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
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).
The 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.
Rows 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.
No 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.
Shoppers 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?”
Merchandise 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!
In 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