Another Elegant Bag To Add To All Those Elegant Bags

Lady Gaga bagged a Céline to help Hedi Slimane hint at what he’ll be doing for the house Phoebe Philo departed from. But, does it really say much?


The thing that struck us first was the quick show of gratitude. It was reported that Lady Gaga was “gifted” a new Céline bag, and it wasn’t enough that she flaunted it across Paris in the welcome presence of the paparazzi, she wasted no time in posting the said bag on her IG page with the social media savvy of a KOL, product in full-frontal glory. These days, of course, there’s a name for all this: influencer marketing.

Effective splashiness aside, we have no idea what that kumquat-coloured extra-long and form-fitting singlet has got to do with that ebony handbag (very Halloween colour combo, we’d say), but it is possible that Lady Gaga was trying a chromatic counterpoint to what appeared to be a very black, very dull, very easy-to-ignore bag. Three months down the road, you’ll not remember it existed, except perhaps that Lady Gaga was the first to carry Hedi Slimane’s debut Céline bag.

No name as yet was ascribed to the structured bag. If we weren’t told this was a Céline, we would have thought that this was something from the Belgian bag maker Delvaux or Valextra, the FJB-distributed Italian brand that was doomed to close here. Lady Gaga’s arm candy of a bag looked a tad too conservative for a songstress who dares to challenge the conventional wisdom of what can be worn on the body. If Margaret Thatcher were still alive, she’d probably be very delighted to carry it to 10 Downing Street.

Hedi Slimane’s Céline bag, as Netizens have pointed out, walks the path paved by the Hermès Kelly. Trapezoid in shape and with a flap cover secured by a gold latch-and-lock, it is far more traditional and conservative than anything Mr Slimane’s predecessor introduced for the house. In fact, Mr Slimane is not known for his bag designs even when he chose to adopt Phoebe Philo’s bags-first strategy (which Saint Laurent bag do you remember now?). This isn’t the Trapeze; this isn’t the Luggage Tote, and this is definitely not the Puzzle, so successfully designed by Jonathan Anderson for Loewe. Another bag to have forever? Fashion deserves better.

UPDATE: It’s been reported after our post that Hedi Slimane has redesigned—unsurprisingly—the Céline logo and the name is now spelled without the acute accent on the second ‘e’, as in Celine.

Photos: Lady Gaga/Instagram

All That Is Needed Is A Face

In celebrity/KOL-sports brand pair-ups, taste and talent are unimportant


Kylie Jenner for AdidasKylie Jenner giving Adidas a Calabasas spin. Photo: Adidas Originals

By Mao Shan Wang

Kylie Jenner may not be as major as sister Kendall in the modelling business, but she is big in her own right and bigger still as a cosmetic seller, more so after being named by Forbes as the youngest near-billionaire (USD999 million is how much she’s worth, as reported) on its yearly ranking of America’s wealthiest “self-made” (controversial in the case of Kylie Jenner) women. I don’t know about you, but that sounds very much like success, which makes her decamping Puma for Adidas, where her sister is already the latter’s face, quite a puzzler.

“So excited to announce that I am officially an Adidas ambassador,” she boasted via Instagram stories recently. Nothing more was said. Two sisters for one brand is quite a lot. I don’t think Kylie Jenner is doing it for money—she’ll make more through her wholly-owned company Kylie Cosmetics. I don’t think it is about fame—the still-successful reality TV show with her family ensures that, as well as her IG following which numbers 114 million to date (versus Kendall Jenner’s paltry 94.7 million). I don’t think it’s about power—since the Forbes cover story broke, she isn’t lacking in that either.

What could it be then?

Adidas FalconThe Kylie Jenner-endorsed dad-ish Adidas Falcon soon to be released. Photo: Adidas Originals

Fore sure, I do not know. So, I am guessing here: It’s a cultural thing, a Calabasas thing, even a cheap thing! Cultural because the people of her ilk and tribe are all trying to be designers or faces of brands, whether they have this other thing called talent or not. Some are, of course, more successful than others, but that’s not important. Rather, it’s vital that you get your foot across the threshold and the Jenner sure have. Their half-brother-in-law only succeeded after many (news-making) attempts. It’s a Calabasas thing because in this lian town of southern California, people dress in a certain conspicuous way and they think the rest of the world wants to dress like them too, so much so that the name of the town appears on Yeezy apparel and attendant knock-offs. It’s a cheap thing because it costs the Jenners virtually nothing to get into the fashion business as almost everyone is clamouring to collaborate with them, which validates the power of association than the strength of talent.

Adidas, of course, loves working with non-talents. While they have teamed up with fashion mavericks such as Kolor’s Junichi Abe and corporate darlings such as Raf Simons, they have also paired with style-dubious Rita Ora with quite frankly dreadful results. In the case of choosing Kylie Jenner as the face (and body) of the brand, it is possible that Adidas is fulfilling Kanye West’s wish. Remember his now-deleted rant: “There will never be a Kylie Puma anything. 1000% Kylie is on Yeezy team!!!”? It isn’t hard to see that what Adidas mainly wants is her social media reach and her propensity to live her life publicly. They are happy to feature Kylie Jenner as she is, and she is happy to be as she is, complete with over-drawn brows and over-painted lips. Predictable? Yes, I know.

More Beads For The Mid-Sole

Puma Hybrid Runner Unrest

By Shu Xie

Two days ago, Neighborhood’s designer Shinsuke Takizawa posted on IG photos of his brand’s upcoming collaboration with Adidas: the Kamanda kicks. It isn’t so much the branding emblazoned across the upper that caught my eye. Rather, it is the bumpy mid-sole of the shoe. The tyre-like bumps on it reminded me of the little pearls encased in the Puma Jamming with NRGY beads.

Puma, it seems, love beads or tiny globules that look like beads, so much so that it has re-introduced the NRGY beads in the two new silhouettes that were launched earlier this month: the Hybrid Runner Unrest (top) and the Hybrid Rocket NETFIT (below). But unlike those of the Jamming, these beads look less like Poh Chai Pills, and more like the pebbled reflexology foot path (seen from afar) in HDB parks. Or even puffed rice!

Puma Hybrid Rocket NETFIT Aug 2018

The things they do to mid-soles these days. Excluding air bags and whatever grid work out there, I can count the speckles, the dots, the camouflage motifs, the marbling, the graffiti, the LED lights. All these extraneous treatment seem to come into effect for one purpose: they’ll look better when the sneakers get their own selfies. The new NRGY beads-encrusted (“filled”, according to Puma) IGNITE foam tempts one to touch it, and are more tactile than the earlier iteration fishbowled in the Jamming.

I am not sure how effective these beads are in giving you extra thrust when you do the 100-metre dash, but they seem a little gaudy for any track. Regardless, I slipped into both the Hybrid Runner Unrest and the Hybrid Rocket NETFIT (actually a lacing system). The former triumphed: the lining under the knit upper allows the foot to slip into the shoe easily without snagging. This, however, was not a princess and the pea(s) moment as I did not feel the NRGY beads underfoot. Still, there’s no denying that the IGNITE foam allows walking, if not on something frothy, at least on something akin to a mattress. Isn’t that easy to love?

Puma Hybrid Runner Unrest, SGD 159, and Hybrid Rocket NETFIT, SGD 219, are available at Puma stores islandwide. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

A Case For Clear

Beam X Ziploc fanny pack

By Mao Shan Wang

After airlines around the world impose a limit on the quantity of liquids allowed in bags that are to be carried in the cabin, post-September 11, I have given Ziploc bags a life outside the kitchen. Sure, airport security no longer strictly require you to have the secrets to your enviable skin in a see-through case, but I still stick with the Ziploc as I am not especially mindful of screwing the caps of toners and shampoos tight before putting them away for a flight. As you know, mucky or soapy Ziplocs can be easily and inexpensively replaced.

What I did not expect is that Ziploc can become articles of fashion, not especially when many parts of the world are banning (or restricting) the use of disposable plastic bags. To be fair, a Ziploc need not be for one-time use since they are stronger and more resistant to tear that those plastic bags found in the fruit section of supermarkets— available in a roll and can be torn off on the perforated line whenever you need one, or two, or, shocking, more. Thanks to the trend for see-through this and that, from Chanel to Jil Sander, Japan’s Beams has collaborated with the 50-year-old zipper storage bag Ziploc to offer an 8-piece collection of accessories that will delight those who like to let the world see what they transport in their daily commute. A collective metaphor for how so many enjoy exposing their lives as they ’Gram and Twitter their way through the day?

Beam X Ziploc toteI suppose it can be said that Balenciaga’s take on Ikea’s Fraktar bags started this trend of using the most everyday and utilitarian of items to turn into fashionable bags and wearables. It is uncertain if Beams intended this collection to be ironic or on-trend, or humorous since shower curtains have been material of choice for both fashion design students and working designers for a long time, but I do think that the result of this partnership is quite clever and unexpected. What would have been sandwich or freezer bags can now see the light of day in perfect company with such esteemed names as Nike Zoom Fly SP, the see-through-but-not-as-transparent sneakers many are now wearing.

Especially intriguing and attractive, I think, is the bum-bag. Who would have guessed that a Ziploc can morph into this season’s bag of choice? The discreet Ziploc branding is like a little inside joke: cute but not as quick-to-become-a-cliché as the vapid DHL on T-shirts. If the use of a Ziploc bag as a bag is too obvious, how about a visor, cap, umbrella, or even an apron? Beams, it seems, has you covered.

The Beams X Ziploc collection is currently unavailable in Singapore. Your best bet is to get a friend travelling to Japan to cop them for you. Photos: Beams

Bath Time: Return To Fresh

Is this Nesti Dante soap the best-smelling bar to buy?


Nesti Dante Soap Cipresso

By May Goh

I am not a soap user but I do like to use soaps. Does that make sense? The last soap I remember using was a green bar that I recall to be known as Popinjay Soap, but is now, I was told, packaged as Parrot Botanicals (no. 333!), and is still available. Unfortunately for the toilet soap (in case you think I am referring to lubricating grease!), shower gels and creams and a bevy of Dove girls have made the liquid soap the cleanser of choice for our shower.

What got me into soaps again is this giant of a bar (11cm X 6.5cm) by the Florentine company Nesti Soap Works, which markets their soap products under the brand Nesti Dante. A friend gifted it to me and I thought it was a rather unexpected and delightful choice. Eager to try something that I have given up for at least 20 years, I put this irresistible cypress-scented bar to use as soon as I got home that evening. It released its aromatic power even before I could rip it off its paper wrapping. It lathered into a cloud and allowed itself to meander through my body better than a bath sponge.

What I especially like is the solidness of this triple-milled soap (triple-milling yields soaps without impurities and are known to last longer) is its smoothness and hardness. I was told that a Nesti Dante soap used by one can last four months! It is surprisingly non-drying too (and sulphate-free and parabens-free and the rest of it). What some users might find ungainly is the size of the bar. It is huge: larger than a kitchen scrub!

The soap is so well scented that you don’t need an air freshener in the bath room as the fragrance of the soap lingers long after you’ve showered and left the bathroom. Redolent of a cypress forest, this soap smells wonderful on the body and in the air. In the bathroom, I feel I am among conifers as it rains. Outside, I am enveloped by a breeze that is naturally intoxicating. In my bedroom, I feel I am in some highland lodge and the Yuletide season has arrived, and a fire is crackling to warm. Bliss.

Nesti Dante soaps, SGD15.90 each, are available at Robinsons and Tangs. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The Air Soles For Every Day

With an air sole that looks very much like an elevated heel, is the Air Max 270 Nike’s most striking silhouette of the year?


Air Max 270 Aug 2018

It has been a prolific 2018 so far for Nike. Hot on the heels of the wildly successful VaporMax and its kindred styles, Nike launched a rather unusual silhouette under the Air Max banner: the 270, named, according to the brand, after an internal reference that pointed to the 270 degrees of visibility of the mid-sole of the Air Max 93, which, together with the Air Max 180, inspired the new shoe.

While most brands are rushing to release chunky sneakers to cash in on the dad shoe craze, Nike has not really joined the mad dash in an obvious way (okay, there’s the M2K Tekno, but that’s really released in the shadow of more forward models such as every piece sitting atop the VaporMax mid-sole). The Air Max 270, primarily a “lifestyle” shoe, is a lot sleeker than it looks and, in fact, does make our wide Asian feet look narrower through its well-shaped Flyknit upper. Clunky may be for now, but streamlined and beautifully contoured, we are certain, is forever.

Air Max 270 heel Aug 2018

The 270’s real draw is, to us, the heel. The Air Max unit at the back is 32mm high, which is the tallest ever sported on any Air Max. Organically shaped, with a butt that would not be out of place in a Zaha Hadid building or alongside Kim K’s derriere, the air sole gives the impression that they’ll give you extra lift at the heels, but they do not. It’s visually misleading, just as the Louis Vuitton Archlight is—you see a sneaker that may cause the mid-foot to arch, but it does not. The 270 has only a gentle, barely discernible lift at the heel, which causes the foot to inch slightly forward when in stride. It is, therefore, best to wear the 270 with socks for added internal traction even when Flyknit fans would not.

Although out in January, we did not really get to see the shoe in large numbers until recently. We are lured by this colour way: the ashen slate and black (rather than the black and white version, which is the preferred fashionista colour combo). The ashen slate is a variant of baby blue, and the sweetness/gentleness of the colour is a perfect contrast to a sneaker that seems to tower with might, but is really a gentle-to-feet giant.

Nike Air Max 270, SGD229, is available at Nike stores and Seek. Photos: Jim Sim



A Japanese Sensibility

Tokyo eyewear chain Zoff’s store front image is evocative of a community project by the late Shunji Matsuo. Could this be Makeover Magic reincarnated?


Zoff ‘Eye am a Hero’ campaign seen at ION Orhcard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

The man may no longer be with us, but for many, he left behind something quite memorable. In 2013, the late celebrity hairstylist Shunji Matsuo conceived Makeover Magic, a hair/fashion show—first staged in Mr Matsuo’s hometown of Kobe, Japan—to bring some cheer to cancer survivors, as well as women of advanced age (at that show, the oldest was in her late 90s). This came about after Mr Matsuo was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Makeover Magic not only gave the women (later, men) a look they probably never thought they could pull off, but also brought a smile to their faces and a spring to their steps. As stylist to the first show Vik Lim told the enthralled audience that evening, “It’s important to dress to feel confident.”

That confidence came through, too, for the participants in Japanese eyewear retailer Zoff’s spring/summer ‘Eye am an Hero’ campaign in which an elderly couple (and a trio who could be their grandchildren) are outfitted as if to beat Iris Apfel at her own game! The result is fierce. This isn’t street fashion; this could be sutairu  otaku gone deliciously mad. The old folks not only looked nothing like your grandparents, they appear ready to enter any club that welcomes such appearances so that they can ‘rock it’. In spirit, Makeover Magic seems to live again.

Makeover Magic Japan 2013Shunji Matsuo Makeover in Japan 2013. Photo: Shunji Matsuo

The looks on the Zoff print ads and TV commercials are styled by Kyoko Fushimi (伏見京子), one of Tokyo’s most renowned stylists whose striking work has appeared in magazines such as So-En and Composite, and who has collaborated with Tokyo retailers such as Laforet Harajuku. There is a high degree of pleasure to see that fashion knows no age limit and that a stylist isn’t restricted by the biological advances that say one isn’t young anymore. Equally a joy is to witness fashion brands going beyond the typical demographics that show those financially endowed to communicate the desirability of their products. It would be regrettable if this is so only in Japan, or among Japanese.

It is very likely that upon learning of his illness, Mr Matsuo wanted to give back to society by reaching out to those he thought was as ill as he was or wasn’t as privileged in terms of what he had achieved and gained in life. Although Makeover Magic was initially conceived for his homeland, it was eventually extended to Singapore, the home of his considerable business. When Mr Matsuo was once told that some people may think that he was making these women he chose look a tad foolish, he replied with certainty and a smile, “They don’t see what I see.”

The Return And Rise Of The Platform Sneaker

Nike Air Force 1 Jester declared not long ago that the wedge is “fashion’s most contentious shoe”. Yet, in the sneaker world, platforms continue to give familiar silhouettes extra elevation. This is significant as many women think that sneaker brands are ignoring them as a consumer group, never mind that for most popular drops, women’s get the most striking colour ways such as those seen on the various iterations of Nike’s VaporMax.

It seems that to attract women, chromatic variations alone aren’t enough. Sneaker brands are adding platform mid-soles to some of their more popular styles, clearly to entice women who require extra lift in their shoes that they will neither see track nor field. Puma has always been a proponent of the platform sneaker. Their Basket Platforms, to name one, has always scored high on the scale of desirability among those who prefers kicks that tower. This was even before Rihanna made platform mid-soles regular in her Fenty line with Puma. Going heel-to-heel is Adidas, with the taller-than-usual Superstar, mildly tagged Bold. Even the mostly conventional Vans issued their own, the Old Skool Platform.

Nike Vandal 2K

The latest to join the rise is Nike. The reiteration of the 36-year-old Air Force 1 with a thicker mid-sole called Jester is possibly one of the most attractive platform sneakers out there. Foremost a basketball shoe, then what Nike now calls a “streetwear legend”, the Jester is designed for fashionistas than sportswomen—definitely for those who are inclined to post their footwear online to encourage envy. It comes with what appears to be double mid-sole (in two colours), a Swoosh re-positioned to swoop down on the sole (to enhance its “off-kilter” standing), and a label—just like those on clothing—that hangs loose on the back of the out-step. To better keep up with their Off White collabs?

If a higher shoe is required, Nike has the Vandal 2K, a re-imagining of the classic Vandak High silhouette, with the ankle strap moved downward to the mid-foot. If you look down at the upper of the 2K, you’d see a good-looking basketball shoe. But from the side, with its platform mid-sole, it looks oddly proportioned. Perhaps the shoe to go with track pants that can be unbuttoned on the sides right to the hip to expose the limbs. This deliberate split opening we were recently told is the coolest way to wear them track bottoms. Platform sneakers, it seems, have found a worthy partner.

Nike Women’s Air Force 1 Jester, SGD179, and Nike Women’s Vandal 2K, SGD199, are available at Dover Street Market Singapore. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Who Would Have Guessed They Were In Hollywood?

At the Los Angeles premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, our Singaporean actresses looked like they were dragged to a Mediacorp event

Fiona XieFiona Xie. There are dresses and there are fabrics folded and bunched at the waist. Maybe this is so that you can stretch your right leg to over there? Or, were you auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance too? Photo: AFP

By Mao Shan Wang

What is it about the red—or green—carpets of Los Angeles that makes Singaporeans stepping on them sartorial mishaps? Or is there something in our DNA that prevents us from looking smashing wherever we are, for whatever we do? I can overlook the blunder a journalist, who’s a movie-land greenhorn, can make, but for seasoned actors on the carpeted pathway to a movie premiere to look like they were dressed for the corridors of the Mediacorp studios is as puzzling as the media’s love for calling Julie Tan a “Singapore sweetheart”. You are not at ‘The Red Curtain Artistes Arrival’; you are not at the Star Awards!

“Crazy Rich Asians cast stuns on the red carpet in wildly opulent fashion” read the news feed that appeared on my social media page. You bet I was stunned. For all the talk about the Kevin Kwan novel-turned-movie’s “crazy rich fashions”, our Singaporean cast’s turn out at the film’s premiere on Tuesday was everything one usually fears for the Icon Ball. Perhaps this was their not-the-Life-Theatre-Awards night and the actresses felt emancipated: the perfect chance to show their up-to-now unexpressed glamour.

Tan Kheng HuaTan Kheng Hua. Maybe you’re still role-playing. Otherwise, why fly over 14,000 kilometres to LA to look like Xiang Yun’s long-lost sister suffering from an irrational fear of wardrobe malfunction? Photo: AFP

Still, we’re really not expecting much—I know I wasn’t. Actually, I dared not. These actresses are, after all, not models. I’m clear about that. Their relationship with fashion is, at best, a casual one. They dedicate their lives to their art, not clothes, which is possibly rarely broached. For some, in fact, the only fashion designer in Singapore is Frederick Lee. That’s not surprising since Mr Lee is to the English drama circle what David Gan is to Channel 8. To compound the situation, gowns are probably not a staple in their wardrobes. So, when an occasion calls for one, fantasy or the princess syndrome strikes.

There could also be the possibility of the pressures of the red—oops, green, er, “jade”—carpet appearance. You were, after all, going to be sharing the photo wall with bigger—way bigger—stars and Hollywood premiere regulars such as Michele Yeoh, and you knew she would be dazzling. And while you may not out-dazzle her or any of them, you do not wish to appear as a cast member of a B-movie crashing the premiere of a major studio release. So you try harder. Effort, unfortunately for those who depend on it, does not always look effortless, and too much effort just looks, well, too much.

Constance LauConstance Lau. The cheongsam has a rather sad recent history. It can’t be its true self: it has to be re-imagined, it comes in parts, or is fringed to hide private parts. Sometimes it morphs into a nightmare that’s better confined to a bedroom no one should enter. Photo: AFP 

Janice KohJanice Koh. You’re an Ong Shunmugam super fan, we understand, and you want to do Singapore proud by wearing something that has ethnic cred—comprehensible, but this is the premiere of the film you starred in, not its untimely funeral. Photo: Getty Images

By too much, I do not mean Cher-much. Or the excesses of the starlets/wannabes at the Golden Horse Awards. Or the heat that melts letters on photo walls! Too much can be in the form of an overly-high bustier bodice such as that on the Ralph & Russo gown Constance Wu wore, and the ridiculous fringe-as-sleeves that went with it. Or, the folds of fabrics radiating from Fiona Xie’s snugly sashed waist. Or, the breast-dusters Tan Kheng Hua passed off as earrings (“tetek ticklers”, a friend calls them!). Or, whatever you call that, bursting out of Selena Tan’s bosom. It is admittedly hard to be judicious about what strikes the right balance on a red carpet. Even Nicole Kidman isn’t always the belle of the ball. Does that not mean that one should err on the side of modest, especially if you’re not a red-carpet pro—designers too?

While the Singaporean stars did not serve a style fest, they should be commended for choosing to stand up for Singapore fashion. Still, I would have preferred that did choose. Select! Pick out! Fine, you like obscure labels such as Time Taken To Make A Dress or to allow your makeup artist/stylist to influence you, but surely there must be something that does not look like it really takes that much time to make, but doesn’t cover that much. Or, if you adore Ong Shunmugam, choose something that does not look like a cheongsam meets chasuble, something not severely all-black, something that does not suggest you’re attending a funeral or entering a nunnery.

Selena Tan, Crazy Rich Asians PremiereSelena Tan. After letting whatever that is sprout and cascade from your cleavage, did you forget you were going to a movie premiere when you stepped out in those Tiong Bahru market sandals? Photo: Getty Images

Koh Chieng MunKoh Chieng Mun. We get the Nonya references and that you were eager to shed the Dolly frumpishness. The problem is, brocades tend to look better on empress dowagers. Maybe it’s better to channel Ronda Chieng? Photo: FilmMagic

It is amusing to see our actresses adopting “the Asian look” as if it were a pet. As far as I am aware, none of the characters in Crazy Rich Asians wear cheongsams or a version with those lame, stout, loose-fitting mandarin collars. Certainly not Astrid Leong, who, in the book, pairs Yves Saint Laurent le smoking with batik shorts bought from a Bali street vendor. We simply do not have such whim and derring-do among us. When it comes to modern representation of our city-state, cheongsam shapes/details are de rigueur. It seems that for our clothes abroad, we think and choose like a politician’s wife. We pander to the West’s sense of Eastern exotica. We bring along a marketing message: Visit Singapore.

And if that message gets across, visitors will come to our city and they will be amused to see a population largely in T-shirts and shorts and flip-flops—our true national dress. This was one chance to show the world we can look better than that, but no one reached out for the stars. The attendees at this one Hollywood premiere can perhaps say that, as a nation, we do not dress well frequently enough, and when the occasion calls for well-dressed, we can’t pull it off convincingly. Well-dressed is simply not our second skin. And I doubt anyone, always too bothered by our muggy afternoons, really cares.

Two Of A Kind: Pencil Lines Above The Eyes

Rihanna’s thin lines as brows are so rarely seen these days that even the major dailies are talking about them. But elsewhere, another woman too had her brows considerably narrowed and raised… rather earlier


Rihanna Vs CarinaLeft: Rihanna. Photo: British Vogue, Right: Carina Lau. Photo: Huayi Brothers

Rihanna sure knows how to make the news. It’s not good enough that she lands herself on the cover of British Vogue—September issue no less, she has to make a statement with her eyebrows. Or, those ridges exposed by the fine-line arcs above, and made more pronounced by makeup known as highlights. The thin curves of brow—drawings rather than actual hair—are slightly more refined than the markings plastic surgeons make before facial reconstruction surgery. You need to have some pluck to be so plucked, but when it comes to fashion, we know Rihanna has always been plucky.

By contrast, on another continent, Carina Lau’s thin eyebrows are a tad more brow-like if only because hers are a hair-width thicker (or was it because of the unsteady hand of the makeup artist?). Playing a power-threatened Empress Wu in Tsui Hark’s third Detective Dee film, The four Heavenly Kings (狄仁杰之四大天王), Ms Lau goes through anger fits, augmented by considerable camp, only to raise the already high, penciled lines even higher. In fact, predating—in more ways than one—Rihanna, Ms Lau was also cast as China’s only female emperor in the earlier Rise of the Sea Dragon (狄仁杰之神都龙王), and similarly with those fearful, elevated eyebrows. If God is a Woman, as Ariana Grande sings, would she have skinny eyebrows too?

In any case, these ultra-slender eyebrows are really not new. For those old enough, they will remember, if not their mother, or an aunt or two, certainly Angelica Houston and Faye Dunaway in the ’60s/70s, two actresses who knew how to work their brows to say don’t mess with me or come over here. Back then, their brows did not seem to lack denseness. In fact, the thin lines were considered feminine. If you are older still, there were the tweezer-dependent Clara Bows and Greta Garbo, but who’s looking that far back these days? After the bushiness of those on Brook Shields, which came very much face-to-face through the covers of American Vogue in the ’80s, women could not return to eyebrow width that’s equivalent to an actual strand of hair, to the point that tattooing is now a common permanent solution for those who are not able to be defined above the eye.

Girls of Colleen coloured pencilsPhotos: Macoto Takahashi/Colleen Pencil Company

If you look at the Rihanna cover closely—and it tempts examination, there’s something almost comic about the cosmetic composition. The eyebrows are so thin and arced (and sit so high up towards the hairline) that they seem to be a take on those typical of the characters of Japanese illustrator Makoto (sometimes spelled Macoto) Takahashi. Mr Takahashi’s dreamy portraits are likely unfamiliar to the Adobe Illustrator Draw set, but for those who had used Colleen coloured pencils in their school days, these damsels with perfectly circular eyes and those penciled brows would be an evocative amble down memory lane.

Colleen coloured pencils are no longer distinctively presented as before and the cases do not bear those illustrations synonymous with the Colleen Pencil Company when it was a Japanese business. Some time in the ’80s, the manufacturer went bust. In 1989, Colleen re-established itself as a Thai enterprise based just outside Bangkok. Even if Mr Takahashi’s illustrations were to be revived (these days, more likely to appear are cuter characters such as those of Little Twin Stars), it is doubtful any Millennial will decamp the thick-brow stronghold fronted by Clara Delevingne.

The thing about ultra-thin brows is that significant tweezing is required and near, if not complete, bareness is to be expected. For many woman, plucking a large swath of eyebrow is tantamount to cutting long hair short: it’s unthinkable or difficult to stomach, and can drive some to tears. Rihanna may be considered today’s eyebrow trendsetter, but she may not wield much influence if thin-line eyebrows do not draw adopters in numbers large enough to be considered a trend. The proclamations of Vogue, as we know, have considerably less impact on modern lives these days. It is indeed doubtful if thin can really be in again.

Oh, Mickey!

Mickey Mouse visits us on our 53rd birthday in 2018, and we put a hand towel on his head!

Mickey Go Local 1

By Mao Shan Wang

A friend of mine texted me yesterday to ask me to drop by Raffles City to look at “what they have done to Mickey”. “You have to see it,” he added for good measure. Since he put it that way, missing it might mean missing out! In case you don’t already know: like you, I suffer from a critical case of FOMO. So this afternoon, during my otherwise bo liao lunch break, I paid mi laoshu a visit.

What could you do to Mickey that Mini has not? It did not take long for me to see what my friend meant. There were many Mickey figurines, ninety to be exact, all painted/dressed/adorned differently. However, this is not quite like the painting of elephants (in 2011, our version of the Cow Parade) or other creatures that had previously gripped our nation and the celebrities who think they are artistic. This is desecration of a Disney icon. Unless you have a very wonky need to see the mouse Walt Disney drew become a Chingay charmer.

In a nutshell, Mickey is made to ‘Go Local’, very much like how it is for the APEC leaders’ Family Photo—as hackneyed but cheesier. This is a Disney and Raffles City partnership in conjunction with the shopping centre’s Art in the City program, which, this year, coincides with our nation’s 53rd birthday and Mickey’s 90th anniversary (on 18 Nov). Put art aside. Mickey is accorded the hospitality we’re known for: plunge the non-native in a vat of rojak.


When we go local, we seem to think of cultural jumble or of the past. Nostalgia is big. It is as if most of the participants—Mediacorp stars, media types, and leaders of industry—had gone to the Naiise School of Art and Design and were taught by sentimentalist Jack Neo, aka Liang Ximei. We’re in our 53rd year of nationhood, yet we still see ourselves as emerging from the end of the Japanese Occupation. If it isn’t so, I don’t know why we desire to dress Mickey Mouse as a satay seller hawking on the street. And what’s with the obsession for the Good Morning towel?

I am unclear why Mickey Mouse is such a strong trigger for nostalgia. Could it be because he’s a cartoon character from another era, way before 4K televisions and digital transmission? A smart nation is what we’re aiming to be, yet Mickey going local in most of the 90 iterations appear to reflect a Singapore when the international airport was still in Paya Lebar and self-check-in was as fathomable as selfies. Interestingly and disappointingly, only one Mickey is depicted as a creature of a modern city: he is tattooed in digital motifs.

Talking about numbers, repeated ideas do say something about our national interests (or should that be obsessions?) and pride. We’re clearly a nation that loves to eat (food theme: 13); we’re delighted with our Garden City reputation (floral/orchid/garden theme: 10); we don’t like plush, fluffy French terry—we prefer Good Morning towels (it appears 7 times); we’re enamoured with Malay culture (batik/ikat motifs: 6); we love our HDB heartland (public housing/playground theme: 5); and we’re eager to salute NSmen (camo/national service theme: 5). Who’s surprised?

Mickey Go Local 3

Unexpectedly, love for Peranakan culture and cuisine is barely palpable (3), same for the Merlion (1), the night races of the F1 Grand Prix (1), and, gasp, 4D/gambling (1). Halfway through, I was expecting Singapore Girl representation, but I guess that’s a tough one. It’s a lot easier to do Phua Chu Kang—he’s all of us: more for most, less for the rest. Dick Lee is missing too, although above me, they were playing Home.

And like the majority of us, fashion is not Mickey’s strong suit, and we know it. So we are not careful with the aesthetic abuse. If we don’t make him look kopi tiam-ready, we make him bloom like he’s dressed by Far East Flora. When the preferred garment by most of us is the T-shirt, only two Mickeys have one on. And when sneakers are the footwear of choice, only four of them are given some semblance of trainers. Intriguingly, a kind soul has given him a square of a tuala for his head because “with such hot weather in Singapore, he would need… a cute little towelette mimicking the Samsui women whose hard work helped shaped Singapore…” If there’s any imitating to do, I’d pick a certain Balmain-designed kebaya, but, as I remind myself, this is a family exhibition.

I am not sure how we’re going to impress visitors already not impressed by our fashion sense. Or convince them we have fashion on our mind. Maybe it’s just easy to localise Mickey. He has been wearing what seems to be only red shorts for almost all his life that no matter what you pile on him, it’s better than those trunks. I am not suggesting we send Mickey to Ho Ching’s samfu maker, but there must be an approach to dressing an overseas guest that does not involve the preference synonymous with Miss Singapore dressmakers: chap chai campur that’s tenaciously Singapura.

Mickey ‘Go Local’ is on at Raffles City, level 1 from today till 29 Aug. Photos: Zhao Xiangji