Happy, Happy New Year!

SOTD New Year greeting 2019

It came and went—2018, and what a newsy one it was, from designers insulting a nation to those who must leave a fashion house no matter how good they are, from street wear’s upward climb to couture’s lateral fade, from local retail’s increasing blandness to Orchard Road’s continued languor. Here at SOTD, we will persist to post what we—even diffidently—have in mind. Unflinchingly. Thank you for your encouraging support, especially for the long-form posts that we enjoy researching and writing. From all of us at SOTD, have a blessed year ahead.

And a stylish one, too.

Photo: Jim Sim

Strides For Spring

Even before the last tinsel and bauble are taken down, Chinese New Year is on Nike’s mind

 

Nike CNY.jpg

We already know Asia is important to many Western brands, but the importance of Chinese New Year, during which, in China alone, close to 1.4 billion people celebrate what is commonly referred to as Spring Festival, isn’t as closely aligned to their merchandising plans until in recent years. CNY is as crucial to the bottom line as, Christmas is. That Nike has put together a thematic drop of no less than seven styles specifically for the occasion is, doubtlessly, a sign of how massive CNY shopping has been and continues to be.

This is Nike’s 12th consecutive year putting out kicks that salute the cultural might and commercial potential that is CNY. That means all 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac have been honored. The Swoosh is, in fact, one of of the earliest brands to recognise the importance of CNY to an entire continent and has responded accordingly—and successfully—before competitors such as Adidas and luxury brands,—first Prada, then Gucci, among others—joined the fray.

While it is true that many people no longer consider dressing well for CNY necessary or important, it is also not incorrect that those who still bother have adopted a more casual approach to festive dressing. Sneakers are visibly now the shoes most wear to visit relatives during the festive holidays, or that you’ll see gathering at doorsteps.

Nike’s CNY offering includes the Jordan and Converse brands, and sports not Chinese characters, but a motif that the American label thinks is what Chinese customers may find appealing, or modern. This is primarily in the form of the Chinese patchwork style known as bai jia yi (百家衣, or hundred-family robe), a quilting technique that is very much a part of China’s folk tradition.

There is, of course, nothing folksy about Nike’s bai jia yi. They are rather pop in their treatment, a mash-up that a generation pre-conditioned by multifarious media will appreciate. In fact, we think it might be something Pharrell Williams would have produced if he were similarly inspired—a touch of exotica that is rather Japonais!

Nike’s announcement of the CNY shoes are consistent with the current preference for starting the sale of CNY merchandise before the 1st of January. The upcoming year of the Pig is the last animal in the Chinese zodiac, perhaps that’s why brands such as Nike aim for a head start.

Nike’s CNY editions are expected to be out throughout January 2019. Watch this space for more info on the launch dates. Photo: Nike

(2018) Winter Style 7: The Two-Length Coat

Nike X ACW coat AW 2018.jpg

Versatility is what we want when it comes to the ideal coat for travelling. If not a reversible one, why not an outer that can be adjusted for two different lengths?

This Nike X A-Cold-Wall* jacket in double tones of concrete and slate, which Nike calls “cool grey and gunsmoke”, is very much a 2-in-1 that pretends not to be. You really can’t tell at first look. This coat, with the oversized pouch pockets, consists of two parts, with a lower half that can be removed slightly below the waist by unzipping. That leaves you with a cropped (but not too much) upper half that goes perfectly over an elongated sweater.

But the fun in this is in the lower half. Unzipped to the rear, but not entirely removed, you’ll get a different silhouette of a short front and longer, draped back. The sides of the bottom piece comes with snap-buttons that can be undone so that when completely adhered to the upper, you get slits for limps to take wider strides. But that, if you can imagine, is not all. Depending on how you unzip and how you unsnap, the jacket can take on an asymmetrical bottom half!

This season, Nikelab, a more design-oriented offshoot of Nike, collaborates with three different brands (apart from their usual partners such as Undercover): Ambush, Fear of God, and A-Cold-Wall*. Of all the three streetwear heavyweights, ACW (as it’s commonly referred to) offers the strongest looks. ACW’s Samuel Ross, who has worked for Virgil Abloh before launching his own label, is, in our eyes, a better designer than his former employer, and the collaboration with Nike shows that he does have technical flair and eye for detail. Sometimes, all it takes is a zip and a few snap-buttons to make things that much more interesting.

Nike X A-Cold-Wall* unisex jacket, SGD829, is available at DSMS and Nike.com/sg/. Product photo: Restir. Montage: Just So

(2018) Winter Style 6: Ear Protection

Earbags

They are known as Earbags, but are really band-less muffs. These cup over the entire ear, which, in some way, are no different from those silicone ear covers that are used when you colour your hair at the salon. But these, to us, are niftier: they encase the ears easily and with far much more fetching designs.

Produced by accessory maker Sprigs, these muffs (a better word than bags, we think), hold on to the ears snugly and would not come off if you have to run, say, to avoid a blizzard. To wear them (there is even a video to show you how), all you need to do is flex it open, position them over your ear, and snap them in place. With three different sizes to choose from, they really fit snugly and comfortably.

What’s even more appealing is that Earbags come in a myriad of rather fun designs including those that mirror the holiday season. That can mean one for each #OOTD, if such things matter to you.

Earbags, SGD30 a pair, are available at Outdoor Life. Product photo: Sprigs. Montage: Just So

Possible: The Hybrid Slipper-Sneaker

We were on a hunt for something that slipper-loving individuals may cop that would not sacrifice their need for supreme comfort, and and we remember these

 

Whole Love Kyoto.jpg

They can’t possibly exist. But they do. This is an intermarriage that will bring a smile to the most hardened skeptic. Or, the individual who wants the best of both worlds but, until now, has to settle for one. A sneaker can indeed be paired with thongs!

These are Hanao shoes and they are conceived and made by the indie Japanese label Whole Love Kyoto, a social-enterprise-like outfit that interprets traditional Japanese—for now, specifically Kyoto—crafts and techniques in compelling modern ways. Founded just a year ago, and based in Kyoto (of course!), the brand’s off-beat Hanao shoes have since been snapped up by hipster retailer D&Department (that collaborated with Comme des Garcons for the just-ended Good Design Shop) and the always alluring Beams. In London, they debuted in Liberty and Selfridges, cementing the brand’s elevated standing.

The head-turning Hanao is basically a classic sneaker style or a slip-on afixed with the thongs traditionally found on footwear worn with kimonos: the geta and the zori. These straps are not to be mistaken for those on the slippers we know since they are infinitely more attractive than the functional ones you’re used to seeing. If you pick the white sneaker base, you’ll look like you’re wearing the tabi with a zori!

We first saw the canvas version of the Hanao early this year in the Beams flagship store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. There was an immediate pull to them and we were keen to try them on, but they didn’t have the sizes we asked for. The Hanao is backed again at Beams, this time a pop-up for Whole Love Kyoto. If you have friends going to Tokyo, get them to cop you a pair. Or, alternatively, consider Whole Love Kyoto’s e-shop.

Whole Love Kyoto’s Hanao leather sneakers, ¥27,400, is available for both men and women at Beams, Shinjuku Tokyo. Photo: Beams Tokyo

(2018) Winter Style 5: The Reversible Coat

Because, sometimes, a 2-in-1 is just better

 

Muji Labo coat

When we travel in the winter months, we want to bring less, so that we return with more. That may pose a problem for those who can’t do with a just one coat. There should at least be one for day and one one for the evening, we hear you say. Of course there should be. And both could come in one garment.

This is what we found at Muji recently: a smart-looking 2-in-1 that can serve both the day to the outskirts and the night to the bars. Styled like a car coat, this dark olive outer in a supple, water-resistant polyester canvas comes with a smart, slightly sportif front side that can be worn belted for heat-trapping snugness.

If you reverse it, you get a black puffer with horizontal padding!

The coat is filled with 90% cotton down and 10 percent feathers, and is light enough for carrying around should the day-time temperature render it unnecessary. All in all, just the coat that followers of Marie Kondo will find swell.

Muji Labo woman’s reversible down coat, SGD224.10, is available at Muji, Plaza Singapura. Product photo: Muji Labo. Montage: Just So

Did The Grinch Steal Our Christmas Windows?

Orchard RoadDespite the Orchard Road light-up, Christmas is not quite discernible

By Ray Zhang

It’s the last Friday before Christmas*. I have taken time off from work to shop. Rather than the last-minute rush that seems to be what I see around me, I have decided to shop for myself… leisurely. That, and to soak in a bit of the festive atmosphere even when I was told to “not expect too much.”

“You’ve been away most Christmases,” my friends tell me as if berating. “This isn’t London. Don’t expect Tokyo either. Not even Bangkok!” To be honest, I am not expecting anything. Neither am I expecting this… Orchard Road retailers and mall operators have given up on Christmas.

Except to make the most money with the least interesting merchandise and virtually non-existing visual merchandising. I am not out looking for a Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas window or Ellen’s set during ‘12 Days of Giveaways’, but the thing is, this year’s Christmas windows are conspicuous by their absence. Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA**) may like you to believe that, with their heavily sponsored light-up this year, the festive season has arrived, but inside the air-conditioned comfort of malls, Christmas is no-season flatness. Retailers, like the Grinch, seem to have hearts “two sizes too small”.

TangsThe shockingly bland entrance of Tangs

Or a year-end budget too tiny to give windows a touch of—forgive the cliché—Yuletide magic. While I do not expect to see Orchard Road as Whoville, it is disconcerting to me that for most of the shops, stores, and malls, it is let’s-do-the-minimum-for-Christmas-this-year. Or, nothing at all. Could it be because there is no more Best Dressed Building Award*** that has been part of the Orchard Road Christmas Light-Up?

Once, we could always count on Tangs Department Store for more than a little festive cheer. Being a business proudly owned by Christians, it was unsurprising that Christmastime was when a huge portion of the marketing budget went into making their storefront and their interiors experientially stunning to bring in the crowds. But when I stepped off the escalator from the underground that connected me to this side of Orchard Road today, I was really rather shocked. Except for a box plonked in the middle of the entrance way that touted the offerings of their trim shop, the Tangs entrance was as bare as Santa’s shiny pate.

For many years since Tangs opened at Tang Plaza in 1982, the department store once known as C K Tang had been one of the most stylishly dressed during the year-end holiday season. One thing always impressed me: Tangs never had to resort to traditional Christmas motifs and mascots to decorate their store. Led by one of the best visual merchandising designers of the ’80s and ’90s, Ng Weng Sang (known professionally as Weng), Tangs, in the heydays of Orchard Road, was one of the very few retail stores willing to consider an equatorial Christmas, even intermittently employing Peranakan patterns and batiks.

bottega VenetaThe simple but striking pair of reindeer in the Bottega Veneta window

The result was always something that felt authentic even if it may be disingenuous to say so since Christmas, if identified by Santa and fir, and such, is largely a Western import or the subject of songs never written in this part of the world. Yet, Tangs was never deterred, and their Christmas aesthetic was always so unusual and yet familiar that other stores look to them with envy, or so I was told. But that Tangs was no more, particularly after they renovated their store in 2012 and basically forwent windows for a see-through into the ground floor, or space that can bring in what the industry refers to as “extra revenue streams” by renting parts of the frontage for advertising use. The long stretches of window, once festively glorious, now consigned to our memory.

Back at ION Orchard, thought to be the swankiest mall along the 2.2 kilometres of Orchard Road, once considered to have some measure of international standing, the Christmas cheer is a mere hum. This year, the mall—jointly owned by CapitaLand and Hong Kong-based Sun Hung Kai Properties (believed to be “the second most valuable real estate company in the world”)—tell us that is here “Where Christmas Truly Sparkles”. Frankly, I don’t see where the sparkles are (perhaps my astigmatism is blurring them from me). ION Orchard, for the most part, look like it always does: spanking sterile swank.

Even the outside, traditionally an expanse to draw selfie-mad shoppers, the decor/diorama is less grand than, say, last year. Sure, there’s the Ferris wheel in place of a towering Christmas tree, but this is not the site of a Christmas fair. Conspicuously sponsored by Cartier—even the seats are oversized versions of the luxury retailer’s jewellery boxes, the Ferris wheel gives the mall front of ION Orchard a decidedly playground vibe, yet one can’t ride the Ferris wheel, just as one can’t partake in the smörgåsbord that’s part of Dolce & Gabbana’s recycled window display, a stone’s throw away.

19-01-02-10-51-01-227_deco.jpgThe discreet decorations that are rather hidden in ION Orchard 

Inside, it was—as the office catchphrase goes—per normal. I am thinking: If the mall is not going to splurge on plastic Christmas trees and such, surely its tenants would do their part. Right in the middle of the atrium, two pop-ups—Bvlgari and Valentino—were set up. Both, nary a bauble in sight. In the windows of the other stores, it is anti-Christmas tinsel-free. That’s not counting Louis Vuitton’s trees, which could be transplanted from some enchanted forest, and decorated by Naiise.

Most festive at ION Orchard are the little troughs/planters that discreetly dot the mall, so discreet, in fact, that I almost miss them if I did not sit down on a bench near the escalator on level two to pen my thoughts for this blog post. These compositions of an imagine Christmastime in the woods, bauble-strewn and backdropped by poinsettias, are, I suppose, like secret gardens—when you stumble upon them, they rather make your day.

While looking at the only semblance of a Christmas window in ION Orchard—belonging to Bottega Veneta, I see a man near the entrance and strikes a conversation with him. As it turns out, he is from Bangkok and he is here with this wife, who is looking at a bag inside. “We came here to soak up the atmosphere,” he tells me. Do you like the atmosphere, I ask. “Not much atmosphere this year.” Why do you think that? “Maybe they are on a tight budget. Not so grand. Bangkok is not bad, you know. You should see IconSiam.”

FendiFendi has taken the maximum logo look for their clothes in recent seasons, but for Christmas, their windows are bare

I do not get to see IconSiam, of course, but I do get to see the rest of Orchard Road. The festive-free shops in ION Orchard are, as it turns out, not the exception. Luxury brands are as likely as fast fashion labels (H&M is particularly sad-looking) to go the without-Christmas-decor route. Inside Gucci at Paragon, it was business as usual and last-minute grab fest, sans festive decor. Even Paragon itself is a shadow of its usual Christmastime crowd-pleasing glory. Opposite, at Ngee Ann City, they are happy to just let the sole—this time not-sponsored—tree in the main atrium stand for the season’s high, for the rest of the mall.  Even the Santa’s nightcaps above glum faces at Gong Cha in the basement level are more festive! This bare minimum decorative approach stretches all the way to Raffles City, which, like other CapitaLand malls, has welcome the Grinch with open arms.

I suspect retailers and mall owners can’t be bothered because they are happy to let ORBA do the work. But cash-strapped ORBA is looking to Disney to sprinkle the festive dust, which has, unsurprisingly, upset the National Council of Churches of Singapore—more interested in getting people to go worshiping than shopping. As it is, shopping anywhere on Orchard Road is no fun. Minus the Yuletide decoration, retailers are minimising what is increasingly recognised as a key ingredient to drawing the spending crowd: experience.

Outside 313@Orchard, I saw a bored teen of about eighteen, unburden by even a single shopping bag, persuading his mother to go home. “回家啦,回家. (hui jia la, hui jia),”  he said, then, in English, added, “Nothing to see here.” The Grinch won. Even the Sugar Plum Fairy is of no match. And I am not hoping for a pas des deux between those two!

*A note on usage: Christmas here denotes Christmastime—the festive season rather than specifically the Christian holiday. ** Inexplicably, the ORBA website http://www.orchardroad.org has been down for more than a week. *** As such, we can’t confirm if the annual Best-Dressed Building competition is on this year

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

No More Cowboy Shirts

The first outfit of the first Calvin Klein collection that Raf Simons showed back in February last year. Photo: Yannis Vlamos/indigital.tv

It has been the talk of the fashion world for two weeks now. And it is finally confirmed. Raf Simons is leaving Calvin Klein, according to just-out reports by BOF and WWD. This is barely two years after his appointment in August in 2016, and reportedly eight months ahead of the end of his contract. We suppose if you were publicly noted by your boss for not bringing the results that he had hoped for, it is time to go.

Early this month, in an earnings report, CEO Emanuel Chirico of PVH Corp (the parent company of Calvin Klein that also owns Tommy Hilfiger) told the media how disappointed he was with the third-quarter earnings of the brand, especially the ROI in Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, the re-branded main line, which the company calls their “halo business”. In addition, Mr Chirico said that “some of Calvin Klein Jeans’ relaunched product was too elevated and did not sell too well.”

Not only were the styles elevated for Calvin Klein Jeans, the prices were elevated too. Is designer jeans still a category that has so much pull that Calvin Klein is still trying to maintain a lead? It isn’t clear if shoppers are willing to pay more than S$300 for what, to most of us, is a basic garment that we already own in numbers that are more than two. It does not require big data to know that people are now buying expensive hoodies rather than expensive jeans. With dismal sales, Mr Chirico was said to have described the new denim line as a “fashion miss”.

The signature shirt is also available for men. Photo: Mr Porter

But the problem it seems is the rather lukewarm response to Calvin Klein 205W39NYC at retail level. Sure, the fashion editors and fashion-correct influencers mostly love it, but from the first collection, we feel Mr Simons did not create anything as special as he did with his two earlier tenures: at Jil Sander and at Dior. We once heard a woman tell her boyfriend in DSMS that Calvin Klein 205W39NYC “doesn’t look expensive enough.”

The clothes shown on the runway may be eye-catching, but upfront, when they seen are on the racks, they are quite different. For all the minimalism they project, much of the lauded pieces feel heavy and thick to the touch, even in the summer season—more work wear than luxury threads. A common complain is the weight of the fabrics used in the frequently-featured western shirt (Melania Trump was an early adopter). It is in a cotton twill that is heavy enough for trousers.

Melania Trump in CKMelania Trump was one of the earliest public figures to wear the Calvin Klein 205W39NYC western shirt. Photo: Getty Images

The heavy fabric use has even filtered down to the cheaper CK Calvin Klein and Calvin Klein Jeans lines. The cotton poplin versions, too, weren’t breezy-light enough. It is a puzzling product development move and, as noted by some merchandisers, ignorant of the needs of much of Asia that constantly bake under equatorial heat. To be fair, the design team has translated the western shirt into some rather uncommon clothes for the other collections, such as polos and even puffer jackets.

Perhaps, most unnecessary is the relentless beating of the Americana drum. It isn’t certain if Americans are marching to the beat, but we suspect it may have increasingly become a difficult sell. Mr Simons seemed to get his kicks on Route 66, assuming the rest of the world is still enamored with American culture. He paid tribute not only to cowboys, but firemen too, and much in between, including the unlikely cartoonish sea terror Jaws. It is hard to believe that Americans will pay top dollar to cop these items that are already available, from mall stores to gift shops. That, to us, seem like peddling the Mandarin collar or tassel-earring to the Chinese.

We wonder if for European designers, Hedi Slimane included, America is exotic, which may explain why Mr Simons played with Yankee “icons” the way he did. We can imagine the twinkle in his eyes when he arrived in New York in 2016 to take up the post at Calvin Klein. Only thing is, this was no longer the America that he remembered and fantasized about. It was a wall-seeking/building America. And Andy Warhol, prophetic and unique, was, by then, dead.

(2018) Winter Style 4: The Floral Puffer

Bimba Y Lola puffer

For the longest time, puffer jackets were considered uncool. Women, conscious of their figure, thought the quilted down jacket, no matter its design, unflattering to the body. Who needs more bulk when, for most winter wear, a slender silhouette is not the eventual effect?

Then came Balenciaga, specifically what Demna Gvasalia designs for the house. Rather than negate the expected volume that comes with the puffer jacket when worn, Mr Gvasalia embraces it and, in addition, exaggerate what is already an exaggerated form. Suddenly the puffed-up puffer is cool and the sale of what was mostly associated with outdoor brands such as The North Face shot up.

This season, the puffer jacket continues to be the outer to buy for winter climes. But you should choose not the one in severe black (or such wintry bleakness of colour), but those that are bursting with blooms. Never mind if the floral print would be at odds with the landscape that you’ll be appreciating.

From Richard Quinn to Moncler’s Genius project with Grenoble and Simone Rocha, the floral puffer is having a moment, as the KOLs you follow most would say. Increasingly, designers are proving that winter wear need not be as glum as the weather.

We like this Bimba Y Lola version because the flora and fauna look decidedly ‘pop’, something that could be appealing to those who are not into pretty posies. The shape and silhouette of the jacket are consistent with what is preferred these days: a loose fit, with drop shoulders, and sans a hoodie. In other words, it merits the praise on trend.

Bimba Y Lola short rose print down coat, SGD575, is available at Bimba Y Lola stores and online. Product photo: Bimba Y Lola. Montage: Just So

Slippers: Footwear Of A Nation

It is often said that when it comes to dressing to go out, Singaporeans place comfort above all else. Are we really so comfortable with a nation of flip-flop wearers?

Flip-flop everywhere P1

One thing we can say with certainty about flip-flops in Singapore is that they are not a flop! Just one shoe style is enough to serve a whole nation’s footwear needs, whether it’s for a ballroom bash or the stage during a presentation on data science. Its ubiquity even prompted The Straits Times to call it a “National Shoe”. That’s rather impressive for a slip-on that’s barely there.

It’s hard to say when they became a serve-all-occasion near-obsession. The flip-flops, or slippers as we call them, have become the footwear of choice even when we are not going to 7-Eleven to buy bread or meet the MP in the void deck, or the pool to watch over the kids while they receive training to be the next Joseph Schooling. It is as if we were born with them on.

As far as everyone we spoke to was aware, including department store shoe buyers, we have been wearing flip-flops or some version—sandal, if you will—for as long as we were once a fishing village, even before Parameswara, the last Sultan of Singapura and, if you wish to go further afield, the founder of Melaka. Sure, most of the people of that time probably went about barefooted, but the difference then and now is a piece of rubber in the shape of your feet sole-side. We are no longer a largely coastal community, but we are still shod as if we spend a lot of time on board a sampan. It’s tempting to call this a love of the retro, but we wouldn’t go that far.

Flip-flop everywhere P2In a crowd, even if they don’t know each other, they’re united by their flip-flops

The weather is constantly blamed for our footwear of choice. Hot! Terok! Buay tahan! Proponents tell us that slippers are, therefore, ideal since they do not encase the feet, which means there isn’t a portable sauna attached to them. Without a hot and moist environment, we’re not going to be breeding fungi more than we’re breeding children. Since tinea pedis, for many people, is named after Hong Kong (which in the SAR is considered a “slang”) rather than connected to athletes, many are hopeful that we would not contract a variant that may need to be called Singapore’s Foot some day, which could propel our island towards an apocalyptic end.

People wore sarongs in the old days, too. A cloth wrapped round the lower half of the body is, as some kampong folk will vouch, heat-friendly as well, but those covers are not today exactly the go-to pants/skirt alternative no matter how much the sun is in love with our island. But, conversely, we have kept to the exposed feet of yore, even in the relative comfort of what Lee Kuan Yew called “a most important invention for us, perhaps one of the signal inventions of history”—air-conditioning.

Tat Sing slippers now adimaxWhat we know as Tat Sing slippers (left) is now sold as ‘adimax’

While flip-flops have been very much a part of our footwear choices in the past, it was not until the slow invasion of Sao Paulo-based Havaianas here in 2003 that slippers were seen as fashionable. Sure, when they first started to catch on, the less-informed balked at purchasing slippers for more that S$20 a pair. After all, they look similar to those worn to kopi tiams that cost a lot less than a McDonald’s Value Meal (now half, priced at S$2.50). However, those familiar rubber slippers with their blue straps, white tops, and black underside—thought to be local, but is produced in the Malaysian Peninsular by Tat Sing Plastic Industry (and now mysteriously sold as ‘adimax’*)—are not what you’d be seen in anywhere near Orchard Road.

Called chinelos in Brazil, Havaianas was founded in 1962 and was named after the Portuguese feminine noun for Hawaiian. Although it became wildly popular in its native Brazil (and enjoyed some success in the US in the ’70s), it only became a global sensation post-2000. Not long after its Singapore debut, Havaianas took off, surprising many shoe-business owners and watchers. These were clearly not the flip-flops we used to wear; these were immediately seen as different and, crucially, cool.

In the annals of brand successes in Singapore, one stood out—NewUrbanMale, even if only for the introduction of Havaianas to the populace. NewUrbanMale was started by three enterprising friends, Chua Shenzi, James Kwek, and Calvin Soh. They had wanted to cash in on the craze for fitted tees and tank tops that gym-buffed guys were seriously into, in and out of the gym—particularly out. Instead, they elevated the status of the humble slipper to something wearers considered a fashion statement. Their success with Havaianas took the owners by surprise and quickly launched NewUrbanMale to multiple-store prominence.

Havaianas slippers, without a free-standing store, are mostly available in department stores

NewUrbanMale’s first store in 2003 was situated in Orchard Road, in The Heeren, when the mall had HMV as the anchor tenant (not Robinsons as it now is), a three-story music haven before digital everything hit the delete key on them. NUM, as they soon referred to themselves, made it perfectly acceptable to wear flip-flops in the relative swankiness of the most visited shopping stretch on our island at that time when the owners styled themselves as walking billboards for the Havaianas, as well as the ringer-style tank tops that they sold.

Led by the media-friendly spokesperson Mr Chua, NUM staff—mostly muscular, fair-skinned, youth-blessed men—were kitted as if they were off to a game of beach volleyball. Everyday. This sun-and-sea vibe especially appealed to gay men, for whom insouciant casualness topped by overt sportiness was the height of sexiness. The NUM store was known as the “community centre for cute boys”. Even straight guys wanted in on “how good” these muscled men looked.

The rising popularity of Havaianas, too, coincided with the burgeoning dance music festival ZoukOut, an annual rave that put SG on the dance circuit map since 2000. Held at Sentosa’s usually sterile Siloso Beach, ZoukOut was, in part, the perfect excuse to put on footwear that would not do battle with the sand on the seashore. The slippers were sported on almost every male party goer’s feet. That, and the queer crowd’s “party tanks” that NUM were also known for. From city pavement to sandy beach and back again, flip-flops’ growing ubiquity meant that they were on track to conspire with the weather to be our nation’s preferred footwear of any place, any time.

HavaianasThe unmistakable Havaiana slippers, now commonly seen at the front door

NUM soon became a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. Towards the end of the 00s, people were num to the “clonish” offerings of the store. Tight-fitted clothes, by the middle of that century, had lost its initial look-at-my-gym-bod appeal. In 2007, NewUrbanMale lost the distributorship of Havaianas to the Philippines group Terry S.A. Five years later, NUM was no longer seen, except online and through the e-tailer The Jock Shop. The company is now headquartered in Taipei—“their first love”, according to people who know the owners, and a city with a more vibrant “party” scene.

But the popularity of Havaianas did not decline as the new distributor (operating under Moda Pacifica Pte Ltd in SG) continued to ensure that the demand for the Brazilian flip-flops did not wane. Still, it was hard to keep popularity at the top of the food chain, and Havaianas lost its good-enough-for-Orchard-Road shine. Smart-looking slippers were reaching all corners of our island. Who would have thought that in image-conscious, affluent Singapore, flip-flops would be this widely loved? By 2010, our appetite for them contributed to the reported 150 million pairs of Havaianas produced. According to the Financial Times, flip-flops have now become a £4-billion (about S$7 billion) global business.

Despite its increasing visibility in unexpected places, such as hotel restaurants, and those that are to be expected, such as lecture theatres of tertiary institutions, flip-flops were mostly adopted by men. Women, after all, have all manner of sandals and skimpy heels to choose from. While fashion had started to introduce to the world the shouldn’t-be-attractive Birkenstocks, including those with top straps of T-shape, rather than the common Y-shape, it would take the even uglier and flashier Fitflop to change women’s attitude towards slippers.

A commuter wearing what appears to be a pair of Fitflop

Fitflop, launched in 2007 in London by Bliss Spa and Soap & Glory skincare brand founder Marcia Kilgore, and available here in the same year, is the slipper that should not have been. However elevated they were marketed to be, they were the Crocs of their time. Touted for their supposed health benefits, Fitflops were able to tempt women here into buying and wearing them because these platform versions have come to enrich their lives with the comfort of bedroom slippers, the freshness of debutantes, and the brass of tai-tais.

It is understandable why women took a shine to them. Fitflops, if you are past the basic styles, allow you to graduate to more sophisticated iterations such as those sequinned or appliqued to the point that you may wonder if someone had attached hair accessories to the slippers. Women of a certain age, especially, took to them like buttons to button holes; they began building a collection of Fitflops, just as men did with Havaianas four years earlier. Fitflops, because they are supposedly better looking than the average flip-flops, and definitely more expensive, slowly entered the work force. If Havaianas took flip-flops out of the heartlands, Fitflops brought them to the office.

Slippers were, by now, enjoying a status we once accorded court shoes. We no longer talked about them in relation to going to the market, to buy nasi lemak for supper, as pre-game (such as tennis) footwear. We now spoke of (and chose) flip-flops as wardrobe choice for work, meetings with clients, and even for attending a colleague’s wedding (as one Fitflop catchphrase goes, “from walking to dancing”). Slippers, as a consequences, increasingly and visibly became the footwear of choice among those who have professional obligations too.

Flip-flops & work wear P6Lunch break and the feet need a break from closed footwear?

While HR guidelines may not stipulate proper footwear for the office, in these day of conscious and constant “wokefullness”, it is uncertain that the director of human resource would have the courage to tell a woman her flip-flops are not appropriate for the corporate corridor. Any sartorial barring might be seen as shaming, or the much-feared sexist. People are sensitive when it comes to their choice of clothing and, indeed, footwear, more so in a society that’s now too emotionally fragile.

To be sure that we weren’t observing incorrectly, we spent several lunchtimes in places with high office-girl traffic, and it appeared to us that even with the rapidly declining popularity of heels, women are not giving in to flats, not even a pair of sling-backs. One of our contributors, Mao Shan Wang, pointed out to us that the slippers we saw are what women tend to slip into when they are in the office and when they go out for lunch. They do wear “appropriate shoes” to work, we were told. This, apparently, is common, and can be seen in many work places, both corporate and back-of-house.

It is natural then to surmise that the shoes women wear to work are generally so uncomfortable that only replacing them with flip-flops when in the office that the tasks of the day could be completed with no stress to feet. Or, perhaps, the need to free the feet from close, clinging shoes is a sign of something else more to do with the “laid-back” attitude to dress that we, as a people, are certainly known for.

Flip-flops & work wear P7.jpgFeet and footwear are often apart when it comes to flip-flops

The change into flip-flops at work throughout work hours is, as we see it, akin to slipping into something more comfortable when one is in a comfortable environment such as one’s home. There is, after all, no more divide between private space and public space (or professional space). Key is “slipping into”, which suggests a sense of ease and has the attendant opposite action of “slipping out of”, also indicating how effortless it is if one is inclined to free oneself from the confines of the slipper. Clothes-wise, would we then need to some day also slip into the equivalent of the flip-flop once we arrived at our office cubicle?

Despite the near-nudity flip-flops afford the feet of the wearer, there is the habit of wanting a visible separation from them: Feet and slippers not enjoying close proximity. Sometimes, flip-flops encourage the whole leg to join the rest of the body on the chair. The need to extricate one’s foot—or feet—from the strap-retainers of the flip-flop as soon as one is seated (or even standing) is not easy to fathom. Wearing them is akin to having on the thong bikini bottom: You are already wearing close-to-nothing. So scant are flip-flops that it is tempting to compare them to underpants. The Australians, in fact, call them thongs! But underpants have to go under something. The flip-flop is free of such a commitment.

Flip-flops & work wear P8Flip-flops love company: they move in groups

Slippers have changed how we walk and sit—we drag our feet, rather than walk, and we loll, rather than sit, often times with legs splayed, or placed anywhere, but on the ground. How we conduct ourselves—in flip-flops everything is approached casually, with a chin-chai attitude. How we do not mind how others see us—too lazy to bother with shoes, simply sloppy, lacking in taste: doesn’t matter.

We are so used to flip-flopping that even when we wear sneakers, we shuffle, as if any effort in lifting one foot off the ground would result in some unimaginable injury to the ankle. So prevalent is this loose stride of hauling ourselves from point A to B and back again that even girls in high heels scrape their feet forward. The Chinese term for flip-flops perfectly describes their function: 拖鞋 (tuo xie) or ‘dragging shoes’. Women, mindful of deportment and feminine steps, complain of how the young these days cannot walk elegantly since most place their foot forward after the other in such a way that the feet placement mimics the vertical flip of the Chinese numeral for 8 (or 八).

It could also be the herd mentality at work. Everyone wears slippers; so we should. This is a Singaporean thing, we hear defenders of the flip-flop say. Deal with it. This is our destiny. Just as with chope, you can’t argue against it. This is who we are. We don’t care if we’re in a bus or in a plane, by Rochor Canal or in the middle of Gardens by the Bay, eating bak kut teh or bouillabaisse, we just want to be comfortable in our battered slippers. We don’t give a damn.

Shoes and slippers“One (pair) of things things is not like the others. One (pair) of these things just doesn’t belong”. Photo: source

Inappropriate habiliments, as with inappropriate behaviour, is rife, and a modern reality and, as we’re told, to be regarded as normal. This normal came to full public view last week when a photograph of no particular artistic value circulated online, and eventually received cracking coverage on The Online Citizen. At first look, nothing stood out. Just four guys, seated in a row on stage, participating in what could be presumed to be a forum. Then we noticed, just as they teach on Sesame Street, that “one of these things just doesn’t belong”.

In the centre of the lower-half of the photograph—shot by a non-photographer, a pale foot, underscored by a pair of black flip-flops, drew the eye. This popped up alongside other feet shod in what appeared to be business shoes. The offensive foot would not have been so or garnered attention if not for the fact that it belongs to Li Hongyi, the second son of our PM. Social media, as expected, saw either fierce disdain or hearty approval. To be sure, it was more of the former.

In Thailand, the wearing of flip-flops on occasions that require attendees to be held in due esteem is not only frowned upon, but totally avoided. Seated cross-legged with foot, covered or not, pointed at anyone is considered extremely rude. And open toes directed at any statue or image of Buddha is total sacrilege. But, here on the Little Red Dot, Mr Li, and so many others before him, showed that we really don’t care about such things. But you already knew that.

*We could be wrong about this. It is possible that the slippers is from a different brand

Photos (except indicated): Chin Boh Kay

This Could Have Been Fiorruci

By Mao Shan Wang

This must be another inspiration. We know Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is very inspired—roused by remembrance of things past, glorious or not. He was inspired by Dapper Dan, by Chateau Marmont and, now, it seems, he was inspired by Fiorucci.

Seriously, that was what I thought when I saw this ensemble in the window. And, yes, shocked I was, too. You see, when I caught sight of the logo on the singlet, it showed the last four letters—the U, the double Cs, and the I. The consonant G was obscured from my view. What was Fiorucci doing in a Gucci window? Enjoying being the source of Mr Michele’s inspiration? You would never know.

I was also not drawn by the singlet alone (it could be a leotard, I am not sure). There was the black tiger stripes against the lurid yellow base colour. I’m not sure if Fiorucci ever produced such a top, but somehow, it feels to me like something they did, some time in the ’80s.

The styling, too, added to the whole inspired-by-something vibe. The shaggy (faux?) fur cape and the black acid-washed jeans (with so many new laundering treatments these days, I could only guess) with the characteristic creases—conspired to bring me before some place between aerobics wear and auntie fashion.

Did I hear you say irony? Again?

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Knit Little Heels

Prada knit heels

By Shu Xie

The “technical fabric”, as the sales person at the Prada store told me, is the “latest”. It maybe the latest for Prada, but it isn’t so for the world of athletic shoes. If you are a wearer of sneakers with knitted uppers, such as the ground-breaking Nike technology known as Flyknit, you’d know what I mean.

Knitted fabrics are, of course, not new, but for sneakers, they resulted in the battle of the titans. Back in February 2012, about six months before the London Summer Olympics, Nike announced the commercial release of Flyknit, a material so advanced at that time that it was to revolutionise how sneakers would be made. This came after 10 years of research, according to Nike. Flyknit, apart from being light, would reduce the typical wastage that usually result in the use of fabrics such PU and mesh.

In July the same year, Adidas announced that they, too, had a knit upper for shoes and it was called Primeknit. What ensued was a complicated, Nike-initiated court battle of who-made-what-first, and by many accounts, is still being fought in the courts today.

While the two footwear giants try to convince the world that one of their technologies was the first to be conceived, other brands have found ways to use kitted fabrics to make the uppers of performance footwear and to make them popular. Prada is, of course, no exception.

But rather than use the knit for sneakers, which they do, Prada has applied them on court shoes, itself a breed in need of rejuvenation. I must say that what attracted me to these heels are not their handsome, traditional form, but the knitted upper with a pattern that, in sum, looks somewhat pixelated. And from afar could be sequinned! It’s graphically the stuff of social media, of course. And that, I suppose, is modern.

Prada knit pointy toe pumps, SGD1,630. Photo by Zhao Xiangji