Designer of the Year. And she is likely to.

Nuboaix is a lot quieter as a brand, significantly quieter, so much so that one veteran designer was miffed that he had not heard of them prior to the nomination. “Designers must know how to market themselves,” he had exhorted. “You can’t just sit by yourself in the studio and not connect with the outside world.” The designers of Nuboaix were unknown to the judges of SFA, too, until their names were offered when the pre-judging had, again, arrived at the edge of a small and shallow pool of talents. If a fashion brand’s award-worthiness is invariably linked to its designer’s social standing, then Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee would be less accepted of what they have wrought since they are virtually unheard of.

Nuboaix AW2017 jacket 1A signature Nuboaix blouson with a cross-chest flap

Why should unknowns be awarded? Because these two not social-by-nature or social-for-reach unknowns have dedicated their lives to their craft, and spent many hours in their Northstar@Ang Mo Kio studio, patterning, perfecting, cutting, fitting, and sewing. Yes, sewing. From the brand’s first season until the current, every piece in the collections—15 seasons so far—has been stitched by both Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee, partners in business and in life. And every trim affixed by the two. Their studio, no bigger than the master bedroom of a HDB flat, doubles as production facility. Nothing is farmed out. In addition, and more importantly, because both designers have a clear, distinct, original voice.

Few designers think about DNA, let alone a signature than can immediately identify their brand. Mr Yong and Ms Lee do, and their approach is so un-tethered to palpable signals in men’s wear—especially the current obsession with volume, as well as streetwear—that their designs are oftentimes headwinds pushing against the currents of what is considered fashionably masculine. For sure, they do not design for those who populate the Singapore Exchange, yet it would be imprecise to say that they design for those who prefer a strictly casual mode of dress, such as that unconsciously adopted by photographers’ assistants. These are clothes for guys who care about how they look, be it at work or at play, and how judiciously employed details in garments can set them apart. And smartly too.

And it is in the details that fans of the brand are raving about. A Web content developer, who has been buying NBX for more than a year, said that “the clothes are unlike anything seen even in more edgy men’s wear collections such as those at L’Amoire. I like the pieces joined to form shapes on the garment—they look like configurations on a computer chip!” The Nuboaix signatures are, in fact, more than their much admired insets in which assorted geometric parts (sometimes including a functional pocket), often arranged diagonally, convene rather happily. As Ms Lee, “in charge of all communications”, elaborated to SOTD: “Our double rivets affixed on the left of the neck, as seen on our knitwear, serve as one of our signatures. Another would be our cut-and-sew details worked on our T-shirts in the form of a simple single, left-chest pocket. Not forgetting the cross-chest flap, on our bomber jackets, which has become a staple since S/S 2017. Our designs are discernibly NBX and we like it that way. One will not mistake our brand for another, or vice versa.”

What they can achieve is more remarkable considering the oft-cited resource scarcity designers here face. “To name a few,” Ms Lee shared, “fabric selection is severely limited; zippers are very standard, with no variations on teeth size/color/material, etc. Good sewers are scarce too. There isn’t existing textile technology either, which means there is a limit to how much we can achieve. We simply do not have access to a more sophisticated manufacturing industry.” Which explain why they keep almost all the work in-house even when the breadth and depth are tough to sustain. “Every day is hard work and not one process is a bed of roses. But this is the price to pay in order to maintain the quality of our products. The whole process, from conception to sewing to fitting, is too important to outsource.”

Nuboaix AW2017 pulloverA Nuboaix pullover with signature bib-front composite of geometric shapes

Nuboaix was conceived in 2008—“the seed was planted” then—and incorporated as a company a year later. Both Ms Lee and Mr Yong had met as students in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies and graduated with a diploma in fashion design in 2004. Mr Yong would later return to the school to complete a BA degree in fashion marketing, a joint program with the UK’s Northumbria University. The name Nuboaix—vaguely Japanese or evocative of the world of Star Wars, which would not be inconsistent with their love of anime and science fiction—intrigues the uninitiated enough to think that it is a foreign brand. Ms Lee, somewhat self-deprecatingly, said, “Apologies as there is nothing exciting here.” When pressed further, she let on: “It’s just a made-up word from the name of a pet. Still, it’s a name that has come to resonate with the way we are steering the brand—with a more futuristic and forward feel.” The name sets the tone for the collections, and, as she noted, “the clothes remain subtle, almost clinical.”

According to Ms Lee, co-designing a collection was not initially on the cards. “Definitely not. LOL at that time. We were both very different in terms of design elements, direction, and thought process. Our idiosyncrasies define us both to be almost opposites, but, of course, along the way we learned to compromise and complement each other when working together.” The eventual harmony of the ying and the yang meant that, apart from being able to collaborate, both of them could arrive at a design consensus without disastrous skirmishes, and this is reflected in their output: a pleasing synergy that does not betray their gender differences.

The first NBX collection came together in 2010, at a time when start-ups in Singapore were slowly beginning to show signs of a possible boom. It was a women’s wear collection for the spring/summer 2011 season called Walküre, alluding to the valkyrie, or females figures of Norse mythology, who decide who can live, or die in battle, so dramatically retold in the Richard Wagner opera Die Walküre. Correspondingly, the designs eschewed obvious prettiness and clichéd delicateness for an aesthetic that could be Amazonian in a parallel universe. A highlight of the debut was the convertibility of some of the pieces, such as a pair of below-the-knee pants that could intriguingly be transformed into a mini-dress—the waistband morphs into a halter neck! The unusual tailoring with technically-challenging details that are now evident in the men’s wear took shape at that time, and, together with subsequent collections—including Macht (another German word, this time meaning ‘might’), seen at the now-defunct Audi Fashion Festival 2010’s trade event Blueprint and their contributions to Kimono Kollab­ in 2015—appealed to so many men’s wear buyers that suggestions started coming in that the two should consider a men’s line as well.

The Nuboaix corner at Robinsons The Hereen’s men’s floor

The transition to men’s wear came rather swiftly. Buoyed by encouragement from industry folks and precipitated by the competitive nature of the women’s wear market and what they thought were “a tad too forward” for the time, Nuboaix switched to men’s clothing in 2015, and quickly drew attention with their masterful patterning, especially for outerwear. That year, at a Paris trade fair, buyers from Robinsons visited their stand and was impressed enough by what they saw that Nuboaix was immediately offered space in the department store. Impressively, the brand’s merchandise was, from the start, sited among imported labels, and presently, Nuboaix has Andrea Pompilio and Marc Jacobs as immediate neighbours. If that does not adequately say something about the brand’s standing or quality or perceived value, perhaps pilferage does. According to an internal source, a Nuboaix piece was once shoplifted and the perpetrator, emboldened by the initial success, returned for a second attempt only to be caught red handed!

The immediate attraction of Nuboaix at one look is understandable. As one product development manager told SOTD, “Their things always look polished. Even with Marc Jacobs beside them, they don’t look like a shadow of the former. In fact, the clothes look expensive; they make Mark Jacobs look cheap.” From a design standpoint, “the concept is strong. Technically, it’s not easy to do what they do. Just look at how many pieces go into making just one top. And the final product is a balanced composition that has hanger appeal.” More importantly, regardless of the multiple cut-and-sew parts within the garment, which to the die-hard minimalists are superfluous, what emerges is something that any man can identify as clothes, not gimmickry with cloth.

In this respect, there’s something old-school in their approach. Although they continually experiment with new ideas and techniques; reconstructing and modernizing—uncommon for designers of their relative youth, they still kept to certain design approaches and details, and everything in their output is interrelated. As fashion has lost much of this sense of continuity, what Nuboaix has maintained harks back to older times, and is, ironically, refreshing. While this could result in formulaic designs, the proverbial complacency trap can be circumvented if Mr Yong and Ms Lee constantly reinvent themselves, or re-conceptualise the aesthetics of their brand.

With an SFA nomination and stockists in the US, Japan, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the two designers feel a sense of achievement, if not success. But Ms Lee’s reaction was more subdued. “We’re very humbled to be even nominated, so we’re not letting ourselves get ahead thinking about the results. It’s enough being recognized for the efforts, through these many years, put in to pursue a dream, a passion and to build a career in fashion.” She added, “Because we transited from women’s to men’s, we’ve kinda seen both worlds. Our understanding of the two probably sets us apart from the other designers. Again, looking at the NBX DNA that we’ve created, it’s uniquely ours. That’s our success.”

We noted that she had not once not used the pronoun ‘we’. Ms Lee and Mr Yong are engaged to be married. “People say one can never work with one’s partner. Sure, we have our moments, but after so many years being together and knowing each other inside out, we feel it boils down to splitting the work and apportioning to who’s better at what. It’ll take time to get there though.” And cheekily she added, “One mountain can’t have two tigers, right?”

Photos (except where indicated): Zhao Xiangji

Circles In The Sun

Prada Cinema

Prada sunglasses for women have frequently skewed towards masculine styles that alluringly counterpoint their feminine ready-to-wear. Or lady-like, if peculiar, shoes. From aviators to vintage silhouettes, Prada has consistently put their off-beat spin on retro eyewear, making them veritable sculptures for face—very Laurie Anderson on the cover of Big Science, but not Gigi Hadid on the pavement of Beverly Hills.

This season’s Cinéma line, for example, has this shield-and-attract aesthetic positioning. They are clearly designed to protect the eyes from harsh sunlight, but, as they are by no means small, proportioned to draw attention to the countenance of the wearer. These are not easy-to-miss Prada shades.

The circular lenses are a refreshing break from all the quadrilaterals that seem to dominate eyewear design (a trend, in fact, since 2015). What’s even more appealing is that, in the pair pictured here, they are not a perfect round, as if the shape was drawn by hand. But the unusual detail here is the bridge—it is part of the rimless lenses (Prada calls it “incorporated”), which appear to be cut from one piece of acetate. This is then mounted on a half-rim frame, with its own bridge, resulting in a double bridge: the thin lower acting as a sort of underscore for the thicker arch above.

Although the Cinéma line is touted to be ’60s inspired, and the pair featured in the cute Prada-commissioned film to market the spring/summer 2017 collection wouldn’t look out of place in a Visconti film, the latest iteration is the accessory to wear to a Blade Runner-themed party.

Prada Cinema line of sunglasses, from SGD 435 (above), is available at Sunglass Hut and authorised dealers. Photo: Jim Sim

Underrated: The A-Line Skirt

Despite the popularity of denim cut-offs, women do love wearing skirts. But these days, most of them prefer either a full (or circular) skirt or a snug, hip-hugging one. Between them, there was once a very easy to love skirt shape known as the A-line. In fact, the A-line skirt is so uncomplicated to understand and such a simple starting point that it is often the basic skirt taught to first-year fashion design students learning to draught and sew their first skirt.

It is, therefore, rather despairing that the A-line is increasingly cast into the shadows of more voluminous sisters, picked for their ‘couture’ shapes, or sidelined by the ultra-mini minis. Thankfully, at Red Valentino (as at, we should note, Prada), they’ve not abandoned the A-line, offering, for the current season, a version that is not only eye-catching, but totally debunks the belief that the A-line is uninteresting and old-fashioned, and is for school teachers and librarians, therefore so frumpy that the A-line has to be relegated by many hipsters to the “no-go zone”.

What we see here with the Red Valentino A-line, especially in this khaki/black combination, is a skirt that has lost much of its ‘basic’ leaning, and takes on a façade that a gallerist or art pundit would not reject. The two panels, with their scalloped edges, seemed to have transmogrified—in a good way—what would have been a very vanilla skirt. To amplify its art cred, a length of black narrow lace is used to trace the perimeter of the panels, giving each a charcoal drawing quality when seen afar. They could even be markings on draughting paper! This arts-and-craft vibe is, to us, totally appealing.

For certain, this isn’t a skirt the Hadid sisters would wear. It does not show off curves, it is too opaque, and it is too modest. If, however, fashion is judged on how a fabric—adequate amount of it—is handled and manipulated, then this indeed is a fashionable article of clothing.

Talking about fabrics, this skirt is made with what Red Valentino calls “Tricotine Tech”, with the “tech” suggesting a technical, possibly blended fabric. Tricotine is essentially cloth that has a double twill rib on its surface, and what is used here is akin to a finer calvary twill, and has a terrific hand feel.

Comfort and flair: what a winning pair.

For reasons unknown, the midi-length skirt pictured here is unavailable in Singapore, but can be purchased online at the Red Valentino e-store). A mini version, SGD880, is available at Red Valentino, Takashimaya SC. Photo: Red Valentino

Small. Wireless. Powerful

Sony WF 10000X earbuds

By Low Teck Mee

Sony is a late comer when it comes to true wireless, in-ear headphones. Sure, there’s the Xperia Ear, but that’s more a personal assistant that lets you do what you want to with your phone without touching the thing. Perfect for Okay-Googling, but, as it’s only for one ear, less ideal for The XX’s I See You.

Truth be told, I gave up waiting for the release of their completely cordless, the WF 1000X. So, in the middle of this year, I gave another pair a chance: the Nakamichi MyEars True Wireless Earphones NEP-TW1 (S$299). I have been looking around for a set that won’t take a chunk out of my bank account, but it was not easy to find anything sensational that’s less than S$300. I have even considered Samsung’s not quite eye candy, the oddly triangular Gear IconX (S$298), but I have never been a Samsung user, and to pair a Samsung earphone with my non-Samsung devices seemed a poor coupling to me. Someone suggested that I try the Apple Airpod (S$238), but the unsealed earphones (sound spill!) fail to impress me as they look like oversized cotton swabs bent from over-vigorous insertion into the ear.

The Nakamichi is a nifty little earphone mainly because it is so small and it comes with a compact charging case that doubles as a battery pack, which you can use to charge any gadget that has a micro USB port, assuming there’s juice left in the case. The neat tubular buds sound a tad too muffled for my liking, but I was happy to have them accompany me on my daily commute to work, on the dastardly, unreliable MRT trains. Until, the dearer S$300+ Sony WF 1000X debuted.

Sony has it displayed in their concept store in Wisma Atria, as well as the flagship in 313@Orchard. Strangely, at both places, they are secured behind clear cases that are clearly a case of see-no-touch. Virtually all Sony headphones are available to try and the staff will urge you to, but the WF 1000X sat haughtily in their confines—out of bounds. Although deep curiosity had a tight grip on me and the WF 1000X seemed to be casting speaking glances in my direction, I was able to walk away from it. A week later, the missus, sensing my unsatisfied yearning, bought me a pair! (An emoji should be placed here, but I won’t say which one.)

Sony WF 10000X earbuds P2

The WF 1000X is now the only set of earphones I use and enjoy. To be honest, when I first held them between my thumb and index finger after extricating them from the case/charger, I was uncertain about their aesthetic attraction as they’re rather big. I had gotten quite used to the compactness of the Nakamichi that these oval shapes seemed like the Hercules in the gym that has the talent of making you feel puny. The WF 1000X are, therefore, not discreet buds that won’t invite wireless headphone virgins from starring into the entrance of your ear canal. When the missus first saw me with them, she said, not without satisfaction, “So, now you have your own ear jewellery.” I am just grateful that, for me, the black was chosen over the gold.

In the end, the pleasure of using them drowned out the self-consciousness that comes with the conspicuous buds plugged in. After the initial pairing with the phone and a music player (I use the Sony Walkman NW-A26HN), I was honestly blissed out by what flowed into my ear. The sound was warm and balanced, revealing a level of detail I had not expected from such a small pair of Bluetooth-connected cans. Could it be because of the 6mm “dome-type” driver crammed somewhere in them? Bjork’s The Gate flowed magically, wrapping my head in some place more splendid than Na’vi-land, Pandora.

What’s also appealing is that the WF 1000X comes with noise-cancelling capability. I do not know of any true wireless earphones that are similarly endowed, so this is a welcome feature for me, especially when I am easily annoyed by train commuters who use their smartphone audibly. The noise-cancelling, however, is not 100% (I’m not sure it’s even 90%), but for me it blocked out more than adequate external audio intrusion without the need to turn up the volume (I mostly kept it at the half-way mark). There is also a choice for what Sony calls “ambient sound”, perfect if you do not want to miss hearing the announcement of which station you’re approaching next.

Like many true wireless headphones, the WF 1000X is not spared connectivity issues. For some reason, the right earpiece is prone to signal drop. It’s worse when your audio source is placed in your bag or even in any one of the pockets of your pants (I assume it’s the same with skirts)—especially the rear. So, I hold it in my hand. Sometimes, when you’re informed that the headphones are on, there’s no connection. To solve this problem, I place the headphones back into the charging case, which turns them off automatically, and then remove them again, which turns them on. The connection is re-established.

If you have fat fingers like I do, then the placement of the two control buttons—one on the bottom of each side—could be a problem. The buttons are tiny, but they are positioned precisely where your thumb will rest when you need to, say, position the buds for comfort or snug fit. This means there is a good chance that you will press them and, consequently, turn the set off, or cancel the enjoyable noise-cancelling peace. Or, maybe, that’s just me: unable to treat sensitive equipment gently.

Sony WF 1000X Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones, SGD349, is available at Sony concept store at Wisma Atria and flagship at 313@Orchard. Photos: Jim Sim 

Time After Time, Hush Is Hammered

Jil Sander vs Dolce & GabbanaLeft: Jil Sander, right: Dolce & Gabbana

By Mao Shan Wang

I admit defeat; I’m not putting up a fight. I’ll be drown out by the din; my quiet no match for the scream. I have been told that fashion is not for those who are scared of being thought as weird. But not desiring Gucci (world’s second most popular brand, according to the 1997 Lyst Index) is making me sense that people think I’m totally strange, out of whack. It was explained to me that fashion is shrill in its tone because people need to express themselves and to stand out. It’s the “cultural Zeitgeist”, they say. But I am expressing myself even when I choose noiseless white cotton tops and opaque pants. Ironically, and to my dismay, I am the one now as conspicuous as the proverbial sore thumb. You bet I’m sore!

Ignore at my own peril? I’ll take the risk. Truth is, I understand the brashness of brands such as Gucci, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, but I don’t really care about their ploughing through common aesthetic decency. I know it is not about making a fine-looking dress or about something exceedingly well-made. It’s about designs—actually looks—that reflect the times. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “I never care about quality. Even if it was roughly made or badly sewn, I’d still wear it if it spoke to me about how the designer felt about fashion or the world today.”

Understandable. The thing about the Zeitgeist is that it is fleeting. You catch it now, or you won’t. And that is the point, and the thrill, and the reason to consume. Some people don’t want to miss the boat. You’re either sailing or you’re sinking; there’s no treading water. And you either recognise it, or you don’t; there’s no maybe. Some people don’t want to be thought ignorant. Or, slow or, worse, obtuse.

What they say about time and tide—it’s true of the Zeitgeist. Together with much of fashion, the Zeitgeist waits for no one. It does not have the patience of a saint. It is also increasingly confrontational. It does not manifest slowly; it appears with a bang, like a bird on a windscreen. If you don’t accept it, that’s too bad. It goes to someone else who is willing to embrace it with wide open arms. The Zeitgeist does not care about you.

I am not knocking showiness per se. This is the way people communicate now, the way they brand themselves, or how they see the world. It’s just that most ostentation is devoid of pith and idea. I look at Versace’s SS 2018 homage collection and I see a meretricious display—little else, even when it is supposed to be a salute to “powerful women”, the very same women Gianni Versace himself was thought to have supported, even if they were really models. I look at Dolce and Gabbana’s family-friendly, grand-enough-for-the-whole-village gaudiness, and I think of retreating to a cave. Okay, maybe up a remote mountain.

Fashion—what it has become—has turned many consumers into magpies although some would readily admit that they’re magpies to begin with. There is such an increasing dread and distaste for the quiet that if you should adopt simplicity for dress, people think you have not tried hard enough. As a friend I have known since school is wont to point out to me, “Why do you bother to wear designer clothes when nobody can tell that you are?” Does that then mean that designers such as Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander isn’t talking, or saying something about how they felt about the world, or that hush is analogous to humility?

I say turn up the quiet, quietly.


Nicki Minaj: She’ll Break The Internet, Too?

Or should it be ‘they’, since it is a “Minaj à trois”?


Just as you thought “break the Internet” is a one-time thing back in 2014, Nicki Minaj is offering triple the delight in a single page, thrice more than Kim Kardashian’s also-Internet-breaking Paper cover of that year. In addition, the rapper is titillating readers in the upcoming issue with not just full-frontal bum, but full-on boobs too. The thing is, Ms Minaj, as with Ms Kardashian, has lived near-nude so publicly, so unashamedly, and so often that surely by now many of us have seen enough of her bare breasts and buttocks to not consider them shocking or eye-catching?

It isn’t clear how no-clothes can be fashion, but perhaps Ms Minaj’s self-styled composite isn’t about fashion since there is hardly anything resembling clothes that one can be delighted or disgusted with. But it is notable that once-unimaginable sleazy in pink (millennial pink?) is possibly now a chromatic backlash from too much blush-coloured Barbie fashion and Elsa and Anna princess dresses. According to Ms Minaj, you can do pink, but you don’t have to look prim.

You’d think that by now the Internet—broken and mended—has gutted the appeal of female nudity. And that the banalisation of nakedness has reached a zenith that can’t be repeated enough without challenging the domain of pornography. Yet, here is Ms Minaj—not only in dresses that by themselves offer undress, but also in poses that, away from the glare of studio lights and camera lenses, could have constituted sexually predatory behaviour.

How will this brazen display play out in the present explosive exposé of sexual harassment and rapaciousness for sex? Or is the touching and tonguing of oneself, even publicly, self-gratification that does not cross the trammels of decency? Is fashion even part of the communication? What are we missing here? Or are we, ironically, just too prudish for the breakable Internet? Honestly, it’s hard to fathom. These are confusing times, and Nicki Minaj—à trois—adds to the puzzlement, three times more.

Photo: Paper magazine/Ellen von Unwerth

When Flower Meets Mountain

Mountain Flower Yamano sneaker

By Shu Xie

I like the stories behind brands; I like them even more when people of one mind meet and then overcome the odds to realise a dream. Two of them, whose coming together I’m sure many creative types can relate to, are the founders of this new-to-Singapore footwear brand, Flower Mountain. Shoe designers Keisuke Ota and Yang Chao, from Tokyo and Beijing respectively, found in each other a common love of footwear design, mountain trekking, and rock music. In fact, it was during the Fuji Rock Festival (once held at the foot of Mt Fuji, hence its name, but now staged in Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture of Japan) when the appealing idea of Flower Mountain was mooted. It’s hard to imagine the fortysomething blokes rocking to Gorillaz or Genshi Shinbo and thinking of broguing and lacing, but apparently they did!

I can’t say who’s the flower and who’s the mountain, but the twain did meet in 2015. As a result, Mr Ota and Mr Yang created some seriously handsome shoes. For sure, the classic sneaker references are there (mid-sole details!), but let’s say there are luxury brands that are far more blatant. What I find charming is that both guys have infused their sneakers with their very own touches and quirks, minus any bombastic branding. The results are so imbued with the spirit of indie, detail-loving shoemakers that Kith New York was enamoured enough to be one of their earliest stockists.

The Yamano sneaker (top) is a case in point. It has a rather familiar form, composed of not terribly unusual details, but the sum of its parts say something about the different aesthetic that the design duo was aiming for. What caught my eyes were the amoeba-shaped, cut-out eyelet guards; the multiple pieces with decorative stitching that form the quarter and the heel counter; and the leather whip stitch that joins the toe and the toe box. When I looked past the collar into the inside of the shoe, I was quite delighted to find an insole that is made of cork (treated with a natural compound known as Agion that has anti-microbial properties to inhibit bacterial growth, which also means reducing unwelcome smells). These are totally caressable kicks, inside out!

Flower Mountain Asuka sneaker

The tactile quality is most evident in the Asuka mid-cut (above). The upper is made from a cotton canvas that is produced in the Japanese town of Kurashiki (Okayama prefecture), known, in fact, for their hanpu—plain-weave canvas that is so durable, they’re used to make sails, a craft that dates back to the end of the Edo period. The canvas used in the Asuka has an unusual texture: it looks suede-y, but could pass off as hand-made paper! The same attention to detail is applied to the rest of the shoe. Given its sturdy looks, I suspect it is more than able to stand against tough terrains. Oh, there is that cork insole too.

In a test-run/walk, Flower Mountain’s Yamano can hold a gerbera (or choose your favourite bloom) to outdoor wear brands such as The North Face. They’re light enough for long treks, and can deal with most weather conditions although I doubt shoe lovers will cross a flooded pathway in them. The cork insole, however, may not be comfortable for naked feet, but because of its anti-microbial effect, it may be ideal for those bent on going sockless. And I do find that the sizes run a little small, which means you may require a pair one size up.

Flower Mountain makes most styles for both men and women, but if the ladies prefer something less rugged, which is understandable, there are the Pampas canvas sneakers. Again, Japanese canvas is used, but what’s eye-catching is the print. Available here, is a sort of camo of Zebras, which I found beguiling. I later learned that this, together with a botanical pattern that is popular in Japan, drew inspiration from the 19th century English textile/wallpaper designer William Morris. Which means that my initial thought of their designs being somewhat Japanese now deserves a strike through.

Flower Mountain shoes—Yamano, SGD339, and Asuka, SGD339—are exclusive to Robinsons The Hereen. Photos: Jim Sim

Fish, They’ve Done It!

The blog-shop-turned-full-fledged-fashion-label Love, Bonito has opened a flagship retail store. Despite the dreary retail mood and a general skepticism of blogshops, Love, Bonito is one of our island’s most successful and visible brands. Will they just continue to bring to the racks the successful formula that has up till now mainly appealed to the Internet denizen? Or, will they do better?

Love Bonito store front

By Mao Shan Wang

Last weekend, two Singapore brands unveiled their newest outlet: PS Café removed the hoarding to their spanking eatery in Raffles City, while Love, Bonito opened the doors of their flagship in 313@Somerset. Sure, both could not be any different—one is in the business of food and the other clothing, but they have one thing in common: neither offers a sense of being that hinges on the future. Their stores are each physical expression of the bygone and it is in them that I saw the stark difference.

When I stood in front of PS Café, I saw an old-fashioned establishment or homage to the past—retro-cool tempered by 2017’s sense of the sophisticated—aimed at a very specific customer. When I stood before Love, Bonito, I saw retro-cool too, but here, there was something else. While the visual merchandising, fixtures, and products seem to reinstate the aesthetics of a past era, the space is conceived to capture the desires of generation now. A photo wall that welcomes selfie-taking and a phone-charging cabinet heighten unapologetically how it caters to the masses, through and through.

Love Bonito queueThe queue outside Love, Bonito in 313@Somerset

And the masses turned up. At the opening of Love, Bonito’s 4,603 sq ft flagship store in 313@Somerset, the queue to have first grab of their merchandise was well anticipated. A poster was erected near the escalator of their second-floor store, designating where the “official queue” was to be. Queuing was allowed at half past ten, thirty minutes before the store was due to receive their first shoppers, but shortly after ten, when the mall opened, a messy, mixed line had already formed along black-rope-linked stanchions, placed to encourage orderliness in the crowd. It was hard to say what these young women (some so clearly only at puberty’s door that they had to be accompanied by their mother) had truly come here for: the irresistible clothes or the opening giveaway of a “goodie bag” worth S$120 with purchases of S$120.

I did not know what to expect. For sure, I did not anticipate a queue, let alone crowd control. What I saw was more impressive—if a brand’s popularity is judged by length of queue at launch day—than the line outside H&M, less than 1km away, formed two days earlier for the launch of the Erdem X H&M collaboration. Two girls, no more than twenty, were studying the posters erected at the start of the line. I heard one of them ask, “Huh, have to queue, ah?” I asked her how she came to know about this, and she happily said that it was through Facebook. And added, looking pleased, “We waited for this store to open a long time, liao.” I wondered if they too had queued for Erdem X H&M. “Er, who?” was the quick reply. I tried again, “Not erhu. Erdem.” “Don’t know.”

Love, Bonito interior 1Love, Bonito’s interior with mannequins amid floor, as well as suspended racks

For those outside the black ropes, without the affinity for Love, Bonito’s mass-market exuberance, this line may be as appealing as the one outside a public ladies’ toilet. The restroom is, however, a necessity; a clothing store is not. Among the fashion cognoscenti, Love, Bonito is a curiosity that you ask about, not buy into. Despite their admired track, rising from blogshop to e-shop to brick-and-mortar store, they have not been able to entice those whose idea of fashion—or what is fashionable—is not trapped in an unending online shopping belt.

Inside the convivial store, which really wasn’t crowded enough to require a queue outside (a line at the entrance always gives the impression that the shop is hugely popular—a tact possibly learnt from Louis Vuitton), I noticed—no, I spied—a young woman emerging from the fitting room with three pieces of clothing and smiling gleefully at her waiting male companion. “Can we go now?” he asked, shaken from the torpor. “No, I want to buy some more,” came the reply. This must have horrified the fellow because he pointed disapprovingly to another queue—outside the fitting rooms (including three make-shift ones among the rack of clothes). She was unperturbed and walked off, leaving the hapless guy standing under a neon sign that read, irony intact, “Discover. Embrace. Be You.”

Love, Bonito interior 3The blazing neon of Love, Bonito’s empowering mantra

Less than ten steps away—behind that pillar, in fact—two girls were vigorously swiping on a tablet PC held aloft on a steel stand just below what looked like a message board, but was in fact an artfully arranged mood board. They were looking intently at the Love, Bonito website. With all the clothes here to see and touch and buy, it was odd that these two preferred the cold and hard and flat surface of the touch screen. Bitten by curiosity, I asked them why they were scanning the online site when they could see everything on the selling floor, as well as feel, and try them on.

“We’re looking for something we wanted, but could not find here.” Do you like this brand a lot? “Among all the blogshops, they’re the best.” Why? “The others sell the same things. Their clothes look like they come from the same factory. Here, their things are more unique.”

It’s interesting that despite “moving up”, as announced in a plastered window of their previous incarnation—a pop-up store (also in 313@Sommerset), Love, Bonito is still referred to by customers as a “blogshop.” This illustrates that what there were in the past had been so successful that fans still regard them by their initial online form, hosted on blog site LiveJournal, even when they have upgraded to a proper dot-com URL. While the blogshop as an online retail set-up has come to denote women—individuals or a group—setting up an e-commerce venture characterised by the casualness of the business and the inexperience of their operators, the initial unsystematic approach has not dented Love, Bonito’s growth potential.

Love Bonito pop-up shop windowA Love, Bonito poster announcing their move, as well as urging shoppers to “hang” with them

Before most women know them by the sign-off Love, Bonito, the brand traded as BonitoChico, or Spanish for ‘pretty boy’. Since Spanish is one of the least familiar European languages here, many, like I, did not make the connection and, instead, thought it had something to do with bonito flakes (or kastsuobushi, the pinkish shavings of dried and fermented bonito fish typically served on top of the savoury Japanese pancake okonomiyaki). Still, the name did not latch on to its F&B association, and was catchy enough to draw the attention of young women attracted by BonitoChico’s inexpensive, homogeneous, and approachable fashion.

That was in 2006. Sisters Viola and Velda Tan, and fellow church-goer Rachel Lim started—at first—a disposal point of the contents of their personal wardrobes to “make pocket money”, as they would tell the media, by putting what they wanted to sell on the SGSellTrade page of LiveJournal, a born-in-America blogging application and online community that is owned by a Russian media company since 2007. Fans of Love, Bonito may have no desire to read this oft-told story, but to some, it’s so inspirational that perhaps it deserves a re-telling. In the year of its founding, BonitoChico was not the only blogshop enticing young women to spend their savings and pocket money on clothes. There was the intriguingly named Love and Bravery, formed a year earlier (and has, since 2011, operated their own brick-and-mortar stores). But the Bonito girls, as they were sometimes called, did more than build a fledgling brand; they created a following. This still amazes, considering that before 2010, social media was curiosity, not compulsion.

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After a month of brisk business, BonitoChico debuted with their own page on LiveJournal. I have to admit that I have not seen BonitoChico’s LiveJournal page, but I understand it communicated a simple girlishness that many of its fans found relatable. It was a potent mix of “sugar, spice, and everything nice”, to quote Powerpuff Girls’ maker Professor Utonium, and it was a non-threatening and non-judgmental platform that lured young women for whom a physical store could be considerable effort and a tad intimidating.

The initial, unexpected success of BonitoChico soon embolden the three partners to start bringing in clothes from Bangkok and Hong Kong—cash and carry at wholesale centres and markets—to augment their merchandise. These were clothes that fit with the everyday nature of their customers’ lives, not anything that could cross to the realm of special occasions—“cheap and good”, as so many Netizens happily and willingly proclaimed. The sales looked upwards, and the trio decided to try their hand at producing their own merchandise.

The results were not the stuff to encourage the response, impressive. There were considerable online complaints of delivery issues, how the received clothes did not look the same as the versions hawked online, how they were poorly made, and how some came apart just after a few washes. But for reasons that were part Internet mystery and part social media savvy, BonitoChico continued to do well—so well, in fact, that just after three short years, it won ‘Best Blogshop’ in the Nuffnang (“World’s Leading Blog Advertising Community”, according to their website) Asia-Pacific Awards in 2009. By its fourth birthday in 2010, the brand’s celebratory bash/fashion show, hosted by DJ Daniel Ong, at the now defunct Clark Quay club, Zirca, drew a mind-boggling number of over 1000 attendees, with those stuck in the queue texting friends to vent their frustration. The clothes may not have been impressive, but the anniversary party clearly was.

Julien Fournié for Love Bonito 2013Love, Bonito by Julien Fournié at Fidé Fashion Week in 2013

The Zirca venue, as opposed to, say, Zouk, spoke of BonitoChico’s popular positioning and the brand’s understanding of what appealed to their customers. These twentysomethings were enraptured by the twentsomething creators of their favourite brand, and, consequently, a pro-business community spirit was forged—quite unheard of in the growth of a local fashion name. Between Bonitochico and its customers, it wasn’t just a transaction, it was a fellowship.

That year, perhaps encouraged by their palpable success, the Tan sisters and Ms Lim decided to re-brand BonitoChico with a name change and, in doing so, possibly unshackled themselves from what they had identified to the press as “blogshop stigma”. Love, Bonito and its very own e-commerce-enabled website were thus created. Although they were now selling their own clothing line, some industry folks were skeptical of what the girls could really do, since it was not known that any of them could design. This, for some skeptics, was borne out during the launch of Love, Bonito’s first collaboration—with the French couturier Julien Fournié.

Mr Fournié’s haute couture collection closed the now-no-longer-staged Fidé Fashion Week in 2013. On a video screen above the runway, a teaser short-film was shown, featuring the Love, Bonito founders in what could be presumed to be Mr Fournié’s Paris atelier. When the girls got down to work, it did not appear that they were there to collaborate on a collection. Rather, it looked like there were there to socialise. They were seen looking and pointing at the pictures (simultaneously showing off their wrist and finger jewellery) of Julien Fournié look book and occasionally touching the fabric swatches. They did not even appear to be part of the colour selection and pairing process. Someone in the audience pointed to the naming of the collection: Julien Fournié for Love, Bonito, and concluded that it was clear who had to do the work. The collection instantly established arguably Singapore’s most successful blogshop as a full-fledged clothing label.

Love Bonito in Sogo SurabayaLove, Bonito corner in Sogo Department Store, Surabaya, Indonesia

When the Bonito girls came out with Mr Fournié to take the customary bow at the end of the show, there were only two of them. Younger sibling Velda of the Tan sisters was conspicuously missing. It was said earlier than Velda Tan had decided to leave the still-growing brand that she co-founded to “do something different”, as she would later also say to the media. Her conspicuous no-show was confirmation of her departure. It was not certain what prompted her to leave (it has been repeatedly stated till now by the remaining two that the younger Velda Tan is still a shareholder) even when the inevitable talk in the industry attributed the parting to sibling rivalry and goals that, by then, were no longer aligned. A year after her departure from Love, Bonito, Ms Tan left for London and enrolled in Central Saint Martins for courses in business management, visual merchandising, and pattern making. In 2015, she started Collate the Label, and won herself a corner in Tangs, her first stockist.

If there was any fear that a co-founder’s new fashion line would be in direct competition with their then nine-year-old label, Viola Tan and Rachel Lim did not let on. After the collaboration with Julien Fournié, there was a second, intriguingly with Indonesian designer Tex Saverio, launched during Singapore Fashion Week in 2015. By then, Love, Bonito had opened stores in Malaysia, followed by those in Indonesia. Until their flagship in Singapore opened, Love, Bonito went offline here too, venturing into physical retail spaces for the past 6 years. These were pop-ups in temporarily empty units in malls such as Orchard Gateway. Although Love, Bonito markets itself as a brand that takes customer experience seriously, it did not impress some shoppers, who found their pop-ups with conventional displays to be “just another clothing shop”. This suggested that while a pop-up—by definition, a temporary arrangement and not usually lavishly appointed—may not be a foretaste of things to come, it could, as with a blogshop, follow them like a stigma.

Love, Bonito Pop-Up@313.jpg

Last year, at the comeback Singapore Fashion Award, Love, Bonito enjoyed the biggest win of the night. It was not surprising that they would. In the decade of their existence, few brands have enjoyed so much buzz. Viola Tan and Rachel Lim, flushed with thrill, went on stage to collect awards for ‘Top Most Popular Brand of the Year’ (the other two recipients were Beyond the Vine and jewellery label By Invitation Only), ‘The Best Collaboration of the Year’ (with Tex Saverio), and ‘Best Marketing’.

The last award, however, puzzled some fashion marketers. One marketing head was quick to say at the presentation that “quantity rather than quality wins”. On Love, Bonito’s visual communication alone, that charge was perhaps not overly harsh. The brand produces many images and while they may work on a non-static landing page of a website, mostly viewed on a smartphone, they tend to attract the wrong attention especially when even the most minuscule oversight was magnified in a huge ad, in an MRT station.

One of their earliest light boxes appeared at the Somerset MRT station. It had one of three models in a stripe-y dress, with a length of the spaghetti straps—configured as halterneck—accidentally twisted when worn. While it escaped the stylist’s, the CD’s, the photographer’s, and the digital retoucher’s eyes, it did not escape mine. At the opening of the flagship store last week, a poster erected as backdrop for a window display showed a side slit (of a dress) that was unpressed, with a thread let loose from the hem, like a not-neatened bikini line. That, too, did not escape my eyes.

MRT Lightbox ad.jpgOne of the more recent lightbox ad in Somerset MRT station

The Love, Bonito marketing images looked like they were picked from among the countless IG posts of adoring fans. But, perhaps it is true when a fashion buyer later remarked to me, knocking some shame into my disbelief, “but that’s how women wear their clothes. Anyway, who cares?” That, I suspect, could well be how Love, Bonito approaches their marketing, with a sense of detachment that rather speaks of the Whatever! attitude of their horde of followers.

Back at the new store, where it was still drawing shoppers with the same flow as ants returning to serve the queen, I took a close look at the clothes, most, surprisingly, not ironed. A sleeveless dress drew my attention. It, too, caught the attention of a vision in pink—more sugar than spice. She yanked it off the rack. On the hanger, it hung like a not-quite-dry towel. The woman changed her mind and returned the dress to its crowded home. I now noticed the warped armhole and at the spot where it met the side seam, I detected a tiny bump of fabric—a pile that, for a certain price point, was probably inconsequential. In the beginning, Bonitochico churned out clothes that did not disguise their insufficient time on the drafting table and their rushed manufacture. More than a decade later, as Love, Bonito, the making of their clothes does not seem to have enjoyed the benefit of less haste.

Love Bonito selfie wallThe selfie wall inside Love, Bonito’s flagship store

But, “Quality Matters”, goes a Love, Bonito ad copy. A catchy maxim, but tricky target. Love, Bonito’s clothes, like their advertising images, even when they give the impression of excellence, are not meticulously produced. Rachel Lim told The Straits Times in 2015 that they “want to give customers value for money, so we pay close attention to everything, right down to the finishing.” Her business partner Viola Tan added, “We don’t skimp on fabric or workmanship.” Perhaps, Ms Lim and Ms Tan have a different definition of quality, considering that “value for money” and “don’t skimp on fabric or workmanship” are generally on different ends of the quality scale. I do concede, however, that quality, as with elegance, do not have the same meaning, or ring, as it once did.

I sometimes wonder if I have, in my distrust and disbelief, misread Love, Bonito. The reality is that there is a whole new way of making clothes and selling them that has nothing to do with the rigours of good design. A whole generation of women has grown up on a diet of H&M, Forever 21, and the like, and to them, the hodgepodge—uneven hem et al—in these stores is fashion. They’re weaned on looks, rather than details—whether the devil is in them or not. And Love, Bonito knows they don’t have to do better than that to entice. But rather than join the purveyors of fast fashion, as the Bonito girls has declared that their brand is doing, why not beat them? That then, I would say, and wholeheartedly, is when true love will follow.

Photos: Cooper Koh and Galerie Gombak

What Comes Next?

If Singapore Fashion Week is no more, can a regional event be an ideal stand-in?

SGFW to endSingapore Fashion Week to fade to oblivion?

What we blogged three days ago turns out to be quite true. Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW) has possibly drawn to a close. After a comeback that spans three short years, the 2017 edition will be the last, according to an online report.

In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore this past Wednesday, Tjin Lee, founder of Mercury M&C, the company behind SGFW, said, “After 11 editions*, that is my last Singapore Fashion Week. It means next year it will be ‘go big or go home’.”

It isn’t quite clear what she meant by “go big or go home”. Street expression aside, for many observers, increasing the size or duration of SGFW is not tenable since, by Ms Lee’s own admission, the pool of designers who are able to support SGFW is very small. Or even non-existent since, according to her, our “designers can’t fund themselves”. And “go home?” Has SGFW not always been staged on home turf?

The business talk of this morning was that Ms Lee has “registered the Asia Fashion Week URL”.  An online check confirmed that the domain name has been registered to Tjin Lee using the Mercury’s office address, with a “creation date” of “2014-05-14” and an “updated date” of “2017-05-26”. It is, therefore, possible that Ms Lee has entertained the idea of creating a potentially massive Asia Fashion Week as far back as 2014, the last year of Audi Fashion Festival, precursor to her version of SGFW.

In the Yahoo interview, Ms Lee offered little details about the form this new fashion week will take other than her eagerness to “change the format” and “completely evolve and pivot” it. She said, “It’s got to be bigger than Singapore; think regional, think Asia… Whatever I do next, it will either be a bigger Asian focus or it will not be.” And she reiterated, “Go big or go home.”

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An Asia Fashion Week is a fascinating although frightfully ambitious proposal. With most Asian hub cities—such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo—staging their own visible fashion weeks, designers from the continent, young or established, may not see the lure in participating in a Singapore-based (assuming it’ll be held here) event that is a spin-off of a relatively low-key and humble one of debatable success.

Do other Asian designers have money? That was the question asked when SOTD spoke to some in the fashion business. The one issue, as Ms Lee has plainly noted, is the lack of financial means among local designers to pay to be part of a runway-centric event. The production of the collection itself is usually the main cost consideration for designers and, consequently, staging a show that they have to pay for is an unappealing proposition. Does spreading the net wider mean attracting fatter fish?

“The China designers have money,” said a product development manager. That is not entirely true. While there are designers who can be considered financially successful, there are also those who work on their collections with modest budgets, much like their Singaporean counterparts, and are not necessarily able to afford to stage shows. Those who are able, such as Masha Ma and Uma Wang, show in Paris, or elsewhere in Europe. Small, independent designers, as with the social-media/designer darlings, have trifling sums for marketing, let alone participate in a “big” fashion event. It can be said that for most fashion designers anywhere not blessed with munificent backing, a splashy catwalk presentation is not ticked for consideration.

In China, the main fashion weeks are sanctioned by the Ministry of Commerce, and supported by local or municipal governments, and may not be in the form of funding. Rather, it could come as provision of venues or logistical aid. Together with corporate and media sponsorship, the final budgetary burden on show organisers is significantly lighter, and that helpfully relieves the financial load weighing down on designers. China’s fashion (not garment manufacturing) industry is a fairly young one, and it is common understanding that fledgling designers would not be able to stage a massive show without assistance.

There are more fashion weeks in China than film festivals—a situation also seen in India. According to the organizers of Shanghai Fashion Week, there are about 30 fashion weeks throughout China, with Shanghai Fashion Week and China Fashion Week (in Beijing) being the two most important and under international media radar. Chinese designers and those outside the mainland are, therefore, spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing an ideal platform for their collections or a larger, more receptive audience. What then could be the appeal of the suggested Asia Fashion Week? Ms Lee has not made her case.

SGFW audience

Singapore Fashion Week fashioned by Mercury is, as many observers have underscored, a business, and one that has to have a more-than-healthy bottom line. It was shared during the event last week that this year’s SGFW may run a six-figure loss. We have not been able to independently verify this sum, but if true, it is understandable why SGFW has to end, or morph into a remunerative version. Taking into account that Mercury reportedly received no aid from the government, their income prospects had mainly come from corporate sponsorship, charging designers for participation (whether the charges were equitable, no one could say for sure), and ticket sales.

Corporate sponsorship has always been the main means to fund SGFW, but, as Ms Lee wrote in her personal blog, “even big companies are often happy to give product, lots of it, but are often reluctant to part with cash.” It has been said that since the generosity of Audi during the ‘Festival’ days of Mercury’s fashion-show extravaganzas, corporate support has not quite been what it was. Whether that means reduced monetary sponsorship, sponsors are unwilling to say. Money received from charging designers to stage their shows is even more dismal. It is known that Mercury had in the past hook designers up with sponsors—but that did not necessarily improve the ledger. Increasingly, designers were unwilling to pay (chances are, Jason Wu did not, as he was “invited”). And door tickets, despite the high price (up to $250 for a package for the inaugural Zipcode forum), did not sell enough to delight any finance manager.

“If the business opportunity is so gloomy, would a larger fashion week that encompasses Asia really work, and how,” SGFW followers have asked, “and what happens to the raising of the Singapore flag?” Perhaps, in the end, business viability overrides noble causes, whether they’re idealistic or not, especially if they are. It would be a pity to see Singapore Fashion Week, with a history that dates back to 1990 (not since Mercury’s founding, as it seems to be the thought), come to a complete close. While an Asia Fashion Week may continue to shine the spotlight on our island, it will still not change the fate that, as Ms Lee despairingly told Yahoo, “Singapore is too small a country to support its own local domestic fashion”.

For veterans of the Singapore fashion scene, and some newcomers alike, Tjin Lee’s idealism is not without its charm. Her love for fashion weeks, her steely determination, and her dream to embrace all of Asia are reminiscent of the reverie of Ms Lee’s one-time collaborator Frank Cintamani of Fidé Fashion Weeks. Mr Cintamani had sought to bring his fashion weeks—first staged here—across the region to salute Asian designers. His resolve saw the formation of the curious Asian Couture Federation. Following friction with organisers that took to social media during Vietnam International Fashion Week, which he teamed up with in 2015, Fidé Fashion Weeks is rather silent in the past year, except for the “democratically priced couture-infused British label” Couturissimo, which is strangely now doing the pop-up rounds here.

SGFW may not be a stable foundation for a bigger fashion week since it was built on not-completely solid ground, but it is on top of SGFW that Ms Lee will “evolve” the event. Perhaps she’s starting anew, creating a clean slate, from which to better repackage a fashion week. As one PR manager said, “It looks like she’s sinking the ship that she built.” For Ms Lee, it is possible that in order to start afresh, she has to close the door that she opened years ago so that another might be unlocked. Opportunities do come through many entrances, whether they’re narrow or wide, whether they welcome or spurn.

Stay tuned.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

* The Singapore Fashion Week in the form of the last 3 years began in 2015 as a remade Audi Fashion Festival, primarily a shopping-related event



Two Of A Kind: Message On The Neckline

Text on the neckline

By Mao Shan Wang

To say that Dior is going down market is perhaps a bit extreme. But how else can I explain this? Children split at birth?

There I was, shopping at Golden Mile Complex, where the Thai supermarket in that mess of a mall is the place I go to whenever I am out of nampla. Sometimes, you do need to brave disorder and unfamiliar smells to get what you think is the best, and—I am totally with the Thais on this—one does have to get the finest when it comes fish sauce.

As I was leaving the building, bottle of the prized brew in hand, a mannequin, not at a shop front, but more than an arm’s length away from the store, appeared before me. She was fitted in a top that immediately made me think of Dior. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I was viewing the spring/summer show online and I remember, as I confronted the dummy, how unamused I was with the crochet-knit number that Maria Grazia Chiuri had put out.

I could see the two side by side, and how similar they would appear. Sure, they don’t look alike—not one bit—but the texts as decorative element on both are conceptual cousins. I don’t know about the appeal of words running on the neckline, but I thought the repeated ‘love’ had more graphic dash than Ms Chiuri’s scribbles that, in the front of the bodice, sported ‘love forever’ (as part of a longer sentence that I couldn’t decipher) and, on the shoulder straps, repeated, cursive ‘Christian Dior’. While her previous “J’adior” on a T-shirt could be (reluctantly) considered tongue-in-cheek, I am not sure the latest proper noun and simple sentence are as close to irony.

Sure, we’re no longer in an era of stylish restraint, but something not discreet that looks similar to what can be easily produce for a cheap clothing shop isn’t exactly the height of luxury fashion. The salesperson saw my interest in the top and came out to ask me if I liked it. I asked her where the garment came from, and she gladly told me that it was from Bangkok. Well, somewhere in Pratunam, someone beat Dior to it.

Photos: (Left), (right) Chin Boh Kay