They Fell For The Hype

With Ikea, Virgil Abloh shows that, for now, he can do no wrong. Outside one of the furniture behemoth’s stores this morning, his young, unquestioning fans support that


Ikea X Virgil Abloh

By Ray Zhang

“Virgil Abloh can put any shit anywhere, and there will be a queue to get it,” I heard one disgruntled (or maybe satisfied) guy tell his friend on board the free shuttle bus that takes shoppers from Tampines Central to the triumvirate of Giant, Ikea, and Courts, and back. Usually, on a Thursday (or most weekday) morning, old folks pack this bus to head to Giant for whatever specials the hypermart offers two days before the weekend, but this morning, the free transport was filled with an inordinate number of youngsters, mostly males. On the journey there, it was all expectant chirpiness, but on the way back, disappointment and displeasure pervaded the inadequately cool air of the bus.

When I got to Ikea slightly before noon, the queue has subsided. Many people—mostly adolescents—were milling around. Most were empty handed. Only few were carrying Ikea’s recognisable Frakta bag. From what I gathered, even before stepping into the store, the pieces from Ikea X Virgil Abloh’s MARKERAD collaboration were mostly, if not all, gone. Someone was heard saying “no point going in”. A standee was erected to indicate what was sold out. It appeared that much of the unnecessarily limited-edition collection were, including the brown “sculpture” bags (never mind that irony is really quite vapid now). That afternoon, when I looked at Carousell, some of the pieces where up for sale, with ridiculous prices that I do not care to repeat in order not to encourage what is essentially the work of scalpers.

A security guard told me that the queue had formed last night, “around 6 plus”, which means the shoppers spent the night outside the store—probably a first for Ikea, but an annual occurrence at H&M (check out what will happen on the night of the 6th, when collab addicts will line up for H&M X Giambattista Valli, officially launched the day after). From pictures posted on social media, it seemed that the “millennial homeowners” that Ikea and Virgil Abloh wish to appeal to are male, Off-White loving individuals with a penchant for back-lit Mona Lisa poster that doubles as a USB charger.

I can imagine Virgil Abloh fans queuing for sneakers and T-shirts, but I didn’t realise they’d do the same for chairs and glass cabinets and clocks and bedsheets that are neither accent pieces nor makeover accessories. Or were they merely repeating what yuppies (okay, too retro!) of the ’90s did when they wore Versace and used the brand’s plates and teacups, and sat among its scatter cushions? Today, these are hypebeasts happy to wear their expensive kicks on a shaggy green rug that says “wet grass”—quotation marks included (Mr Abloh and his fan base have a thing for superfluous punctuation)—for a ‘shoefie’, and to give a mass retailer such as Ikea an excuse to produce inexcusably limited wares. I suppose the thrill is in the moment, and, as accurately stated on that clock, because it’s “temporary”.

Photo: Ikea


Dress Watch: A Sweater Top

The Sacai X John Smedley collaboration ticks all the right boxes for easy-to-wear

Sacai X John Smedley sweater

Fine and delicate is this sweater, not the rugged, almost fishermen-styles of those aligned with the trending homespun, craft-centric looks favoured by some designers. Sacai’s take on a classic turtleneck sweater, conceived in partnership with the revered knitwear firm of John Smedley is a study in modesty that’s tilted towards the Gibson Girl than Audrey Hepburn: it can’t get more feminine than this.

And perhaps that is key. Also known as the polo neck (as polo players wear them almost like uniforms), this sweater risks being just a garment Steve Jobs (and his female followers) used to wear (as uniform!) if not for the sheer panel on the bodice and the equally filmy sleeves. Sure, it’s a little restrained for a Sacai garment considering how designer Chitose Abe loves all manner of insets and add-ons afixed to what would otherwise have been fairly basic garments. Case in point: her latest collab with Nike, featuring separates that look like amalgamations of more than two items.

That the sweater is produced by John Smedley may add to its appeal. There is, after all, a predilection for brands to work with heritage knitwear manufacturers. Touted as the “oldest knitwear factory in the world” (into its 235th year!), John Smedley is one of those British labels with a deep sense of the past that especially appeals to hip brands—even those not aesthetically heritage-leaning, such as Ms Abe’s former employer Comme des Garçons and colleague Junya Watanabe. Typical of how Japanese designers approach classic designs, Chitose Abe has allowed the turtleneck sweater’s silhouette to be recognisable, but within that, tweaks that allow for distinction that may stand the test of time. It was once called mileage. Sacai shows us we could use some of that.

Sacai X John Smedley sweater, SGD900, is available at DSMS. Photo: DSM/Sacai

Watched: Yellow Is Forbidden

In last Sunday’s closing film of the Design Film Festival 2019, Yellow is Forbidden, the designer Guo Pei is shown—at work and at play—as complete contrast to her couturière self. But it is left to the viewer to decide if she would really leave a legacy in Asia that we can be proud of or just scoff at years later


Guo Pei June 2019 SGGuo Pei during a talk at TAFF, Design Orchard, in June. Photo: Jim Sim

It is easier to doubt Guo Pei’s (郭培) talent than her sincerity. Or her willingness to be unmasked, whether in the presence of a film crew or an audience. In Yellow Is Forbidden, a film that’s less about the disallowed than what is allowable in the design of clothes, Ms Guo reveals all the different aspects of being a working couturière, as well as, cliched as it might be, a mother, a daughter, and a wife. Documentary film-maker Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth, a narrative about Afghan cinephiles excavating and preserving the films of the nation’s past) created a surprisingly intimate portrait of Ms Guo, who allowed cameras beyond her atelier, into her home, as well as her parents’. In Ms Guo, the New Zealander found not only a willing subject, but a gregarious one—a world-famous woman unafraid to tear up before the camera. Or reveal her softer side, a lover and collector of teddy bears—400 to date.

At 52, Guo Pei has the effervescence of a 25-year-old. She sounds girlish, with an enthusiastic lilt most of the time, so much so that she would not be out of place among the many schoolgirls that gather in Starbucks to do whatever they do there. And sometimes, with her Taiwanese husband Jack Tsao (曹宝杰) in the picture, she sounded almost coquettish. But that teasing sweetness and the tendency to call people baobei (darling) do give way to a more aggressive voice, such as that used when she was not able to come to the right price, in the right amount of time with the rural embroiderers she was engaging. For a moment, the way she argued, the way she sat, the way she held herself, she appeared to us, even when her stance is understandable since she was dealing with out-of-city folks, as one of those irate China women at an airport—any airport, about to go ballistic on an airline staff.

Many people who have met Guo Pei like to speak of how amiable she is. The constant refrain and common first impression “she’s really nice” perhaps beget a just-as-agreeable reaction to her work as a fashion designer, and an eloquent one. But it is possible that her niceness could be a disarming front, engaged to discourage one from disparaging her or from looking at her work too critically. And she is mindful of how others view her, saying in the film (and off-camera, such as during the talk that she gave in June when invited by the Textile and Fashion Federation) that she does not want to be seen as a designer who caters only to celebrities. Or that she, when ask of what her work will be bring to China, is definitely “a designer, not a nation”.

Guo Pei @ Paris ExhibitionGuo Pei at the opening of the Paris exhibition. Film still: Madman Films

Yellow is Forbidden, made possible through the crowd-funding site Boosted, brings the audience surprisingly close to the sometimes close-to-tacky oppulence that Guo Pei sells and the people important to her. In fact, it’s surprising that the Tsao family is not forbidden to the film-maker’s cameras and husband Jack, also her business partner, takes up not insignificant screen time, by her side—at home, in the office, in the car. It’s also a peek into the world of her customer base in China, comprising what appeared to us the new rich (and reported elsewhere to be from the upper political, media, and social echelons of the country)—the many matrons may not be different from the women Ms Guo tried to court here through a couple of private shows that she hosted when she was in town in June to open the Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) exhibition, dedicated to her, Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture. She urged her guests/customers not to don the qipao (旗袍 or cheongsam) when going to the West, urging them, instead, to consider her designs which are clearly Western garb characterised by Eastern details. The women were enraptured, as if she was deliverying a sermon.

Guo Pei, a non-English-speaking createur in a non-Chinese speaking world of the West, must have appeared impressive and admirable and a doyenne to her audience in China, so much so that this woman, the product of an earlier, just-after-the-Cultural-Revolution zhongguo and a graduate of Beijing Second Light Industry School (1986), can be allowed to shape their sartorial taste because, unlike them, she had made a deep impression among the laowai (老外 or foreigners), through Rihanna no less, and interfaced with the West and, through her visits to museums, explored close-up the couture gowns of Jeanne Lanvin, for example, and has become far more knowledgeable than the average knowledgeable fashion-consuming woman.

Westerners, including the milliner Philip Treacy, may be enamoured with the works of Guo Pei because of the detectable (delectable?) ‘Chinese-ness’, but many in Asia, including those in Ms Guo’s motherland, find her taste unable to give wholly to the refined. Her output may be so, but the sum for some of us escapes the discernment that characterised the work of, say, Charles James, whose designs Ms Guo’s favourite model Carmen Dell’Orefice has said the Chinese designer equals. We will never know what Mr James would have thought of that comparison, but Guo Pei has never truly left the fantasyland she ensconced herself to as a little girl and possibly lived through, even at Beijing Second Light Industry School, where, she admitted in the film, she did not even know what shizhuang (时装 or fashion) was. It isn’t clear she now does.

Yellow Queen P2The Yellow Queen, aka omelette cape/dress, that set Guo Pei on the path to Paris, here seen at the ACM. Photo: Jim Sim

Unencumbered by what defined (or defines) fashion, Ms Guo, we feel, designs from the memory of imagined places and people or from the mental notes she takes from museum visits. These, embellished with the palace tales and fashion her laolao (姥姥 or maternal grandmother) used to regale her with, constitutes the foundational aesthetics from which she launches her over-the-top designs—the Western silhouette is there, but the exaggerated forms that the possible lack of exposure afforded her, underscores what may be excess bereft of finesse. Despite not knowing what shishang was, she defined it not by any clear terms, and as such, was neither able defy it, which left much of her work in a sort of couture limbo.

Geographical placing may give the clothes a certain Gallic air (or the romantic notion of it), but what we have seen so far is nothing like what the French does, nor do the clothes bear Chinese aesthetical distinction, whether past or present. They may have emotional heft since so much is invested in them, but they lack soul, like stage costumes waiting to be given life by whoever is cast to wear them. The film does not go into what makes her desire to create clothes that weigh as much as the wearer (so heavy, in fact, that they are against French laws pertaining to how much workers can haul each time—35kg versus her 50kg gowns!), or if such surfeit of material, not just fabric, is a reflection of the past or the present, or the future. Or, just a self-assuring practice of more-is-better.

“I’m the slowest designer in the world,” Ms Guo, professes, but we are not certain if that is declared with regret or pride or a bit of both. As there is no real discussion of what saturates her work (nor does she truly explain), we may never know why the lack of speed is an asset or why superfluity of details and embellishments in a dress are pluses when they circumvent productivity or demand the prolonged dedication of those involved. Or why any outfit with the total weight of an adult North Pacific giant octopus, necessitating unrushed putting on, may make the outfit more appealing. Are long, impossible-to-imagined hours—50,000 man hours, a figure she cited more than once—on a single dress the only hallmark of couture? That, and embroidery and beading?

Guo Pei & familyGuo Pei and her parents. Film still: Madman Films

Guo Pei has positioned her work as yishu (艺术 or art) and, as such, it is possible this standing deters one from questioning the artist. It’s got to a point that many observers convinced themselves that if her designs are good enough for a star such as Rihanna, and can be the subject of museum exhibitions around the world, she must be good. The thing is, the converse is not necessarily true either: it would be grossly untrue and unkind to say she’s bad. So where does that leave Guo Pei? Or, is it not quite percipient to evaluate the work of someone who exists—creatively—outside the circle that we are familiar with? And therein lies the problem in deciding where her work can be best positioned within a conservative hierarchy of things: she does not fit in.

And the films doesn’t suggest she does. Instead, it shows her with her weaknesses and wonderment, foibles and fears, tantrums and tears. That she’s just as good a salesperson reminds us that Guo Pei runs a very tight ship, so tight, in fact, she does not have a sourcing manager or agent to assist her. Instead, she does most of the (leg) work herself (accompanied by her husband), such as buying her own fabrics at what could be the B2B marketplace Première Vision, where she, unsure of the visuals she wanted to apply on her fabrics, prodded her husband to ask the supplier if angels are areligious! There’s not only her lack of inter-faith knowledge, but also the blank on the meaning of spiritual beings in any religion or culture. Would it not be dicey to use a subject one has scant knowledge of?

When it comes to Guo Pei, how much is head, how much is heart, and how much is gumption? It is not entirely clear, nor is it shown. Ms Brettkelly allows Ms Guo to do most of the talking, which gave the film a platform on which only the designer’s views matter. Sure, there were cursory remarks and encouragements from others, but it would complete the picture if viewers could understand what her clothes—also designed for public consumption, not just for her own love—meant to others and why to them the designs are stunning and stirring. It could have been informative, even broadening, to know how officials of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, French governing body for couture that admitted her as a guest member, viewed Ms Guo or why followers such as Frank Cintamani (a glimpse of him was caught), the now-laying-low president of the just-as-quiet Asian Couture Federation (the organisation established a “base” in Beijing last year), are so ardent in their pursuit, or what those rapt customers during the trunk shows truly think of her designs and how the clothes could fit into their existing wardrobes.

Magnificent gold Guo Pei.jpgMagnificent Gold, one of the most featured dresses in the film, here seen at the ACM exhibition. Photo: Jim Sim

What Guo Pei is able to achieve is not endeavour of a single woman. So much of the details in her clothes, as one could see to one’s heart’s content at the ACM exhibition or, earlier, to one’s amusement at her show during Fidé Fashion Weeks in 2013, is not the result of her own craftsmanship alone, but the combined effort, push, and resolution of an incredible atelier—Rose Studio. Virtually no one in her team is given a voice to express what it is like to do the kind of work they do (except that it is hard work) or how gratifying it is, if it is at all. Of if they are.embarrassed to be associated with dresses that possibly beg as much ridicule as admiration. It has been pointed out by Western observers that what Guo Pei has done, by way of engineering the clothes and the ornamentation applied on them, few others in Paris can achieve. China doubtlessly has a long history of craftsmanship. And Ms Guo has no qualms in using them all, in one garment. It would, therefore, be compelling to see the actual toil behind the production and what it is like to be so deep in such hard handiwork.

Of the Yellow Queen, that cape/dress Rihanna wore to the Met Gala in 2015, Ms Guo said, “the weight of the dress and the height of the heels represent responsibility. I believe that the more responsibility a woman takes on in her life, the greater she becomes”. Greatness is not just the assuming of responsibilities, but also the people under which the responsibilities include their employment and welfare. There were snaps of the staff at work and a quartet manoeuvering a stairway with a massive gown to get it to some place, but these hardly revealed the labour involved in creating clothes with the theatricality that befits a show venue such as the Conciergerie, a former prison where Marie Antoinette spent her time before execution. Guo Pei is only the second designer after Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen to present a collection in the gloomy place (after her first choice, the L’église de la Madeleine unsurprisingly turned her down).

To be fair, she did show herself sharing her achievements with her family. She was comfortable for cameras to capture her daughters, with one of them so emotionally affected at the end of the first couture presentation in Paris that she broke into tears (followed by mother comforting her child before the former stepped out on the runway to acknowledge the applauding support). Surprising and heartwarming was a visit to her parents’, where she regaled the viewer with recalls of her relationship with her maternal grandmother and the tales the old lady told her. The nicest touch of the film came in the end: Ms Guo’s mother, a former school teacher, sang a song of tribute to mothers and daughters. This served as soundtrack to the end credits. For a moment, we forgot we were watching a fashion film. Zhang Yimou would have approved.

H&M’s Other Collaboration

While many are waiting eagerly for the H&M X Giambattista collection to be launched next week, a quiet but not uninteresting collaboration is sadly given a miss


H&M X Pringle.jpg

By Mao Shan Wang

Before the much-awaited pairing with Giambattista Valli hits the shelf on the 7th of next month, H&M has launched a far less hyped collaboration with the knitwear firm of Pringle of Scotland. Yes, that’s Pringle, known for its cashmere sweaters, not Pringles, known for potato chips! Now that I’ve got that out of the way (since H&M indeed has a T-shirt sporting the mustachioed face of the chip’s mascot Julius Pringles!), I would say that this collection is going to be overshadowed, even before filling the racks, by Giambattista Valli’s ruffles-aplenty ode to the party dress.

Pringle, as it is usually called, is considered one of the oldest knitwear companies in the world. It holds the royal warrant for knitwear manufacture, and has mostly been associated with jumpers your grandparents prefer. That was until one Clare Waight Keller was appointed as creative director in 2007. Ms Waight Keller had just arrived from Gucci, where she worked under Tom Ford. Her Pringle was the start of a stunning turnaround for the company, and her spin on Scottish classics such as argyle sweaters, in shapes closer to those favoured by the burgeoning British street style, would have agreed with the likes of Liam Gallagher, who later birthed Pretty Green. Almost a decade later, Ms Waight Keller found herself in Givenchy, where she augmented her position with a particular wedding dress that gripped the world.

H&M X Pringle P2

There is no turning back for Pringle. Currently helmed by Fran Stringer (a CV that is dominated by British brands, such as Aquascutum and Mulberry), the brand remains somewhat fringe-y and is supported by those typically described as ‘discerning’. With H&M, Pringle staples, such as the argyle (diamond-shaped pattern) sweaters, are not excluded, but perhaps what’s more appealing are those that are included, such as zip-front knit dresses, so alluringly sportif that I’m sure Alexander Wang is cross with himself for not beating H&M to Pringle.

That this is barely noticed by H&M customer here is understandable. These clothes won’t stand a chance among those who have to face the endless muggy days of this island. Just glancing at them is enough to get me covered in sweat. Still, for those heading towards cooler (or colder) climes this holiday season, some pieces in the collection could be the difference between appearing cosily sleek or looking like a puff ball.

Photos: H&M

Pocket/Storage, Centre-Front

We may not be marsupials, but some of us do need a pouch right in the middle of our chest for things that need to be reached easily. Or, quickly. Or, so it seems


Chest Nike pic 4Nikelab iPSA Air cotton T-shirt with nylon pouch pocket

By Raiment Young

I am not sure how much stuff an average guy carries with him on a daily basis, but I am beginning to suspect that the quantity is not insignificant, based on the receptacles now beginning to appear on clothes and those that are designed to be worn in front, across the thorax, above the belly button. It’s not exactly the best place for anything since anything placed against the chest tends to trap heat, but I am not an expert on thoracic needs, utilitarian or decorative.

Sartorially, bags for the centre of chests, if I am correct, first appeared in Matthew Williams’s 1017 Alyx 9SM collection of last spring—chest strap-ons so desirable that the bags turned out to be Alyx’s best-selling accessory. Mr Williams, a Californian football-player-turned-designer and a member of the inner circle of Lady Gaga and Kanye West (he was once their stylist), is also a consultant at Kim Jones’s Dior, where he has created a signature buckle for the house.

Chest rig P1bZara polyester canvas chest rig

Around the same time of the Alyx bags, Junya Watanabe also introduced a few of his own, worn in his characteristic anti-OG ways: outdoor gear with beach wear! Mr Watanabe’s chest bags, as the label calls it, are pretty serious stuff: they come with what NS men would know as webbing, which is what I like about these bags. Unlike so many from other brands that I have tried on, the straps of these are designed to go over the shoulder and cross the back, with no discomfort under the arm, as felt by those that follow the shape of the armhole.

As it turns out, these bags do have a name—they are known as chest rigs and, like the field pack, is associated with the army, especially land forces. According to military historians, the chest rig can be traced to those used during the Vietnam war. Apparently, the canvas rigs that were worn then were Chinese-made and mainly for carrying magazines supplied with the main rifle issued, the notorious AK-47. American forces were known to pilfer some of these chest rigs so that they could be copied or worn to blend in.

Chest Timberland P5.jpgTimberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak

As with many things of military origin, the bags may not be the most comfortable to strap on, even if they have been adapted for leisure use. Which perhaps prompted garment designers to adopt the idea on clothes instead. I don’t mean one little pocket on the shirt that looks like a cyclop’s eye; I mean big, full-on pouches, capacious enough for you to put smartphone, battery pack, and everything else that would usually go into a bump-bag. One of the earliest I saw was Nikelab’s T-shirt from the iSPA Air project (top-most pic). A fairly heavy-ply cotton tee, the front is affixed with a massive flapped, pouch pocket (as large as those on cargo pants, if you ask me) that comes with a drawstring to secure its contents. That it is available with the inconspicuous yellow pocket (there’s a black version too) that almost obscures the Swoosh adds to its appeal.

Not long after, I came across the Timberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak (above). Now, this would not normally have made me bat an eyelid since its pocket would not be unusual for such an outerwear. But, look twice I did because of the size of the pocket and its placement—right there in the middle of the chest. Made of 100% recycled polyester, including recycled cords and buttons (the eco-warrior among you would delight to know), the anorak comes in fashionable colour blocking that, to me, is rather unusual for Timberland garments not destined for Japan.

Chest rig P3.jpgChest rigs worn by both men and women

The first off-catwalk piece that caught my eye was a small Nike chest rig worn on a woman at a private event hosted by Bangkok’s coolest home-grown sneaker store Upperground (by the same people who started Carnival in Siam Square). What I found exceptional was that rather than play up the chest rig’s military beginnings, the woman turned it into a study in contrast, teaming the bag with a simple tank top and very feminine, full maxi-skirt. Quite the opposite of how Mackenzie Davis-as-Grace wore hers in Terminator: Dark Fate. Not long after, amid the unrest that took place in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, I saw a guy crossing a not-yet-tumultuous Hennessy Road wearing a Junya Watanabe chest rig with the stylish confidence of someone with a fanny pack strapped across the torso instead. On the multiple straps of the bag, he had assorted carabiners attached, reminding me of those seen on the accessories of White Mountaineering.

On home turf, my encounter with a chest rig-wearing individual was at the recent Club 21 Bazaar. The guy, accompanied by a male friend, stood out, not only for his effortless stylishness, but also for the fact that his bag was able to pass security without being wrapped in that awful plastic bag that they used, and secured with zip ties (also known as cable ties). He was probably the only person carrying a bag that was not hassled and contained, which was a good thing for me as I could finally see a local fellow fashionably togged, affirming that trends don’t always circumnavigate our island.

Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig.jpgPuma X Les Benjamins chest rig

Chest rigs are, in fact, now so popular that even Prada—belatedly—has their own version. Called the ‘harness bag’, it is made using what the brand calls a “technical fabric” but looks and feels to me like the regular Prada nylon, it is given a downplay of its war-front provenance by a kooky print that is described as “inspired by the graphic art of horror films”. If price is of concern (and they usually are for single or double-season craze), Zara can always be relied for something on trend, but do consider what I think is really fetching: the Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig (above) that the partners called ‘sacoche’. Misnomer aside, Puma and the Istanbul-based streetwear brand’s collab resulted in one of the cutest chest-rigs I have seen in the research for this post. I find the lightness of the whole bag a plus, and the hi-vis lime green a nice shot of fresh air.

It is tempting to blame Matthew Williams for the trend of take a bag or pocket to the chest. The signs for such a place to position storage spaces were, however, evident with the return of the bum-bag a few seasons back. Rather than site the pouch where they usually rest—above the posterior, hence the somewhat inelegant name, designers styled them as an accessory for the front, across the body. These days, from the coffee shop beer ladies to the dragon-boaters after practice, assorted bags are strapped across the chest like a parent would with an infant in a baby carrier. The task-specific chest rigs’ appearance as a fashion accessory is, therefore, really a matter of time, but have we not always like taking things to heart, if not wearing stuff close to it?

Photos: Chin Boh Kay, AB Tan, Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

Beams Is Back!

Just as it was the first time round, Japanese select store Beams’ return is a pop-up affair. Is one of Tokyo’s most recognisable retail names destined to be a short-time fling on our shores?


Beams Oct 2019 OP1

By Raiment Young

I get this nagging feeling that a couple or so retailers are trying very hard to bring Beams to Singapore, but none are confident that it’ll be successful enough to warrant regular shop space in a retail landscape of not so regular rentals. In 2014, the Hong Kong-based, multi-label store Kapok brought Beams not to the mall near you, but to its confines at the National Design Centre. It was a 30-day pop-up, enmeshed within the somewhat chaotic layout of Kapok, with merchandise that differentiated not from those of the store that hosted them.

Beams’ quiet departure after that brief intro to Singaporean shoppers suggested to me that it fared insufficiently well for Kapok to extend its run or to give it a chance in its own freestanding space. Although Japan has been, for a long time, a favourite holiday destination among Singaporeans, and clothing brands, such as Beams, are familiar, if not popular, these names do not, curiously, have enough pull for shoppers here to be interested in them to the point that they deserve strong physical presence here. I suppose Lumine is an exception, but it isn’t certain that it is a model of Japanese select store success yet.

Beams Oct 2019 OP4Beams Oct 2019 OP2

Beams’ sophomore outing here is undertaken by Colony Clothing, a Japanese-owned, Singapore-based clothier with a single store at the off-the-beaten UE Square. The Beams pop-up is, in fact, a two-site set-up: one in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, and the other in Colony Clothing’s own store, with the former operating till December, while the latter will be available till early next year. Curiously, both pop-ups close two weeks or so before the twin mega-shopping seasons of the year—Christmas and Chinese New Year respectively.

I did not trek down to UE Square; I chose to visit Beams at Taka instead, as I was making a trip to Kinokuniya, where I was hoping to find a copy of Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art. But Beams came first. Actually, it’s hard to miss. The space—called “spot” by Colony Clothing—is on, well, a spot, previously occupied by many other brands, such as Aveda, if I remember correctly. Unusually, it looks very much like a pop-up, rising from a traffic intersection of sort and not circumscribed by walls or windows; it’s not even configured as a regular square or rectangle.

Beams Oct 2019 OP3

The heptagonal spot is quite a tight space, which means the merchandise on offer do not enjoy a terribly large SKU. Basically split into two unequal sections, with the men’s taking up the larger and the women’s occupying the other, linked by a rack for both, Beams is stocked with products that tend to err on the side of the too-basic. I risk throwing on you the proverbial wet blanket if I tell you not to expect too much, but this is, in truth, not a miniature of the Beams flagship in Shinjuku. Apart from the clothing, some simple totes, and a couple of pairs of shoes, there are none of the cute/quirky accessories and the fun and useful knick-knacks that Beams is also known for.

I suspect the buying reflects Colony Clothing’s known climate-correct merchandising, which may also take into consideration Singaporean’s lack of interest in things not terribly practical. Opened in 2014 by Kozo Kawamura and Kensuke Sato, two former colleagues at Beams (now you see!), Colony Clothing is where fashion-correct (not necessarily forward) guys go for their sartorial fix, and this, I have been told, includes suits with relaxed cuts and in fabrication that allows wearers to embrace non-air-conditioned spaces. The store is consistently considered one of the best offering men’s wear on our island, with enough of the unexpected to encourage repeat visits (on one of those, I scored my first pair of Premiata sneakers). With Beams to add a feather to their cap, perhaps, also the most willing to give the former a winning chance.

Beams is opened till 6 November at B2, Takashimaya S.C. (in front of Scotch & Soda) and till 17 January 2020 at Colony Clothing, UE Square. Photos: Gallery Gombak

Nicolas Ghesquière Takes A Stand

Kudos to he who holds a view that risks getting him on the wrong path with those who writes his pay check


Nic G IG post

Those who follow Nicolas Ghesquière on IG—to date, 827,000 of you—would have seen this. Mere days after his bosses Bernard Arnault and Michael Burke made a show of LV’s investment in Alvarado, Texas, some 65 kilometres south of Fort Worth, birthplace of Kelly Clarkson, with a pleased-as-Punch Donald Trump, Mr Ghesquière posted on IG the cover of the single of American singer Evelyn Thomas’s 1984 dance hit, High Energy, followed by an unambiguous message—“Standing against any political action. I am a fashion designer refusing this association #trumpisajoke #homophobia”.

This contrasts sharply with what Mr Arnault, LVMH chief’s executive, told members of the media that day: “I am not here to judge his (Donald Trump’s) types of policies. I have no political role; I am a business person.” That is not an affirmation of no political view, which, perhaps, prompted Mr Ghesquière to express one. We are not sure how tolerant French corporations are to opposing thoughts of their employees, but this, from the standpoint of those of us who grew up professionally in a conservative corporate environment, may elicit a strong reaction from the boss that could lead to dismissal. Or, are we being dramatic?

Mr Ghesquière could be riding on a popularity high and may wish to use his platform to say something that other designers won’t. He received a standing ovation during the recent spring/summer 2020 show for Paris Fashion Week and was featured on the cover of T magazine last week, in which he was quoted saying “I was never trained as a businessman and I will never want to be one.” Sure, one does not have to see eye-to-eye with one’s boss, but could all these seemingly contradictory messages be construed as a sign of defiance? Or, does fashion need such opposition of thought for it to encourage creativity?

Mr Ghesquière, who has been Louis Vuitton’s artistic director for women’s wear for six years, has done much to set the brand apart from what is ailing luxury fashion, not just in Paris, but much across the fashion capitals of the world, taking strides in his own distinctive view and speaking in his own singular voice. Just as his bosses Bernard Arnault and Michael Burke have the liberty to do business in Trumpland, he, too, has the right to share his thoughts. Nicolas Ghesquière should be appreciated and applauded.

Who Is Evelyn Thomas?

Mr Ghesquière posted on IG a cover of the single of the 1984 dance hit by Evelyn Thomas, High Energy, which, if we remember correctly was mixed by Victor Flores, an American techno DJ of the ’80s, whose work included remixes for mainstream acts such as Wang Chung (Dance Hall Days) and Joe Cocker (You Can Leave Your Hat On). Mr Flores’s various mixes of High Energy (actually, we prefer the Almighty 12″ Definitive Mix from 2009 for its more stomping—almost Dead Or Alive—rather than the typical pulsating beat) became huge that year (and several later), a big, anthemic chart-topper that was especially popular in the gay scene, which may explain why Mr Ghesquière chose it to accompany the hashtag #homophobia and to underscore Donald Trump’s perceived homophobic leaning.

Ms Thomas, now 66, was already a recording artiste, singing jazz and gospel, when High Energy scored. The track was co-produced by the British/Irish duo of Ian Levine and Fiachra Trench, and it was, in fact, their second collaboration with Ms Thomas after a first single Weak Spot failed to scale the charts. Ms Thomas was credited for creating the dance genre Hi-NRG, the staple of gay clubs in the mid-’80s, but ‘high energy’ was already gaining traction when DJs, declaring disco dead, used the term to describe dance music that played faster than the typical dance track prior to that. Ms Thomas was just singing the right song at the right time.

High Energy opens with a cheesy melodic synth intro that would typify disco tracks of this time and be a clarion call to disco-goers to rush to the dance floor to kick into dance. But this rousing musical device was already heard, a year earlier, in So Many Men, So Little Time, also a Levine/Trench production and another huge club hit and, understandably, also a gay anthem, sung by Miquel Brown, Amii Stewart’s step-sister, and Sinitta’s mom(!). In fact, the frightening catchiness of these songs would eventually transpose from gay clubs to the more mass discotheques that, at the risk of sounding elitist, the bengs and lians patronised with delirious regularity. Regardless, Mr Ghesquière has put a tune in our heads and we can’t get it out!

Photo: Instagram/Nicolas Ghesquière

A Better Bazaar

In 2014, one of SOTD’s intrepid contributors made a virgin visit to the convention-sized Club 21 Bazaar. Five years later, he returned to find a clearance sale that is just as frenetic, but the shopping experience has switched to the side of enjoyable, even fun


Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP1

By Raiment Young

It is hard to believe that half a decade has past. Fashion consumption and taste in this time have changed so much, but has shopping habits—especially during a sale—become different as well? I remember, even now, what a start it was to visit the Club 21 Bazaar at the F1 Pit Building for the first time. I was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed. Have things improved, the editor (read: blogger-in-chief!) of SOTD posed to me one day. A good question, I thought, and one that, perhaps, deserves an answer, and an on-site peek-in—this year, at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

I was told that, like before, the first day of the Club 21 Bazaar is opened to “Family and Friends” only, and is a ticketed event. I don’t know anyone from Singapore’s largest fashion retailer that would count me as family nor friend (possibly foe, my pals told me), so I needed to contact my narrow circle of chums to see if there was anyone I could tag along with. Lest my curiosity scuppered before I can even think of what my sophomore experience might be like, I immediately took to WhatsApp. Through what Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven would call a “ghost-to-ghost hook-up”, I managed to find a friend who happily took a shot of the said ticket and sent to me, adding that I could join him and two others (there’s a limit of four per ticket).

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP2The orderly queue to get into the Club 21 Bazaar had formed up before the opening hour of 11am

We had arranged to meet earlier for a cup of mid-morning caffeine fix, and the Toast Box in MBS was chosen as the meeting place. Seated beside us were four Malaysian guys of no more than 25, speaking audibly in heavily accented Mandarin. They were dressed to impress, just as one would when in a city one thought is more fashionable than from whence one came. All four were in over-large, logo-baring tops and skinny jeans so slim they couldn’t hold a candle to pencils. And, expectedly, shod in sneakers so massive they would be the cause of PMD accidents on pedestrian paths. From their conversation, I learned that they were heading for the same destination and their first port of call was to be “shoes and accessories”.

The Bazaar was held at Hall C on the first level of the convention centre. Since my last; now, so many years ago; it has been sited in different places: the once-unused space of the former Isetan at Wisma Orchard and even in the event hall of Takashimaya department store, where the Bazaar could not be so called for reasons landlord and lessee know better. When we arrived, a sizable queue had formed at the entrance framed by a flat arch that was emblazoned simply with Club 21, in a font I did recognise to be the brand’s. To my surprise, it took a whole, rewardingly-short six minutes to be admitted.

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP3Rows of racks packed with clothes that, at some point, seemed to be overwhelmed by the crowd

Inside, the space was massive, but less linear than what it was at the F1 Pit Building. Analytical skills were barely required to conclude that an expanse such as this was needed because there were heaps of merchandise to dispose of. Unsurprisingly, it quickly filled up, like a candy jar left open to ants. Veteran Bazaar shoppers—my companions included—knew exactly where to head to. A strategy, I was later told, would be useful. But, as before, I was left to my own devices. It was still a little daunting to be among clothes that deserve better than a multi-purpose convention hall and shoppers who approach all of this with the care of a visit to the pasar malam, virtually non-existent the night market might be now.

Hall C was divided into two zones: on the left, mostly the clothes for “general consumption”, one woman explained to her possibly newbie friend and, on the right, Club 21 Women and Men and their attendant, covetable labels, such as Balenciaga and Dries van Noten. In this division, it was also apparent that the shoppers—family and friends of Club 21—could be cleaved into the informed and the ignorant, the progressive and the mere fashionable, the celebrities and the riff-raff, the cool and the plain odd, the locals and the foreigners, the wealthy and the not. They are, however, unified by the one thing that knows no status or gender: slash in prices.

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP4No seating area was provided, so they sat wherever there is space. No fitting rooms were available, so they tried on the clothes wherever they could

I was here with a mission, but I, too, am a consumer, one with weaknesses. Reminding myself of the task at hand, I first took a stroll of the 4,170m² grounds to better familiarise myself with the layout and the offerings. I was surprised to find a huge shoe zone, by then packed with people. It was possibly the largest to date, which might explain the Malaysian boys’ choice of first stop. Sneakers, expectedly, were most in demand and, as one staffer latter told me, the highest sell-through. I spied the cute yellow boots with all-over puppy print from Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2018, which, sadly, garnered almost no interest. There were also merchandise from Kids 21 and home ware from their occasional home store.

Ten minutes into the sale, an announcement over the PA system was made by a pleasantly calm female voice: “Our merchandise is precious to us. If you do not want them, please leave them in the baskets along the alleyway”. I did not know we were in some back lane of Geylang. Still, I looked down the main passage that separated the hall into the two zones like a single-aisle plane, but I noticed not a basket. Later, when I moved towards the accessories and footwear zone, the said bins caught my eyes along a wall lined with bored husbands minding their kids and groups of teenage girls, with their selections spread on the floor, making the final pick of what they would buy. By then, the baskets were brimming like a void-deck rubbish bin.

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP7Shoppers found their own spaces to rest and sort of the picks

While I was surprised that there was no major dumping on the concrete floor (as seen that year), I was still disappointed that the clothes were not treated with more care. While little found its way to the ground, many bits from some garments did: buttons, sequins, tassels, hang tags, and even care labels. It was also puzzling to see how shoppers were not able to return clothes to hangers the way they were found: jackets were just so horribly squashed onto hangers that more abuse meant the padding on shoulders would be severely damage (my heart ached for one Rick Owens coat) and knitted tops such as sweaters and cardigans were returned to hangers clearly made for pants, which resulted in possibly irreversible dents on shoulders. When it came to the merchandise in gondolas, the shoppers probably did not think the clothes deserve the same gentle treatment as cabbages in the bins at Fairprice.

Boggling to my mind was that many considered not what they didn’t desire might be something someone else would find admirable and covetable. Despite the best efforts by the staff to arrange and rearrange and rearrange the clothes, to make them look better grouped and more appealing despite being clearly away from the seductive swank of boutiques, the unceasing disrespect for clothes went unabated. But it was not just the physical mistreatment alone, many of the pieces, challenging to the average shopper, received verbal abuse too: “This one like haven’t finish sewing (sic)”, “my six-year-old can design better, hor”, and, unbelievably, “did you shit on it?”

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP6Merchandise unwanted is, regrettably, still indiscriminately discarded

I tried dismissing all such talk as bad stand-up comedy, the inevitable soundtrack to such an event. With enough seen, I joined the frantic search that dominated the Club 21 multi-label and Dover Street Market Singapore sections. DSMS’s participation this year was not only unexpected, but, clearly for many, also a thrill. I was surprised and happy to see a Craig Green jacket (sadly it was too small for me), a handsome Casley Hayford scrubs-like top, a pair of Doublet two-shade/wash denim jeans, and an Undercover puffer that deserves to be included in any collector’s stash. A middle-aged man was excitedly showing his friends the Gosha Rubchinskiy sweatpants he found (no less than three pairs!). A teen with shaved streaks on his hairdo that appeared scratched out looked like he saw Demna Gvasalia in person when he came face to face with a Vetements polo-shirt-and-tee-as-one, bearing the DHL logo. And a woman so taken with a Noir Kei Ninomiya skirt of much and intriguing ruffles that she immediately took off, in front of me, her puffy skort, revealing skimpy black underpants, to try on the object of her desire.

As before, there were no fitting rooms, no mirrors, not even a strip of reflective surface, and shoppers resorted to all sorts of ways to ensure that what they liked fitted and looked right. The smartphone camera was the imaging device of choice since no shopper was without one. There was a woman who asked a staff to take a photo of her in a black pouf of a dress—all four sides. Another entrusted her iPhone to her pre-primary school daughter only to ask her child, upon seeing the playback, “why so blur?” There was a guy who suggested to his friend to used the latter’s smartphone to shoot him in all that he slipped on, and then asked for the photos to be WhatsApped to him so that he could send them to his girlfriend to see and, presumably, for approval. There were less digital ways too. A man in head-to-toe fashionable black yielded a measuring tape which he patiently used to determine the dimensions of the waist of pants and the girth of shirts!

Club 21 Bazaar Oct 2019 OP5In the background, the queue to pay

Admittedly, there was joy witnessing people getting what they hankered after, as much as there was pleasure in scoring what I was happy to find. A guy in a tank top and a pair of track pants, who looked like he spent an inordinate amount of time with barbells, took almost everything he picked and 30 minutes later reappeared before a table that was by then nearly depleted of merchandise. He laid everything on top and proceeded to try the garments, each (yes, every piece!) he had a male companion take a photo. At some point, he laid his smartphone on a stand and shot a video of himself in what appeared to be a live broadcast! Another guy, with wife in tow, put on a clearly too small CDG pea coat he fancied and walked about till he saw another outer. He removed what he had on, stuffed it into the provided plastic bag, and wore the new-found piece. This went on until the carrier was plumped and bursting. Another shopper had spotted him try a Sacai denim jacket and, as he told his pals, was hoping the man would not select it since the outer was clearly too large for him, but put aside the grabber did not.

I caught up with my friends and we joined the long line to the cashier. It would take us an hour and ten minutes to get to the end of the queue. Meanwhile, the gym bunny was spotted ahead of us; he was carrying the shopping bag containing just two items, which contrasted with those of almost everyone waiting to pay—all laden with what could be a year’s worth of shopping or, maybe, more. Not far from me, I could see Mr Try and Parade. His bag was empty. The guy who was waiting for him to toss out that one particular denim jacket could be seen scrambling to see if he could retrieve what the former now did not want. When I finally made it outside, I had to wait for the others I came with to finish their payment. The outerwear lover appeared with his frazzled wife, both of them empty-handed. I really wished the other guy good luck.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Two Hearts Beat As One

Donald Trump wants to create jobs, Bernard Arnault is willing to employ. Which other two high-profile men are a better match?


The men Oct 2019Donald Trump, Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke, and Bernard Arnault. Photo: Jonathon Ernst/Reuters

In Texas, US president Donald Trump and LVMH’s chief executive Bernard Arnault recently met. We don’t know if this was a frequent occurrence, but this time, as it turns out, it’s a pairing made in deal makers’ heaven. The two came together to open Louis Vuitton’s latest factory, a reported USD50-million initial investment, according to BOF, sited in cattle-grazing Alvarado of rural Texas. Both men, interestingly, were accompanied by their favourite adult child.

This is a curious time to so publicly announce a business move and a pairing between one of France’s most storied brands and the United States’ most divisive president. Consumers, luxury and mass, are becoming more willing to know the political standing of brands or pointedly ask, “Whose side are you on?”. We are still fresh from the Tweets of an NBA general manager, whose support of the on-going Hong Kong political protests have upset Chinese sports fans and the general audience alike, as well as the unceasing inability of fashion brands to get the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan in relation to mainland China (Dior, the latest with a supposed faux pas) right. If optics matter these days, is there really a need for the world to see the “the divider-in-chief” and “the wolf in cashmere coat” in action or aligned?

AlvaradoThe star marks where Alvarado is in the state of Texas. Illustration:

Even more curious is the need to make such a major announcement in what is arguably Trumpian turf. The media quoted Mr Arnault saying in his opening remarks that “this shows two commitments: One, the commitment of LVMH to the American market (which is said to be 25% of its entire business, or USD10 billion annually), and two, the commitment of President Trump to the American worker”. While that is possibly all true and a strategically prudent move on the part of LVMH, it is not yet clear what the association with this particular part of the US, known for very little, will bring to LV. Even the agricultural and industrial base of this 12.5km² of a city have been variously described as “modest”.

Apart from tax breaks and opportunity to meet Donald Trump (and “beautiful” Ivanka Trump), what branding benefits can Alvarado bring to the maker of the Speedy? We’re told that all products—namely leather goods from imported than local hide-will be stitched with the Made in U.S.A. label. This may augment the appeal of Kate Spade, which, FYI, is mostly made in many countries outside the United States, but for a French brand that prides in its French heritage, the advantage is not yet clear, even when the 100,000-square-foot factory goes by the French-sounding Rochambeau Ranch (renamed from the grassroots-Texan Rockin’ Z). Interestingly, Rochambeau is a fashion label, based in New York. Sure, some LV bags are already made in the US. The company has, in fact, two other facilities there and, according to The New York Times, have been producing, in the last 30 years, about half the bags sold in the US, such as the Métis and the Noé. But are these fashion goods as coveted as the Hermès Birkin?

LV NeonoeAn iteration of the ‘classic’ LV Noé bag. Photo: Louis Vuitton

In the media reports that followed the Alvarado contact, photos of the three key men showed Mr Trump holding up what appeared to be the LV Néonoé monogram canvas bag (priced at S$2,190). It is based on what the brand calls “a true House classic”—the bucket-style Noé (or Noah in French; hence, Néonoé is the new Noah) that first appeared in 1932, when a champagne house (we don’t know if it was Moët et Chandon, or simply Moët, and the ‘M’ in LVMH) reached out to the luggage/bag maker to create a carrier that would be able to hold champagne bottles. The rest, as it can be said, is history. However, despite its impressive backstory, we are not certain that the Néonoé is a bag that emanates fashion cred, such as that inherent in the Twist or Dauphine. Or, will there be a KOL-effect: more people will find it appealing because the Donald has held one?

Like the Neverfull, the Néonoé strains when considered as the height of chic; its omnipresence hampers the ‘classic’ tag, too. But perhaps Rochambeau Ranch is not concerned with the making of bags only a few would purchase. They are in America to produce for a largely American audience, which likely prefers bags as challenging as Michael Kors’. How that can underscore LV’s European craft traditions and, as a result, justify its retail price is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. Try as we shall, it won’t be easy to imagine LV products coming out of their newest American factory in Alvarado more appealing than those emerging from their newest French facility in Beaulieu-sur-Layon. Snob appeal is really not the Lone Star State.

Modern Men Pose Among Flowers

These are not thorns among the roses; they are poses with the posies


Men among flowersNicolas Ghesquière (left) on the cover of the latest issue of T magazine and a fashion spread (right) in a September issue of The Guardian

By Ray Zhang

I first notice this a couple of years ago in Hangzhou’s Xihu (西湖 or West lake). Beneath the low cherry blossom trees during that spring day, the men—among themselves or with their female companion(s)—would pose with the flowers, often pulling down a branch, or two, of the clustered blooms to frame their fair or weather-beaten faces for photographs. There was something incongruent about the scene, which, against the conventional beauty of the lake and the yemen (爷们 or menfolk, but really means machismo) attitudes, seemed atypical. Some might even say aberrant.

I would not have guessed that what I saw was a foretaste of things to come. Cut to the present, when the woke do not concern themselves with gender that is binary, flowers and men in a photographic composition are no longer a curiosity. Nicolas Ghesquière appearing among blooms on the cover of the latest edition of T magazine (top left) and a September fashion report in The Guardian (top right) attest to this cultural shift. Men among flowers may even be more acceptable than those in skirts.

Popular culture is strangely limiting in its apportioning of what genders need, or can be aligned with. Frankly, I do not know when flowers are considered feminine (or feminising) although I have some impression that men have always not minded just a spot of flowers—the boutonniere a vivid example. Yet, there still seems to be an undercurrent of a boys-do-not-play-with-Barbie moment when it comes to guys seen with flowers. Even when I hold a bunch of pussy willows (very un-floral blooms) on my way home in the MRT train after the CNY fair in Chinatown (yes, an annual ritual), I will always get people looking at me as if I am clutching something as flashy as peonies. Encouragingly, cultural expectations, like fashion trends, do change. And men might now be more excepting of being associated with bouquets that go beyond just the giving of them.

I also remember, apart from what I saw in Hangzhou, a 2018 BBC Travel report on the “flower men” of the Asir province in southern Arabian Peninsula. Male members of the Qathan tribe wear a crown that comprises flowers, herbs, and grasses as part of their traditional costumes and these can be as pretty, but no less masculine, as a Christian Tortu centerpiece, yet it is not known that they are a threat to their masculinity. Tribal culture far more unbias than our modern mores?

Many things once considered threatening to masculinity are, of course, becoming exoteric and public consumption is on an all-time high. But I do wonder if this trend in photographing males among flowers has anything to do with the Beyoncé/Tyler Mitchell-for-Vogue effect. Are guys taking the cue from Queen Bey? Or have we finally allowed the blooms of bigotry to wither and fade?

Photos: (left) Pieter Hugo/T magazine; (right) David Newby/The Guardian

Watched: Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

The first of two fashion films for this year’s Design Film Festival, Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is not a compelling exploration of the designer’s three colourful personae


VW 1

Reluctance is no indication of reticence. In the 2018 documentary Vivienne Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, the designer may appear unwilling to open up—“just let me talk, just get it over with,” she told director Lorna Tucker—but she does eventual speak out, the urgency in her voice, although somewhat measured, carries through the film with the same creative consistency of her designs. This is “a woman with a mission”, as she identifies herself, but the documentary does not necessarily state it so expressively.

When it appeared on the big screen last year, VW was announced by the media as a film “Vivienne Westwood doesn’t want you to see”. In a no-nonsense post on the brand’s Twitter account, it was stated that “Lorna Tucker asked to film Vivienne’s activism and followed her around for a couple of years (the film took three to make), but there’s not even 5 minutes of activism in the film”. We didn’t bring a stopwatch into the cinema with us, but the work Ms Westwood has done outside the scope of fashion was captured only in short snatches and provided little that showed her true passion in those causes—environmental was touched on, but political, nary a squeak—that she believes in.

You see, activism does not a compelling movie make. Who wants to see a by-now aged (78), although still-feisty, woman—and a Dame no less, call attention to a controversial issue such as the environmentally problematic practice of fracking (it is doubtful that many in the audience in the Capitol theatre yesterday afternoon knows what that is). Rather, hearing her get all annoyed about a small seam that she claimed she did not ask for and disliked intensely makes for watchable anecdote, one that the audience found so funny that not a small number laughed out, from-the-belly loud.

VW 2

It is, of course, likely that the curious come to watch a documentary about a fashion designer to witness foibles and flare-ups and the fussing over what to many are probably of no consequence, such as the width of a hem. To pander to the audience seeking clichés to confirm and to remind us that the subject is, foremost, a fashion designer with exacting standards, Ms Tucker resorted to those “inside” takes that offer a wink-wink affirmation that the Dame is no different from those who approach their craft with hawk-eye obsession and near-couture habits.

Throw in found footage of past fashion shows (including recognisable models) and a couple of interviews with members of the family and authoritative voices such as Victoria & Albert Museum’s fashion curator, Claire Wilcox, as well as the ’80s TV appearance with host Sue Lawley, who prodded the audience to laugh at Ms Westwood’s tricky-to-grasp clothes (“You design not because they’re witty but because you believe they’re attractive and that they make people more attractive?”) and you have a heady brew of a designer’s dismay and the derision levelled at her.

Ms Tucker seems quite unconcerned about the punk, the icon, nor the activist of her subject, with the three probably coming together at post-production. The spotlight is on Ms Westwood as designer of (outrageous) clothes. To make it an absorbing fashion story, she was sure to throw in the juicy bits already noted in even the scrappiest biography of Ms Westwood: her heels are designed to be so towering that even Naomi Campbell fell walking in them, the hands on the clock fronting her shop Worlds End ticks backwards, and that she went to collect the OBE awarded to her by Queen Elizabeth without wearing panties.

VW 3

Lorna Tucker reportedly knew Vivienne Westwood for five years and spent three making the documentary. Despite all that time, the film was unable to show us what Vivienne Westwood is like as a punk, which, in the guise of a musical movement, shocking attitude, and a social anomaly, Ms Westwood did not originate nor spearhead, as suggested (she and her then-partner Malcom McClaren were active members of the sub-culture, especially through the clothes they sold in the shop Sex). Or, what makes her an icon (Ms Wilcox was filmed showing a piece from ‘Pirate’, but no further elaboration on how this first collection would influence the punk off-shoot, the New Romantics, and that it identified with ’80s artistes such as Duran Duran and Adam Ant). Or, where her activism took her, if it made light of serious issues, or how it influenced her designs (apart from the slogan tees, which, admittedly, were sometimes messy and hackneyed).

Something got in the way of our watching the film. It dawned on us that Ms Tucker, the filmmaker, is a millennial (she’s thirtysomething), who, although was once a model, is not necessarily equipped with the knowledge or depth to go beyond the obvious and the titillating. VW reflects the ethos of Ms Tucker’s generation: the influencer culture and approach to fashion that prefers surface and ‘looks’ than complexity and meaning. Bickering, to her, is artistic temperament that stokes creativity and losing one’s total calm in the presence of international buyers is having a grip on one’s business. All designers, too, are creatures of the heart and considerable reel time is given to failed affairs and inexplicable marriages. There is no attempt at penetrating the layers that make Ms Westwood, just getting under her skin.

One thing has to be said of Vivienne Westwood: few designers (excluding John Galliano) dress as though they are in the business of fashion and the selling of dreams. Or, believe in what they design and peddle. In all her appearances—specifically shot or on video clips, Ms Westwood, even in activism mode, does not dress down, appearing to enjoy the clothes she wears as much as designing then. It’s certainly not the same with the current crop of taste-makers: not Virginie Viard, not Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Stills: Dogwoof

Air Force One For Her

The colours are sweeter, but the recognisable silhouette remains the same. Girls do get the best


Nike AF1 P1

By Shu Xie

I have been a fan of Nike’s Air Force 1, but never had the courage to wear such a chunky (but not ‘dad’-like) and somewhat tall sneaker—that Shibuya toast of a midsole! Of late, I have been looking at the many iterations of this thirty-seven-year-old silhouette (also, the first to employ Nike’s proprietary air soles), and I realise that my resistance to the AF1 is not its mass or height, but the colours it tended to come in. As kicks that started life as a basketball court staple, it was mostly in solid colours, with white supposedly the all-time, off-court favourite.

According to those who bother to count (and the breed exists), the AF1 has hitherto enjoyed more than 2,000 variations. It was, however, the arrival of the Acronym collab (actually on the Lunar Force 1) in 2015 that got me into re-considering the AF1. Admittedly, there wasn’t that much colour to scream about. It really was the zip that did it for me. Then, when the 07 ‘Just Do It’ pack hit the stores last year and in that orange, and with those tags and labels on the upper (okay, quite Off-White, but I’m not going there), I was sold. Not long after, when the almost too-sweet ‘Easter 18’ pastels emerged, I have to surrender to the futility of resistance.


Nike AF1 P2

Now that colours on sneakers are making the colour wheel look bland, Nike is issuing their classic shoes, such as the AF1, in chromatic variations that make their past colour lives look positively lacking. And it’s the women’s shoes that are leading the way. I first noticed the enticing colour play in the women’s M2K Tekno. And now the ladies’ Af1 is getting an even jazzier chromatic treatment, especially in the ‘Shadow’ release, a remake with so many additional details you’d forget its first life as a shoe for shooting hoops.

According to the brand’s website, “The Nike Air Force 1 Shadow pays homage to the women who are setting an example for the next generation by being forces of change in their community. This sneaker reflects this ethos in its design with double the Swoosh, double the height and double the force.” That sounds to me like double the marketing fluff, but twice the good stuff does not only apply to the branding. Conceptually similar to Sacai X Nike’s Waffle Daybreak (another high-in-demand-low-in-supply sneaks), the AF1 Shadow comes with two eye-stays, two mudguards, two back tabs and two Swooshes, all with one beneath the other like, well, a shadow. Sneaky! And swell, too.

Nike Air Force 1 Shadow, SGD179, is available at Nike flagship store, The Foot Locker, AW Lab, and Left Foot. Photos: Chin Boh Kay