(2018) Winter Style 3: The Shearling Bag

Danse Lente Margot bag AW 2018

We wanted to reccomend a shearling coat, but we couldn’t find one. So, when we saw this compact Danse Lente tote, we thought, why not a shearling bag instead?!

It’s the colour, for sure. But the fluffiness of the shearling front means this bag, named Margot, is utterly huggable, and when there’s a need, convertible into a pillow.

This was our first encounter with a Danse Lente (slow dance in French) bag, now on the cusp of ‘It’ status. Based in Dalston, UK, this handbag brand is the brainchild of Korean-born Kim Young Won, London College of Fashion alum, who chose to design bags even when she graduated with MA in footwear design.

Danse Lente, if your fashion education is based on who you follow on IG, is, as expected, what the media calls “Insta-friendly”. This is clearly not Kate Spade. Danse Lente is artier and, if this is a plus, cheekier.

Take this bag: It’s structured form is based on those you’d call classic. Even the calf leather of the main body has the built you’d associate with brands such as Valextra. But the red shearling immediately plays down the potential seriousness. Plus, the built-in coin purse in the front. How practical and, dare we say, cute!

Danse Lente ‘Margot’ shearling tote bag, SGD690, is available at Club 21. Product photo: Danse Lente/Club 21. Montage: Just So

Is D&G Now Too Toxic To Touch?

Even the “respected” fashion critic Suzy Menkes can’t escape the wrath of those who are bent on seeing the end of Dolce & Gabbana after she made clear where her “allegiance” lies


Suzy Menkes IG

The first thing we read on Instagram this morning was the above post. Suzy Menkes took us by surprise. Usually unapologetic in her stand (in 2007, she boldly declared that “Marc Jacobs disappoints with a freak show”), she issued an apology, presumably in response to the curious review of Dolce Gabbana’s Alta Moda/Sartoria, the private (but widely shared online) show for couture clients, held in Milan four days before. The black and white IG square looks like an obituary.

Are apologies the new ‘It’ act to follow discriminatory outbursts and indiscriminate commentaries? Like Dolce and Gabbana’s video apology after the storm they whipped, Ms Menkes’s textual version came days after her review blunder. That the online culture of say first, apologise later has influenced even a writer with over 50 years of experience, culminating at Condé Nast, where she is the “the independent eye of the international Vogues”, indicates perhaps that we are edging towards a new type of morality. It is hard, for now, to say what that might be.

For many people, Mr Gabbana’s outburst is for remembering, but for the culpable, it was rather the opposite. “China is yesterday,” he supposedly told Ms Menkes, “today is another day. It’s a new Rennaisance.” Ensconced in Milan, it’s easy for Mr Gabbana to forget about what happened in China. But many people want D&G reduced to dust. Then Suzy Menkes came cheerily along.

Suzy Menkes @ D&G Alta Moda IG picSuzy Menkes, looking the part of the grande dame (of fashion criticism) that many consider her to be

We first read what Ms Menkes wrote on Vogue.com yesterday, and was amused by the position she took when the Dolce and Gabbana fiasco in China of three weeks ago has not really died down. She did not appear to concur with a large swath of the online fashion community that the two designers had screwed up, especially Stefano Gabbana, whose Instagram account she called “prolific”. We don’t know about you, Kim Kardashian, to us, is prolific, Stefano Gabbana borders on the profane. It astonished us that Ms Menkes would not even say that the man’s IG excesses were “controversial”, or “provocative” when, in fact, a nation was provoked.

One reader of SOTD told us that the online reaction to Ms Menkes’s review, as well as the surfeit of IG posts on D&G within a day—21 in all—was “Diet_Prada trying to kill her in their anti-DG obsession. They are very vindictive now.” By the time, we checked Diet_Prada’s IG posts/stories, the supposed attack was gone. Apparently, Diet_Panda had said that Ms Menkes is a journalist who isn’t doing her job. Did she not tread carefully, we wondered? “She did,” our follower said. “But obviously not enough for the Nazi-hunters Diet_Police!”

Entitled “A Day of Atonement” on vogue.co.uk and simply “Atonement” on her own suzymenkesvogue.com, the article stood out, in light of D&G’s troubles, for her rather unwavering support of the designers and apparent refusal to walk into the room of disdain. What had Dolce and Gabbana to atone for, she did not say. Calling the duo “chastened” twice, Ms Menkes was, as our commentator said, showing her “allegiance”—to two people she probably considers friends. Or, “family”, like “the alliance of moneyed people, many of whom enjoy the D&G events (as she did) because they become part of this family of the super-rich”, as she described the attendees.

Suzy Menkes @ D&GSuzy Menkes enjoying herself at Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda in Milan

Nothing amiss there. Friends can still be friends even when their beliefs are not shared. But when she started to ask “what went wrong in China”, she, replying to her own question, said that she found it “hard to make any judgment about a show that never took place.” What went wrong in China led to the cancellation of the show. Even that she would not acknowledge, except to say, provocatively, that “the criticism over a marketing campaign… branded racist, where I would see it as insensitive and stupid.”

That remark, to many Netizens, was exemplar of insensitivity and stupidity. One commentator on her IG post even called her “a privileged white woman”. Ms Menkes seemed to have spurred that charge when, in the third paragraph of the review, she referred to China as “the Far East”, a popular blanket term during the 16th to 18th centuries that referred to lands beyond India. Perhaps we should be relieved that she did not call the world’s most populous country Cathay! As SOTD contributor Raiment Young said, “alongside ‘Editor, International Vogue’, maybe she should have added: Subject, British Empire”.

The apology Ms Menkes posted on IG was strangely rather similar to Dolce and Gabbana’s. Instead of apologising for the displeasure and unhappiness she has caused, even unthinkingly or unintentionally, she chose to say, “I am deeply sorry if words I have written have been interpreted…” White privilege? Do tell us.

Photos: suzymenkesvogue/Instagram

Not for Pirouettes

red valentino sneakersThe post-ballet practice sneakers? Photo: Red Valentino. Photo: Red Valentino

By Shu Xie

Forgive me for starting by stating the obvious: sneakers are big. But sneakers that are not following the deep foot prints left by dad shoes are rare. Originality in the sneaker-sphere is as abundant as Kanye West’s smile. That’s why my encounter with these shoes was one that aroused something in me. Exactly what, I can’t say.

Red Valentino’s ballet-pumps-as-sneakers—and called, what else, Ballet sneakers—are footwear that should not have existed based on need. But since need is not a prerequisite of trending footwear, here they are, complete with the signature ribbons to secure the shoe to the ankle. For those who think that the inspiration is too obvious, there are versions sans ribbons.

The Ballet sneaker is the highlight at the Red Valentino store. Photo Zhao Xiangji

But I like the ribboned shoe. Sneaker brands have been accused of not sufficiently catering to women, and this is one that clearly does. Since most of the kicks we choose these days need not be about performance (look at LV’s Archlight or anything Balenciaga offers), it isn’t certain if these shoes will survive the morning run in the Botanic Gardens, but for trips to Orchard for tea with the BFFs, I think they’ll do just fine.

Red Valentino describes the Ballet sneaker as “delicate and sophisticated”, equating, probably for the first time, delicates with performance footwear. To be certain, the neoprene upper and the black-and-white rubber sole—flexible, like ballet pumps—are sterner stuff. The feminine touch (girly, some would say) is in the grosgrain ribbons that, unless you are prone to the pointe, simply prettify. And why not?!

Red Valentino ‘Ballet’ sneakers, SGD650, is available at Valentino Red, NAC

In Bangkok, Another Shopping Mammoth

Bangkok Report | Will the newly-opened Iconsiam be a white elephant or will it steer the City of Angels towards being the shopping paradise of Southeast Asia?


Iconsiam P1Bangkok’s latest waterfront retail sensation

Exactly a month ago, Iconsiam, Bangkok’s latest temple of swank and cynosure of ardent shoppers, opened. On paper and on the map, this should not have worked. Iconsiam, the city’s latest mega-mall in a city of mega-malls, sits somewhat aloof and away from the major shopping belt of Ratchaprasong intersection, the belly button of a retail stretch that starts from Mahboonkrong (or MBK, as tourists prefer to call it) at one end to EmQuartier on the other, all 4.7 km of it.

The monstrosity that is Iconsiam rests on the west bank, Thonburi side of the Chao Praya River, in the Khlong San district (khet), about three kilometres away from Siam Paragon Mall that, in 2013, was the “world’s most Instagrammed place”. Iconsiam is destined to enjoy Paragon’s success. Sited on the newly rejuvenated Charoen Nakhon Road, on the river bank that warehouses used to squat, and is surrounded, even now, by an unspectacular and, frankly, unattractive suburban mash-up, the glass-fronted tubbiness is a composition that both the front and rear cameras of smartphones are attracted to. At present, with no similar developments in the area, Iconsiam is the proverbial sore—but striking—thumb. Siam Paragon should be ready to be dethroned.

Iconsiam P2The view behind Iconsiam contrasts dramatically with what one gets to see in front

In many ways, Iconsiam is typical of Bangkok malls or, perhaps, specifically the malls of Siam Piwat, one part of a triumvirate that built Iconsiam. Siam Piwat is the owner of Siam Discovery and Siam Center, and, in a joint venture with The Mall Group—Thailand’s second largest retail conglomerate after Central Group’s Central Retail Corporation— has established Siam Paragon. Collectively, the three malls are known and cross-marketed as OneSiam although no one refers to them as such. Like most other retail developers, Siam Piwat is partial to big, banausic buildings that does little to the cityscape of the capital.

Chugging towards Iconsiam on the free ferry service (the best way, for now, to get there) across the Chao Praya is, in some ways, no different from going close to Siam Paragon on the BTS train: both buildings, unaffected by crippling traffic from these approaches, loom large, but do not inspire awe. Iconsiam, like Siam Paragon, is massive. It comprises 525,000 square metres of retail space (as opposed to Siam Paragon’s 400,000 or just 74,000 of Singapore’s The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands) that their marketing department is keen to say is “90 times as large as a football field”, qualifying it as Thailand’s largest. Or, as the local press calls it, “the Mother of all Malls”.

Iconsiam P3The not-quite-Petronas-Twin-Towers double edifices that augment Iconsiam’s monumental stature

Size may stagger the imagination, but size alone would not excite the editors of Architectural Digest. Whether you look at it from across the river or the 400-metre promenade at its front door, Iconsiam seems like it was plonked there: a squat, terraced block that looks like a yet-to-be-sliced, haphazardly layered kueh lapis, with a jagged upper half that is unconnected to the rest of the building (as well as the two adjacent towers that stand to its right). In sum, a composition that seems unable to shake off the elephantine inelegance that typifies Siam Piwat’s other malls.

But work it does, and beckon too. Only a month in business (they opened on 10 November), the waterfront property is attracting visitors and shoppers like the proverbial ants to the sugar cube. The remarkable thing about Thai mall developers is that they know something about creating audacious retail attractions that few in other cities have successfully emulated. Their malls are themselves tourist destinations, often included in the must-visit lists in Bangkok guides, alongside venerated complexes such as the Grand Palace.

Iconsiam P4The much-talked-about Apple store seems weighed down by a terraced upper-half of the mall

The city of Bangkok has not had a major tourist attraction in the last 20-odd years (30, some say, not counting a museum or two in the city centre and outside). Even the only zoo, the Dusit Zoo, closed for good at the end of August, 80 years after it opened. One hospitality professional told SOTD that “unlike Singapore, Thailand has not added any new attraction for as long as even Thais can remember, but it has added malls, many malls. It is left to the private sector to create and they are in the business of making money, not promote culture.”

Hence, monumental malls. But to be fair to Iconsiam, they have set themselves apart from the others by embracing Thainess that straddles commercial and exotic values, which we will explore later. As a tourist attraction, the 54-billion baht (S$2.28 billion or US$1.65 billion) Iconsiam is replete with ornamentation, sights, and wonders that are all parts of today’s Bangkok visitor experience. The rear view of the building may presently be at odds with the high-end positioning of Iconsiam, but upfront, looking beyond the Chao Praya, the city—old and new—opens up, with the “iconic”, Ole Scheeren-design-led Mahanakhon skyscraper in the distance, punctuating the vista like an exclamation mark.

Iconsiam P5The view is, to be expected, unmissable photo-op

Increasingly, Bangkok malls are conceived as the one-stop for all your shopping, entertainment, gourmet, and self-improvement needs, plus the odd Thai street food and One Tambon (sub-district) One Product (OTOP) fairs set in rustic surroundings to lure exotica-seeking tourists. So fun-giving are the shopping centres that the malls operated by Central Retail Corporation in holiday hot spots of Thailand are called Central Festival—the name is unambiguous about the shopping centres’ potential jovial and celebratory position, whether true or imagined.

Although malls as inspirational hubs of urban life and pursuits have been very much a part of Bangkok since the appearance of Emporium in the upper middle class area of lower Sukhumvit Road in 1997, it is Iconsiam that is the icing on an expanding, richly-filled cake. With an over-the-top, three-day celebration to mark its opening (headlined by Alicia Keys performing) and, possibly, the largest single private sector investment the city has ever seen, Iconsiam is positioning itself as a retail attraction like no other in the world.

Iconsiam P6Unsurprisingly, Louis Vuitton is star store and a crowd-puller

Inside, Iconsiam is self-contained and is conceived to heighten the shopping experience to the point that one is absorbed enough to spend almost an entire day there. Happy shoppers call it ensconced, critics of commercialism call it trapped. However you look at it, there’s no denying that the visual composition delights and the tenant mix, at least at first glance, appeals. It is no doubt that, down the road, Iconsiam will continue to keep visitors visually engaged, but whether the shops will encourage repeat visits is quite another matter. As much as Iconsiam takes pride in housing more than 500 stores and a reported 7,000+plus labels, it is also true that it is not possible to assemble a brand selection that is less than 90-percent repeat of what can be found elsewhere.

Iconsiam’s massive mall proper is fronted by a sub-mall known as Iconluxe, but you would not guess or sense the zonal difference as the entire complex is seamlessly laid-out, drawing you further into its gut or, given that this is the “Mother of all Malls”, womb, from the minute you walk in. The perception of luxury, of glamour, of excess immediately sets in. It’s impossible to have a cursory experience. The gleaming opulence, decorative sumptuousness, and unimaginable costliness hits you like the river water when you’re speeding on a long boat. It makes Hong Kong’s The Landmark look dated and Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills average.

Iconsiam P7The Iconluxe zone of the mall comprises the usual brands seen in other malls in Bangkok

For those who are tired by the same-sameness of luxury brands that now appear in Asian malls with the expected regularity of Zara, Iconsiam is not different. Once the physical magnificence wears out and the crowd becomes patience-testing, it’s hard to be excited about the brands here because most, if not all, you would have already encountered in easier-to-access, close-to-the-BTS centres, such as Siam Paragon. You don’t need a directory to know what is available here; you will be guided by your interest/preference/desire.

Iconluxe, the front portion of the mall that is conceived to lure and delight LVMH brands and the like with little coaxing, is tony grounds on which luxury names build their boutiques as if this is Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré: each maison with their own store and statement storefront. One former leasing executive told SOTD that the Siam Piwat malls have some of the most accommodating tenancy agreements, allowing brands to have a lot of leeway. “They know how to court brands,” he said. “Also, brands fall for the Thai charm.” It is also commonly known that Thai mall operators are generous to luxury brands when it comes to tenant improvement (or TI, also know as leasehold improvement) arrangements in which, simply put, the owners bear a part of the brands’ customised renovation expenses as part of the leasing deal.

Iconsiam P8Even H&M gets to enjoy Iconsiam’s inherent swankiness

While luxury brands may beckon with their prime location—front, river-facing part of the mall, it is the rest that most visitors come for: the accessible labels with their no-less massive and magnetic stores. Past Iconluxe, two stunning glass podiums stand to welcome. This is flagship haven. Brands such as H&M and the quickly-spreading Chinese fast fashion brand Urban Revivo have unmistakable in-your-face presence. In fact, what we have here on our island, they have them too, and, unfortunately for us perhaps, much larger.

That is a discernible point of differentiation: build them big. Iconsiam has the space if brands are keen on size to impress. JD Sports, similarly operated by Kuala Lumpur-based JD Sports Fashion Sdn Bhd as in SG, debuted in Bangkok with an eye-catching two-level store. Adidas has sited its largest Adidas Originals in Asia in this side of Bangkok, while Nike launched their first Southeast Asian Kicks Lounge—no less impressive in terms of size,—with what is known as “style-led” mix of merchandise that includes “garment tailoring” and T-shirt customisation.

Iconsiam P9Takashimaya’s first store in Bangkok opened in Iconsiam

One of the major draws of Iconsiam is supposed to be the seven-story anchor/department store run by Takashimaya. It is interesting that without The Mall Group in the picture, Siam Piwat chose not to operate an own-name department store, such as Paragon in Siam Paragon. Instead, they and their partners have gone into a joint venture with Takashimaya Singapore to open Siam Takashimaya, which is the Japanese department store’s third in SEA, after the first in our Ngee Ann City and the second in Ho Chi Minh City.

With an impressive, open storefront on each level and a total retail space of 36,000 square metres (Singapore’s occupies 38,000 square metres), Takashimaya should have been extremely appealing, but it is, in fact, not the crowd-puller it was projected to be. Similar on many levels to most Japanese department stores operating outside of their native land, it is, as Shigeru Kimoto, President of Takashimaya Group, said through a media release, “the mixture of Thai department store and Japan’s Takashimaya”. If you are familiar with both, you’ll see that the Bangkok model is more Thai than Japanese. To enhance its Nippon-ness that savvy Thai customers and Asian tourists would expect, and possibly to set itself apart from local stores such as Central, Takashimaya has a section, Japan Select, dedicated to Japanese design. It is early to know if this small difference will make a big impact.

Iconsiam P10The Disneyland of Thai food, Sooksiam, is an attraction in itself

As mentioned earlier, Iconsiam has set itself apart by embracing their tourist-pleasing Thainess. The most compelling, and hence, most visited is Sooksiam, a themed floor (park?) mostly dedicated to food. It gets so packed as soon as the mall opens that you would find it extremely hard to find a place to sit to have your meal, assuming you can survive the queues at practically every stall. The main attraction here would be the indoor floating market—an enclosed Damnoen Saduak for the air-conditioning-loving, smartphone-totting Millennials.

Sooksiam has truly taken the food court that we have invented to another level. This is all multi-sensory and is hard to leave this basement level without satiating the aroused appetite. The market vibe makes this level the most relaxed and inviting area of the entire mall. And the food, foodstuff, and souvenirs are reportedly sourced from 77 Thai provinces in an effort to support “local heroes”. Their effort has paid off as Sooksiam is the most compelling, not to mention senses-awakening, part of the entire complex, making Central Embassy’s once-lauded Eathai look pedestrian and turning even Bangrak Bazaar, the nearest cluster of street stalls across the river, in the vicinity of Sapan Thaksin BTS station, bland.

Iconsiam P11The entire Iconsiam is filled with selfie-encouraging installations

As a tourist destination, Iconsiam is not short of spots and installations to delight camera-equipped tourists and selfie buffs. At every corner one turns to, one would come face to face with a sculpture or a painting or an entire visual in the form of a decorated pillar or dramatic hanging that cascades from the ceiling, all that point to support for the local artistic community. This is another selling point for Iconsiam: They may market themselves to an international audience and consider themselves a “global” player, but they wear their cultural identity on their sleeves.

The result is evident. People can’t stop taking photos in the mall, to the point that they can be hindrance to the traffic flow. It isn’t clear if Iconsiam as a giant photo op is good business, but surely drawing this number of visitors (it is reported that they aim to attract 22 million visitors in its first year of operation) to the mall would generate business even if not everyone has passion for more of the same, the typical, the space fillers. Interestingly, while much weight is given to the image of a mall that celebrates its Thai aesthetical leaning, Thai fashion is not represented here to the same degree as that at Siam Centre and EmQuartier. With the exception of Cazh, a multi-label store dedicated to local streetwear labels, there is no Thai equivalent to Siam Takashimaya’s Japan Select.

Iconsiam P12Mythical creatures flanking escalators enhance the themed park atmosphere of the food floor

That Siam Piwat and their partners (and, indeed, other mall developers) are able and willing to erect and pull off such magnetic centres of consumption and, to some, hedonism, attests to their understanding of retail-as-theatre and the reality that consumers these days need to be constantly entertained. Shoppers, trapped by the endless cycles of digital attractions and distractions on their smartphones, no longer content with going shopping the way their grandparents once did. The malls of today must break the mono-culture of the past; they need to cut through the digital noise to appeal to desensitised shoppers, those who are happy with the solitary pursuit of online pleasures.

To be sure, Iconsiam is not the first waterfront retail poised to be a hit. There is Asiatique diagonally across from Iconsiam that was once thought to bring life to the river that offered little more than old-style luxury hotels and bland dining by the water. Asiatique now pales in comparison to the complex across the Chao Praya. Who would have guessed that this part of Bangkok may lead the whole city into what this mammoth’s executives called “the future of shopping”. For certainty, managing director Supoj Chaiwatsirikul underscored to the media that Iconsiam “is not a mall. It is not a mixed-use project. It is a destination.” To the question in the standfirst, another is perhaps more pertinent: should our malls on Orchard Road—indeed, the entire length of “A Great Street”—be worried, very worried?

Additional research: Nah Kwamsook. Photos: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

The Perks Of Being A Bag Flower

Loewe Heel Pouch SS 2019

By Ashley Han

Jonathon Anderson’s embrace of stylish craft is paying off for Loewe, setting the Spanish house apart from those that bank on brash sexiness or tired retro-vibes to get ahead of the industry and social media crush. Not to be confused with those home-based products of dressmakers that appear in fairs around town, Mr Anderson’s approach is always within sight of his sharp fashion eye. To be certain, not many women are swayed by the aesthetic that does not seem to immediately exhale the deliberately cool. But there’s something deeply alluring about clothes that have both visual and tactile qualities that seem to hark back to olden days.

Last Friday afternoon, while browsing at the trim shop set up by Metro on the main atrium of the Paragon, the Loewe store caught my attention more than tinsel did. I wanted to have a look at the knitted ‘Botanical’ bag that is a symmetrical tapestry jacquard inspired by English architect Charles Voysey’s textiles. But what drew me close almost as soon as I stepped into the soothingly-lit store is a sling bag. This is based on an earlier (and “sold out”, as the sales assistant told me) version known as Heel Pouch.

I don’t know what a heel has to do with the bag. I could only assume that its shape is similar to the cross-section of a stacked heel. The store staff was not able to shed light either. In any case, the latest version—larger than the last—is alluring because of the floral motif on its front. The sales assistant was keen to point out that the flower is composed of “leather marquetry” and enthusiastically explained to me how it was achieved.

Loewe’s use of leather marquetry—essentially inlaid design made from small pieces of coloured hide—appeared in 2016 and was even exhibited as decoratived details on furniture at last year’s Salone de Mobile in Milan. This time, the floral design on the Heel Pouch is, I believe, more exquisite than what were shown before.

Despite the Oriental hints, what beckoned before me was Scottish in visual provenance. ‘Blackthorn’, as it is called is based on architect/water colourist Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s water colour and pencil study of the flowers of sloe. The inlay is so fine and fluid that there is a painterly quality about it. Every piece, every sliver of the composition looks like brush stroke. The spirit of Mackintosh was not lost. What was also irresistible to me was that this Heel Pouch costs nearly as much as what you’d have to pay for cerrain sneakers. I say, give me a hand-crafted calf leather bag any time.

Loewe Heel Pouch (L), SGD1,850, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Jim Sim

Versace Seduces… With Sneakers

The recent Versace pre-fall show in New York pointed to the return of the once-scandalous safety-pin dress. But we already knew that the house Gianni built is back in a big way when Zara started selling Versace-ish prints and (polyester) silk shirts months ago. But sneakers? Well, looks like Versace are having that moment too


Versace Chain Reaction

By Shu Xie

It’s hardly surprising that Versace has joined the race to create the next Triple S. Or ugly shoe. I am only surprised that they’ve taken this long. To be sure, Versace has always had sneakers in their footwear repertoire, but they weren’t exactly the stuff that will excite Yeezy fans or convert the Flashtrek die-hard. But things may change now. The house has never done anything in half measures, as you and I have seen. So their kicks are, as expected, bolder, flashier, taller. And the Chain Reaction is all of the above.

Back in February, when they showed the new, already-leaked shoe silhouette during the autumn/winter 2018 presentation, I was a little skeptical about what Donatella Versace could do with sneakers. After all, she allegedly (thus famously?) said, on her way to treatment to kick her cocaine addiction back in 2004, “I can give up anything, but not my high heels.” But women do change, even 1.65-metre tall women.

I was unconvinced by Versace’s foray into sneakers also because Gucci’s Flashtrek had a head start in June this year. Louis Vuitton’s Archlight even earlier—February, around the same time the Chain Reaction made its appearance on the runway. Although the Chain Reaction first retailed in stores and the Versace e-shop in April, its for-sale appearance came seven months later than Balenciaga’s Triple S, which took the designer-sneaker world by storm last year. You’d think Versace had merely jumped on the bandwagon.

United Arrows and Sons X Versace

Now, the Chain Reaction has made such an impact with their distinctive flashiness and bulk and height that even the Japanese, who usually eschew the over-the-top when it comes to shoes, have looked to the Italian house for something that can be trending. Yesterday, Tokyo’s United Arrow & Sons that I once considered a conservative clothier teased followers of their IG account with an illustration of a collaboration (left) that features a “Versace family pack”, presumably a new colour/fabric/print story for the Chain Reaction.

Naturally, Donatella Versace had help in this sneaker gamble and it came, surprisingly, not from an old hat, but an unknown product designer called Salehe Bembury. As Mr Bembury told GQ in May, he had reached out to Versace’s people with a design idea through LinkedIn. Intrigued, they invited him to Milan where Donatella was so impressed with his proposal—a 3D model that would become the Chain Reaction—that she immediately offered him a job. The rest was, additionally, right timing and influencer hype.

The Chain Reaction, despite its go-with-the-trend chunkiness, is the kind of shoe that elicits the response: interesting. That’s what I thought anyway. You can’t dismiss it as crass, but you can’t say it’s stirringly beautiful either. The showiness is not unexpected since no one would expect the brand with the Medusa-head logo to go for the likes of the Stam Smith. That Versace would do an attention-grabbing shoe is not only consistent with trends, but with the brand image.

Versace Chain Reaction P2

One thing that impressed me is Versace’s not-immediately obvious embrace of ugly—now a shoe category itself. Sure, the height of the shoe at certain angles reminds me of MBTs, but that does not mean that Mr Bembury deliberately played up the Chain Reaction’s potentially unattractive appearance so as to fit in with market demands. Instead, he worked on the usually not seen. The ‘chain’, for example, is a neat little detail. It appears on the underside of the sole as a molded shape of links of a chain that presumably affords traction. Although it reminds me of the VaporMax’s, it is rather well thought-out and does hint at Versace’s love of hardware. The uppers, too, resist succumbing to the many layers other brands prefer. While classic Versace motifs of frets and curlicues are the ones many shoppers go for, it is the understated blacks, as well as the whites that give the Chain Reaction a vaguely classic appeal.

It has to be said that these are heavy kicks, which for some may be appealing because they’d feel grounded in them. But, perhaps, for the four figures that Versace asks for a pair, the heft may mean wearers are getting huge bang for their buck.

The Versace Chain Reaction, SGD1,480 for women’s and SGD1,500 for men’s, is available at Versace stores. Illustration: United Arrows and Sons. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

The Chums of CDG

The limited-edition Happy Holidays collection of Comme des Garçons has always been a quirky take on the brand’s idea of what may be desired during the festive shopping and gifting season. This year, they’ve roped in a jolly bunch they call “friends”



CDG HH 2018 P1By 囍

As much as I can remember, the Comme des Garçons store here at The Shopping Gallery Hilton, in its 7-year history, has never hosted a party in the morning. I, too, have never set foot in CDG, or the Hilton Hotel for that matter, a good hour-and-half before noon. But, CDG is not exactly known to go by social/marketing conventions, and so there I was, bracing a bad-hair-day as a result of the rain, to be in the company of both Comme fans and hype junkies.

This morning, we were here for the launch of CDG’s annual (year-end) holiday collection that are mostly issued in limited quantities. Friends and Comme des Garçons—as they called it this year—is CDG collaborating with some of the most popular or “iconic” or noteworthy names in fashion today. That, to CDG, means Burberry, Maison Margiela, Jean Paul Gautier, Simone Rocha, Craig Green, Walter Van Beirendonck, Marine Serre, Stussy (the only non-designer label), and, inevitably, Gucci.

CDG HH 2018 P2The quickly depleting rack of the Happy Holidays collection

By 10am, a queue started to form outside the CDG store, with two lines organised for the VIPs/media and general public. Being neither important nor influential, I joined the latter. Unknown to many in the line, the same collection was also made available at Dover Street Market Singapore, where a friend happily reported there was no queue. When I texted another about my surprise at the long wait here, he replied, “Er, where have you been? People are spending on designer stuff like there’s no tomorrow.” Where, indeed, have I been?!

In the line that was moving very slowly, I doubt there were that many thinking about the next day. Only the present mattered, and at present, it was to get in. When we did, it was all there, right before us: A sort of island was set up near the entrance for the clothes to inhabit, and organised around pillars saturated with the participating brand names. I didn’t think it would be this major a grab fest, but 20 minutes after the start time of half past ten, many of the items were near sold out, such as the Marine Serre tees. But, as shark keepers know, not every elasmobranch gets its fill at feeding time.

CDG HH 2018 P6Left: the cheeky graphics of Walter Van Beirendonck. Right: each customer was being assigned one service staff

Launched in DSM Ginza last week and accompanied by a striking, thematic window and in-store display, the Happy Holidays series (that had previously included homage to emojis) this year is, for the first time, in collaboration with so many names—nine in all. CDG is no stranger to collaborations, but it is unusual that it pairs with this many brands at one go, under a single seasonal/promotional event. Adrian Joffe, president of CDG and husband of Rei Kawakubo, told the media that “Rei does not enjoy two captains on a ship.” Which is not unexpected and simply means, this time, the selected brands gave CDG one item that represents their respective house and Ms Kawakubo “interpreted” them.

These are basically items selected for maximum sell-through. T-shirts dominate, which is hardly surprising as we know that tees sell very well for CDG (and DSM). Many women were eyeing the Marine Serre pieces, with her signature repeated-crescent print on sleeves and back. I had my sight set on the Maison Margiela tops, which were reinterpretations of their recognisable AIDS charity T-shirt—one in long sleeves, the other as a tunic, both with a crew neck for the first time.

CDG HH 2018 P4The interior of the special-issue paper bag for the Happy Holiday 2018 collection

By now, I had given the clothes a close enough examination and had started looking at the people so enamoured with what they were seeing and touching. It seemed to me that these weren’t the typical CDG customer, who, a staff informed me, “usually prefers the runway collections”. I overheard someone saying to his shopping companion that most of the people who had queued were “professional re-sellers”. It was a little disconcerting to me that CDG merchandise is now treated with the same strictly-for-profit approach of those who ‘consume’ Off-White and its ilk.

Ten minutes after I left the Hilton Hotel, at about 11.09 am, a WhatsApp message arrived, telling me that the only bag in the Happy Holidays collection sold out. I was not surprised. The bag, based on a CDG top seller—brown paper bag encased in plastic—that is strapped with Gucci’s signature red-and green-ribbon, was the most talked about when I was in the queue, only about 60 minutes earlier. I also overheard a staff telling a concerned customer that “we should have enough stock”, which, as it turned out, was sufficient to last less than an hour. When I told a friend later how quickly the bag sold out, he said imperturbably, “If you cannot afford Gucci prices, this is the next best thing—by association.”

The Comme des Garçons Happy Holiday 2018 collection is available at CDG, The Shopping Gallery Hilton and Dover Street Market Singapore, Dempsey Road. Photos: (top) Comme des Garçons and (others) Zhao Xiangji

“Are You Here To See Someone?”

That was the question posed to one shopper at the entrance of Louis Vuitton


LV @ ION Orchard

By Mao Shan Wang

This particular Wednesday evening would have been unremarkable: I was alone and, given the mood Orchard Road had put itself in, was drawn to an urge to shop. I had been store-hopping in ION Orchard, moving from Burberry to Fendi to Saint Laurent to Prada and to—last stop—Louis Vuitton.

At LV, the welcome was so overwhelming that I was not sure, at first, what happened. Approaching the entrance on level one, which was unobstructed except for a suited-up twentysomething sales guy (or doorkeeper, I wasn’t sure), brandishing a well-used tablet and attending to a middle-aged man. I approached the doors and was about to push them open when the young chap stopped me as if this was an intrusion into the Istana.

“Are you looking for someone?” he asked impatiently, minus salutations.

So unexpected that question was, I didn’t know how to answer. What did he mean? I wasn’t there for a job interview. The three-second no-answer from me prompted him to repeat the question, this time, in Mandarin: “你要找人吗?”

“Actually, I am looking for something.” I answered. That was a reasonable and truthful reply.

“Today we only do one-to-one,” he held on, adamant not to allow me entry.

Inside the store, it looked vacant. A few women were seen browsing, but there was no frenzy that suggested limits to entry was necessary for customer comfort and satisfaction.

“What does that mean?” I wanted to be sure. I was burning with curiosity.

“If you have no appointment, you cannot go in.”

Nothing on the store front told me would-be customers’ entry was by appointment only.

“Is this the new policy?” I was genuinely curious.

“This is this store’s policy.”

“Does this mean I can’t go into the store?”

“You have to join the queue,” he said strictly.

“There’s a queue? Where’s the line?” I saw, seconds earlier, a pair of stanchions with the attendant velvet rope between, but no one was behind.

Not saying a word, he gestured, using his face, at the man he was attending to.

“One person is a queue?” I asked cheekily.

“Yes.” He wasn’t letting up.

By now, I have to say annoyance had seized me, and I asked, regrettably with courtesy taking a back seat, “Do you know the meaning of a queue?”

Defiantly, he said: “No!”

Photo: Mao Shan Wang

The Western (Polo) Shirt


Under the creative direction of Raf Simons, the western (cowboy) shirt has become a signature. Mr Simons, of course, does not do them as if there were destined for the rodeo, but from where the inspiration came from, there is no ambiguity. While his take of the western shirt is modern, and undoubtedly polished, there is still, for some, the connect to Marlboro country.

For those of you unsure if the western shirt is way too fancy for you, consider the western polo shirt instead. This was seen in the CK Calvin Klein store. Credits to the CK Calvin Klein design team for picking a key look of the main collection and translating it into something as everyday as polo top. And making it somewhat un-countrified.

This easily tops anything that is seen on shelves of Ralph Lauren, if you are considering picking one there. We are partial to this version in cotton pique because of the subtle touch: a piped outline of the yoke that typifies the western shirt, only here, the lines are subtly curved rather that fancily marked out. The contrast colour of the yoke too makes it stand out, but just so. This is the shirt for a date that requires you to dress like you made effort, but not deliberately out to impress.

CK Calvin western polo shirt, SGD190, is available at all CJ Calvin Klein Stores. Photo: Jim Sim

(2018) Winter Style 2: The Sock Sneaker-Boot

Diesel sock sneaker AW 2018

It’s not the newest thing to have, but it could be the most comfortable to wear when travelling. The sock sneaker-boot has come into its own since the crazy popularity of Balenciaga’s monastic USD595 Speed Trainer. With knit uppers now as common as canvas and PU, the sock sneaker-boot is the go-to shoe when pounding city pavement not deep in snow or slush.

This pair by Diesel, called Loop Sock Sneakers, caught our eye because of the knit pattern, which looks like something from an unknown tribe. These could have been inspired by someone’s blanket! What doubles the appeal of this high-top is the that the sock itself does not sit on the phylon sole without side support, such as the quarter and toe box. Unlike most sock boot-sneaker, this pair comes with laces and a lacing system that could have arrived from something Tinker Hatfield cast aside.

Unusual for sock sneaker-boots is the heel tab, which aids with the wearing of the shoe— you can easily pull it on. These kicks are, expected, snug, soft, warm. To us, it’s as comfortable as Nike’s Air Presto Mid, but more attention-grabbing. Since the knit upper is made of polyester fibres, we recommend this strictly for colder climes. Perspiration may not be the enemy of socks, but they are definitely no friend of the sock sneaker-boots.

Diesel Loop Sock Sneakers, SGD395, is available at Diesel, Paragon. Product photo: Diesel. Montage: Just So

These Coffee Mugs Come Dressed

CBTL X'Mas mugs

As you know, we’re not inclined to offering gift suggestions at this time of the year. No ten whatever for whoever! But sometimes when we allow something to catch our eye, and it does not cost too much, we think, why not share.

These coffee mugs at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf would have normally not attracted our notice if not for the cute little jumper that they come in. In a poly-blend ribbed knit of a red Valentino himself would have approved, the removable pullover comes with movable arms and gloved hands. It fits the porcelain mug to a T! Beats the café’s other holiday mug, the Bedford, with the silly, sleepy-eyed smiley.

Charming as they are, we are not sure how this dressed 250-ml mug can cope with a clumsy coffee (or tea or Ovaltine) drinker or lipsticked lips. Since the jumper can be removed, we assume it is washable. Just throw it in with the rest of the wash, but do check that the colour does not run. You don’t want the rest of the laundry to receive a free re-colour.

Or maybe they can be used as a pen caddy. Then there’d be another poser: do people still use pens nowadays?

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf mug, SGD22.90, is available at all CBTL stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

High On The Tide

The debut Culture Cartel, held at the F1 Pit Building over the weekend, banked on the rising wave of street style to offer a “curated” mix of sneakers, fashion, toys, art, and tattoos. Was it an inviting jumble?


Culture Cartel 2018 P1A Bearbrick welcome at the first Culture Cartel

By Ray Zhang

A curious thing happened as I arrived at the F1 Pit Building for the first edition of Culture Cartel, which I was told was the largest gathering of its kind, possibly in Asia, if not the world, for street style and kindred obsessions. But the people I met—both attendees and participants—before I could take in the displays and stalls, told me that I had to try the mee rebus.

Now, I didn’t know there would be food stalls. Nothing wrong with that. We are a nation of hungry citizens. But I had something else in my mind, such as the Adidas Consortium 4D which I had come to see after I was told, via Messenger earlier in the day, that it costs S$600, and would be available, unsurprisingly, though a raffle. That people were more excited about a Malay noodle dish suggested to me, prematurely perhaps, that Culture Cartel may turn out to be a little—how shall I say it?—lacking?

Bringing a different retail experience to those of us unimpressed with the way malls and, equally guilty, stores on our island have filled their spaces has always been what I encourage and support. When Culture Cartel was brought to my attention, it sparked the hope in me that such an event would encourage those with leasable space, even non-traditional such as a car park, to be more creative and imaginative in their use. I admit that as I write this, I am thinking of the now-closed pop-up The Park.Ing in Tokyo.

Culture Cartel 2018 P2.jpgAdidas launched their Adidas Consortium 4D sneaker for S$600 with a raffle draw

The name is perhaps a deliberate oxymoron. Culture Cartel: who’d want to or can own the cartel to culture, unless it’s to do with narcotics? Or oil? Culture belongs to the people, not a cartel. But perhaps it’s excellence in the arts—sorry, street style—that the organisers want to become the international syndicate of. Admittedly, a cartel sometimes has a reprehensible, hence appealing, aspect to it. Even a ring of grandeur. Yet, in a physical space that is the F1 Pit Building, it is the “culture” that the event had to live up to, even when it is no longer prefixed ‘sub’ as it once was.

The problem, for a lack of a better word, with the F1 Pit Building is its long, linear expanse. Retail-centric events such as the Club 21 Bazaar and the Boutique Fairs, which held their ‘Gifting Edition’ last month in the same location, seem unable to grapple with the generous space. Like the capacity of Pasir Panjang Power Station that the organisers of Sole (Street) Superior had committed themselves to in October, the F1 Pit Building, spread over two floors, was too large to fill.

One participant told me, before I could walk past the entrance, that he felt there wasn’t enough “quality exhibitors” and that the space “looked a bit spare”. That Culture Cartel had to include food sellers when major malls are within ten minutes by foot from the F1 Pit Building perhaps confirmed my earlier suspicion. But not being packed to the rafters with merchandise may have been a good thing. There was comfortable room to move in when viewing or shopping. In a fair like this, jostling that isn’t the proverbial necessary evil is definitely welcome.

Culture Cartel 2018 P3Design your own Air Force 1, co-organised by Limited Edition and Nike

In fact, the orderliness of the set-up was rather impressive and was counter to the perceived notion that anything street is characterised by a disordered condition. There was no grand welcome. Just walk in, after paying the S$20 entry charge, and its all there. Culture Cartel was organised under four broad categories: fashion, art, toys, and tattoos (which left food—a culture in its own right—an afterthought, I suspect). While street culture means many things to many people, one does not immediately equate with another. And since all categories at Culture Cartel had equal billing, no particular one stood out, although to fans of body art, the tattoo zone was the most impressive.

Street culture for the most part is an interconnected culture of cultures (and subcultures); a confluence, a clutter. Culture Cartel did not negate that. But for a linked culture to have some value proposition, some things have to enjoy a shout out. There were sneakers, but nothing really beckoned; there were clothing, but most languished; there were toys, but most belonged to someone else, there were art pieces, but they did not reach out; there were skate displays, but nothing major unless you were a groupie wanting to catch a glimpse of SBTG’s Mark Ong with some fancy footwork; there were the tattoos, of course, buy you’d have to be a true fan to have the patience to receive or watch the elaborate work being meticulously done on skin. What was memorable? I now struggle to remember.

You can’t tell from the loose assemblage of participants and brands that it was a result of a selection process that the organisers called curation. All four categories were overseen by a quartet of individuals reputed to be at the top of their field. Yet, I sensed that some of the participants were really just space fillers, offering not quite the stuff that aroused the senses or left an impression I could seriously call deep.

Culture Cartel 2018 P4T-shirts, such as those from Robinsons’s kitschy zahuodian, unsurprisingly, dominated the fashion offering 

There was Mandeep Chopra, overlord of our sneaker-sphere, whose family owns what one Culture Cartel contractor described as “a massive business”—Limited Edition and its kindred stores. He was in charge of sneakers and fashion (although in clothing Mr Chopra has not proved his mettle). Graffiti/comic/street artist Jahan Loh (former graphic designer with The Straits Times) took charge of the art pieces that littered the interior of the F1 Pit Building. Mr Loh is considered to have star quality for his collaboration with Edison Chen and friendship with Jay Chou. Jackson Aw of the renown toy/cartoon design studio Mighty Jaxx put in place the figurines that tempted but were not for sale since most, as I was educated, were part of his own personal collection. And tattoo master Augustine Nezumi of Singapore Electric (formerly Givemelovetattoo) assembled what I was told was the best gathering of tattoo artist on the island, not including ink stars such as Osaka-based Nissaco and the Amsterdam-based Gakkin.

By the thought of it, these merry men should have been able put together a fair of immense pull. I am not saying it did not draw a healthy crowd, but I was not certain that those who attended were terribly impressed, had opened their minds, or their wallets. In that respect, this was rather like the Boutique Fairs: Despite its name, it was not really about fashion, and the truly fashionable would not have been swayed by it. Culture Cartel’s heart is in the street, but aficionados may find it lacked soul.

According to Jeremy Tan, founder of Axis Group—one third of the organisers behind Culture Cartel, the event was “powered” by Mercedes Benz, which is not a name one associates with street culture. Fashion and art, yes, but not quite anything to do with sneakers and the like. But the world of fashion is changing. If the LVMH group recognises street culture’s global influence and reach, it is unsurprising that Daimler AG too want in on the action. The ‘Mercedes is Iconic’ campaign has, in fact, aligned itself with A$AP Rocky. But I am not sure parking some cars in the venue will augment the status of Culture Cartel as one that truly matters for street fashion and art, and the attendant culture. Understandably, an event of this scale requires financial muscle and Mercedes Benz could provide the bulk. Mr Tan was, however, unwilling to divulge how much the car company injected into his pet project, only that it was “less than what fashion week got”.

Culture Cartel 2018 P5Tattooing was probably the main draw as there were as many willing to receive as there were to watch

I do not pretend to be an expert on tattoo art, but on a whole, I could see that the exhibitors and tattoo artists had something going that spoke of their art and community. Perhaps it was the strength of their set-up and the willingness of customers to have their bodies (often whole backs or entire arms) worked on in full public view. Often times, inking is a private affair, unless you choose to do it in a stall at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Perhaps the strength of their presence was augmented by the appearance of the two masters Nissaco and Gakkin, both adding an air of celebrity to the zone.

Another message came to me via Messager prior to my visit; it alerted me to the only Singapore “designer” participating in the exhibition. Amos Ananda Yeo, trading under his first and middle name, had boasted in an IG post of his interview with the Mic, which awaken my curiosity about what the self-styled street wear proponent might show at Culture Cartel. Mr Yeo’s rise in the business has been, by many accounts, rapid, as he made inroads into China, where he has a production base in the IT hub of Shenzhen.

In the Mic article, Mr Yeo asserted that Singaporean fashion has “a lack of distinct local identity.” He claimed that “it was always inspiration arriving from overseas that influenced local fashion.” As I went through two racks of his clothes, I realised that, perhaps, Mr Yeo was referring to himself. Known to be heavily ‘influenced’ at one time by Craig Green, he has, as it appeared to me, moved on to Raf Simons and Gosha Rubchinskiy. I have to concede that Mr Yeo is rather versatile. And adaptive. There was considerable buzz at his store, perhaps bearing out his increasing celebrity.

Culture Cartel 2018 P6Another Limited Edition space, the first-ever collab between Nike and Carhatt

If you needed a pasar malam, Culture Cartel provided one in the form of the Marketplace, a short, narrow, table-flanking strip on which unknown jewellery brands such as Day by They (the fledgling business of two friends Kit Ang and Junie Lim) sold alongside established names such as the bag brand Gnomes and Bows whose affable createur Quanda Ong was at hand to explain the finer features of his literature-motivated leather pieces. This was probably the busiest part of the exhibition, a mix of street style and not, with buying and selling that were visible and encouraging.

Talking about jewellery, what I found interesting was the ring collection, Fragm_nt.of, by one-part owner of the eyewear company Mystic Vintage, Alvin Tan—also one of the players behind the multi-disciplinary art and design collective Phunk Studio. Mr Tan’s rings showed a weakness for exquisitely formed metalwork with artisanal attention to details that could have time-travelled from the era of the Byzantine Empire. The leap from eyewear to rings must have been massive, but as Mr Tan said, “I have always liked jewellery. It took a while, but I think we are doing okay.”

Culture Cartel’s own Merch Store, I thought, stood many rungs above some of the vendors. In two troughs, secondhand T-shirts (laundered, I was assured) can be picked for customisation. I thought that whoever was in charge of this store has a good eye as the selection of vintage tees constituted what would be considered coolly-cute. But even better was that, with each purchase (S$60 a pop), you could have the top customised whichever way you like using the iron-on graphics available for free. You can therefore do your own Doublet-like over-print on top of the existing pictures of the T-shirts, which, I thought beat those brands with a penchant for pedestrian graphics depicting tired, old Singapura.

Culture Cartel 2018 P7Acrylic painting, ‘Porcelain Boy’, by Singaporean artist Andre Tan, known for his visual commentary on fashion and pop art

Some of the ‘highlights’, unfortunately, did not quite move me. I had thought that the Limited EDT (LE) collaboration with Asics Tiger was lame because the pants immediately made me think of late-Nineties G-Star Raw. Even the graphics on the tops had the familiarity of the Dutch brand’s collaboration with Marc Newson. And the quietness of the dedicated space suggested to me that, despite the fancy and striking fit-out, visitors were not impressed, or swayed or engaged by work/military styles presented in a vertical-garden setting.

I don’t pretend to be mad about sneakers, unlike SOTD contributor Naike Mi, but from what I saw, this wasn’t a true, insider destination for sneakerheads, although those who went may have been delighted to see the Carhartt WIP X Nike collaboration on the Air Max 85—admittedly a handsome shoe. Elsewhere, the Air Force 1 customisation looked to have veered on the side of juvenile. And the Air Jordan XI display was, well, just that one shoe. LE’s presence was not by any means small, but they did not impart their spaces with the same energy they gave to their LE Convenience store at Sole (Street) Superior.

As with Sole (Street) Superior, Culture Cartel showed that, at present, street culture is the preoccupation of male youths. Or, what the ancient Greeks called kuoros. Axis Group’s Jeremy Tan happily admitted that he’s a street-style junkie, who “grew up with a BMX” and once had a shop in Queensway Shopping Centre, where LE laid their roots, called Tinted. “I dreamed about doing this for three years,” he enthused, the satisfaction so clear in his eyes. “I have an advantage because of the support from friends. You need people to support your cause, without friends you cannot succeed.”

Or feed! Yes, there was the mee rebus. I did not forget. Cooked and operated by Yunos & Family, a business founded in Ang Mo Kio since 1979, it was simply delicious.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay