The Double Swoosh

Sacai makes you see double

 

Sacai X Nike Blazer Mid SS 2019

By Shu Xie

Good things come in pairs, they say. Swooshes, too, it seems. Sacai’s partnership with Nike has yielded some fine kicks—this season is no exception. Or, perhaps, more exceptional for the extra Swoosh that the Japanese brand has given the side of this Blazer Mid, a shoe Nike calls “heritage” and was first released in 1972. But the twice-the-number treatment did not stop at Nike’s trademark logo. It’s two of what can be doubled on a pair of sneakers: laces, tongues, and even the mid-soles. I’m just surprised they didn’t double the pair—buy one, get two!

Frankly, I am not sure if the sum is really double the fun, but it does render the Blazer Mid a certain interest I usually associate with Vans going atas when they, too, go into designer collabs. I know this season, most sneakerheads are talking about the other Sacai X Nike sneaker, the LDV Waffle, a shoe so anticipated, so colour-saturated, so visually appealling, it could be this year’s Undercover X Nike React Element 87, but I feel Sacai’s remake of the Blazer Mid is less trying (actually, I am, foremost, mad about Undercover X Nike’s upcoming Daybreak running shoe).

Sacai x Nike Blazer Mid Black Blue.jpgSacai x Nike Blazer Mid Black Blue

The Blazer Mid is essentially a skateboarding shoe. Or, at least that’s what it started out as. Sacai’s, when shown during the spring/summer 2019 presentation last year, pushed aside anything skater-like for a styling that’s more stoked than any sneaker Supreme has outputed with Nike. The way you, too, could do it is, of course, wear the Blazer Mid unlaced, as on the runway. How that would not look contrived, I can’t say for sure.

A friend of mine told me recently that fashionistas/influencers formerly not into sneakers (for whatever sartorial reason) are now rapidly into track and court shoes “because Comme and Sacai are doing Nike.” More than that. These brands are adding and, in some cases, leading the race in kicks that are weird and wonderful. Fashion folk don’t do re-issues that come in a new colour: see how quickly the Stan Smith faded. They prefer a fasntastic construct, better still, de-construct. Clothes isn’t getting madder, but sneakers just got started.

Sacai X Nike Blazer Mid is available at DSMS today, but by the time you read this, the raffle for the shoe has ended, and you’ll probably be left with hope for a re-release. Alternatively, try DistriSneaks online. Photos: Sacai and Nike

Horn Of Fenty

With backing from LVMH on a fashion line, Rihanna is now an all-singing, all-dancing, all-beautifying, all-designing one-woman super brand. But are the clothes nice? It may depend on whether you are a Riri fan or not

 

By Mao Shan Wang

Let me be upfront: I am not a rabid fan of Rihanna—okay, not a fan at all. I don’t listen to her music (except when it’s played on the radio; even then, I pay attention not); I don’t buy her Puma shoes; and I am not impressed by her cosmetics, never mind if there are 40 “inclusive” shades of foundation (at launch).

Like countless young women who desire to be a fashion designer because they like clothes, shopping, and to dress up, Rihanna seems, to me, to be answering to gratifiable vanity than vocational calling. As we know, fashion these days is doable as long as you want to and have the means or connections, not if you really have the skill or flair.

I grew up understanding that fashion designers design. They don’t sing. Jean Paul Gaultier, who despite a single from 1989, How To Do That, won’t go so far as to call himself a singer. But, conversely, many who sing—or employed as musicians or DJs—are not quite contented with expressing themselves vocally or musically, and are boldly crossing over so as to be able to establish themselves as fashion designers.
Fenty 052019 G1

To be sure, there are singers who are/were successful designers. Victoria Beckham comes to mind, and, reluctantly, Gwen Stefani, but these women put out fully-merchandised lines there are more than an extension of their armoire and their penchant for a certain look. Or, fashion that’s less the wardobe ‘edit’ of a fashionable individual such as Kate Moss for Topshop. I have, of course, not forgotten Beyonce, but you probably have. Remember Ivy Park? Maybe you do. House of Deréon? Guess not! And somewhere in there, the Haus of Gaga, which is really another story.

Maybe Rihanna is different, maybe she has what it takes—if not necessarily in the realm of actual clothes-making, at least in churning the hype. To be fair, she has experience, as many people call the pre-LVMH, Puma-backed/produced Fenty (not to mention the even earlier, 2013 collab with British fast fashion label River Island). Could Rihanna have been just parking herself there until a luxury conglomerate comes a-calling? Despite clever (or campy) collection themes such as Marie Antoinette at the Gym, Fenty 1.0 was not exactly high fashion. But, I could be wrong about that. It’s hard to be certain about such things these days. Whatever Serena Williams wears on court, the media is wont to call it a “high-fashion statement”.

Through Fenty, Rihanna augments the fashion-as-amour posturing by using a not-quite-soft silhouette and tough-wearing fabrics, such as canvas and barely-washed (or perhaps not at all) Japanese denim. She does not say how comfortable these fabrics are in increasingly high summer temps or scorching heat that is much of the world with no seasonal variations, such as Southeast Asia. The first hype-driven ‘release’ (her preferred term than ‘drop’), comprises the kind of clothes that wearers can “stun” in, “rock” a look, and appear “fierce”. Or, as Badgalriri described to the media, “badass and daring”.

Fenty 052019 G2.jpg

And there’s the tailoring, which recalls pal Virgil Abloh’s suits for Louis Vuitton, kind of a post-streetwear take on the zoot suit—a little oversized, with conspicuous lapels, in colours that are, surprisingly, sweet. Indeed, are they not on the same page? Rihanna makes her Fenty blazers more feminine by taking them in at the waist, so as to give the nipped-in effect that would otherwise not be apparent on wide-girthed women, a group every ‘inclusive’ fashion label now cannot ignore.

There is a discernible path here. When hip-hop-pop-stars-turn-designers (or streetwear-designers-do-luxury), tailoring seems to be the way to show that they have arrived at a certain level in fashion. To have mastered the suit is perhaps the equivalent of attaining an MBA, which, many graduates know—and schools promote—“means a worldwide recognition of your credentials”. Rihanna needed to move Fenty out of the sportif and athleisure sphere that the brand found itself in under the auspices of Puma. Tailored garments, with all its technical complexities, is a veritable upgrade for both label and the woman behind it, and a testimonial of her abilities for a global audience.

That Rihanna appeared at the Paris launch of Fenty in a white suit top (sans the bottom) with sort of boning that emphasises the waist is authentication of her style, one no longer glorifying a super-svelte body, and her long-brewing wish to be taken seriously as a designer. It is inconsequential that the silhouette—top heavy, sort of an inverted tear drop—is not quite new as brands, from Ambush to A Land, have long stocked them.

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Fashion is, of course, no longer about mileage. Who thinks about what they will wear a month from now? It’s about the moment, the vibe of the hour, the feeling of the day. See now, want now! Fenty is that time, the creator’s emotional state, the ardour her fans will not dampen. These are not exactly designs to rewrite anything; they are clothes that are familiar, something already seen and shall be seen (a week later, Alexander Wang showed interestingly similar jackets), pieces that presently seemed to me destined for discount retailers such as New York’s Century 21.

Although the media and Rihanna’s fans think this is a big deal for fashion, I am not sure what it all would really mean. It seems odd to me that those who can really design, such as Phoebe Philo, isn’t pursued and given their own label. Instead, we gravitate towards those with a pop life, a deep sense of self-worth and an ever-expanding IG account, those who have never sat at a drafting table before, those who have never ever dreamt of being a designer’s designer. According to WWD, LVMH has availed key employees from Louis Vuitton and Celine to work with Rihanna and her team, among them Fenty’s style director, Jahleel Weaver, who has been Rihanna’s partner-in-crime on previous projects. Of course Fenty will be well staffed. Who’s expecting Rihanna to even sketch?

Rihanna, while reportedly the first black woman to launch a fashion collection in Paris (for sure under LVMH), isn’t the first African-American to do so. I reminder one other. In the early 1980s, the late Patrick Kelly, a friend of the model Pat Cleveland, moved to Paris from New York City to establish his eponymous label, and was subsequently admitted into the prestigious Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, never mind if many only remember him for buttons and bows. Mr Kelly, unlike Rihanna, could at least sew, a requisite no longer crucial as long as you can sell anything, and in doing so, move mountains and the titans… of luxury.

The Fenty online store launches today at fenty.com. Photos: Fenty

The Startling Transformation Of Ying The Label

With help from a fashion design veteran, Phuay Li Ying turns Ying the Label into something even more women would want for National Day or Chinese New Year

Ying the Label before & afterFrom this to that, juvenile to sophisticated: Ying the Label finally adopts fashion, but is it authentic? Photos: Ying the Label/Instagram

From this to that, juvenile to sophisticated: Ying the Label finally adopts fashion, but is it authentic? Photos: Ying the Label/Instagram
People do grow up. Designs do mature. Fruits do ripen. National-Day favourite, Ying the Label, once indistinguishable from the surfeit of brands of comparable aesthetic, has, like buds, blossomed. Or, in tech speak, received an upgrade. Founder Phuay Li Ying has, this year, punched up the sophistication and re-imagined her four-year-old label as ‘designer’. This is possible because Ms Phuay recently “collaborated” with Thomas Wee on ‘Ink’, a capsule collection of indeterminate season. Launched last Saturday—during the month that precedes the Great Singapore Sale—at The Cocoon Space of Design Orchard, the clothes now come under a truncated, monosyllabic, four-letter Ying.

Shortened the brand name may be, but it isn’t immediately clear if it is a long shot of the creativity and finesse one usually sees in fashion described with a capital F. To be sure, every look from the new collection is not anything close to those Ms Phuay created, based—at first—primarily on her water-colour doodles, blotches, smudges, and whatnot. Ying the Label has always had a whiff of the juvenile—her approach, as we saw it, somewhat like playing masak-masak. From her first presentation during Digital Fashion Week in 2015 to her collaboration with another water-colourist Aaron Gan last year, her designs mostly veered into play-play—at most grad-show—territory. They were girlish in the way fashion for a certain demographic had been, and still is. Ms Phuay merely held up a mirror to what was going on in fashion, at a certain price point.

These new clothes—that made up a mere twenty or so looks—now communicate a womanly, even modest, vibe; their designs show a deft hand, their execution a confidence that belie the brand owner’s inadequate experience. To those who are familiar with the work of the co-creators, between them an age gap of some 40 years, it is not clear how collaborative the collection is. At the end of the show, when the five models emerged and stood in one row, something was discernible: the overt sensibility of a master and the obvious lack of active participation of the novice. The DNA is clearly not Ying’s.

Thomas Wee X Ying the Label May 2019Ying X Thomas Wee collaboration. Photo: Ying the Label/Instagram

Some of the attendees of the show had this on their lips: how did Phuay Li Ying come to collaborate with Thomas Wee? Mr Wee is known in the industry to help those designers who need pattern-making expertise, but he is not known to team up with a potential competitor to output a collection, even a really small capsule. According to what has been swirling earlier, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann—who is a customer of Mr Wee’s—has been the link. It was said that both the Sims and Phuays are family friends, and the senior minister had asked if the veteran designer could help the willing fledgling.

Although Ms Phuay had, by her own admission, taken “part-time courses in Melbourne and Lasalle”, her technical skill, if seen in her finished garments, is not quite on par with those who can churn out a full collection sans a drafting team. This has been the point of contention between her unquestioning supporters and those who think she isn’t quite the sterner stuff that serious fashion design demands. Which comes first: art or the dress?

But in 2017, just two years after Ying the Label was launched, Ms Phuay had become a different designer. She found herself professionally elevated when, encouraged by Sim Ann and her friends, she put out red-and-white dresses, separates, and scarves sporting orchid motifs that can be proudly won on National Day. Ministers and MPs’ wives enthusiastically lent support and wore her label for the NDP.

It was like she had won the Oscar.

Phuay Li Ying's InkThe “Ink” drawing of cherry blossoms that formed the basis of the new Ying capsule. Photo: Ying the Label/ Instagram

While her brand received a huge boost during the National Day celebrations of 2017 with a “Singapore Identity-inspired project to showcase iconic elements of Singapore with sophistication and painterly styles… adorned by our women politicians”, the trajectory of Ying the Label was not exactly flaming like a comet’s.

To be fair, Ms Phuay seemed genuinely interested in dressing Singapore. But how to, as one observer pointed shortly after her National Day designs became somewhat divisive, “with those clothes?” Avoiding the use of the word ‘fashion’ is telling. A few splotches is no start to garment-making and beginning with so-called “art” isn’t the best approach, a former design lecturer told SOTD. We concur: Not many can be Mary Katrantzou. Perhaps the senior minister, became aware of Ms Phuay’s shortcomings and thought that mentoring-as-collaboration might shine a new light on her young charge’s work, if not on her clothes, at least on her water-colour art destined for fabrics.

Thomas Wee's illustration for Ying the Label
Despite her keen interest and her “ immense passion for painting”, it doesn’t appear there is consensus to state that Ms Phuay’s art is compelling. To us, she has not produced anything that one can admire for its complexity, for its distinctive voice, despite the four-year journey. Although her own description of her paintings is often an emotive use of words, the brush strokes are not an emotive use of form. When shown her “ink” work of cherry blossoms, which is the basis for the print in the capsule produced with Mr Wee, a fashion illustrator thought it lacks “tonal value.” And if “you contextualise it, then it might not work for fashion.”

For certain, we are not expecting dramatic washes akin to the work of, say, the Ming painter Xu Wei. Ms Phuay’s painting can be considered oriental, if not specifically Chinese. It is pretty, as one show attendee said, yet we are not sure if its art or illustration. Painting in ink has been very much a part of the Chinese literati, and is often discussed in terms of resonance and vitality, but on the Ying clothes, her drawing is evocative of those on Chinese New Year cards or packaging for moon cakes on the 8th lunar month.

Curiously, despite Ms Phuay’s professed love of drawing, the illustrations (above) for the collaboration are clearly in Mr Wee’s distinctive hand (so is, may we add, styling of the photographic images). It is not known if Mr Wee had a say in the painting that was used, but it was said that he did suggest to Ms Phuay to explore cherry blossoms. Based on our own unscientific observation, the cascade of the flowers and placement of the branches are typical of Mr Wee’s floral-and-leaf compositions if he were to take up a brush to paint directly on fabric.

Ying the Label @ the National LibraryPhuay Li Ying’s designs and illustrations displayed at the National Library last year. Photos: Cecilia Kong

But what is obvious to us is the Thomas Wee silhouette, so distinctive that we can trace it as far back as the spring/summer 2015 season, shown during Digital Fashion Week 2014, a collection steeped in Orientalism and so poetical in its visual lyricism and gorgeous in shapes (still evident up till last year, as seen in the reprisal of sorts for Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week) that it gave many in the audience goosebumps. Back then, nobody would have guessed that a designer of such refined, modern elegance would some day collaborate with another whose style is, at best, daintily enthusiastic.

In all likelihood, Mr Wee does not know how to design with Ms Phuay’s sweet-and-light-as-cotton-candy prints. Nor is he keen on her it’d-be-just-as-cute-as-a-version-for-the-wearer’s-daughter transmutability. It is possible that Ms Phuay provided the ink drawing (with input from Mr Wee) and the rest has been up to the senior designer. Mr Wee took shapes fundamental to Ying and gave them a polish previously not achievable in the hands of Ms Phuay, who has said that she usually keeps “the silhouette simple” as “ultimately” she wants “people to focus on the art (and) the print I create using water colours because I hand-paint them and there is a story behind it.” We can understand why she would want to focus on the art: Ms Phuay is not, foremost, a fashion designer. She may make clothes, but, ultimately, she does not create fashion.

Don’t get us wrong—there is nothing unsound about approaching the rag trade in this manner. There is a market for such clothes, and there are shoppers who see the value in prints first drawn by hands and later digitally rendered on fabric, as well as those who place a premium on prints over design. But it is not clear how Ms Phuay’s “artistic expression via fashion and designing” can elevate her to be placed alongside vocationally strong and artistically gifted designers such as Jessica Lee of Nuboaix or Elizabeth Soon of Ametsubi without the hand-holding of experienced technical masters such as Thomas Wee.

Thomas Wee & Phuay Li YingFront left and right: Thomas Wee and Phuay Li Ying. Photo: source

According to the notes on the show’s invitation, Ink is “a capsule collection representing the permanency of beauty.” It is hard to equate “permanency” with cherry blossoms since the flowers are admired for their fleeting allure. Is this then perpetuation of the clothes themselves? This would be an odd proposition since the designs were probably executed to reflect the present rather than eternity. But based on their ‘classic’ styling and a vague Chinese-ness, it is possible Ms Phuay is hoping to sell the clothes for a very long time to come, especially during times when hint of ethnicity is considered—rightly or not—indicator of nationality.

This must not be construed as sneering. Ms Phuay’s heart is in the right place; her talent, we are, however, not so sure. Although Ying the Label has not climbed to a glorious apogee and we don’t see that happening soon, the brand—now simply Ying—is making gentle waves with the help of a wave maker. To be blunt, the clothes don’t break new ground except, perhaps, help the brand improve sales. It is possible that the shift in design direction is to coincide with a milestone of sort for Ms Phuay: she turned turned 30 this past March (also the month DBS unveiled their new uniforms designed by Ms Phuay). Taste, however, don’t change overnight just as flair doesn’t suddenly appear at sunrise.

It isn’t known if this is a one-off collaboration or ongoing counseling. Nor, whether new tricks can eventually be imparted and, more importantly, learned. Can the difference between Ying and a brand such as Weekend Sundries be merely the former’s “instinctive and arty” prints? Perhaps, these do not matter. Phuay Li Ying had her moment that afternoon. Or, as she posted, “experienced passion, determination, love, patience and so much more in this journey of creation.” If only she knew fashion involves so much more.

This Is Not Camp!

Mere excess is not. Pure prettiness certainly isn’t. At this year’s Met Gala, guests did one or the other, with many quite clearly mistaking cliché for camp, flimsy for fantastic, Barbie for Barbarella 

 

Gisele @ MG 2019Pretty in pink pleats: Gisele (in Dior) probably thought she was attending a high school prom without Carrie White attending

The Met Gala itself has always been camp. Sure, the event may have increasingly lost a sense of irony and a dollop of wit, but the idea of a bunch of fashion’s who’s who—and who’s not—rubbing sequinned shoulders in a celebration of clothes is quintessentially camp. Last year’s ode to Catholicism influencing fashion design was, in fact, prelude to this year’s semi-intellectual theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion. Already lame last first Monday of May, this time, camp, as it turns out, is so wide by definition that no one is able to really put a finger on it the way they could parody a pontiff or re-imagine a rose window.

When it is time to really camp it up, most of the attendees really chickened out. Without doubt, they piled on whatever they could, but more is not more camp. Many articles leading up to this year’s Met Gala were published, pointing out to camp’s inherent excesses (not to be confused with exuberance), as if those obliged to follow the gala’s dress code would not understand what they signed up for. Perhaps the most enlightening—and delightful—came from an unlikely source: dictionary.com. It succinctly explained that “Being camp is more than just being over the top”. And it added that camp is “something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of it being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant, or teasingly ingenuous and sentimental.” In a word, er, name: Kumar!

Camp @ Dic dot comThis year, dictionary.com saw it fit to explain to the attendees of the 2019 Met Gala what camp isn’t

Indeed our funnyman Kumar should have been invited to the Met Gala. We can imagine him rocking a sari next to Aquaria with more aplomb that Michael Urie in the epicene Christian Siriano number, which is more a joke than a treatise on camp. Half-drag, already popular in Thailand for many years, is only now catching on at the Met Gala, but with half-baked cleverness. Interestingly, while the male guests were willing to try female forms of dress, none of the woman took the Marlene Dietrich route/look—a style that has variously been described as camp.

The thing is, camp is insufficient if it’s only outward form. For camp to be convincing, you’d need to be campy, which is an attitude, not appearance. Madonna (unfortunately, absent this year) is the personification of camp because she is downright campy, or, as is often said of her, a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. Her recent Billboard Music Awards performance and the latest music video, Medellin, in which she romped in bed in a cloud of a blue dress by Erdem, was unadulterated camp!

What is truly preferred at the Met Gala is prettiness—a beauty entrenched in girlhood. A less-attractive woman looking pretty is camp, a pretty woman looking prettier is not. Maria Callas was camp, Jackie Kennedy not. A Tony Duquette dress, if he ever made one, would be camp, an Edith Head not. Ostrich feathers are camp, marabou, since they left the showgirl, not. Many—especially actresses—adopt looks that are, to be sure, high drama, but they are hardly, indeed, far from camp.

Feathers are not camp!

Feather @ MG 2019Birds of a feather flock together. Clockwise from top left: Anna Wintour (in Chanel), Taylor Hill (in Ralph Lauren), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (in Oscar de la Renta), Kylie Jenner (in Versace), Kendal Jenner (in Versace), Naomi Campbell (in Valentino Couture)

When feathers, especially marabou, have become commonplace, so much so that they form the walls along the stairway of the pink carpet (that is quite camp until you realise the entire exhibition area is in the same shade) of the event, you know it has lost its status in camp-dom. Anyway, who wants to look like or match a wall?

And to that, may we also say pink is not camp!

Tiered ruffles are not camp!

Tiered ruffles @ MG 2019Not-the-top tier: Emma Roberts (in Giambattista Valli), Kerry Washington (in Tory Burch), Ella Balinska (in Tory Burch), Julianne Moore (in Valentino Couture), Joan Collins (in Valentino Couture), Penelope Cruz (in Chanel)

If you need to wear a wedding cake as a dress, then wear one. Layers of tulle or lamé that appear to require Mammy’s dexterous hands to put on is perhaps best left to those who want an Ashley Wilkes, but, in the end, got Rhett Butler.

A light source is not camp!

Katy Perry @ MG 2019Katy Perry (in Moschino) not quite the bright spark of the Med Gala

The line between wacky and ridiculous is often a shared one. Katy Perry has worn some outrageous dresses to the Med Gala, but this one is quite literally the chandelier up there in the ballroom. It seems, Ms Perry has a dream: to get a part next to Lumiere in the next live-action Beauty and the Beast by crashing into a lighting shop in Balestier Road.

A nightgown is not camp!

Gwyneth Paltrow @ MG 2019Gwyneth Paltrow (in Chloe) is about to go to bed in the likes of Longbourn House

It is not clear where in the book of camp does it say that “artificial extravagance” is dressing like you are about to take the test to determine if you are a princess by sleeping on top of a pile of mattresses under which a tiny pea is buried at the lowest layer. You, Ms Goop, are not Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress!

Laziness is not camp!

Karlie Kloss @ MG 2019 Salah at the gala: poor Karlie Kloss (in Gucci X Dapper Dan) went to the wrong party

Sometimes you simply can’t be bothered. Costume requires time and effort. Karlie Kloss knows that, so she turns up looking like she did not want to do any heavy lifting except with those deflated lanterns she used, sadly, as sleeves. Lackadaisical, yes; camp, no. Twitter, take over.

Looking like Barbie is not camp!

Deepika Padukone @ MG 2019Deepika Padukone (in Zac Posen): you can take the girl away from the doll, but you can’t take the doll out of the girl

Barbie has her camp moments, but not when she’s dressed in her princess/pageant best. Deepika Padukone, a recent serial Met Gala attendee, channels the Barbie that makes it to Toys R Us, not the shelves of the collectors’ cupboard.

Trying to outdo Rihanna is not camp!

Cardi B @ MG 2019Cardi B (in Thom Brown) is 

That train is shaped like Rihanna’s omelette from 2015, only Cardi B’s look like an oversized bathroom mat that doubles as a quilt used in a love hotel. Sometimes what stands between two stars getting ahead in the fashion firmament is simply something called taste.

Macabre is not camp!

Jared Leno @ MG 2019Jared Leto (in, what else, Gucci) must have thought camp to be the damned

Did Jared Leto nick something from his own likeness at Madame Tussaud’s before going to the Met Gala? Does he feel that a red velvet gown and crystal body jewellery that would do any Indian bride proud are not enough? Is a body-less double “self-consciously extravagant”? Do tell us.

Photos: Getty Images/Vogue

Close Look: The Swift Return Of Ganryu

Or, more accurately, Fumito Ganryu—now a full-fledged, independent designer label

 

Fumito Ganryu.jpgFumito Ganryu (centre) engaged in a “conversation” at Surrender. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

By Ray Zhang

The fashion world is thankfully not without Fumito Ganryu. When the news broke in 2017 that Mr Ganryu has left the Comme des Garçons group where his eponymous label started, many fans thought they would no longer be able to spend on the brand that had cleverly brought together streetwear, athletic wear, and denim wear in rather unexpected and special ways. Ganryu was possibly caught between the way-out styles of Kei Ninomiya and the commercial accessibility of Junya Watanabe, but was never not interesting. Perhaps, as I speculate, it is this middle ground that sealed the fate of Ganryu at CDG.

For the launch of Fumito Ganryu’s debut collection at Surrender, the store invited Mr Ganryu for a “conversation”  but it was not to be with the invited guests. Still, the word going round was that Mr Ganryu “must not be asked about CDG” or why he left or if he left without the blessing of his former boss, unlike his ex-colleague Chitose Abe. “Do not mention R”, went the warning. I also overheard someone wearing a denim shirt from the last collection as a single-name brand being told not to stand too close to the designer because Mr Ganryu “does not want to to be reminded of his past.”

Fumito Ganryu did not appear concerned with what the guests wore, whether from his past or present collections. Seated on a high chair throughout the session, he barely looked at the audience, the top of his spectacles obscuring is eyes. He was happy to talk about designing, which surely would include his earlier work, but he made no mention of it except how fashion design came to draw his keen interest.

Fumito Ganryu @ SurrenderSpecial Fumito Ganryu corner at Surrender. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

“In my childhood,” he let on, “I love drawing, and then music, and then fashion. Between them, I chose fashion. I was also influenced by my brother, who was very fashionable. In my teens, I looked at how my brother dressed, and became more interested in fashion.” That sibling-roused interest led him, like many of his compatriots successful in fashion, to Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. In 2004, four years after his graduation, he joined the Junya Watanabe studio as a pattern-maker.

His stint with Mr Watanabe must have been so notable to the most important person at CDG that in a brief three years, Mr Ganryu was given his namesake men’s wear label, which quickly gain a following, especially among those who thought that Junya Watanabe was getting, well, a little too predictable. Ganryu then was a delightful synthesis of nearly everything that did not fall into the category that we still call office wear, all with a vague, but discernible CDG imprint. However, Fumito Ganryu today is not specifically designed with just guys in mind. Mr Ganryu was eager to expound what he had previously told the media: his own concept of “non-sex”.

I don’t want gender to be attached to the clothing… Right now in society, there are no more boundaries between males and females

 

“I started selling women’s wear, then I became a patterner for women’s wear, and then a designer with a collection that was unisex and then for men, so I went through everything” he explained. “Because I have done everything, I thought I could come up with something I have not done yet: non-sex. I don’t want gender to be attached to the clothing. Right now in society, there are no more boundaries between males and females.”

Although he says his approach is post-unisex, it does coincide with the increasingly less-binary optics and buying of fashion. Gender may no longer be ascribed to his clothes, but the Fumito Ganryu collection still looks masculine, with separates that appear to be designed by a man for other like-minded men, underscored by what are clearly today’s male wardrobe staples. Without effort, it’s easy to guess there would be shirts, tees, hoodies, and blousons, and there are.

Fumito Ganryu SS 2019Select pieces from the Fumito Ganryu spring/summer 2019 collection. Product photos: Surrender

Despite the store’s relatively small buy, the debut collection is easy to understand. But, the fabric choices, including neoprene and blends with a significant percentage of spandex, are a little harder to appreciate considering how they do not really suit the weather here, which on this early evening was a Real Feel® of 38ºC. I like the treatments applied to the T-shirts, with zips that can be undone to configure the attendant flaps in a state of undone. Although most of the pieces are given shapes that can be considered conventional, within each I saw details that attest to Mr Ganryu’s flair for complex patterning and unexpected details.

Despite its streetwear vibe (which is more at odds with the rest of Surrender’s hard core merchandise than in chummy embrace), the designer negates such a label, preferring instead for the wearer to define what they feel and perceive. But if street wear these days is broadly seen as “fashionable casual clothing”, Fumitomo Ganryu clearly fits the bill. This first season, the “key word is water”, he told the unimpressed audience. “There are many ways to interact with water: you can play with it or you can avoid it,” he explained helpfully. The latter accounts for the presence of what can be considered rain wear, I assumed.

Cued by someone on the floor, the conversation came to an end 25 minutes later. So placid was the interview and questionable the translation that little was gleaned from this rare visit by a CDG alumnus. In the end, only the “non-sex” clothes tell his story, even if sexlessly, discreetly.

Fumito Ganryu is available at Surrender, 268 Orchard Road