Le Sac Plastique Fantastique

After last year’s Fraktar bag hack, is the nondescript and omnipresent plastic supermarket bag the next big thing?

Actually plastic bagStylish, extra-large and extra-thick plastic bag offered by Actually @ Orchard Gateway

By Ray Zhang

Ten years ago, a dear friend of mine gave me a birthday gift that came bundled in a pink plastic bag, typically used by vegetable sellers—yes, the wet market staple. To be sure, he wasn’t a fashion forward type although he worked in fashion his whole life. And he definitely did not have a crystal ball to see a decade into the future, when anti-fashion fashion has taken root in fashion, and spawned fashionable bags with a provenance that can be traced to sellers of fresh comestible.

That the lowly plastic market (and supermarket) carrier can now have fashion cred may be attributed to our predilection for choosing low to yield high. Does the T-shirt not come to mind? Let’s, for convenience, put the blame on Demna Gvasalia, that provocateur-in-chief at the house of Balenciaga. He had picked common bags—for example, those usually associated with mainland Chinese moving vast quantities of city goods back to their rural homes during festive seasons such as the Lunar New Year—to make them into high-end, covetable carriers. It culminated in the re-make of Ikea’s Fraktar tote—in leather, of course—that could be seen as Mr Gvasalia doing a DHL for the equally humble shopping bag.

Muji shopping bagMuji’s nylon shopping bag can be folded flat and fitted into an attached slip case that comes with a loop at the top in case you’d want to add a carabiner to it

But that wasn’t the last of the common bags that Mr Gvasalia has given a luxury spin. Last month, his Balenciaga launched the “supermarket shopper”, an undisguised shopping bag not normally associated with fashion once steeped in the tradition of couture. The thing is, it isn’t yet clear if a leather “supermarket shopper” will have the same impact on popular fashion the way Celine’s leather shopper did back in 2009 (which predates Balenciaga’s own leather ‘Shopping Tote’ by eight years).

Brands are following Balenciaga’s lead. But rather than leather, plastic is presently king. Phoebe Philo, as a parting shot perhaps, created plastic supermarket bags to be sold as merch rather than for you take your in-store purchases home in one. Just a month ago, Raf Simons, too, got into the act, and released a see-through version (called, what else, RS Shopping Bag!) with Voo Store, one of Berlin’s most progressive multi-label fashion retailers. Mr Simons’s version is clearly pitched as a collectible, not to be used when you next go shopping and you want to play eco-warrior. The plastic supermarket bag has achieved It bag status, which, admittedly, now sounds rather quaint.

MMM cotton shopping bagThe nondescript store bags given to shoppers at what was once Maison Martin Margiela. Their version is not tubular, with stitched hems on both sides of the folded gusset

The nondescript store bags given to shoppers at what was once Maison Martin Margiela. Their version is not tubular, with stitched hems on both sides of the folded gusset
Like many fixations of fashion designers, this one isn’t terribly new. For the longest time, Maison Martin Margiela, pre-John Galliano, packed your purchases into supermarket-style shopping bags in white cotton that was akin to calico. (A leather, for-sale version was also released under the sub-line MM6.) I can’t tell you convincingly enough (now that such bags are a fashion item) how surprised I was many, many moons ago when I was presented with that bag after buying an MMM leather jacket at its Rue de Richelieu store in Paris. Surely they could do better, I had thought. But there was something decidedly appealing about the idea of a luxury item housed in a non-luxury bag that I found myself traipsing the City of Lights for the rest of the day in this plain and un-labelled sac with some satisfaction that I can’t quite describe now. A wink-wink moment perhaps. Was this how Mr Gvasalia had felt when he thought of the shopping bag for Balenciaga? Or was he being nostalgic of his days at the influential house?

The supermarket shopping bag—not as article of fashion—has a rather long history. According to popular telling, the grocery bag that we know so well was invented by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s. What Mr Thulin had in mind was a one-piece bad that can be formed by folding, welding and die-cutting a flat tubular plastic. This he did for Celloplast, a Swedish company known for producing cellulose film and for processing plastics. Celloplast was quick to patent the making of the plastic shopping bag and the rest, I think you’d agree, really requires no detailed recounting.

Bag in TokyoShoppers in Tokyo are often seen with shopping bags attached to a carabiner that’s hooked to a belt loop. Here, a velvety plastic bag from retailer Bayflow that’s printed with a message: “Respect nature, respect fashion. Stay healthy and simple, comfortable and beautiful.”

Oversized shopping bags—carried over the shoulder like a tote—are often spotted in Bangkok where shoppers carry them to house large purchases

While the bag of our current interest has been mostly associated with the wet market and the supermarket, versions in more durable nylon and with attractive prints started to appear when retailers discourage shoppers from using the plastic versions as they are not biodegradable and will add to the woes of inadequate landfills. Some cities such as Hong Kong and Taipei started charging customers when a plastic bag is required for their purchase. With demand for bring-your-own-bags rising, many bag manufacturers started producing reusable, washable, and long-lasting nylon shopping bags that can be folded neatly into a little package no bigger than a wallet.

In Japan, Tokyo especially, not only are these attractive bags available in supermarkets, they are sold in stores such as Muji and Uniqlo and trendy shops such as Beams and Urban Research. The basic shape is the same no matter where you find them, but there’s where the similarity ends. Patterns are almost always the eye-catching part, but, for me, it is how the Japanese carry them that I find so fascinating. Many guys have them secured to their waist with a carabiner. Some would tie them to their bag straps in a way that can only be described as fetching. Once, in Tomorrowland, the multi-label store, I saw a woman with a black nylon shopping bag. Nothing terribly interesting in that except that she had one handle looped over the other, which was slipped on to her wrist. There was something terribly artful in the bag-and-wrist composition. It reminded me of the Japanese azuma bukuro, a traditional cloth bag that—at least in Japan—is anything but ordinary.

Aland bagsThe myriad colours and patterns cheerfully offered at Seoul retailer Åland, as seen in their Bangkok flagship store

Today, fancier shops call them “marché (which is really French for market) bags”. At Muji, their version is labelled as “tote bag”, which adds to the mild confusion. The thing is, these fancy takes on the supermarket bag are not likely going to be seen in the likes of Fairprice. But where would you carry them to, then? Except at Ikea, home of the Fraktar, few retailers in Singapore discourage you from expecting a store-issued shopping bag, for free. In fact, at many supermarkets, shoppers are known to ask for more than they require. When will this habit be shaken off? When will the use of our own unique shopping bags be a common sight?

Or perhaps the structured, hardware-festooned bag of unambiguous designer standing is over. Who even remembers the Baguette now? Isn’t 1997 a long time ago? This is the era of Vetements, the time of looking at seemingly commonplace, unremarkable things to make them objects of desire. This is, after all, the age of the sweatshirt made good.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

When The Temperature Dipped

It did not even go below twenty, yet many people saw a need for puffer jackets! Surely, we’re made of sterner stuff? Or maybe not

Winter in SG 2018By Mao Shan Wang

This week, we experienced an equatorial “winter”.

At first, it was the jokes. A friend of mine, in a group chat, was reading aloud the lively dialogue among his Penang-born Singaporean cousins: “Autumn in SG”; “Cold, cold, cold”; “It’s winter going into spring”; “We can wear our Japan winter clothing”; “Hahaha…”

Then there was the ST article the day before, “The Big Chill: Coping with the cold and the rain in Singapore”. The big chill! Coping! How difficult the chill! ST Life journalist Alyssa “Wedder” Woo, in a video report for the online edition of the paper, claimed that “tourists and Singaporeans are taking the opportunity to don their winter wear”, with one interviewee in a lightweight duster coat confirming Ms Woo’s observation: “I’m wearing my trench coat like winter in Europe or somewhere!”

It must be cold, the chill!

I did not feel it, but I sure saw it. This morning, in the slowest train in the world, the East-West line of the MRT, I saw so many commuters in sweatshirts that I was certain the price of French terry spiked. People didn’t look like they were dressed to go to work; they appeared to be going to the cinema. As the train became a sardine can, I moved inwards and sighted the first quilted jacket of the day! Three seats away, a napping chap was in a full-zip jacket, zipped all the way to the top, face further obscured by a similarly coloured face mask. Then a woman in a wool-knit varsity jacket appeared. By the doors, a guy in a faux leather biker jacket and another in a pile-lined zip-up hoodie. Was there any Uniqlo’s famed Heattech innerwear under all that?

During lunch, I was at Orchard Central and out of curiosity, I dropped by Uniqlo. There was an extraordinary large number of office ladies. At the queue to pay, nearly everyone was buying an outer, particularly a hoodie and the ultra-light down! Who would need down on a 23°C day? I wondered too soon. As I was leaving, into my view came a thirtysomething couple descending on the escalator wearing identical grey puffer jackets!

What impressed me this afternoon was a severe lack of T-shirts and shorts. There were virtually no denim cut-offs! Bare legs were as enclosed as bare arms. I do not remember when I last saw so many stocking-ed limbs—opaque black, no less. The décolletage had gone into hiding too. Neckwear was having a moment, especially neck warmers. Modest fashion should have made the headlines.

In the early evening, I took a bus to Raffles City. As I moved to the rear, I saw a guy in a thick, pull-over hoodie. That wasn’t surprising, but the ear muffs were! I looked out of the bus window to be certain it wasn’t snowing. I looked at him again. He looked very comfortable, very “big chill”.

After dinner, I was walking to the slowest train in the world, when something literally stopped me in my tracks: a pink fur jacket that could have been from Tom Ford’s Gucci of fall 2001! The woman—a bud of no more than twenty three—was cigarette-dragging-happy, the puffs of smoke acting as visible breath, the condensation of winter freeze. How appropriate!

According to ST, the coldest day in Singapore was in January 1934: it was 19.4 degrees that day. What did people at that time wear? According to my mother, no one heard of down. Uniqlo wasn’t even born.

Photos: Zhen Jiepai

Portage In These Kicks

Bag maker Manhattan Portage now carry sneakers? With help from Puma, they are offering rather enticing pairs

Puma X Manhattan Portage

This season, one of the most attractive sneakers with camouflage print is Nike’s ‘Country Camo’ treatment for their all-time fave, the Air Force 1. Joining the handsomeness of military motif for feet is this pair of Puma Clyde Zip, conceived in collaboration with Manhattan Portage (MP), mostly known for their sturdy messenger bags. These version looks nothing like the original Clyde, a basketball shoe named after the American NBA star Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

The “Zip’’ edition of the Clyde is unmistakably post-classic, and it is immediately obvious why it receives such a moniker. In keeping with the trend to add horizontal zippers to more trad silhouettes, such as the Y-3 Stan Zip Low-top Neoprene (another sneaker we love!), Puma has given its own a striking fillip. But more than the practical—and for many, useful—detail, there’s also the rather distinctive buckle and strap at the forefoot, as well as lace secures for the entire length of the tongue. How many ups are there against Nike? (Smiley optional)

The New York-based Manhattan Portage’s collaboration with the Herzogenaurach-headquartered Puma, interestingly, isn’t just about shoes (there are two styles, including the Clyde Sock). There are also, as you would have thought, the bags, which reminds us of the Timberland X Porter collab: smart and usable, but unsurprising.

In fact, if you walk into the Manhattan Portage flagship in 313@Somerset, you’ll mostly see rather conventional bags. In Japan, the picture is quite different. Early this year, they have collaborated with Undercover to spread the latter’s Chaos/Balance mantra via MP’s messenger bags. Previously, in 2010, they’ve incorporated Frapbois’s almost cute graphics into messengers as well. They have also teamed with Tokyo-based retailers such as Freak Store and Beams to yield rather fetching, covetable results.

While nothing exceptional can be picked out at the local MP store, just next door at Limited Edt Vault, this pair of fine-looking sneakers, awaiting appreciative owners, are ready to be unlaced, unbuckled, and unzipped.

Puma X Manhattan Portage Clyde Zip, SGD165, is available at Limited Edt Vault. Photo: Puma

This Camera Bag

By Low Teck Mee

When I travel, I want to minimise the amount of bags and such that I carry. The thing is, when I have my camera—the Sony α7—with me, I always bring a small camera bag. This is a hard case that does not fit into the over-stuffed rag I always take along into the aircraft. So I end up carrying two bags, which, to me, is one too many for the limited space of the cabin. Until I met this nifty little pouch from the Japanese bag maker Artisan & Artist.

When I first saw this, I thought it was a toiletries bag! It is soft and it sure is sized like one. But when I freed it from the broad elastic band that held it secure (like our parents once did with books) and opened the flap cover, I realised that it is padded to house a camera or a couple of lenses. There’s something about the bag—I can’t quite describe now—that makes it extremely desirable to hold. Maybe it’s because it’s not too structured. Maybe it’s because it fits beautifully in the palm. What’s unmistakable is its construction.

As the story goes, A&A, as the brand is affectionately called, answered to the request of Japanese TV star Rina (not to be confused with model/pop sensation Rina Sawayama) for a small bag that can be used to house her Leica M series (fancy!) and be placed in, say, an overnighter. The result was the Rina Case, a zip-top, neoprene-interior, cosmetic-pouch-like bag that no serious photographer, even using a Leica, would be seen in one.

A&A was quick to react (read: listen to their customers) and the update on the Rina Case is this ARCAM-75 camera pouch. This is nothing fancy and its lack of bombast makes it especially attractive. The Japanese-ness can’t be missed: this could have been a kinchaku bento pouch minus the drawstrings. In fact, I was most impressed by the ARCAM-75’s lack of hardware. All it has to secure the flap cover to the body is the elastic band. Inside, it is roomy enough to hold a small camera system or two not-especially-long lenses.

Simple and functional, and a total contrast to the high-tech kit it is expected to hold. I like.

Artisan & Artist camera pouch, SGD109, is available at Zeppelin & Co, Sim Lim Square. Photo: Jim Sim

Happy New Year

New Year 2018 greeting SOTD

It has been an in-a-blink 2017 and a newsworthy one, as we have been relating to you here in SOTD. Thank you for your encouraging support, especially for the long-form posts that we prefer here. From all of us at SOTD, have a blessed year ahead.