Many Of Us Don’t Buy Magazines Anymore

Or, why the issue of one particular month of the year no longer clicks


US Vogue September 2019The latest issue of Vogue’s unusually thin September issue

By Boh Chin Swee

Big, sadly, is no longer better.

U.S. Vogue’s September issue used to be the queen of September issues. They practically created the year’s biggest and, detrimentally to wrists, the heaviest magazine—so much weight that even the commemorative tome of the Met’s annual fashion exhibition in May seems as light as a paperback novel. Ten years after the 2009 movie, The September Issue, that went behind the scene to see the making of Vogue’s usher-in-fall 2007 edition, and also if editor-in-chief (EIC, but better referred to as “editrix”—think dominatrix and you’ll get the gist) Anna Wintour was the editorial terror that she was reputed to be, the September issue seems to have lost its legendary lure and, quite possibly, become diluted in its fashion lore.

For me, Vogue’s issue for the first month of autumn is no longer a yearly must-buy, or part of a monthly habit, panacea to urban humdrum. Like many people, I stopped picking up the magazine since the birth of the now-defunct, a waiting-to-be-reborn site that offered more fashion than any I knew at that time. Vogue, by then, had become too formulaic and lost a sense of immediacy—it weakened and waned against an online media climate it could not positively challenge nor cleverly embraced. I eventually committed to one purchase yearly—the September issue, not due to hunger for its pages, but to keep the buying of the magazine that I once read religiously, alive. As for the issues of the other months, I get my fix—if I needed to have it—at the magazines-galore PS Café.

The truth is, I have lost my near-addiction to the title—completely. I still love print; I still buy books, and I do read the papers, but fashion news in print form has, as we are well aware, overtaken by much that’s put online, good or bad. I was a very regular reader of Vogue, and used to devote my meal budget to both British and the US versions on a, more or less, monthly basis. One of my best friends have been buying and collecting Vogue—every month without fail—since the ’70s, during his undergraduate days in Australia. I have even visited his veritable library, so expanded it made Basheer Books looked like a corner newsstand, when I needed to research on pseudo-academic stuff I used to write for leisure, from Yves Saint Laurent to Yves Klein.

US Vogue September 2019 P2.jpgThe stack on the floor as seen in Kinokuniya shortly after the magazine was released locally

I gleaned a lot from them Vogues, just as I did from Harper’s Bazaar,  Interview, Vanity Fair, (and, as I remember now, everything Truman Capote had written, even years after his death in 1984), during a time when magazines not only offered more long-form writing than newspapers, but also writing that were informative and, dare I say, fun to read. Online titles were still not the comprehensive publications some of them are today. Google Search was launched, coincidentally, on September, in the year of 1997, when Linda Evagenlista wore a fur coat on that biggest issue, which proclaimed “The Thrill Is Back”. But then, Google Search was not quite the convenience and instant gratification of today’s search engines, and not the AI quickness and, gasp, acuity that it now is. Vogue, together with others, also filled the huge gaping gaps inadvertently or, perhaps, deliberately offered by spurious fashion titles of local publishers, such as the now-nearly-sixty Singapore Press Holdings flagship Her World—gaps that were there because it was assumed readers didn’t care as much about fashion as they did the disloyalty, affairs, and shenanigans of their lovers or husbands, or the best ways to deal with the office back-stabber.

The current September issue of Vogue is now in my hands. It has been exactly a year since I last purchased what was once often dubbed as “the fashion bible”, distasteful as that might have been to regular church-goers. Weight gain may not be something Vogue encourages, but its own mass, up or down, has never been an issue. This month, it weighs 1.1 kilos, compared to the 2.3 back in the September of 2007, now thirty one years since Anna Wintour’s first U.S. Vogue cover. Weight reduction means page-count contraction too. In 2007, the magazine boasted on the Sienna Miller cover “extra-extra large… biggest issue ever… 840 pages” (although the largest would be five years later, fronted by Lady Gaga, at 916, minus the front and back covers). It was the first time I had to use a bookmark for a magazine. This year’s big equals 596 pages—just 65 percent of that most gargantuan. The dwindling number, however, no longer receives a blurb on the cover. In fact, since 2017, on its “125th Anniversary Collector’s edition”, there was no mention of the page extent, a marketing habit initiated by Ms Wintour back in 1996, if I remember correctly. Then, it was 700 pages, and the count, in subsequent years, continued to climb, until the peak of the cover of 2012. It has since seen a recurring dip. After that 125th year issue, Vogue no longer blatantly prides itself with the number of pages that can equal the big fat novel’s.

Once, the size of Vogue was a major eye-opening thrill, but now no one even looks for those three digits on the cover anymore. Do words matter then? I am not sure I am enticed—not since 2007, I recall. From 2000, these were the adjectives, adjectival phrases, and nouns used to describe the fall fashion offerings: super, fabulous, all-out glamour, polished, spectacular, unforgettable, dramatic, fearless, brilliant, stylish and smart, sumptuous, extravaganza, spectacular (second time), fabulous (again), spectacular (third), wildly wonderful, fantastic fearless (sounds familiar?), global, and, this month, radical. Is radicalism in fashion still making news? Am I—are we—still seduced?

US Vogue September 2019 P3The unnecessary second cover in the gate-fold

Does the latest then really welcome me, or, as it urges, to “come on in” to 596 pages of fashion magazine spell or what non-editrix editors would call pagination hell? I am not sure Taylor Swift pointing at me somewhat insolently is invitation to enter, but I am, to be sure, not a fan, nor a member of her now-inert Girl Squad, so her appeal, even in Louis Vuitton (mostly obscured), is extremely limited. Past the cover, there’s another. The gatefold-as-entrance-way that’s mostly the extended Yves Saint Laurent ad of their new fragrance Libre has one page of the cover girl in a Farrah Fawcett-esque hair and pose. I don’t know why I need to look at the retro-looking Ms Swift again on the recto (with masthead again), a layout that sees her sharing the page to her left with the far much more attractive, also-singer Dua Lipa. Was Yves Saint Laurent not willing to pay for that extra space? Ms Swift may have a hit song Style, but she, to me, is hardly embodiment, and not quite iconic enough to necessitate two covers in one magazine, however thick.

It then takes me 186 page turns—saliva-ed index finger aside—before I could get to the Letter from the Editor, and another 16 more before I can read the second of the two-page tedium to finish what Ms Wintour has to say. She may be fashion’s sharpest and fiercest mind, with decided opinions, but she’s not the editorial voice that can be compared to the fellow Brit who was once considered by the media as her rival—Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair (1984 to 1992) and author of The Diana Chronicles, biography of the late Princess of Wales. All through her 36 years at Vogue, Ms Wintour has not been known as the epitome of wit—hauteur perhaps, but not quite the cleverness of phrase that can match her fierceness or gumption. In fact, she hardly writes, if not for the two-pager that precedes what she deems fashion dispatch of the month.

After crossing the threshold (or the inevitable advertising behind the cover), it is 238 pages later before I arrive at the first read in the section called Upfront (how, now, I appreciate hyperlinks!). And 457 pages to ride out before I land on the fashion spreads. Along the way, through familiar hallways and rooms filled and decorated with the usual Nostalgia and intros to newish stuff, are the meek editorial bits that precede the fashion chunks of the issue, which opens with the poorly-punned poser “Wear do we Go from Here?” “We’ve been having big conversations, emotional conversations, about fashion lately,” wrote the unnamed staffer who penned that page. In the present, when the comments of influencers on their IG posts are big conversations and the poor naming of a celebrity’s “solutionswear” elicits emotional conversations, it is a little over-the-top that Vogue’s discourse on the current state of fashion, already dissected thoughtfully elsewhere, is thought to be massive. Weightier, perhaps, would be to place where the magazine stands, now that it has brought it up, on the issue of “our overflowing wardrobes”, even when they “peruse the possibilities of a Burberry trench or a satin tuxedo from Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello…” while “attuned not simply to their immediacy but to their longevity—and to the notion that, perhaps, we might keep them circulating in the system by selling them on to someone else”, from one overflowing wardrobe to another overflowing wardrobe. Or, longevity in someone else’s wardrobe as long as it’s not mine!

US Vogue September 2019 P4Where, indeed, Vogue?

Many of us come to Vogue for fashion or, specifically, the fashion pages. At least we used to. Their fashion spreads now infrequently effect a narrative that can inspire us, or to the point that we can, as per their fave editorial hope, dream. I look at this issue’s six, all shot outdoors save two (and a partial), and I was not sent to the moon; over the vale perhaps, but only to encounter a reprise of the ridiculous headgear that Beyoncé wore on the cover of the last September issue. Why? Because the photographer is, again, Tyler Mitchell? Vogue can be lazy with other months, but not the September issue.

I know it is no longer imperative that a fashion magazine show clothes that can be viewed in great detail. No one requires to see the softness of silks or the exquisiteness of embroidery. A pleated skirt need only give the impression of pleats, not show the definite edges that are associated with, say, knives. Vogue used to impress with clarity and detail, but now that you can easily zoom in on photos online, the magazine may have thought that it is pointless to go beyond creating a mood or showing a look since your fingers can’t pinch or expand on paper for the same effects that you can get on a touch screen. Perhaps that explains why, for example, the fashion spreads don’t compel you to stop and really look, not especially those pages featuring Gigi Hadid jumping childishly on a trampoline, dispensing with any piece in the coordinated looks appearing with enough focus for the reader to discern its design value. But, perhaps, that does not matter. Don’t you trust Vogue?

Shortly after finishing the S$22.90 magazine in about 20 minutes, I spoke to a friend working in Hong Kong who is a regular Vogue reader. Did you buy the September issue, I asked. “It’s the only one I buy,” she replied, “but immediately regretted.” When I asked why she felt that way, she gave me one answer, which, as it turned out, was already my guess: “boring”. Which also means, to the rightfully expectant us, not an inch in the whole magazine is inspiring. Or, as Ruth Reichl told James Truman, Condé Nast’s powerful former editorial director, what she thought of the stories in Gourmet (Vogue’s once kindred publication that has closed) before she excepted the job offer to be the epicurean mag’s EIC, “I’m sorry, but they put me to sleep”.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Two Rode Together

One of the oddest pairings this season is Fendi and Porter


Fendi X Porter AW 2019The Fendi X Porter Baguette (top) and Peekaboo (below). Photos: Fendi

There have been calls in recent years for less collaborations, but not many brands heed the recommendation. Two names, preferably poles apart, coming together for one purpose—hyped-up merchandise—don’t always yield desirable results. Examples are too numerous to warrant space here for honourable mention. Yet, so numerous and persistent have collaborations become that over-collaboration is more real than results with value and usefulness. Some brands exist on product collaboration, rather than product development. Collab fatigue has been reported, but that’s hardly a deterrent. Have we not heard enough of Supreme with this or that, yielding meaningless non-clothing products—shovel, just to name one? To paraphrase Andy Warhol, perhaps, fashion (not just art) is what you can get away with.

One of the most don’t-know-what-to-make-of-this collaborations this season is that of Fendi and Porter. By strange, we don’t mean weird, but as likely as Gucci teaming up with Goop—it could happen, but really shouldn’t. Fendi, which CNN calls “one of Italy’s most powerful and storied luxury fashion houses”, are already bag makers with their own bag-making unit, but this could be onward march for them to go more street, in tandem with many Italians brands play catch-up. It is, however, not the same for Porter, already an established and respectable name in Japan for bags that don’t count the hard attache case as chum.

It is possible that to the young, I’ll-buy-anything Fendi fan, the pairing does not really matter. Fendi could have collaborated with Anello (that would be irony making a comeback!), and they would rush to pre-order, which, in the case of Fendi X Porter, was available more than a month earlier, thus ensuring that the limited-edition bag shall be sold out when they eventually hit the store, unbeknown to the casual shopper.

Porter pop-up in TokyoIn the Porter Omotaesando, Tokyo store, an installation dedicated to the products from its collab with Fendi. Photo: Porter

In Tokyo, those who do not personally receive phone calls from their regular salesperson for pre-orders are a lot luckier than us, as Porter has set up what they call an “installation” at the brand’s Omotaesando store, showing the styles in all colours and sizes. When we arrived at Fendi at ION Orchard this morning, a very late two days after the bags became available, we were met by a sales girl who happily declared that the bags were “all sold out, except these two”, showing us the black Baguette and and gray Peekaboo with a capaciousness clearly created for men (later told to us by a Chanel collector that they are known as XLs), both still in their protective plastic bags, which were eventually removed for our inspection.

The bags have a familiar hand feel as they’re made of Porter’s signature nylon used in their popular Tanker series. And like the Tanker bags, the insides of these two come in contrast-coloured lining of orange, purportedly known as Indian Orange. The Peekaboo, less appealing to us, look like a work bag that won’t really be carried for work. More interesting was the Baguette. The original was introduced in 1997 and its extreme popularity lasted into the early 2000. The latest version we were holding is designed for men—a direction Dior took with its Saddle Bag. But guys do not have the tendency to carry bags under their upper arm, which was how creator of the Baguette, Silvia Venturini Fendi, saw women using the bag as if securing roti perancis (hence its name). The XL Baguette, with XL logo-clasp, now comes with the masculine addition of straps on its sides so that it can be used as a bum-bag!

It isn’t yet certain if this pair of “iconic” Fendi bags given the Porter treatment will enhance the Japanese brand’s already strong international standing, but it may shine a light on Fendi’s increasingly visible target of the younger—a lot younger—customer. Yet, the remake of once popular bags is not quite the same as pairing with a brand to take advantage of its unique design voice: this does not match Marni’s and Missoni’s collaboration with Porter, both with resultant products that had a certain edge and quirk that enchanted. We left Fendi no longer thinking of the bags we came to see. Rather, we’re wondering who we could call to help us score the Kolor X Porter bags, presently available only in Japan. Even if they only appeared in our dreams, we’d be happy.


Retro Brand Comeback Of The Year

Many of its young customers today do not know that Fila is a 108-year-old label. But the heritage may not matter as the Italian brand is trending through whichever social media you’re hooked to. Their flagship store opened in Jewel last month, and it looks like in here, one must stop


Fila shopping bag.jpgThe Fila shopping bag proudly displayed by a shopper in a bus

By Emma Ng

I don’t have the habit of looking at people’s chest or feet, but lately these body parts have been looking at me. Not just a casual glance, but a positive glare. I do not, of course, glare back, but I do notice one thing clearly: a four-letter word not found in the English dictionary: Fila.

Since the popularity of logos some years back (six, maybe?), I have seen a proliferation of Swooshes and Three Stripes worn all over, even in the most unlikely places, but it was only this past year that I started noticing the F, I, L, and A, in their thick lines, appearing not quite discreetly, often emblazoned across the chest or stretched across the dorsum of feet. It appears that this once relatively unknown Italian brand—now owned by Koreans and, in China, in a JV with the Chinese—is winning the pockets of shoppers the way bubble tea has robbed them.

The bubble tea analogy, you may have guessed, is deliberate. Both are comebacks with bigger, madder following the second time round. Fila was never as huge as Nike or Adidas, just as bubble teas of the first invasion was not quite the cha version of Starbucks, but some time in the mid-Nineties, when Clueless inspired many of my school friends and the Spice Girls were not yet dethroned, one shoe did find fans among those who had a weakness for white kicks, especially those with “saw-tooth” outsoles. I am not talking about what Sporty Spice wore; she was partial to Nike (oh, the Tailwind is making a comeback, but I prefer her Air Humara). I am recalling the Fila kick of 1996, the Disruptor.

Fila Disruptor 2 2018The sneaker that changed the fortunes of Fila, as seen in last year’s Sole Superior: the Disruptor 2

By now, most of you have heard of the Disruptor 2, or own a pair, maybe more. At the Fila store in ION Orchard last Saturday, I heard a girl of no more than twelve telling her friend of about the same age, “Don’t get the Disruptor—it’s too popular. I already have three!” This pubescent girl’s serious advice is ground level shout-out of the sneaker’s demand and acclaim, and how it can not only define a brand, but revive it. By the end of 2018, the Disruptor was the trainer to have, especially among young girls, many of whom looked unable to walk in what is essentially a hippo of a shoe. At last year’s Sole Superior, Fila’s star performer was expected to be in such high demand that a stall was almost entirely dedicated to it, drawing, unsurprisingly, manic attention.

The second version of the Disruptor’s rapid success took many observers and retailers by delightful surprise. In January, I remember seeing a Thai tourist on the MRT train going to the airport with six pairs in boxes that are neatly tied up in threes—these exclude the two huge suitcases that accompanied him. Sure, the sneaker arrived at the height of the chunky, “dad shoe” craze, but it was not a new silhouette compared with the competition and it had no celebrity endorsement (although Kendall Jenner did wear a pair). Its almost immediate popularity was attributed to its easy availability and a don’t-have-to-think-twice price. The Disruptor 2 was destined for success.

From that one shoe, Fila suddenly became the rage, and the logo, an emblem of sporty cool on everything from T-shirts to bum bags to slides. It is possible that Fila’s popularity received a boost from Gosha Rubchinskiy, who, in 2016, created Fila-branded merchandise that augmented over-branding’s extreme popularity after Demna Gvasalia similarly magnified the re-designed Balenciaga logo. I don’t remember when it was in the past that a logotype of an athletic brand became so well-loved and so applicable on merchandise that other brands soon followed (New Balance and the Japanese label Nanamica had a conceptually-similar offering to Mr Rubchinskiy’s).

The high with the low way of mixing clothes and accessories means Fila can be seen comfortably and proudly with Balenciaga

In fact, even luxury brands want in on the game, never mind that it’s the high-low pairing that’s on trend, not quite the high-high. Last year, Fendi, not just contented with partnering the Disruptor’s creator, even went as far as substituting the F of its logo with the latter’s, and repeat it all over whatever merchandise they can crank out to capture the attention of those fans that were past their love for the double Fs or Bag Bugs eyes, which, six years after their appearance, hasn’t shut, and now looking at you somewhat ominously from the face of watches.

Fila’s pull seems to be in how easily and suitably their merchandise go with products of status (even if that does not really mean much, now that brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel have broad, unstoppable appeal). I often see both men and women wearing or totting something that announces itself as Fila, accompanied by those that are not vague about their proprietary name and exorbitant pricing. It’s one conspicuous brand with another, even if they come from different ends of the price divide. The juxtaposition often examplar of today’s random, impulsive, and uncritical consumption, a predilection luxury brands have been fast to exploit.

Athletic brands, such as Fila, have become a status leveler now that even women still buying It bags wear track tops and pants with total nonchalance, with little regard for sense of occasion, just as you and I see on IG, Snapchat, and the like. Sure, this is probably the result of the influence of influencers—so far ineradicable—who set trends more rapidly and effectively than even the most buzzy brands. But Fila has one added advantage: apart from the heat generated by social-media, the brand has the advantage of a generation of consumers who has never savoured the then-emerging casualness of the ’90s, now on-trend with remarkable persistence. Fila is new.

Fila store P1Opened last month, the Fila flagship in Jewel Changi Airport offers both street styles and classic sportswear

The young discovering old brands and, as a consequence, giving them new life is nothing novel, and decidedly a part of the cycle we sometimes forget is fashion. It is very much like trying my first pair of bell-bottom jeans some time last year. My mother was shocked and, without hesitation, told me how hideous they were. “I wore them along time ago, and I had no idea why,” she said, regret thick in her voice. This year, I gave track pants a go—interestingly Fila, and, yes, with the tape down the sides!—but it has nothing to do with the eminent return of Missy Elliot, who, I was told, was the poster girl for tracksuit-as-playsuit back in the day.

It is not hard to see that Fila is presently merchandised to appeal to the young. Its footwear is aligned with fashion trends than sporting needs. Its clothing, too, is pitched at those who don them as a statement of being in the know than as unthinking post-game wear. If the Disruptor 2, brought sharp focus to Fila’s sneaker offerings (especially its flair for the chunky kicks), then its Eagle Logo T-shirt (with a ‘Miss’ version for women), featuring an indiscreet logo with the distinctive initial F, contrast-coloured on the top arm of the font, delivered interest to the increasingly street-leaning clothes, even, as cynics consider them “entry-level”. The fashion line received a major boost when, in September last year, they staged a catwalk presentation during Milan Fashion Week. Three months later, it was announced that Phillip Lim and the brand would collaborate on what the media described as “elevated, sport-inspired garments”.

Regardless, Fila seems to attract those who still depend on their parents for pocket money and, as I have noticed, the newly-in-love who like wearing identical clothes and footwear. While stores such as the Foot Locker and JD Sports carry the brand, it is their free-standing boutiques—now numbering three here—that are a major pull. And it is the flagship store in the sports-shops-too-many Jewel Changi Airport that is poised to take on the big boys, even if Fila is a small player, compared to rivals Nike and Adidas.

Fila store P2The right-half of the Fila flagship at Jewel Changi Airport, featuring the more ‘heritage’ lines

The flagship is a lineal, 2,730 square feet expanse that’s split into two halves, unlike Nike’s duplex eye-catcher. On the left, it houses the ‘Fusion’ collections and on the right, the ‘Heritage’ and more classic lines, such as White. On a Friday morning that I was there, I overheard a customer, standing on the more atmospheric ‘Fusion’ part, asking a sales staff, “What’s the difference between that side and this side?” She happily replied, pointing to where the enquirer stood, “This side is for more hip-hop, one.” Just as I was wondering if I was in the right half of the store, she added, “this side we also have Japan collection and Taiwan collection”. The regional offerings were instantly transmitting their pull.

As it turned out, the helpful staff was not wrong. I felt I was in EXO’s costume wardrobe. Not that that’s a bad thing: both men’s and women’s lines look somewhat the same—silhouettes too, which perhaps underscored the unisex appeal of sports-oriented clothes designed for the pavement, rather than courts or tracks. Some of them fall under what Fila calls the Urban Function Series, a name with an OG ring to it. What stood out was how roomy everything appeared, which, I guessed, explained the hip-hop link. The collection associated with Japan had the aesthetical strength of what you might find in Japanese stores such as Beams (the proportion of the T-shirts, for example, was alluringly less conventional: boxy, dropped shoulders), while the one from Taiwan appeared to be what might be worn by participants to local television game shows.

I caught sight of Phillip Lim’s “sports-inspired” fashion—two racks of them. The designs, currently the third drop, may be “elevated”, but the subtly retro vibe could still be discerned, including repeated patterns on garments and bags that are in keeping with graphics of a certain vintage. And just as attractive: you don’t need a bank loan to score something that neither canted towards the too sporty or the too retro. In this collaboration, they have, as a certain DM song goes, got the balance right.

Fila flagship store is on level 2, Jewel Changi Airport, Photos by Galerie Gombak and Zhao Xiangji

Her Best Yet?

Kim K’s latest Vogue Arabia cover could be the fashion cover of the year—and of all 2019 Vogues


Vogue Arabia Sep 2019

We are not fans of Kim Kadashian as a model. Not as a reality star, nor a fashion icon. We are moderately amused by her as a shape wear designer and slightly more fascinated by her as prolific IG influencer. As a model, she’s mostly stiff, one-dimensional, and communicates little sartorially since what she usually puts on can hardly be called wear or, if she does, is something so skin-hugging that our imagination is never taxed.

Yet, she’s not only a model, she is, according to editors (and quite a few of them), cover material. From her feeble first—Complex (February, 2007)—to the borderline bridal bashful—US Vogue (April, 2014)—to the one that “broke the Internet” and consequently became a “cultural phenomenon”—Paper (Winter, 2014), Ms Kardashian is unfazed by the equally positive and negative effects she has on people who buy and read magazines. It is rather curious that despite her status as a social-media star, Ms Kardashian is rather besotted with old media and ever-ready to pose for print.

And now, a title associated with a hyper-conservative society that only very recently allowed women to drive and to travel abroad without consent from a male “guardian”. That Ms Kardashian is given the go-ahead to bare shoulders, arms, and cleavage is perhaps indication of creative output on her terms, rather than expression to test societal limits. Perhaps, to her, this is one way to encourage and empower the women of Saudi Arabia. Or, a chance to sell her “solutionwear”, now called Skims after the first disastrous naming exercise.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the cover girl wore Skims beneath the exaggeratedly shaped and fitted dress (with hips that could have been the result of a modest pannier), which is a vintage ensemble by the former designer Thierry Mugler, whose unnaturally enhanced silhouette was his trademark, an ’80s success story, and now the obsession of pop stars, such as Beyonce, who must wear his designs even when he no longer makes clothes, at least not commercially.

Shot by Spanish photographer Txema Yeste, this is, to us, Kim Kardashian’s strongest, fashion-savvy cover and the September issue cover to beat, but we are not inclined to give the credit entirely to her. The cover blurb also cites the contribution of Mr Mugler as art director (and Kanye West as interviewer of subject, but the husband is not the focus of this post). While the Frenchman’s eponymous line was still under his watch, Mr Mugler was known to have personally conceived the images that defined his sense of ultra-femininity, as well as the concepts of his wildly entertaining fashion shows in the ’80s.

Now a cabaret impresario, Mr Mugler continues to have full control of the images he creates, his own and those of the people he works with, as well as the projects that are under his conception and direction. His clothes might have appeared to be maximal (Harley Davidson corset!!! Millennials may remember Beyonce in it, but back in the ’90s, in that supermodel music video, George Michael’s Too Funky, model Emma Wiklund wore it alongside others in more clothes designed by Mr Mugler, who also directed the film), but the visuals have always veered towards minimal—even futuristic—to better underscore his designs’ sculptural, almost architectural quality.

Ms Kardashian’s covers have always leaned on the side of the commercial. Her rise from reality television is ascent from a commercial medium. Her later and current proclivities for nudity teeter on the pornographic, and nothing is more commercial than porn. The Vogue Arabia—not even two years old— cover is, conversely, a treatise on fashion as artistic expression that can be spared sexual overtones. The well thought-out composition of bi-coloured dress against a not-overwhelming desert that is roofed by a sheltering blue sky, as well as the red patina across the model’s face and left arm is evocative of Mark Rothko’s colour blocking, even if not at all painterly.

For Kim Kardashian, this is possibly the closest to art.

Photo: Vogue Arabia

The Cuban In America

Obituary | Known mostly to fashion insiders until Michelle Obama wore her dress to the former U.S. President’s inauguration, Isabel Toledo was not afraid to avoid the fashion system and commercial demands that launched the careers of other immigrants such as Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung


Isabel ToledoIsabel Toledo in 2014. Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

We woke up this morning to the news that New York fashion designer Isabel Toledo has passed away. Her husband, the artist Ruben Toledo, told the New York Times that his wife died of breast cancer. She was 59.

Despite a long career that started in the mid-Eighties, Ms Toledo was not known to a larger audience until that dress and coat Michelle Obama wore, as she waved to the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue during her husband’s inauguration, brought the indie-designer global attention and fashion editors a-calling.

The wool lace outfit comprised a shift dress and a lapel-less coat, cleverly layered to keep the First Lady warm (the interlining was even crisscrossed with pashmina stitches) on a bitterly cold, if jubilant, January day in Washington. Strikingly simple and befitting the wife of the US Commander-in-Chief, the ensemble aroused greater interest for its unusual colour that had people talking and wondering: “what do you call that?”

Barack and Michelle ObamaBarack and Michelle Obama on inauguration day and the dress and coat that caught the eyes of the world. Photo: AP

The answers that emerged would rival any Thesaurus entry for ‘yellow’. According to Ms Toledo, the fabric was in “pale sage” but she preferred to call it “lemongrass”, a colour and herb that few Americans are familiar with, but many media outlets were quick to associate with Thai food. Never mind that on screen or in print, colours are rarely calibrated to reflect the real shade, Ms Toledo was publicity-savvy enough to use an edible plant as reference to create the necessary buzz.

We are aware, of course, that lemongrass, also known by the botanical name cymbopogon, is not that yellow. In fact, chromatically, it is a gradation of muted green (since, by the time we cook with it, it is not fresh off the soil) from the spikelet down to the almost white of the core and the sheathing bract at the base; the sum perhaps hinting at yellow.

The colour description was a publicity coup of sorts. Americans have heard of lemon yellow or melon yellow, but not lemongrass. Was it, in fact, lemon or was it grass? That clever naming suggested that Ms Toledo had a flair for evocative descriptions. She had learnt from the best—after all, she counted the late Andy Warhol as a friend. Indeed, in the ’80s, she socialised with heavyweights of the art scene—graffiti masters Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well as fashion bigwigs such as Halston and Anne Klein, with whom she worked briefly from 2006 to 2007. The New York clubbing scene of the era must have influenced too: Ms Toledo’s first show in 1985 was held in the four-storey nightclub, the Danceteria, which, at its second location in Manhattan, was a scene in the 1985 film—starring Madonna—Desperately Seeking Susan.

Isabel Toledo designsDesigns from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s 2009 exhibition, Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out. Clockwise from top left, 1996/97, 1998, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2005. Photos: FIT

Born in 1960 in Cuba, Maria Isabel Izquierdo left Camajuani, a small town in the heart of the island in the province of Villa Clara, at age eight with her family to migrate to the United States, where they settled in New Jersey. In a Spanish class of her high-school years, she met fellow Cuban Ruben Toledo, and they married in 1984. They would become lifelong collaborators—a largely two-person collective, before such a term was used, that brought together art and fashion in a place they called the Toledo Studio. For most of her pre-Obama years, Ms Toledo operated under the radar, creating clothes that many considered avant-garde, but not in the European tradition of Vivienne Westwood or Martin Margiela, or the Japanese approach of Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto. Rather, hers was more in keeping with the modernism of couture masters such as Geoffrey Beene and, earlier, George Halley.

Despite her talent in design, Ms Toledo preferred to align herself with artisans. She has said, “I never thought of myself as a designer; I’m a seamstress.” Throughout her life, she enjoyed the process of dressmaking more than the actual designing. “Craft takes time, and therefore it is luxury,” she told Time in 2009. “You cannot do an amazingly well-made garment without taking time—not just the time it takes to make something, but also the time it took the maker to come up with the idea.” This could perhaps explain why, in 1998, she stopped subjecting herself to the dictates of time when her clothes had to be presented through fashion shows, choosing in lieu to sell to stores such as Nordstrom and Barneys on schedules determined by her.

Although a New Yorker at heart, Ms Toledo had never played down her Cuban past or the fact that she was an immigrant. As she wrote in her memoir Roots of Style, “To put this into perspective, you must remember that Ruben and I are political refugees, and my staff consists of people from the U.S., China, Korea, Poland, Mexico, and Japan. We have interns from Austria, Quatar, England, and Canada. Ruben’s 85-year-old dad, who had been our cutter, had come from Cuba during the Revolution. So you can just imagine how proud and honored we all were, this small United Nations of Fashion.”

Just As Good Without The Collaboration

Are sneakers sans designer association less desirable or not as worthy? We think not


Nike Daybreak SP opNike Daybreak SP in the newest colour combo following the success of the collaboration with Undercover

Sneakers linked to designer names are getting not only discouragingly expensive but also annoyingly difficult to score. Apart from creating a buying frenzy and enormous publicity for the respective brands, collaborative outputs are known for their scarcity. That is, of course, the intention from the beginning of the coming together of two major brands, but what’s good for them is often a bummer for the rest of us—many, it should be noted, defiantly adverse to the ridiculous resale market. No one can explain satisfactorily why a company such as Nike, this year ranked 14th on the ‘World’s Most Valuable Brand’ by Forbes (just two spots below LVMH), can’t produce enough shoes to meet demand.

Most designers who collaborate with sneaker brands work on existing or old or out-of-commission models. At some point, brands will release said model either simultaneously or after the release of the former, in the wake of the reiteration’s success. Nike’s much anticipated React Element 87 from last year, conversely, was a new silhouette and was first launched with Undercover. The shoes, seen all over the Web in their colourful glory, piqued so much interest that they were never, till this day, available in quantities that can satisfy even a quarter of the demand. When the non-collab version finally came out shortly after, they too were so often sold out that people started to wonder if the React Element 87 were really phantom footwear. But at least those could still be seen, even if infrequently, and you stood a chance to cop a pair.

Nike React Element 87 in the slightly off-beat colours of the latest drop

So many of us are now wondering why we allow ourselves to go weak in the presence of the increasingly mindless hype of collaborative kicks. Enough doubt, in fact, that we are beginning to consider the OG (original release) version rather than be disappointed by the failure to cop the designer-linked. Nike, for one, seems to know that (or plotted such an outcome). Following the success of their second pairing with Undercover, a compelling born-again Daybreak, the Swoosh released the OG version quickly enough in no less appealing colours, such as the latest Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metallic Gold (top). Sure, these are not like what Undercover cleverly and unexpectedly did, but they are no less handsome or covetable.

Merely bringing back a style from the past may not be enough to ensure new interest or relieve consumers from retro-kicks fatigue. Look at Nike’s own Cortez: even the expensive Bella Hadid—in an uninspiring campaign—could not save the shoe from lacklustre retail performance. A “premium product” at the start of the Nike brand, the Cortez now looks merely retro, without the edge that other brought-back-from-about-the-same-time sneakers radiate. Perhaps, what the Cortez needed was a pre-comeback designer touch. Post-collab, the Daybreak seems even more desire-rousing than the React Element 87, proving that it can survive the consumer tastes of 2019. The Undercover spin paved the way for new interest in a shoe that, by itself, may not have returned from forgotten glory, especially in the wake of more bombastic offerings such as the over-the-top Sacai-led LDV Waffle Daybreak.

This month, Adidas Originals released Ozweego with a dedicated window at AW Lab

In fact, OGs following successful collaborations so increase the visibility of the shoes themselves that sneaker brands are now dedicating some brought-back-from-obscurity OGs for major launches. Adidas Originals has had some triumphs with their designer partnerships even if they are not as headline-winning as Nike’s. One of them is their attention-grabbing and wildly successful work with Raf Simons in 2013, in the form of the Ozweego (version 1), a shoe already known for its “aggressive” form (meaning the Balenciaga Triple S of its time), yet Mr Simons was able re-imagine it to stunning and, surprisingly, unrecognisable effects. The results, as expected, are forbiddingly expensive—mostly above S$500 a pair.

With keen interest generated by the more avant-garde forms of the co-branded version and a large base unable to own them because of their discouragingly high price, Adidas rolled out the Ozweego, an update on the 3rd version of the style released in 1998, these past months, in the hope of recapturing the success it had with Mr Simons. Priced mostly at S$160, it is easy and tempting to bite, even if the shoes are a far cry from the designer versions. That these born-in-the-Nineties kicks now come looking geekier than before (and in Insta-worthy colours unfortunately not yet available here) won’t hurt its chances at being wildly popular.

Adidas Ozweego Aug 2019In its latest form, the Adidas Originals Ozweego looks quite unlike the the version conceived in collaboration with Raf Simons that sparked massive interest

Adidas Originals has, of course, a track record with strong designer collaborations and then following them up with even more partnerships while simultaneously releasing original releases and updated versions with the same fire as those (still) playing Pokémon Go to keep Pikachu and company very much alive. What comes immediately to mind is the Stan Smith—probably the biggest reboot success of the decade, so lucrative and gainful to the German shoe maker and so delightful to fans that Adidas is still producing and updating the Stan Smith up till today, allowing the former tennis kicks (and the cousin Superstar) to outsell every Nike sneaker released in 2017, according to media reports.

The Three Stripes showed rather convincingly that classics can become cool and cool can become classic (again). One of the later collaborations that amplified the Stan Smith’s fashion cred is with Raf Simons (check out their odd ‘Peachtree’ Stan Smith). New versions still appear and collectors, it is known, are not satiated yet. The Stan Smith’s undeniable popularity poses problems too, chiefly imitation, not just among Taobao brands, but with luxury names too. Even Gucci can’t resist—their unapologetic take, the Ace, is the conventional, retro-strong sneaker that those not quite into the chunky Rhyton buy with complete and entertaining abandon.

Nike Air Skylon II Armo opNike Air Skylon II is this year’s geek kicks made good, thanks to Fear of God

Not all designer collaborations trump the OG reissues. Some, in fact, look better than the result of partnered tinkering. Nike’s working together with Fear of God in the Air Skylon II resulted in a shoe that did not quite shake the ground on which the kicks would walk on. Sure, there’s the toggle lacing that replaces the conventional laces, but this isn’t quite the heel clip of the Nike X Underground Daybreak. There is, of course, the “luxury” upper, but the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ of the first issues last year, are hardly the colours of post-IG era or the enough-of-basics buying sentiment of today. Drake seen in a pair with his usual I-am-not-wearing-anything-special nonchalance may have brought attention to the collaboration, but not quite enough to subsequently send the kicks must-have soaring.

Yet, it is the designer-free Air Skylon II (debuted in 1992) that we at SOTD find especially appealing. Visually, this is not anywhere near the colourful Air Max 270 React, a shoe that may one day be as remembered as the Roshe Daybreak (who can now recall the Roshe One?!). Still, the Air Skylon II is a charming show of retro silhouette and creative colour story, both coming together to striking and irresistible effects. If only more brands, not only Nike, can whip up such a commercial yet compelling mix. And charge prices that do not match the versions with designer cachet.

Nike Daybreak SP, SGD159, is available at; Adidas Originals Ozweego, SGD160, is available at AW Lab; Nike Skylon II, SGD159, is available at The Foot Locker. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Urban Outfitters Now Ships Here

A pop-up on the Urban Outfitters’ homepage confirms that local shoppers can now buy from their online store

We’re not sure when this started, but Urban Outfitters (UO) has announced it on their website that they now ship to our shores. That is probably good news for those who buy mainly online although it isn’t clear how popular this one-year-shy-of-fifty US store is among local shoppers. It is known that many women are extremely fond of their sister brand Anthropologie and, we hear, increasingly, Free People. Perhaps, as with many American consumers, UO may start to lose any vestige of appeal once you pass twenty five, which means people may just stick to Zalora.

Still, it’s always a joy to know that there are stores that we had visited in the US (actually we prefer UO in the UK) and had enjoyed now ships to our home address and without charge if we sign up for e-mail notification. After all, how often can you visit Lazada (now funded by China’s Alibaba) without wondering why you’re at it again. Still, we are a city of e-shoppers with, unsurprisingly, a voracious appetite. According to online shopping aggregator iPrice, ours is the “number one in ‘basket size’ at $91, and a huge lead on GDP among SEA countries”. According to a 2016 report, the local e-commerce market is projected to reach S$7.5 billion by 2026. Clearly Urban Outfitters knew that. Singapore’s business appeal is even stronger now that the American retailer just reported that their net income for Q2 skidded downwards by 35 percent.

UO SG 2.jpg

UO SG 3.jpgUrban Outfitters’ homepage

UO opened in Philadelphia in 1970 (a year after Gap), the start of the flower power decade, opposite the University of Pennsylvania. Although they have since lost the hippy touch, their merchandising approach is as varied, and, dare we say, florid. Some time in the ’90s, there were even vintage-y merchandise. Moving with the times, they now focus mainly on streetwear, including, like most multi-brand stores—even Dover Street Market—a maddeningly large array of T-shirts with tasteless graphics and anti-social messages. The sum is a store that is difficult to pin and describe. It would be easier to say that they would appeal to your BTS-loving teenaged sister and Nintendo Switch-totting pre-NS brother.

As with many large American brands, UO has stores outside the US: in Canada and Europe—more than 200 of them. They call themselves a “lifestyle retailer” with a “well-curated mix of on-trend women’s and men’s clothes” that “targets young adults who are culturally sophisticated and self-expressive through a unique merchandise mix, compelling store environment, websites and mobile applications”. To be fair, UO’s physical stores are quite a fun place to visit even if you are no longer into torn-beyond-recognition denim shorts and tacky printed leggings.

It is also a store that is “dedicated to inspiring customers through a unique combination of product, creativity and cultural understanding”. Some people may find it hard to believe the “cultural understanding” part since UO are seen as a clothier with a lack of sensitivity to cultural issues such as the time in 2010 when they sold a woman’s V-neck T-shirt that read unambiguously across the chest, “Eat Less”. You can imagine the revulsion and repercussion

Depression T @ UOScreen grab of the offensive merchandise then sold in UO’s e-store

Singapore’s first connection with Urban Outfitters is not as innocuous as e-commerce. It was to do with a T-shirt too. This time (2014), it was a top by local brand Depression, the brainchild of ex-admen, Kenny Lim and his chum Andrew Loh, both also operators of their own multi-label store Sects Shop. Ordinarily, selling a Singaporean label would not pose a problem. People would normally be thrilled that one of our own is sold by a popular overseas stockist. But when a hipster store tackles a Goth-leaning label with a sad, even if glib, name, the result may not be UT-cheerful.

Depression is not Fayth; they are not built on sunshine. Of all the depressing pieces that UO considered buying, they had to choose a crew-neck piece that had the brand’s bleak, mental-illness-evoking name repeated horizontally, in different font sizes, front to back. You can imagine how unkindly the “culturally sophisticated and self-expressive” took to that, and understandably so. Mental health was, by then (earlier, in fact), no longer an alien term. The T-shirt ruffled many, including columnists of mainstream media, such as The Guardian. The paper headlined an op-ed, “Don’t Shop at Urban Outfitters”.

Just to be sure, we checked: Depression is no longer stocked at UO, online too.


The Awful Feeling Of Feeling Nothing

Hedi Slimane’s first men’s wear collection for Celine is in store. Who’s excited?

By Ray Zhang

I did not want to dismiss the hottest debut this year. Not just like that, not prematurely, not without first seeing the clothes, close-up. You may want to know I am not an Hedi Slimane fan ( I don’t think any of us in SOTD are), never have been. What I feel about his Celine for men is not going to be, for his die-hard followers, fair, but this was what I saw. It was not a cursory glance, but a close examination, as close as it gets.

While I had expected Mr Slimane’s aesthetic repetition, I came away certain again that he was telling me what I’ve seen before is what I shall and should see again. Newness is not new, as he communicates through familiar “Teddy” jackets. Don’t expect change. By now you should know he isn’t giving any. If you thought this was a reprise of his Saint Laurent, which then divided fashion opinion, you did not think wrongly or unreasonably. In the Hedi Slimane l’opera mode, one note is the best note.

Even the interior of the store is a throw-back to the years before his current tenure. Now, somehow the rigidity seemed intimidating. The stone walls, the harsh lighting; the minimal metal-frames-as-racks, suspended from the bare ceiling; the floating shelves, protruding from walls; the sterile glass cabinets; the industrial boast; the deliberate coldness that hits you like a slap—they stubbornly told me, to hell with my expecting things to be different.

In the end, it was the first Celine men’s collection that I have come to view. A Web browser might be useful in seeing the clothes as they were shown—in full swagger, but it is in a retail setting, where the clothes do not gain from the deceptive art of styling and the bodies that match those of Mr Slimane’s rock world, that I get to see the collection as individual pieces. Do they hold up individually? Lest I am mistaken, these are not badly made clothes; they just don’t fall into a category I can confidently say ‘designed’. Reprise, yes. So, as shirts go, as jeans go, as blazers go, they hold up to Uniqlo.

This, of course, risks being called comparing apples to pears. But what crossed my mind when I saw a viscose Western shirt in shadow check (that I later learn is part of a “classic shirt” range) with nothing a design lecturer might be able to point out to her students as creative, was “Gap”! After what Raf Simons did to the Western shirt at Calvin Klein, you’d think the bar for such a chemise (if there’s still demand for it) was raised. Mr Slimane obviously does not care about raised bars, which, to me, still suggests an indolence of approach, more so if you concur that there’s considerably more effort at Levi’s Made & Crafted.

Even the T-shirts, today an important entry-level category, can’t evoke a hint of admiration; their graphics made Off-White’s arrows look exceedingly artistic. The one with the oversized Celine logo, printed wholesale—it could have been Converse! Surprising were the shape of tees, which appeared to be for those who have spent considerable time in the gym and need tops that can allow the fabric’s tensile strength to be tested. The sleeves were so abbreviated, they seemed capped—the better to emphasise biceps! Sure, Mr Slimane most likely did not intend for them to be worn as a muscle tee, but they look decidedly from a time when clothes needed to give extreme musculature definition.

It is understandable that during the time he was at Saint Laurent, doing clothes that sat just above the humdrum, customers were into ‘looks’ rather than designs. As separates, those pieces were simple and easy to wear, evoking a rock-cool sensibility that is understandably appealing. But don’t people tire of what in Thailand is called same-same? There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing simple. The offerings of Lemaire, Jil Sander, and OAMC are oftentimes the antithesis of complex, but they don’t cross into the spirit-dampening space of nothingness. Pick anything in the Celine store, hold it up, and you are likely to return it to the rack than bring it to the fitting room.

But it was the fitting room that the sales staff was trying to persuade me to go to. When I stood before a plain white skinny shirt in an admittedly seductive cotton poplin, he asked me what my size was. When I took a tuxedo jacket in wool crepe to have a closer look and a surer touch, he pointed to the nearest mirror and told me I could slip it on. When I stroked a pair of dark denim jeans that looked totally linear from waist to hem, he said that “the store has only skinny”. Was that criticism of the old Ganryu jeans I was wearing? When I moved away from the clothes, he looked at me with what I thought were pupils of pity.

By then, I concluded that the sleek and stubbornly forbidding interior camouflaged the clothes’ total lack of warmth and allure. As quickly as I went in, I left. Not even a shirt cuff tugged at my interest. I didn’t feel a thing.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

Staying With Small

Have handbags become empty vessels?


Saint Laurent Pyramid Box

By Mao Shan Wang

Looks like the micro bag trend isn’t coming to an end soon. I am not sure if that is swell. I suppose it’s good to know that there are some trends that last longer than the time you take to transfer the contents of your Boy Chanel (even the small) to the Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito Mini, which, by all accounts, started the crazy for cute but useless tiny bags that would have been more functional as earrings.

The Jacquemus miniature, as you now are aware, is 5cm at its widest—that’s at least 2cm shorter than even a a stick of lip balm. Can you imagine, even the bag’s handles are smaller than the brand’s hoop earrings! When I first saw that minuscule polygon some months back, I thought, gosh, this would not even be big enough to be a xiangnang (香囊 or ancient Chinese potpourri sachet) that (Story of Yanxi Palace’s) Wei Yingluo could give to Fuca Rucheng.

For something as large as the ribbon on Hello Kitty’s head, you’d think that its popularity will soon fade since few women would have actual use for them. A friend of mine did buy one as she thought it would make “a perfect pill box”. And in case I was not convinced, she added, “just nice for two tablets of Panadol Extra”. Bag makers obviously took notice. From Hermès to Bape, brands are producing bags with diet issues for those who like them better as pendants.

Which brings me to this Saint Laurent ‘Pyramid Box’. To be certain, this bak chang-shaped bag isn’t that small, but its mass is in keeping with anything that not only is known as “petite”, but “mini” as well. I was, in fact, surprised by how capacious this sleek lambskin quadrilateral is. You probably could fit five Le Petit Chiquito Minis in it!

What might be appealing to those into the construction of bags, such as I, is the opening. The triangular front can be freed from its magnetic clasp and pulled down. Two more triangular pieces hold the sides of the flap opening so that it would not spill the bag’s content since two magnets holding a bag shut isn’t exactly the most secure. With a slender wristlet hand strap, this is the eye-catching reticule to sit above the hand (alongside a bracelet?) while you happily dance the night away; heels preferred.

Saint Laurent Pyramid Box, SGD2,070, is available in store and online. Photo: Saint Laurent

A Daring Gamble

Singapore’s pride Love, Bonito has opened in Hong Kong. As one of their mantras goes, they discovered the city, embraced it, and have been themselves. Can they seduce the Fragrant Harbour’s fashion folks?



Love, Bonito is going brick-and-mortar in a big way.

Last month, they opened a 2,772-square-feet store with a two-storey-high frontage in Hong Kong, not in some sprawling suburban mall, which the city has many, but in a swanky tower, boasting a store-front that faces the main thoroughfare, Queen’s Road Central. It’s less than 500 metres from The Landmark, the city’s thirty-six-year-old home to the world’s biggest luxury brands, as well as the flagship of Joyce, Club 21’s closest competitor, and is almost at the foot of Lan Kwai Fong, Central’s shopping, entertainment and dining hub, and a mere hop away from the Soho-Mid-Levels Escalator.

Located in the newly-built H Queen’s, a somewhat predictable glass-and-steel skyscraper that is marketed as a “vertical art space” in a district with surprisingly few art galleries except those in the nearby Pedder Building, Love, Bonito contrasts with the address’s upmarket and art-leaning positioning. The fashion label has a somewhat equal neighbour to its right, though—the Korean-owned remake of the 114-year-old Major League Baseball (known simply as MLB) sportswear line. But just five floors up is anchor tenant David Zwirner, the New York-based contemporary art gallery that reps Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kasuma, and the Miffy-loving, Beijing artist Liu Ye (刘野). There are seven more large-scale galleries above, which perhaps explains why Financial Times happily called H Queen’s “the gallery space Hong Kong was waiting for”.

But was Hong Kong waiting for Love, Bonito? The once digital-native market player has been available globally for as long as they have been (curiously) popular on our island. It isn’t certain if Hong Kong women are the rabid fans of the label the way Singaporean girls are. Gushing influencers with their exuberant pre-opening posts are not an accurate barometer. On the morning its Queen’s Road Central store welcomed their first customers, there was a queue, but not the unceasing snaking line seen at the opening of its first free-standing shop in 313@Somerset. Shoppers may have simply come for the 100 free HKD388 (approximately S$68) gift cards handed out to early birds, who found the amount more than enough to have at least one item without charge, since prices start from HKD220.

When we passed the store a week after the opening, we heard a twentysomething shopper telling her friend, as both women came out—empty-handed, “依個新加坡牌子唔係好特別啊 (this Singaporean label isn’t very special)”. To which the reply was, “而家依啲款周街都係啦 (these day, such styles are everywhere on the streets)”. A little later, a Singaporean merchandiser working in Hong Kong told us, “It’s very audacious of them to think that Hongkongers, who, more than Singaporeans, are fashion-savvy, would buy into their aesthetics and quality”.


Since establishing their first permanent store in 313@Orchard in 2017, Love, Bonito has been on an opening frenzy. They are now three-store strong in Singapore. With five doors in Malaysia, seven in Indonesia, and two in Cambodia, Love, Bonito is our most successful and well-expanded clothing label to date. This rapid overseas development has been possible as the brand managed to raise an impressive USD13 million last year, led by Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed Japanese comparison shopping website, Kakaku, as well as support from current investor NSI Ventures, the Singaporean venture capitalist firm with money in the Indonesian ride-sharing (and other businesses) conglomerate, Go-Jek.

While co-founder Rachel Lim has told the media that what they’re doing is “not a price game”, neither is Love, Bonito a design game. You’d think that, in venturing overseas, Love, Bonto could have done our city-state prouder by boosting the make of their garments and project an image that may allow “a little brand from Singapore” to be worthy of a place alongside Hong Kong labels such as Initial, all the house brands under the IT Group, or, if we’re really unconcerned with the “price game”, even many of the unheard of names in the narrow shopping mall, Island Beverly in Causeway Bay. But as one fashion editor told us, “Let’s be clear what is clothing business and what is fashion design”.

To be sure, the HK store has a fairly well-decorated and a definitely eye-catching window (maybe it’s the impressive height). Yet despite the influencer raves, once you past the front door, the familiar visual merchandising, crammed racks of the unexceptional and formulaic, and many unpressed clothes, all in a patina of pink, quickly tell you you’re on familiar girly ground. Perhaps they’re preserving visual and experiential consistency—even in Central, one of the most fashionable and upmarket commercial districts in Hong Kong, a Love, Bonito store should not look different from one in Jurong East.

Love, Bonito HK started its retail operations in the middle of the (on-going, mostly weekend) demonstrations (which saw the first on 16 June with a turnout of a reported “nearly 2 million” protesters) against what initially was the government’s (eventually-withdrawn) extradition bill. That Saturday morning was the sixth weekend of discontent for the city, but Love, Bonito opened its doors to a Central that was as busy—and peaceful—as it is on a typical Saturday before noon. No shopper nor Rachel Lim, who cheerfully posed on the street in front of the store for a photograph later, could have guessed that HK would eventually descend into a mess that culminated in the closure of the Hong Kong International Airport on 12 August. Was it an inauspicious start for the brand?

Perhaps not. To be noted is the fact that Love, Bonito on 80, Queen’s Road Central is, in fact, a four-month “pop-up”. The Hong Kong protests may be protracted, but Love, Bonito’s physical store will not be there that long.

Photos: 黃小銘

Why Can’t Western Brands Get Asia Right?

Versace, Coach, Givenchy, and Swarovski recently had to apologise for their missteps in Asia, joining an already shamed Dolce & Gabbana in a growing list of brands with a deplorable sense of cultural—and geographical—awareness


Versace T-shirt 2019The Versace T-shirt that riled mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo

By Raiment Young

Many years ago, at a media event that I attended in Monte Carlo, I came face to face with the now-out-of-favour, former Vogue editor-at-large, companion to Diana Vreeland in her final years, André Leon Talley. Mr Talley was not a caftan-wearing man at the time, as he became, up till the 2017 release of The World According to André. Still, he was imposing in a dark suit, speaking in that loud, clear, and urgent voice of his, sounding exactly the way he sounded, years later, while observing—and commenting on—the stars at the Academy Awards for a TV audience. When I came before him that night on my way to the patio of the palatial grounds on which the soiree took place to enjoy the cooler outdoors, he looked down at me, smiled, and gleefully offered, “konbanwa”. I returned the greeting by saying, “Good evening, Mr Talley”.

If this was the present, and it happened not to me, but someone else—say, a ‘woke’ person, now one to be, offence could have been immediately taken. A scolding might have ensued or an online rebuke quickly posted. But this was then. I was used to Caucasians mistaking me for every nationality or race in this part of the world except Laotian. Or, Dayak. The Japanese, powerful consumers like the Chinese are today, were frequently travelling to Europe. I understood that it was easy to mistake me for someone from, say, Tokyo or Toyota since it was likely that the Asians many Europeans and Americans encountered then were nihonjins, just as many today are zhongguoren.

In my early travels to the US, Americans would frequently ask, upon learning that I am from Singapore, “are you from China?” So often was this question posed that it soon dawned on me that this was going to be a tiring cliché for as long as I was in a place where not that many people owned a passport. It was said to me then that most Americans, whether in the heartlands or hub cities, consider Asia as one homogeneous place. How they came to that conclusion I had no clue. Few knew Samarkan from Samarinda. If they heard of Singapore, even if in their mind we weren’t a sovereign state, we were lucky.

There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?


“There are Chinese in Singapore, which is not in China?” Sometimes, I became lazy and just said, smilingly, “Yes, I am from China, 你这个笨蛋 (you fool) or bodoh (stupid)”, depending on my mood. This was, of course, way before Donald Trump met Kim Jong Un here last year and, as a consequence, shone a brighter spotlight on our island. (Interestingly, even then, the US State Department was mistaken: they made Singapore part of Malaysia.) This was also way before people heard of such expressions as cultural racism or racial profiling. But I think, back then, we were a lot less sensitive to the cluelessness (carelessness?) of others and we did not, even after repeated encounters, take the insensitivity seriously or personally; we were not easily riled up; we were less emotionally fragile, and we were more forgiving. And we had better things to do, such as see the country that we had come to see.

You’d imagine things would have changed now that the Internet is connecting the world. And Google has answers, frequently than not. But, more than a decade after my encounter with Mr Talley under a midnight-blue sky in Monte Carlo, there are Westerners and, indeed, Western brands that still can’t get Asia right. They can’t see the vastness of the continent and, hence, its plurality. Now that even once-less-visited countries such as Vietnam is on the verge of over-tourism, it is surprising and, frankly annoying, that there are those Westerners who think Hong Kong is a country. Does the city’s contingent at the Olympic Games mislead those outside Asia to think that the SAR is a sovereign state not connected to the mainland?

The recent case of Versace and Coach producing similar T-shirts with near identical blunders bolster the believe that Western brands are still not looking at Asia closely and carefully enough. There are those who think that no matter what they produce, however tone deaf or fact blind, we Asians will snap them up as if they’re another cup of boba milk tea. But I do wonder: is it mere oversight to not know China’s hard-lined stance on its sovereignty and territorial rights? A provocation to garner maximum online reaction and, hence, to project newsy appeal? Or, is it sheer, inexcusable ignorance?

Coach tee 2019.jpgThe Coach T-shirt that, too, angered mainland Chinese Netizens. Photo: Weibo

I had thought that the Dolce & Gabbana faux pas less than a year ago was bad enough—so bad, in fact, that other brands would start to become mindful of what they will say, communicate, or project. But one brand’s mistake is not necessarily another’s learning curve or awakening. While many brand owners acknowledge that Asia is an important market, if not the most important (China alone accounts for a third of the world’s luxury sales), they would not tread cautiously. Or, preemptively. Popularity, as movie/pop stars could tell you, may inure you to apathy, but that’s never good enough a reason to believe you won’t traipse a cultural minefield.

It appears that just because a brand has found favour among a sizeable number of spending consumers in Asia, it can step away from cultural, territorial, or political sensitivity. It is ironic that while brands are hiring ‘diversity chiefs’ to make sure they don’t exclude the non-Caucasian in product development and communication, none thought to appoint someone with the knowledge or interest in knowing that, for example, Taiwan is not, and likely never will be, a country.

It has become more apparent to many that admirable creativity in the atelier does not necessarily commensurate with awareness in marketing. It is often said that brands should decentralise their marketing, but few do. Away from Asia, some of the brands have become  intellectually lazy and incurious. And willing to only state the obvious to underscore the brand’s global reach. In the case of the above T-shirts, I think it is superfluous to juxtapose—in the show-off list—the city in which the brand is available with the corresponding country to which the former belongs. It is strange that any marketeer would imagine that those who buy Versace or Coach need to be informed that Paris is in France. How many people would equate the City of Light with Lamar County, Texas?

Close Up: Another Elusive One

Even with a second drop, this well-hyped Nike X Undercover shoe is nearly impossible to cop. Some sneaker-seekers wonder if it actually exits. It does and it’s totally desirable


Nike X Undercover Daybreak P1

Nike and Undercover are playing hide and seek with us again. The second drop of their latest collab, like the hitherto nearly-impossible-to-find Element React 87 (including and especially the Undercover versions), is seen all over the Net, on every social media account you bother to follow, but in stores, both Nike and indie retailers, you’ll be convinced that, unlike the Gyakusou imprint produced by Nike and Jun Takahashi, all releases by the Swoosh and the brand that “makes noise, not clothes” are more holy grail than hot cakes.

The latest is a remake of the 1979 Daybreak, a sneaker Nike proudly calls “old-school”. But Jun Takahashi is never so obvious. Old-school in his hands can be retro-futuristic. And it is his not-quite-running-shoe-looking take that is clearly the draw. Crossing into “luxury streetwear” territory (but nothing as bland and repetitive as Yeezies), the new Daybreak—also known as Dbreak in some reports and e-shops—has all the elements that knowing sneakerheads call cool: a recognisable form factor, daring colour combinations (such as the second drop’s ‘bright citron’ or lemon yellow), and a defining feature—here an exaggerated “heel clip”.


Nike X Undercover Daybreak P2

It is really this heel clip (which looks inserted and can be removed, but not at all) in molded and speckled plastic extending upwards and outwards from the natural curve of the heel that really allows the shoe to stand out, if not stick out. And, win so many fans. While this detail in the rear is more decorative (a frame for Undercover’s underscored-U logo) than functional, it does give the shoe an edge that no other recent Nike release—even the Nike X Sacai LD Waffle Daybreak, with the superfluous double Swooshes—can top.

What is especially appealing to us is the Daybreak’s opposite of the dad silhouette that has belatedly gripped the imagination of the sneaker-buying public here. In your hands, the shoe may appear a tad too early Nike running shoes, but when worn there’s a slim-line sleekness that has been missing in sneakers since the return of the Stan Smith in 2014 or post-Balenciaga Triple S—the kick that really kicked aside all shoes not as ungainly. Who’d thought that crowded-train-unfriendly hippopotamus of a sneaker was going to thrill the trainer fan?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P3

In fact, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi is not a hypebeast you’d call a trend follower. Just look at everything he has done with Nike for his Gyakusou spin-off brand. Except perhaps the collab with Valentino, there is almost nothing in his arsenal that suggests he is swayed by the most-liked post in Sneaker Freaker. That is, ironically, his burgeoning appeal and possibly why all the Nike X Underground releases are maddeningly limited. Sometimes, brands just don’t love you back.

Second Time Lucky

By Ray Zhang

I have written about my frustration with copping the Nike X Undercover Daybreak. So, truth be told, I gave up. I convinced myself that I do not need another over-hyped sneaker and had, in fact, eyed the Daybreak SP in Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metalic Gold. Then on a Saturday morning, I received a call from a friend. He was in the Nikelab store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, and the “luxury” Daybreak was just released. No one in the store, it seemed, was concerned with the raging protest at the city’s international airport. It was a buying frenzy. Did I want a pair? Should he be scolded for the redundant question?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P4

When I finally was able to unbox them shoes, they did live up to the rave so madly generated. These are rather special kicks. Even in the tissue that they were nestled in, I could immediately discern that one day in the future, the Nike X Undercover Daybreak will be considered one of the most important releases of the present decade alongside the partnership’s React Element 87. Once in my hands, I was overwhelmed by an elation I have never experienced before. Can a mere pair of sneakers basically hauled back from the past do this to me?

The shoe deserves admiration before the feet are placed in them. The heel clip, as it’s called, is really quite something: who would have thought of drawing attention to the sneaker’s otherwise nondescript back side? Apparently Jun Takahashi had. In fact, it appears that he left most of the shoe in its original form, save the rear. When worn, I thought I was looking down at the Tailwind 79. Walking in them, I felt the steadiness and comfort of the Internationalist. These are kicks I’d be wearing often. Only thing is, as of now, they’re too dear for unthinking wear and tear.

The second drop of Nike X Undercover Daybreak, SGD239, is sold out at the Nikelab corner of DSMS, the only known stockist in Singapore. is reportedly re-stocking. Photos: Chin Boh Kay