Balenciaga For After Brexit?

A commentary on Britain and Europe or just alluding to political theatre, Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga is probably winning at the polls as he disports with bold shapes and runs with it

 

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Whether fashion should have a blatant political voice is debatable, and whether Demna Gvasalia’s “Balenciaga parliament or assembly,” is shrewd or spoofy needs further examination. Yet, with so many components to both clothes and show that hint at politics and personalities, it is possible that Mr Gvasalia has affairs of state(s) in mind. We’re told he is exploring “power dressing and fashion uniforms”, both not necessarily related, but can pair up, which may explain those models kitted out as delegates of forgotten EU states. But, at first look, they appear to us parliamentary ushers, security personnel, Mdm Goh from accounts, the janitor on the way to work, even the Grab Food delivery person!

Mr Gvasalia, of course, has been partial to archetype, one rooted in the mundane and even nothingness. Under the guise of what the rest of us wear and consume, he modifies and refines familiar wardrobe pieces and gives them his spin on what Balenciaga means and constructs them in shapes not necessarily Balenciaga-eque, but shapes nonetheless. That they can be independent of the lines and curves of the body, with shoulders extending to there, add to their appeal. (Those old enough may recall a certain French designer called Claude Montana.) That, mostly, a small number of women consider these clothes attractive or enhancer of their femininity make them even more desirable.

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As usual, there is a lot to unpack, and what you get may not be immediately understood. By now, we know Mr Gvasalia does not make things easy for us (that could be his gift as a designer). Apart from the said archetypal styles, he seems enamoured with the clearly less haute, bent on re-expressing what should have been the ordinary. The puffer jacket (its current popularity in winter months can be attributed to the first he introduced for Balenciaga back in the long ago of 2016), for example, appears again. That it is for spring, no one really wonders why. That it looks like something a Shenyang road sweeper might wear to mimic the condition similar to Quasimodo’s, no eyebrows are raised, when they should be.

Irony is still the hallmark of Mr Gvasalia’s work and he does not hold back. While there are none similar to the DHL T-shirts he sent out for Vetements as its former designer, there are those that allow the wearer to declare that they’re “X-Rated”, “18+”, or a “Top Model”. Taking after familiar commercial logos, he fashions a new Balenciaga framed by two circles similar to Mastercard, which appears on clothes as well as credit-card-like earrings. An assurance that even after no longer designing Vetements, which he co-founded with his brother, Mr Gvasalia can still infuse Balenciaga with quirky banality.

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However, does parodying logos that identify products and such also include fabric treatments we have come to associate with a particular brand? There are those Issey Miyake/Pleats Please/Homme Plisse-looking dusters and blazers and shirts, slipped on as if the wearer has just picked one of them up from a suitcase of equally unpressed clothes (and ironing is not today’s habit!), that we aren’t sure are trenchancy or homage. More certain to us are the fluid dresses (by now a staple) of not-quite-simple prints: they have the potential of becoming the house signature the way the blazers (and the puffers) are so aligned with Mr Gvasalia’s vision for Balenciaga, nostalgic romaticism included.

For many influencer-attendees of the show, the last five dresses “stun”. These are ballgowns, quite literally, or almost half-balls, crinoline-supported skirts, moving with the rigidity of umbrellas designed to withstand the typhoon. In solid colours and devoid of decorations, they are nothing like their Victorian versions, which this quintet is possibly modelled after. The modernity is clear, even men can wear them, which would probably delight Billy Porter to no end. Somehow, the final three remind us of Grace Jones’s gown in the Jean-Paul Goude-directed music video for Slave to the Rhythm. Ms Jones emerged from the top of a black rotunda of a skirt with large coloured dots that seem to take after those on rainbow globe lights. Then and now share one common feature: simple, long-sleeved, upper halves. Could this be Demna Gvasalia returning to classics?

Photos: vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Marvelous At Margiela

At Maison Margiela, John Galliano illustrates what in fine form means

 

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You know John Galliano is on a high when he is able to work and deliver on a theme seemingly unconnected with fashion, but reflects the side of humanity that we should’t be proud of. Back in January of 2000, Mr Galliano imagined a Dior couture collection inspired by the homeless of Paris (including outers that looked like newspapers vagrants cover themselves with for warmth) that resulted in controversy so massive that the widespread disapproval of the provocative optics threatened to block out the genius of the designs—extravagant dishevelment included, so much so that the initially-defiant designer eventually had to say that he “never want to make a spectacle of misery”.

We knew not if he actually meant it, but Mr Galliano continues to aim for visual impact gleaned from the most unlikely places. This season, it’s the uniformed personnel who punctuate war-torn destruction. Conflicts are never easy to interpret, even in art, and Mr Galliano risks further disapproval if the idea means his approval of war. Yet, this is not to romanticise armed confrontation. Mr Galliano calls it a theme of “hope”, with nods to the figures of hope such as American soldier of WWII KT Robbins (whose heartfelt romance with Frenchwoman Jeannine Ganaye spans 75 years and across two continents) and British nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (from WWI, known to aid the allied and all alike, and was later executed by German firing squad), possibly this season’s Marchesa Luisa Casati. This is the closest to his weakness for historicism since joining Maison Margiela, and one of his most inspiring collections for the house yet.

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While war themes may mean military uniforms or destruction of life and the attendant gore, Mr Galliano has, instead, chosen a particular glamour associated with those war years of the first and second and between, possibly cinematic glamour, but no where near the too-literal soldierly styles of the Andrew Sisters. He seems to draw from the infirmary than the trenches, from nurses than troops. While the re-imagining of British military coats yield some delectable deconstructed outer wear, it is his focus on what the nursing corp wore that we found especially appealing. Mr Galliano gleans from a time before strict policies about nursing uniform we know today were implemented. To be sure, this is no cosplay. In his redux and remix, he dreamed up nursing wear that may only be seen in luxury rehab centres such as The Kusnacht Practice in Switzerland, rather than one adopted by Florence Nightingale, even off-duty, and certainly no where close to those preferred by the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa’s order.

We are also taken by what may have been worn by patrons of private medical institutions, such as the olive, tulip-shaped top fastened at the collar with a purple ribbon (perhaps to suggest the Purple Heart Medal?) that evokes a more couture sensibility in terms of form and detail (those haphazard stitches on the collar that look like tagging by hand) than what RTW normally allows. Or those cape-like add-ons with puffed-up backs, outshone only by a bumblebee’s abdomen. Just as agreeable are the off-beat layering: shirt under a preppy wool vest and over those a strapless dress that looks like the back side of a skirt!

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Not only is Mr Galliano’s narrative compelling, his blending of fabrics, too, is beckoning. A master of mixed media, and in recent years those suggestive of a digital realm, he is able to combine the seemingly disconnected and contrasting textures in one sumptuous whole. Perforated sheers suggesting bullet holes but look more like polka dots go with men’s shirting and suiting fabrics, satins clash with knits but is rounded off with gossamer metallics, and the frail muslin-looking with sturdy woolens, which, together with a quilted coat that seems to mimic the upholstery of the Chesterfield, rather door-stopped the collection from looking obviously spring-like.

Seasons, just as gender, do not, obviously, limit Mr Galliano’s vivid, story-rich imagination. There’s something transformative about the designs of Mr Galliano. He does not only bring us into his reveries, he shows us how wonderful those worlds are too, and how much beautiful possibilities could exist in them, whether we can imagine them or not, all through dressmaking that defies tradition and what is possible with mere cloth. John Galliano may not be a film-maker, but he sure imagines—and regales—like one.

Photos: vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

 

Denizen Dior

Maria Grazia Chiuri, no doubt, has a common touch. Her Dior reaches out to any and every woman, a strategy that keeps the house profitable and her in LVMH’s good books. But is Dior a house of mere clothes?

 

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Maria Gauria Chiuri’s work at Dior reflects a strengthening trend that is especially prevalent in fashion: the desire among women creatives to help other women express themselves better through what they wear. We’ve seen that as personal and brand mission with Mercury’s Tjin Lee and the duo behind Love, Bonito Rachel Lim and Viola Tan. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and is an admirable trait among women-led businesses, but sometimes the good intention/social conscience/corporate communication speaks louder than the core business: fashion (or, for some brands, clothing)—the good causes eclipsing the lacklustre offering, be they design or kindred enterprises such as show production. Could this be a distraction strategy, one that diverts our attention from what is not exceptional creativity?

That, and giving voice to the women now considered great, but not celebrated in their time. For this season, Ms Chiuri chose Christian Dior’s relatively unknown, decorated sister Catherine, whose bravery in the face of arrest and, subsequently, torture (she was a member of the Polish intelligence unit) by German forces during World War II in 1944 was not (and still isn’t) talked about, even by her own brother. Ms Dior died not too long ago, in 2008, but only now is a book being written—by soon-to-exit Harper’s Bazaar UK editor-in-chief—about her. In chosing to spotlight her, Ms Chiuri is not only helping to give the book pre-release publicity, but also to underscore the feminist causes that she believes in.

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So where does fashion come in? Part of Ms Dior rehabilitation after the war took place in Grasse, a town in the French Riviera, not far from Cannes. His brother had re-acquainted her with the South of France and its much-admired flowering fields, possibly to heal her of the memory of the cruelties she experienced during capture. Ms Dior settled here and grew plants. It is this woman’s work with flora and fauna, apart from her wartime story, that “inspired” Ms Chiuri. This requires no further direction to the end point. It also needs no guide to how the garden and its content are interpreted. Throughout her tenure, Ms Chiuri is not subtle in her references (sloganeers rarely are) and does not frame her ideas in ways that beguile. She picks flowers and flowers you get, cut and pressed too.

These are clothes that beget the reaction, “so beautiful”, and you might concur if you’re easily stirred by representations of nature’s offerings in ways already previously explored in dress design. Ms Chiuri offers a picture of pretty for a new generation of Dior wearers for whom prettiness is the princess they were told they were when young, and the thought had since been a part of their visual preference and reference, never mind if Christian Dior himself had once said that “women are most fascinating between the ages of 35 and 40 after they have won a few races and know how to pace themselves”. Extreme prettiness too—augmented by embroidery and applique on fishnet! Season after season, for Ms Chiuri, it’s minor variation after minor variation of this every-girl-hopes-to-look-dainty-and-bewitching-for-the-royal-balls-of-Genovia shtick. While “women” may love Dior, according to the “numbers”, Ms Chiuri appears to cater to the schoolgirl if, for instance, this season’s limped Pipi Longstocking plaits (not to mention sleeveless dresses worn as pinafores—yes, just like uniforms of convent girls’ school) are any indication.

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With 89 looks, compared to Raf Simons’s 50 of his swansong for Dior, there is a lot to offer. Ms Chiuri is not (yet) known to be a prolific designer, as Karl Lagerfeld was (no one can as yet match his output). As such, the large number of looks compelled the need for “fillers”—those ensembles put in the show to make the numbers, not to express design flair or to lead with it, the way Dior had in the ’40s. Which really puts the name in an odd place in terms of brand positioning: does Dior care about the design legacy of previous designers such as John Galliano and Raf Simons, not just its founder alone, or is it happy to let Ms Chiuri turn it into an upmarket Mango? To which a reader of our site recently commented, “yes, Mango is just about right for her”.

To be sure, there is, of course, a place in this inclusive world for such clothes, but whether they can carry the torch for a storied house of 72 years, or push the the city’s leadership status in fashion is another question altogether. LVMH, the multi-billion-Euro-earning parent company, probably feels no such pressure or obligation. Additionally, there is, of course, a general emphasis for saleability and clothes that are easier to produce to improve the bottom line, and for looks to trump design. Many women, too, want brands there are not only ready to wear, but easy—easier—to wear, and they’re happy to take bland as well. But, ultimately, Dior must do better, a lot better.

Photos: Dior

Taking A Break From Retro Kookiness

It is not yet clear if this is a new Gucci or just a lull season

 

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Barely a day after Gucci’s new season, the collection is already controversial. The show opened not with its usual explosion of colour and visual mayhem, but a prelude that was, after the presentation, upstaged by a model who thought the segment she was in not acceptable. In a set of clothes that look like they could have been toiles, Alessandro Michele sends out what appears to be straitjackets, alluding to those worn in certain medical institutions. The model, Ayesha Tan Jones, scribbled on her hands, “Mental Health Is Not Fashion”, and held them up for all to see. Gucci later claimed this was not part of their show.

Mr Michele’s Gucci is, of course, not a newcomer to controversy. For the autumn/winter 2018 show, he set the runway in a space with an uncanny resemblance to an operating theatre and paraded models holding severed heads or wearing assorted head wear, including Sikh turbans. Then there was the Dapper Dan issue (which was later resolved by a collaboration) and the “blackface sweater” of early this year, eventually removed from the selling floor. Talking of runways, the travolator as catwalk is not the first in a fashion week since Kim Jones had presented his Dior last season on a similar moving pavement.

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The controversy, and the high-concept inspiration—grandiose reference to the French philosopher/social theorist Michel Foucault—threatened to down play what could be an important (or, again, controversial) development for Gucci: change. While still recognisably Gucci in its jumble of hints of the past, the effect is less pronounced that what we have been used to and certainly, for some, too diluted. From the two camps we spoke to, fans declared that the collection has “none of the zany-ness” they like, while non-fans have insisted that “he (Mr Michele) is essentially doing the same thing. Again”.

Between that, sex. BOF’s Tim Blanks reported that Mr Michele said, “The way Tom Ford looked at sex was ambiguous… It was more like something pagan, and I was drawn to that perversity.” Pagan perversity! What would Mr Ford have said about that; he who projected, during his tenure at Gucci, an image of raw, highly-charged sexual energy? Or his partner-in-crime, Carine Roitfeld? The sex talk with Mr Blanks is at odds with the show notes, which, as reported by vogue.com, state that the clothes “allow people to walk through fields of possibilities, cultivate beauty, make diversity sacrosanct, and celebrate the self in expression and identity,” which, frankly, does not sound particularly sexy.

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So, what is sexy to Mr Michele? We’re not sure. Sexed-up has never been really his Gucci. In fact, it is hard to see the sex in this collection, even if there are bare breasts behind a diaphanous top of what appears to be a union suit, exposed panty and pantyhose under more sheerness, and a leg or two stuck out of slits in skirts (which would be appreciated on LA red carpets), or, in one look, negligee as cocktail wear. As usual, a cast of characters, blank-faced (or po-faced?), but still characters, populate the (movable) runway, but, these humourless-looking beings do not appear, even sans macabre props such as severed heads, particularly sexual. They look more like sophomore undergrads gone bonkers from too much study. Or, perhaps, as with much of today’s Gucci, we should not be taking the talk of sex so literally and seriously.

As expected, Alessandro Michele, being Alessandro Michele, is not able to stay away from styling that leans on the OTT, but this season the clothes are simple (and not print-heavy) enough for them to be better examined. Sure, the usual gender-bender looks are here—such as the men’s frock coat in a pink that would have Schiaparelli beaming with delight—but it should also be said that noticeable in the collection are a better fit (not the too-big dresses of the past) and suits that sing with the allure of Italian tailoring. The details, too: pleated gussets that swing from the side of a sleeveless, A-line dress; one coat similarly has pleats radiating from below the bust. Not major, for sure, but appealing to those of us who seek these little, design-in-mind touches. Logos alone, or galore, do not fashion make.

Photos: Gucci

Versace As JLo As Ever

As calculated moves go, Jennifer Lopez taking to the Versace runway could be one of the most unforgettable sashays in catwalk history. Can the brand Gianni left behind only make news by pulling such stunts?

 

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By now you would have seen Jennifer Lopez in that dress, based on the one she wore in 2000 for the Grammy Awards. Such a closing high it was for the Versace spring/summer 2020 presentation that every news report on that show began with how “stunning” Ms Lopez looks (with some dedicating the full report on the single gown). If you thought that the original “jungle dress”, as it became known or as Donatella herself calls it, was a daring piece of dress-making, then the latest would confirm that anything is possible with pieces of fabrics for as long as you have Hollywood Fashion Tape.

In a video interview with vogue.com later, Ms Lopez admitted that back in 2000, “it was all taped down”. Twenty years after, the new take on that dress appears to require even more securing by clear, double-sided adhesive. The first may have been, as the singer said, “cut up to here and cut down to there”, it did, as we look back, appear somewhat modest, especially if the wearer was not taking huge strides, and wind, natural or machine-generated, was not an issue. The dress had sleeves (long!), and even when the back was partially exposed, showed skin to the extend that, by then or six years after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction”, was not shockingly daring. Understandable, therefore, why Ms Lopez does not think, as she stated in the interview, that the dress “was all that risqué”.

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Just as JLo has a thing for green dresses that leave little to the imagination (remember the Oct 2018 InStyle spread which showed that nothing comes between her and the Valentino one-side-unseamed column?), Donatella Versace has a weakness for the finale surprise. She pulled one off during the spring/summer 2018 show, when five of “Gianni’s Girls”, aka supermodels of 1990s, appeared, also together with the designer herself, to take the end-of-show bow. Ms Versace is possibly one of the most connected fashion designers of her generation and she knows how to use her powerful/influential/attractive friends to full marketing advantage. Appearing side by side with JLo, the optics is one of a girl-club, girl-strong moment. Or, as both women said in unison to the camera for all visitors to vogue.com to hear and approve, and applaud, “women’s power”.

To us, the publicity coup is overpowering as it overshadows what is a strong Versace collection, even the strongest to date under Donatella Versace’s watch. Apart from her usual amped-up sexiness, the collection shows what a Versace customer might wear when not on the red carpet: power suits and power dresses (some recalling her attempt at reviving the Versus line), compelling shirt-under-bustier-dress combos, outers with not-quite-Donatella leg-o-mutton sleeves (there’s even a khaki trench!), and sleeveless tops with padded shoulders that won’t be lost on those with a taste for Balmain minus the fierce Glamazon posturing.

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Ms Versace, like her brother, has always been unafraid of colour—the collection is not short of bright shots, such as chartreuse, orange, and pink; their intensity only tempered by a generous serving of black. Apart from the solids, the forest/garden-verdant print that made the last dress, appeared in other forms too, affirming that it could be the pattern (“prints charming”?) of next spring. We saw similar at Christopher Kane (LFW), and, at the time of this writing, witness more at Dolce & Gabbana. But it would be Versace’s foliage-dense that the world will remember. If not, there’s always Google Image, its creation in 2000 attributed to the “original jungle dress”, searched too often.

Interestingly, Amber Valletta, who first modelled that dress to close the Versace spring/summer 2000 show, is back on the brand’s runway, but this time, in a black, bust-cupped gown that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Hurley’s safety pin dress, minus, thankfully, the safety pins. Just as noteworthy is that Donatella Versace appeared with Jennifer Lopez in a LBD that brings to mind the dress worn by another woman associated with Gianni: the late Princess Diana, who wore a similar cocktail dress to the premiere of the Ron Howard film Apollo 13 in London in 1995. As it’s often said, and true of fashion and, perhaps, more so, Versace, it always comes back.

Photos: Versace

The Primness Of Prada

Is this the elegance the world is waiting for?

 

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Miuccia Prada, the mother of modest dressing, has returned to the proper and the tailored, not that she has ever left them. But this season, there is more than sufficient pieces in the collection of refined, suited, almost other-era elegance to considered them core. But this isn’t the lady-like, Park Avenue-princess tastefulness that she was once famous for and had built the brand’s RTW on; this is far more calibrated for the post-#metoo era, as exemplified by Freja Beha, who opened the show, wearing a conservative pairing of long-sleeved polo shirt and a narrow skirt, with almost no makeup, looking positively the Queen of Cool herself.

Ms Beha was not the only model who wore makeup that looks un-made up. The rest too, and with hair—in a bob—looking so unstyled (side-parted and tucked behind the ears) that the do could have been fashioned after, not Anna Wintour, but mainland Chinese schoolgirls of the turbulent 1930s Shanghai, such as Rene Liu Ruoying (刘若英) as Ying’Er (英儿) in the 2000 film Fleeing by Night (夜奔, ye ben), willful, defiant of bourgeoisie beauty, and with pre-revolutionary zeal. Could this reflect Ms Prada as a political science student and a once-proclaimed communist?

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It is, in fact, this properness that appeals to us, if only because it is so rarely seen these days. Or, unappreciated. Miuccia Prada, who is not known to succumb to normative ideas of what’s fashionable, appealing, or sexy, not only revives the smart, almost geeky look that set Prada apart during the early years of its women’s wear line, but does so without nodding at the prissy. The clothes look grown up, which is refreshing in a market that seems keener and keener to cater to mostly the young or not old enough to be issued a credit card.

The silhouette is generally lean, body-skimming, and calculated to stay clear of exaggeration. Take the skirts. They sit relatively high at the waist, but not that high; they are longish, but not that long; they are slim, but do not imitate a pencil. When decorative detail is required, the appliques of fern placed on each side of the front, for example, has the effect of graphic boldness, without looking excessive; their megaphylls offering the curvy grace of paisleys. When jackets are required, Prada has them with expressive, notched lapels in the width of shoulders that Annie Hall would possibly appreciate.

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Unfortunately, Prada, the fashion label, isn’t what it used to be. With an unimpressive stock performance and a generally downbeat retail climate, plus store closures, even in a vibrant city such as Hong Kong (the brand will, next year, exit Russell Street, that, according to the South China Morning Post, is “the most expensive shopping address on the planet”; granted, the on-going protests that started in June has affected luxury businesses across the board), Prada seems unable to attract regular shoppers who can make the brand ring with the same resonance as that generated by those who embrace the undying dad-shoe craze.

What works against Prada is a dearth of new customers, those willing to give dressed-up sans T-shirt and jeans a chance. Looking around us, it’s hard to find women who turn out this way, or in a chic that suggests the opposite of street. Even further afield, not Kim K, and certainly not off-duty Gigi and Bella. Even those who want not the unsolicited attention of the opposite sex do not wish such sexy-lite style on themselves. Prada’s beautiful clothes, not just on the catwalk, but withal as they appear in-store, are perhaps too composed, too ideal, and, ultimately, too distant from the lives of those who want slouchy/oversized causal or off-beat retro-cool, or hip-hop-star-provocative, and a generous dose of trash.

Photos: Prada

A Ritual Beauty

With a strong, seductive collection this season, is JW Anderson London’s most engaging designer and captivating label?

 

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We can’t really say why, but the first thing that we saw, charmed by JW Anderson’s collection for his eponymous label, are present-day maidens dressed for timeworn rituals in even more ancient sites, such as the Stonehenge. These pilgrims are togged for celebration; their organic-looking garbs suitably trimmed with what look like trinkets made in worship-worthy silver and gold, and crystal. Some of the drapey dresses come with decorated crystal/rope bust-cups, as if the wearers are of higher birth and deserving of the land’s weavers and craftsmen. Even the suits, with pants tied (or gathered) at the hem (forming part of the rope-sandal) to create a delectable slouch (which, interestingly, is also seen in Gucci’s fall 2019 campaign), have a high-priestess swagger about them. Some of the models-as-pagans wear cross-body bags with a trio of fringed pouches—possibly filled with food for the long hike? And those dresses with embellishment-framed cut-outs? Off to a fertility rite!

This isn’t pomp and pageantry, but there is a ceremonial splendour about it. This is dressed-up with attention to seemingly organic details and, perhaps unintended, symbols of emancipation and, clichéd as it might be, empowerment. We can’t ignore the sparkly ropes that frame the breasts in the shape of the infinity symbol, suggesting limitlessness, even eternity.  Or, as a figure eight, despite being on its side, like a reclining Buddha, a powerful homophone in Chinese culture that denotes prosperity. That these shall be the most sought-after dresses during the next Lunar New Year won’t surprise. Worn with a neo-Bohemian attitude, the effect is refreshing in a time when decked out means either Icon Ball-flashy or ‘blogshop’-backed influencer bosh.

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The craft-like approach to the clothes is, of course, not new to Mr Anderson. Since taking up the creative director position at Loewe in 2013, he has slowly pushed the Spanish label closer towards its artisanal roots, and, with the RTW, a folksy bent without crossing into shabby chic territory that Rachel Ashwell would approve. For his own line, he similarly approaches designing and embellishing with the spirit of crafts that are more in keeping with those found in villages than tribes, and yet the result is not hippy-fied or clothing you’d find in shops in Haight Ashbury, untouched by the passing of time.

As fashion is more and more consumed without considering the worth of the labour behind what is bought, or even the creativity and the skills, Mr Anderson’s ways with shapes and trims (in unexpected permutations and pairings) affirm that skilled hands are involved and can be enjoyed for the tactile qualities of the output too, in ways that are not only inspiring, but also heartfelt. Clothes like these require appreciation that’s not cursory or just visual; they invite both viewer and wearer to explore by touching and feeling.

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The ‘traditional’ touches do not, however, mean old-fashioned or even classic. There is a good balance—stores will appreciate—between sufficient unusual pieces that will delight collectors (the jackets with Victorian silhouettes and their bumped up hips, which Mr Anderson described as “Antoinette-ish”) and the more accessible such as goddess gowns (for a pagan mission?), as well as knit dresses and their 3D geometric patterns. The accessories (bags with macrame attachments and fringes) and shoes (bejewelled, roped, espadrille-soled) will no doubt be hits of their own too.

In spirit, the collection may be described as post-modernist if we take into consideration how not linear it is aesthetically, how Mr Anderson has created his own cultural hybridity, tinged with the exotic, if we can call it that, and how natural—as in unforced—the result are. That every ensemble is a tad quirky helps his cause, for sure. We can’t wait to see what he shall be doing for Loewe in Paris.

Photos: JW Anderson

For You And You And You… And You

Is catering to as many as possible helping Burberry’s image?

 

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Two days before the Burberry show in London, we were in the ION Orchard store, looking at the AW 2019 pieces when a tall, Chinese, hipster-looking man walked in. He was dressed in an oversized shirt that sported the recognisable Burberry Nova check (once known pejoratively as the “chav check”—chav is just about the British answer to our beng/lian). His pants were possibly divorced from a track suit and his shoes, a designer hunk of kicks. He took a quick spin and left the store in less than three minutes from the time he strolled in. It is not immoderate to assume that he is a super fan of Burberry (he seemed to know the space like his living room), but later, outside Gucci, we heard him telling his female companion, when asked about his visit to the English label’s swanky store, “没什么” (there was nothing).

It is, of course, not possible to say that the man spoke for all who walked into Burberry, but we were there at the same time as he was, and we saw what he saw, and to some extent, we concurred. We didn’t know what he was looking for or wishing to buy (perhaps more of the check—this season, in different shades and then colour-blocked, but may not outdo the T-B logo designed by Peter Saville), but we did know what we did not receive/feel: a thrill, not even a tinge of a tingle that might have made us put our hands out to perform a shopping ritual such as touch.

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It is quite hard, even after three seasons, to determine if Riccardo Tisci has revved up the strength and thrust left behind by predecessor Christopher Bailey—a momentum that The Guardian noted early last year as Mr Bailey was to leave the company he spent 17 years with, “had a halo effect on the rest of British fashion”. Even just a year on, times are different, and London Fashion Week continues to see strong showing by J W Anderson, Richard Quinn, and Craig Green. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that these designers would need to stand on the strength of Burberry to build or project theirs.

This season, as in the past three, there is a lot to see and unpack, but the 109 looks (not the most, compared to Mr Tisci’s first of a staggering 135) don’t encourage repeat viewing. But we did look again: to see if, perhaps, there is now a perceptible Britishness to the styling that we had come to associate with the Burberry before Mr Tisci’s tenure. Trench coats aside, it was hard to place what was sent out on the runway as anything that might suggest Britannia, cool or not. In fact, the designer seems to have crawled back into his Italian shell, reminding us that he once designed for Givenchy, while throwing in some Hermès (-like scarves) for good measure.

Burberry SS 2020 G3

The tailoring is sharp and on point (the trousers and pencil skirts will be winners in the store and the men’s suit will attract the likes of entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow). The statement sleeves make a strong come-back. The rugby shirt (for both sexes) get star billing. The gingham check takes the place of the Nova. The white Victorian lace (and some in dove grey), with one dress saying “B, I am a unicorn” will not appeal to the straitlaced. On the other hand, the permutations of the T-shirt, with some sporting a blunt, pointed bottom similar to a bodysuit’s, will no doubt win over street-style devotees. Not to be outdone are the hijab and the sparkly-mesh face veil for men, both with firm places in a world of fashion now characterised by diversity and inclusiveness. In all, they suggest that Mr Tisci is having a field day bringing together a bit of everything for everyone. Does Burberry need to be so crowd-pleasing?

Since the discontinuation of the Prorsum collection in 2015 so that Burberry is one unified brand rather than separate sub-lines (London and Brit are the other two), the name once associated with trench coats has veered towards catering to the just-affluent, not only the ultra-affluent—including those not quite (or yet) wealthy, but wish to appear so; which, to us, sounds suspiciously like Louis Vuitton territory. This constitutes a large part of today’s luxury consumption: fashion for the multitude. If nothing, it would be fascinating to see how Burberry can reach one and all, and far and wide, including, as inclusivity requires, the chavs—Cara Delevingne and Harry Styles already counted.

Photos: Burberry

Two Ps In BKK

More proof that the Thai capital is beating us to being the shoppers’ paradise of SEA

 

Porter X Pokemon P1

This is not bashing, but there is more and more evidence that our island is fast becoming one of the most boring places in the region to shop. Retailers/stores/malls are either too lackadaisical to go seek new merchandise and experiences to share or simply uninterested in selling anything more than what they already have before them, or deemed sellable. Despite constant complaints that retail has become painfully dull and that shoppers are increasingly choosing online stores to satisfy there shopping needs and curiosity to know what’s out there, many here in the business of selling, especially fashion-related merchandise, don’t care to listen. 

Which brings us to Bangkok. The city’s fast becoming serious shoppers’ must-stop destination. The more we gripe about our situation, the more the Thais are making their capital city better than us. Take the latest collaboration: Porter X Pokémon. First launched in Japan last month, the bags and such featuring Pikachu were a smash hit in its country of origin. Unsurprising, considering how Pikachu and co are still popular there, and, frankly, everywhere, Asia in particular. Now they are available outside of Japan, and, as far as we are aware, only Bangkok is offering this limited-edition collection in its entirety, complete with exclusive for-BKK-only merch, not even in Hong Kong where they have their own official Porter store, Kura Chika.

Porter X Pokemon P2

Porter X Pokémon is a pop-up in Siam Discovery, one of the most forward-looking department stores, not only in Bangkok, but in much of SEA, and, yes, Singapore. Siam Discovery is also where our own Club 21 has their largest retail space in Thailand. In 2017, a Porter pop-up was set up in Siam Discovery, featuring the Japanese bag brand’s staples such as the Tanker series. Not long after, a full-fledged corner was opened on the second floor when the lease of the temp space expired, proving, perhaps, that the brand was doing encouragingly well.

Initially, the Porter offering was a conservative buy, but the corner soon expanded its collections to include seasonal wares, as well as collaborations, such as the one with Teva. By our own observation, while Porter seems to be doing well (among Singaporean tourists, too), theirs is still a relatively small business, compared to, say, Hong Kong. For sure, the prices here are about 20—30 percent higher than in Japan, but if your budget does not allow a ticket to the land of Mt Fuji, buying Porter here is not unthinkable. And now that one of the world’s favourite anime characters appear on Porter bags is just a two-hour plane ride away, the temptation might be even harder to resist.

Porter X Pokemon P3

We don’t know why retailers here are unwilling to bring in what is arguably Japan’s most known bag brand (apart from Bao Bao). Sure, there are those small collections at Surrender and Club 21, and one or two at Kapok, but those are not the same as having expanded merchandise sold in a free-standing spaces. Although unlikely, we were hoping for Isetan to do the honours since, in the ’90s, they started a corner in the now-closed Wisma Atria store for another biggish bag brand Sazaby, which sadly lost steam a few years after the launch. Isetan did also stock budget label Rootote at their Scotts store, but that too was discontinued a year (or two) ago (a Rootote corner has opened at Takashimaya, Iconsiam, Bangkok). Perhaps we just don’t have the appetite for bags with Japanese labels, except Anello(!). Robinsons at Heeren have discontinued their Buddy range (“too expensive for Singaporeans”, a staffer told us), and Masterpiece, another popular name in Japan, seems to be facing the same fate. Mass-appeal Samantha Thavasa, opened in 2010 in ION Orchard, is no longer available, except online in Zalora.

The opening of the Porter X Pokémon pop-up in Bangkok indicates not only the potential success of the collab there, but reflects Thai retailers willingness to gamble on trending items, even when local consumption may be small (Siam Discovery carried the Outdoor X Raf Simons collection, too even when that collab is generally thought to have less commercial appeal). To provide product differentiation is pertinent to creating a retail environment that is both exciting and experiential, if not to maintain fashion leadership. Sure, we hear you say that we have a Pokémon flagship here and they do not, but is that a fashion destination if you are not a pre-primary schooler? Or a Pokémon Go addict, playing the game with two phones?

Porter X Pokémon pop-up is opened at Siam Discovery, Bangkok till 30 September. Photos: Porter. Collage: Just So

Is Mad Still Rad?

It’s been 30 years since Dick Lee’s Mad Chinaman album was released. To celebrate the pearl anniversary of what to some was—and still is—the definitive Singaporean album, Mr Lee staged an orchestra-backed concert at the Esplanade. Was it a fresh sound to a vintage recording, or was it strictly for fans?

 

Dick Lee MC 30th Anniversary Op

By Cooper Low

I am guilty of listening to Dick Lee’s 1989 album Mad Chinaman back in, well, 1989. Guilty as in the feeling that is also linked to pleasure. Mad Chinaman was not an album I typically enjoyed in those days. I was very much into The Cure’s Disintegration—an album of heartbreak (then, a recent discovery) and melancholy that was tremulous of the songs’ epic-ness (even on cassette tape!). The guitar intro of Pictures of You entranced me, rather than the almost-juvenile synthesised keyboard and drums of Mad Chinaman’s. Besides, most of the people I knew were listening to either ‘harder’ machismo-affirming stuff such as Nirvana and Aerosmith, even Beastie Boys, or, conversely, the diva-esque—Kylie, Madonna, or Lisa Standsfield.

Except one, my friend Bong, who had been listening to the songs of Dick Lee and following his career since the 1974 debut album Life Story. When I finally paid attention to Mr Lee’s music, it was not even sung by him. During a period when I was totally mad about Depeche Mode, I also discovered Silence, the 1983 album Mr Lee wrote for Jacintha, her first. This was way before Drama Mama (which, I have always suspected to be Mr Lee’s creation)—eight years before, I believe. Silence opened my ears to something I had not yet hear in songs written and produced in Singapore. For a while, my Walkman played almost nothing else except Silence and Jacintha’s clear, rich, warm, unique, believable, pre-Ben Webster voice enthralled me. This was Singa-synth-pop! And catchy too. Bong and I sang to every song; we were especially crazy about the still-unforgettable interpretation of the Bee Gees’s Run to Me, the touching and relatable Still Burns, and the duet with Dick Lee, It Takes Two (I can hear Jacintha singing you wouldn’t leave things so one-sided, would you?). That was the last track, I remember, and it would bring us back to the first, Bad News, and we would instantly break into dance! Bad news will find a way to bring you down, any time, any place… Gosh, I can still sing it.

Mad Chinaman was… a pastiche of sounds, both singing and instrumental, that I thought grated

Truth be told, when I first heard Mad Chinaman, I did not quite like it. While Silence was synth-smart-and-sophistication (Fender Rhodes and Jupiter 8 now sound so quaint!), intriguing/catchy chord progressions, and clever word play, Mad Chinaman was—how do I put it delicately?—a pastiche of sounds, both singing and instrumental, that I thought grated. I admit that there was some snobbery at work here. Mr Lee is still proud to be one of the first local songwriters to use Singlish in his songs (and he would, years later, repeatedly regale the audience with the proud recount of how the songs were once “banned”), but back then, the lyrics sounded a little rough to me, or, to use a favourite Peranakan word that describes the unrefined, kasar. And Mr Lee does not have the voice to make them more lembut, soft. You can understand why I might be embarrassed if other people found out about my musical taste, which can be called many things, but questionable.

My hesitation with Mad Chinaman at first hearing was also compounded by another 1983 album I had grown to love and rather intensely—the more ‘serious’ sounding, Lou Reed-influenced, and polished Regal Vigour by Zircon Lounge, whose frontman was the non-pop Chris Ho, a radio (Rediffusion!) DJ I had held in considerable awe. Dick Lee, too, was in that seminal album, co-producing it and playing, unsurprisingly, keyboards, but any madness or Chinaman was held in check. Jacintha, too, was in Regal Vigour, although I now cannot remember on which track. These albums, including Mr Lee’s, were part of a strong body of work released by Warner Music Singapore (WEA) in the late ’80s. Sadly, WEA dropped Zircon Lounge as quickly as they picked the band up because the debut album reportedly sold a sad 1,000 copies, while Tracy Huang’s three albums that year, such as the Lou Reed-free Love of Angel (天使之戀, from rival Polygram), averaged 50,000.

Dick Lee Op

But I did give Mad Chinaman further listening. And some songs started to shine. At around this time, I discovered the Hong Kong duo Tat Ming Pair (達明一派) and was most sold on their second album, 1987’s The Story of The Stone (石頭記). The titular track stood out for me as it was unmistakably oriental, yet it sounded far from the Canto-pop that was heard and enjoyed at that time. If you took away lead singer Anthony Wong’s distinctive and clear vocals, this could be a track released by 4AD or one of the British indie bands I was listening to. Together with the massive hit Angels of the Road (馬路天使), I was certain that the Tat Ming Pair was the future of Asian pop, even not quite commercial they might have been.

Mad Chinaman, I thought, was not as subtle, urbane, and polished as The Story of The Stone. But in the former, I could hear something I had earlier heard in the latter: a sound, one that reflected the city in which it was made, and so evocative you could see and smell the place. Dick Lee has always had a sense of what is local and how that could be worked into his melody-making, which was influenced by the pop music of the ’60s and ’70s. While the Tat Ming Pair freely incorporated historical references and folk tunes into their music, they were usually less barefaced. Mr Lee’s were, of course, more perceivable—a lot more. By his own admission, Mad Chinaman “was not really written” by him since half were based on existing tunes, identifiably so.

There was nothing special, but somehow the unembellished, not-Idol-style singing and the English lyrics to what I knew as a Mandarin song appealed…

While I was not grabbed by the ditty-like Ni Ni Wo Wo, the kitschy Mustapha (supposedly of Egyptian origin, featuring Jacintha en route to becoming Drama Mama), and the erred-on-the-cheesy Rasa Sayang and Bengawan Solo, I took to the titular track, the anthemic Centre of Asia, The Windchime Song, and, strangely, Little White Boat that I knew as the Chinese xiao bai chuan 小白船, reportedly a Korean folk song, now sung by Mr Lee in English. There was nothing special about this track, but somehow the unembellished, not-Idol-style singing and the English lyrics to what I knew as a Mandarin song was really appealling. The reason was not apparent to me until a few years later when I heard the lullaby-like 是否真爱我 (shi fou zhen ai wo, or Do You Really Love Me?), which Mr Lee wrote for Tracy Huang, and was later sung in English as Everything I Know: Dick Lee has a knack for melodies that can be sung in more than a single language without one sounding worse that the other.

Although Mad Chinaman is now touted as “an attempt to create a Singapore soundtrack”, the idea had, in fact, appeared in Mr Lee’s 1984 album Life in the Lion City, which he had called “an enthusiastic (but unappreciated) expression of being Singaporean”. Until Mad Chinaman, Mr Lee’s work was largely Western pop, conceived for an audience of mostly friends-as-listeners who also enjoyed similar pop of the West. While the folk tune Rasa Sayang appeared in Mad Chinaman as a full (rap!) song, a refrain was first sung by Mr Lee at the end of Culture, from Life in the Lion City. Was this a foretaste of things to come? Did Dick Lee, in fact, predate the Tat Ming Pair whose first album appeared in 1986?

Dick Lee, Ja & Denise Op

Cut to the present, it felt strange listening to Mad Chinaman again after, well, thirty years, as Dick Lee reminded us in his one-night-only concert at the Esplanade last night. Surprisingly, the album has never been performed here in its entirety, except in Japan, where, presumably, it had novelty value. Still, this was familiar territory for Dick Lee: going back to where he started or left off. If you have been to any of his concerts, you would have been familiar with the inevitable look-back, the easy, one-sided banter and the okay singing. I think people still attend his concerts because 1) he truly has many supportive friends, 2) his songs are entertaining for their ability to jolt the memory, and 3) the majority don’t listen to The Sam Willows, unless, perhaps, it is Benjamin Kheng singing Fried Rice Paradise.

What struck me last night was how few there were the under-twenty-fives. Many of the attendees could be Mr Lee’s contemporaries—Merdeka Gen, we call them now—or older, who would certainly remember the government campaign that he sang about in Let’s All Speak Mandarin. Lyrically, much of Mad Chinaman stood rooted in a particular time. Throughout the two-hour long concert, words that I had forgotten now stuck out: “the ketupat at Satay Club” (Rasa Sayang) and “a star from SBC” (Let’s All Speak Mandarin), so unambiguous b efore Soundcloud and, definitely, IG. Unless you are from Choo Bee Lean’s era, “…selling rings and things from China…” (Fried Rice Paradise, sung for its popularity and to stretch what would have been a 50-odd-minute-long album into a two-hour show), is really the mega-e-biz known as Taobao. Maybe, Dick Lee had, after all, the gift of foresight?

Soaring strings to familiar tunes may be appealing to those who no longer have the patience for one note misplayed, but the songs too require something far more fun

The concert had the backing of a full orchestra, which was the opportune moment for Dick Lee to declare, perhaps a little too earnestly, “I am a serious musician, and it takes an orchestra to prove it!” (I noticed he didn’t say ‘singer’). To be sure, the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO) that accompanied him is no SSO. Still, they played competently—hiccups aside, but Mr Lee’s music, especially Mad Chinaman, requires not just competence, but cheek. Soaring strings to familiar tunes may be appealing to those who no longer have the patience for one note misplayed, but the songs too require something far more fun—which has always characterised Mr Lee’s music and musicianship. What was needed was what Nigel Kennedy might have called “pathos”, not perfection.

Mr Lee was accompanied by “muse-my-whole-life” Jacintha, who no longer appears as the vivacious and immensely listenable side-kick she once was. Predictably, she came on to duet with Mr Lee on Mustapha, a song given a “Bollywood movie theme song” treatment. Ja, as she is known to music industry veterans, could once possibly be Singapore’s Sade (her version of Smooth Operator—never, as far as I am aware, recorded—surpassed any version I have ever heard), but now with a hardcore, traditional jazz recording career, she seemed unable, last night, to give Dick Lee songs the girlishness and, at the same time, sultriness they require. What surprised me was how self-conscious she appeared and sounded, and how unable she was to deliver, near the end of the song, “you naughty, naughty” with the Indian impishness it deserved. Dick Lee’s music, as one of my friends noted, can be quite camp. He needs Jacintha to deliver it. As for the other guest star, Denise Tan, if Caldecott is no more, so should that sound.

Perhaps, I no longer listen to Dick Lee’s music for reasons of nostalgia. When I was an impressionable teen, the Mad Chinaman’s music was charming because it was amusing. Perhaps I have grown up and Dick Lee has not. Thirty years later, I was hoping for something more full-bodied, but, despite the orchestral backing, got something quite thin. (Sadly, the song I was most hoping to hear, Little White Boat, was omitted. Or, did I, somehow, miss it?) Approaching the Esplanade last night, haze hung like a heave, I had hope this could be how Spandau Ballet re-recorded their back catalogue in the 2009 album, Once More. Instead, I left, thinking, not again.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

A Very Mixed Bag

Who is Marc Jacobs paying homage to this time?

 

MJ SS 2020 P1 op

There could be good reason why Marc Jacobs gets to close New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Again. Most of NYFW is (still) so bland, repetitive, and uninspiring that New Yorkers need their once-Paris-based star to offer the drama (and irreverence?) an event such as this increasingly require so that there is build-up, and the attendees can get their fashion-week high. Mr Jacobs is, of course, up for the task. And he knows that he is the only one with the gumption to close the week with considerable bang. But did he?

The spectacle is certainly there. And one gets the feeling that fun is what Mr Jacobs is bent on having and that the models, too, have been given marching orders to have a good time, whether in a T-shirt or swathed in swirls. Mr Jacobs sense of jollification means that he does not need to play by rules, respect codes, or even meet expectations. He puts on the runway whatever pleases him, tented prairie dresses included. In the bareness of the show venue—once more the Park Avenue Armory—and its vastness, the clothes need all the exuberance they can pull to beat other shows (namely in Paris) with set so massive and are so detailed that it isn’t surprising Hollywood specialists were involved. And they are spirited clothes.

But do they make him leader of the New York pack? Yes, if only because Mr Jacobs does not care what you and I think. He is past proving to us that he can do a perfect jacket or flounce the most cumbersome dress. I’m doing Fashion, he seems to say, and, in case the collection gets untranslatable on the selling floor, he throws in some street style reminiscent of Marc by Marc Jacobs for good measure.

MJ SS 2020 G1 opMJ SS 2020 G2 op

According to online reports, Mr Jacobs is looking back to the past. When has he not? This time, it is to 2001, the year of the New York tragedy that brought the World Trade Centre down, to his collection that preceded that world-changing time. Mr Jacobs was still with Louis Vuitton then, four years into the job. His success at LV brought a strong sense of confidence to his own label. One of the earliest to celebrate the ’80s, he sent out a collection that had all the joie that we see in the current, but was hitched to wearable than haute. In describing Mr Jacobs’s designs today, eighteen years after that show, nostalgic is a word still bandied about.

In the addition to vivid recall, Mr Jacobs seems to have, in his clothes, invited his friends or those he admires. As in the past, Yves Saint Laurent is there, so is his former rival Karl Lagerfeld. Valentino via Pierpaolo Piccioli shows up. Ditto Gucci via Alessandro Michele. Viktor and Rolf appears, as well as Franco Moschino and Elio Fiorucci; even the milliner Lilly Daché attends. So do, surprise, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. And, gosh, Canal Jeans Company!

Perhaps he’s also suggesting that, like him, Mr Ford’s customers are inspired by others too, dead or alive, real or not. Women can be like style icon Anita Pallenberg, models can channel Pat Cleveland (with the exception of Gigi Hadid who only does Gigi Hadid). Between that, Olive Oyl, Anita Ekberg, or Karen White, maybe?

MJ SS 2020 G3 op

A collection these days is, of course, no longer based on a theme, a clothing category, or even clear narrative. According to the show notes as cited by the press, the designs and styling serve as “reminder of the joy in dressing up”. Mr Jacobs allows anything-goes to dictate—practical and whimsical happily co-exist, so do florals and checks, sheer and tweedy. They come together in a way that sometimes contradicts popular wisdom of how women now dress: not dressed up! Perhaps, doll up is what Mr Jacobs is alluding to, for there are some pieces that even getai singers would find challenging.

To be fair, he is on-trend too. Just as reports repeat in your news feed about the popularity of asymmetric jeans, Mr Jacobs shows a pair that’s half slim-fit, half shorts. But perhaps trend setting is not quite the mission here, playing the ultimate fashion designer is. Despite rumours of declining fortunes, Marc Jacobs has not succumbed to making clothes that don’t grab headlines. If NYFW in its rebirth is banking on New York’s favourite son to elevate its standing among fashion weeks, they can sure benefit from his jaunty optimism.

Photos: (top) Marc Jacobs/YouTube, (runway) vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

The Guys Were In Their Thoughts Too

Is this the island’s most considerate fashion retailer?

 

Men's waiting area in Love Bonito Funan op

By Low Teck Mee

It’s waiting men! Okay, that’s a bad pun, but that’s exactly what I thought when I saw these fellows seated behind drawn-apart black curtains, engrossed in whatever it was broadcasting from their smartphones. This was not outside the maternity ward of some fancy private hospital; this was inside the two-month-old store of the still-referred-to-as-blogshop fashion brand Love, Bonito. No woman, similarly absorbed or not, was seen.

The amazing thing about Singapore’s favourite womenswear label is their ability and willingness to provide, in their buzzy retail spaces—three to date, winning extras in lieu of smashing clothes. Their third brick-and-mortar, a 6,000-square-feet expanse in Funan Mall, is all sweetie-poo pink with an identity crisis: it could be orange, or a hint of it, but the result is definitely not, as I have been told, saumon. The girlish shade belies the store’s unabashed ‘phygital’ (physical + digital) leanings.

That, according to the fans of the brand, which could be every female on this island that is not pre-pubescent, as, you guessed it, I have been told, is a “wonderland” and a selfie-friendly/encouraging place of “Instagrammable spots”. Whether these really spur shoppers on to spend or “hang” with them is not quite clear. Other “tech” touches include screens on stout podiums and in niches that allow instant access to Love, Bonito’s website (assuming, perhaps, that shoppers have no smartphone or can’t be bothered to use it), an AR Walkway so that girls can, via an app, happily find themselves in a passage of unrealistic flowers or whatever smidgen of cuteness that can be found in the app, and selectable mood lighting in their much-lauded, bookable, bigger-than-my-bathroom fitting rooms.

These are all consistent with Funan Mall’s in-centre, pseudo hi-tech features, but are, in fact, superficial add-ons that, contrary to their marketing message, won’t “value-add” to whatever draws you to the six-floor complex. Have you tried the redundant, slows-you-down, order screens (probably a leasing requisite) at the ridiculously named Kopitiam Foodcourt, KOPItech? It is not certain how charmed the women who go to Love, Bonito are with the digi-all, but the salesgirls were happy to tell curious me that the non-merchandise extras are part of what co-founders Rachel Lim and Viola Tan have been touting to the media (and I was hearing again): “customer experience”.

For a woman’s clothier, that experience omits the guys who may have to accompany a girlfriend/wife/mistress/sister to the store. But, as it turns out, at the rear of the packed-with-merchandise space, a little empty room with windows that allow much natural light in and that reveal the building behind is where all the bored (and boring?) men come to, seated lined up on a bench against the wall. How nice, I thought.

Later, at the Sinpopo Brand take-away and food kiosk, two girls next to me delightfully and audibly share their “experience” at Love, Bonito: “love how thoughtful they are; so nice of them to allocate a space at the back for pregnant women, moms with strollers, and shoppers who come in wheelchair.” Yes, I was too presumptuous.

Photo: Zhao Xiangji