Happy, Happy New Year!

New Year 2020 SOTD.jpg

It has been a remarkable 2019, even if it has been fairly quiet on this dot we call home. Fashion is increasingly difficult to grasp. So much that is thought to be fashion today wouldn’t be considered so only a couple of years ago. No matter, we try to make sense of them, even if that may ultimately be a senseless thing to do. Here at SOTD, we’d like to thank you for your unwavering support and for continuing to read us, despite the lengths of some of the posts! From the team, have a blessed year ahead.

And a stylish one, too.

Photo: Jim Sim

 

 

 

 

Really, Why Bother?

Some collaborations simply don’t stir, but they can get away with it 

 

19-12-23-22-58-35-147_deco.jpg

By Ray Zhang

My friends know I am a Nike fan. And they were quick to ask me what I thought of Nike’s recent collaboration with Dior (or is that the other way round? Or, Kim Jones’s pairing with the Swoosh). Frankly, think I did not. Why mull over something this bland, even when it’s been trending as madly as the Saddle bag’s pointless return that was bolstered by the fervent posts of taste-lite influencers gifted with one?

Sure, I understand that after a period of ‘dad’ shoes that stretched a little too long (and with more late adopters than for any other trends of recent memory, and with adoption still unabated), designers are keen to return to shoes that are less OTT and closer to the OG. But what does Dior’s take on the Air Jordan 1 High, featured at the Miami show early this month, really say about sneaker trends? Or the direction designers are taking for the new decade?

I had a clue when images of the Adidas X Prada Superstar first appeared. It bothered me that ‘normcore’ might return even when many members of the media, impressed by the collab, tried to convince us that the design distills what is “ultimate luxury”: best material and craftsmanship. Now, plain is plain, no matter how luxurious. What does it all say to me? Why try so hard when it’ll all be landfill feed in no time?

To be honest, I am not expecting a Nike X Undercover’s Daybreak moment. Even Jun Takahashi may not top that again. But did Dior’s reiteration of the Air Jordan 1 High enjoy the briefest or skimpiest moment of re-imagining? Frankly, I do not know since picking Dior grey for the upper and filling the Swoosh with vintage, repeated-monogram print hardly require the frontal cortex to go into overdrive. Or is that just Kim Jones doing an Hedi Slimane?

So if you ask me, can we not encourage brands to be this lazy by succumbing to the hype and opening up our wallets?

Product photo: Nike

(2019) Winter Style 2: The Two-Tone Trench

A classic trench coat that’s not quite

 

Bottega Veneta Trench.jpg

Daniel Lee has done things for Bottega Veneta that women of very specific taste adore, so much so that not only is the maker of the famed intreccio leather now trending madly, its designer is winning more fans after being awarded thrice at this year’s British Fashion Award: Designer of the Year, British Designer of the Year—Womenswear, and Accessories Designer of the Year.

The accolades perhaps explains the “Bottega effect”, accelerating its trickling down to the high street. Mr Lee, former director of ready-to-wear at Céline under Phoebe Philo, has not transformed Bottega Veneta the way Nicolas Ghesquière has for Louis Vuitton, for instance. Yet, the effect is apparent, even palpable. Mr Lee called it by the vague “done-up elegance”, which is, in essence, gently tweaking what is considered classics, such as this single-breasted trench coat.

What is, perhaps, appealing for many women, is that the coat comes in a recognisable form, including details such as epaulettes and cuff straps. Nothing too out there. But the British designer is able to make small adjustments that at one look, one knows this is an outer with a difference. He has simplified the trench by making it single-breasted and by removing the storm flap, even at the back. And instead of knee-length, he has chosen to bring the hem near the calves.

But the most striking feature has to be the bi-coloured, bi-textured effect. The base of the trench coat is in a grayish poly-cotton gabardine, and the top half of the body bonded with black leather (which leaves the underside of the collar untreated, yielding an appreciable two-collar effect). But this is not the horizontal separation of colour (usually split at the waist). Mr Lee, instead, chose a diagonal diversion, which give the trench an appealing duality: part cool-classic, part rebel-tough. In the presence of the abundance of oversized track tops and ever-larger puffers, this is definitely more desirable and spot-on chic.

Bottega Veneta trench coat, SGD6,750, is available to order in stores and online. Photo: Bottega Veneta

 

Unconvincing Convenience

Tokyo Report | From pool to car park and now convenience store, Hiroshi Fujiwara has explored the banal physical space of ‘street’. His latest retail venture could be a stab at the convenience of throwaway fashion and, likely, culture. But is it persuasive enough for us to open our wallets?

 

Conveni Dec 2019 P1

It is tempting to call The Conveni store an excess of cleverness. Its creator, the high priest of Tokyo’s streetwear/design/retail scene, Hiroshi Fujiwara, has put together a shop that’s homage to Japan’s omnipresent konbini (コンビニ), short for convenience store, of which more than 500,000 is reportedly spread across the archipelago. On paper and via media raves, it sounds good, even compelling (although we thought, at first, it sounds more like a play on ‘convent’). But an intentional visit may hit the regret nerve.

A follow-up of the successful and charming pop-up The Park.Ing Ginza, The Conveni feels more like a quick take-up of an available space than a strategic move that results in a enlightened retail post. While The Park.ing Ginza was a much larger space (it did occupy a carpark!) and was truly a spirited jumble of intriguing products, The Conveni is a strikingly smaller enclosure, with variety-lite merchandise that seems to share the same provenance and quality as Wego.

Comveni 2019 P3

As with The Park.ing Ginza, The Conveni is, similarly, sited in the basement of the old, Yoshinobu Ashihara-designed Sony Building at the Sukiyabashi intersection on Harumi-dori. However, it has a new entrance which is at the rear of the change-is-the-only-constant park space which has taken over the vacated spot, interestingly still linked to the electronics brand: Ginza Sony Park. The Conveni is the only retail store in the small underground shopping centre apart from the Kiosk, a stand that offers books, gift items, and Sony-branded merchandise.

Opened this past August, Mr Fujiwara’s latest venture is unmissable as it is konbini-bright in a concrete enclosure that is less enthusiastically lit. From the outside, you do get a sense of its convenience store inspiration, but, unlike the real deal, The Conveni is not bursting with products, nor does it seem inclined to sell as many, or as wide-rangingly. Visually, it takes the konbini idea too literally (non-working fridges to house T-shirts!), and aches to be cool. We aren’t sure what to make of it: the shop feels to us like one of those print shops in Sunshine Plaza—functional, with service that can be indifferent.

Comveni Dec 2019 P2

Inside, it is difficult to find The Conveni compelling. Conceptually, it is interesting. But when the merchandise pale in comparison to what is available in an actual convenience store, such as 7-Eleven (known locally as Seven, where you can find decent, basic garments), then The Conveni’s existence is either a lame expression of irony (now not quite au courant) or a spiritless dip into the concert-merch approach to retail. At best, it is a konbini for souvenirs of your trip to Tokyo, or, specifically, Ginza. And even that, you’re probably better off at Lawson.

Mr Fujiwara, instrumental in Harajuku’s fledgling fashion scene in the ’80s, is very much revered in the west for popularising hip-hop music in Tokyo and for creating what would be a much more ‘elevated’ take on streetwear. His Fragment Design is the go-to multi-disciplinary outfit for collabs if you want to crack the Japanese market or let the design world at large sit up and notice you. The Conveni, without the hype that bolsters the success of Supreme, regrettably, will get only die-hard fans falling over themselves to rush to the store.

The Conveni Store is at 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 5 Chome−3−1. Photos: Jiro Shiratori

High Are His Heels

It’s ironic that men are wearing towering heels when more and more women are abandoning them. Marc Jacobs seems to be leading the way. These may not be ruby red slippers, but they’re not far off

 

Marc Jacobs standing tall(er). Photo: themarcjacobs/instagram

By Carl Chan

It’s been increasingly difficult to make sense of fashion. Actually, I find it harder and harder to find the true meaning in clothes worn today. Or their implications. Or their significance, their value. Fashion has gone beyond fashion and mere self-expression. Fashion can also mean I don’t care about what I wear. Which is in itself fashion.

Ugliness is fashion. Normal is fashion. Barely-clothed is fashion. Modesty is fashion. Tight is fashion. Over-sized is fashion. Anti-fit is fashion. Anything is fashion. Everything is fashion. Mass is fashion. Custom is fashion. High is fashion. Low is fashion. Black is fashion. White is fashion. And every shade between is fashion. Expensive is fashion. Expansive is fashion. Affordable is fashion. Unaffordable is fashion. Exclusive is fashion. Inclusive is fashion. And, increasingly, as well as crucially, no-reference-to-sex is fashion.

When gender is now a non-issue and both sexes are free to express their feminine or masculine sides, or both, in dress (as noun to mean ‘clothing’, not a one-piece that women traditionally wear and now some men find a joy to don), lines are blurred or erased, and I am none the wiser. Sometimes, when one gender veers less towards an article of clothing, an accessory, the other adopts it; them.

Take footwear. Sneakers of every stripe—and swipe—have been the collective disruptor of the industry and consumption choice. Women who once frown on sneakers (especially when the kicks were considered too low until platform running shoes—of course not for running—came along) are now wearing them to the office, even before casual Friday comes acalling. I sit in the MRT train and look at the shod feet of the row of women seated before me, and more often then not, they are in sneakers, or flats or slippers—anything sans heels .

19-12-22-12-13-06-090_deco.jpgMarc Jacob’s best side and shoe. Photo: themarcjacobs/instagram

I sensed the clear-as-Cinderella’s-glass-slippers irony when I recently saw Marc Jacob’s IG post showing him posing in heels. Or, maybe not since Mr Jacobs is a known heel lover and wearer (you could be one and not the other), among other accouterments once mostly associated with women. But the boots he wears of late—Rick Owens, no less—have heels that are high, even by Rupaul’s Drag Race standards. That he could go “hiking” in them is a marvel of nimble footwork, if not supreme self-confidence. Yet this seems to go against what The Wall Street Journal reported a year ago: that “…smart, chic women are abandoning high heels (forever)”.

Of course, they said nothing about the men. To be sure, men wearing heels go back as far as the 15th century, when in Persia, soldiers wore boot-like shoes with elevated heels to help them have a better ‘grip’ on the stirrups. The Greeks may dispute that since their ancients were known to wear kothornis, platforms that could go up to four inches high in stage plays (apparently, the higher the heel, the more important the role). Reportedly, the heel-wearing Persian horsemen brought their footwear with them to Europe, where vain aristocratic males thought that such shoes would make them appear not only taller, but powerful; even formidable. That heels were later very much a part of French fashion in the court of Louis XIV was only outmatched by the luxury fashion consumed then and the constant renewal of the nobility’s wardrobes, creating a culture of couture and consumption that would eventually establish France as a fashion force, outdoing the scene in the sartorially notable Spain, where the style was beginning to look a little sad, strict, and severe.

Fast forward to more relatable times and the first image that comes to the mind (er, my mind) is that of David Bowie. I was not old enough to remember or even have seen the outrageous footwear he had a weakness for, but I do remember that in 1996, Mr Bowie, months to go before he turned 50, wore a pair of black shoes with noticeably high acrylic heels to perform at the Brit Awards of that year. He looked positively elegant and, dare I say, free of the androgyny that had characterised his career in the ’70s. If Mr Bowie could wear heels so not outrageously, and nicely fashionable, surely more men could adopt similarly high footwear?

19-12-22-13-27-07-340_decoYanis Marshall ‘werking’ it in killer heels. Photo: yanismarshall/instagram

In the 2010s, it would take the prominence of queer style (not—to be clear—drag costume) to put the spotlight on high heels for men. I’m not sure exactly when heels became pervasive enough to constitute a trend. Gay men are known to express the extremes in style, from articles of the female wardrobe to garbs that exaggerate already defined musculature. But through creative pursuits such as dance, they have used performance footwear not associated with their sex to elevate their craft, never mind if hairy legs and stilettos may be a tad disconcerting, even if we take in evolving aesthetics. Add another irony to all this: some men actually walk, if not dance, better in them heels than women!

I don’t know when Mr Jacobs took to wearing heels in daily life or a mere walk in the park, but I am aware that, professionally, one Frenchman Yanis Marshall has been wearing heels in his dance performance since, probably, as long as he has been dancing. In fact, heel-wearing among men seems to be restricted to the profession of dance (in particular heel or stiletto dance) until Mr Jacobs took it out to the streets. I am sure there are others too, but the former Louis Vuitton designer has been especially public about his heel habit.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs feels that no one gender actually owns high heels. Maybe he merely wants to accord his favourite shoes a unisex, non-binary status, and live by the increasingly common motto, you can wear whatever you want, just as you can do whatever you want. Surely this is not as simple as underscoring a gay identity? Or, perhaps, very simply, the 1.75m designer just wants to be a little bit taller and, like the noble men of the 18th century, formidable.

Two Of A Kind: Strap Something Onto The Left Torso

It’s no longer enough to carry a messenger bag across the body. You’d also want a “harness bag” or what could be half a garment

 

Yuki Hashimoto vs Dior.jpgLeft: Yuki Hashimoto’s biker jacket half added to a trench coat. Photo: Yuki Hashimoto. Right: A Dior “harness bag” worn over a suit jacket. Photo: Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

Fashion brands are constantly finding something other than what they already make to sell to you. Extra revenue streams do not only come from tempting you with useful wares such as a satchel, but also from creating newness with either former successes or, sometimes, with, frankly, use-limited items to seduce you.

Some bags, of late, fall in the latter category, such as this one-sided front-pack from Dior (right), featured in its recent, still talked-about presentation in Miami. It looks like a Japanese one-shoulder bag, popular with the less fashion-oriented: a flat,single strap (in the case of Dior, and extra one to wear around the waist) case usually worn across the bag until recently, in front. Dior calls its version a “harness bag”, and it’s co-designed with Matthew Williams, the guy behind Alyx and the chest rig craze.

The bag nearly obscures the house’s new-classic “oblique jacket” and is worn almost like half-a-vest. It is hard to imagine how much one can store in it or how much weight one might wish to carry on one side of the torso. Surely, no that much can be carried even by the looks of it, a notebook can sit comfortably in it.

Designers, it seems, are constantly finding newer ways to wear or carry a bag. The bum-bag has its place across the chest and under the belly button. The supermarket bag, now used as a tote, is carried under the arm. The sacoche, inspired by the chest rig, is hung from the neck to rest right on the solar plexus.

Unconventional bag placement on the body could have started—on a smaller scale—with the holster bag that appeared in the first Virgil Abloh men’s collection for Louis Vuitton, designed for Insta-likes than utilitarian value. After all, why does anyone want to wear something that feels like a pistol is within reach?

Perhaps, more compelling is Yuki Hashimoto’s one side of a bike jacket (left) from the autumn/winter 2019 season. It caught our attention because the garment feels more authentic and less a bag trying to be something else. We also like the pairing of what’s essentially an item of rebellion with an article of elegance, even when the trench has roots in the military—a sum which captures Japanese fashion’s predilection for the unexpected, not just the new.

Mr Hashimoto, although a fresh name in the Japanese design scene (the eponymous brand debuted with the spring/summer 2019 collection) has an impressive résumé. He did his overseas studies at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Art after graduating from Kyoto University of Fine Art and Design, and served as design assistant to Raf Simons, Kris Van Ascche, and at Maison Margiela before striking out on his own. His label seems poised to follow compatriots such as Junya Watanabe and Jun Takahashi in leading men’s wear innovation further into the new decade.

For that, we’re looking for creativity beyond carrying bags across every part of the body until there’s none left to explore. Our body deserves better.

This Graphic Tote

The strength of Mlouye bags are in their bold, bold shapes

 

Mlouye Sera Tote P1By Mao Shan Wang

If you’re a bit over Bao Bao bags because of their ubiquity, yet won’t give up on graphically-bold bags with designs rooted in geometry and symmetry (and won’t give in to a certain Pouch), then perhaps Mlouye’s distinctive bags might interest you. I know they have aroused my interest.

The Turkish brand has been enjoying quite a lot of buzz since its founding in 2017, making it to every list of new bag brands to watch, from Forbes to Yahoo News. Their Pandora bag—a lot more conservative in shape if compared to their more striking designs—has been seducing headline writers to pen grabbers such as “Gigi Hadid Made This Bag Sell Out Everywhere”.

I have not one tiny speck of interest in what Ms Hadid wears or not, carries or not, causes sell-outs or not. So her impact on the popularity of the brand has no bearing on my appreciation of Mlouye. I am into shapes, the more unusual and seemingly difficult to construct the better. Mlouye matches that description.

Designer Meb Rure, who “hails from an industrial design background”, according to corporate literature, is reportedly inspired by the architects and interior designers of the Bauhaus, and is a massive fan of the design movement that can be traced to, first, a German art school, then, to an artistic front that greatly influenced modernism. Which perhaps explains Mlouye bags’ tendency to sport the seductive lines of the arms and legs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s chairs with the quirk of Marianne Brandt’s kitchenware!

Mlouye Sera Tote P2Anyway, I am enamoured with this particular bag (above) called the Sera tote (nope, nothing to do with the Singapore Emergency Responder Academy). The form is almost traditional, but look at the controlled geometric folds of the 3-D front. Bao Bao-ists would go quite delirious. The surprise is in the inner top: it comes with suede drawstring closure! The Sera is what Japanese bag makers would call a ‘two-way’. You can carry the handle-strap in your hands or on your forearm. Or, add the supplied shoulder strap and you have a cross-body.

Sustainability is key to Mlouye, and if you are especially particular that the leather used for your satchels is sourced from tanneries with practices that are friendly to the environment, then these bags are for you. The Sera tote is made of Italian calf leather, and the bag feels lighter than it looks. That is, without doubt, a deal maker.

Mlouye bags are available at Pedder on Scotts. The Sera tote (cobalt blue, above), USG395, is available online at mlouye.com. And the best part: they ship to our island for free. Photo: Mlouye

High Hopes

Culture Cartel’s sophomore outing is massive: all three levels of the F1 Pit Building. To better “make Singapore and Southeast Asia a street culture hub”?

 

CC 2019 P1CC 2019 P2.jpgFaçade (top) and the main video installation (below) that greets visitors at the entrance

By Ray Zhang

Given the dismay expressed to me about this year’s Street Superior (also known, confusingly, by its previous name Sole Superior), staged last month at Scape, I didn’t think Culture Cartel would top its debut last year. Street Superior (SS) is the old bird of street/sneaker festivals. Last year’s event at the Pasir Panjang Power Station was what my friend Adele called a “sneakerhead’s wet dream”. It was, to me, a pasar malam of a retail get-together, which looked more like an accidental convention than a bazaar of organised polish. This year, there was again a change of venue, and it was, to many attendees, too much of a jumble, too manic, and too inadequately curated in too crowded a confine. That SS spread over indoor and outdoor spaces slapped it with a too-all-over-the-place perception. It didn’t help that Scape has never been Orchard Road’s high point when it comes to retail, F&B, or the hub of youth culture.

Culture Cartel (CC), however, chose to remain at the F1 Pit Building, taking all of its three massive floors. Sure, this isn’t exactly the heart or most happening part of the city (the nearest MRT station—Promenade—isn’t at its very doorstep), never mind the Singapore Flyer, the ignored centurion keeping watch, but with successful events staged here, such as the recent Boutiques Fair and the Affordable Art Fair, this elongated block is increasingly associated with large-scale shopping events that happily do not commensurate with the predictable blandness offered nearby in the Marina Square/Suntec City stretch or even further north, in Orchard Road. If you drive, there is the added appeal/attraction of free parking.

Mercedes Benz X Coarse installationMercedes Benz X Coarse installation, featuring the CLA Coupé and Noop

Frankly, as I approach the F1 Pit Building after alighting at the nearest bus-stop (Promenade station or opposite The Ritz-Carlton: I prefer the latter), I feared that, with the three floors they have been touting, as opposed to last year’s two, CC may still be a gathering of space fillers than stalls/brands/creators/merch that compel me to look and enjoy and buy. As it turned out, my fear was speculative. What I appreciated about CC last year was how orderly and spacious the fair was. The same can be said of this year’s, but I did not immediately sense (nor did anyone forewarned me) that the exhibitors were not up to scratch.

In fact, this year, I feel things are taken up a notch. Street culture has always been a visual culture. And the space planners have made CC visually engaging. Even exhibitors were in on it, creating within their own spaces, regardless of size, inviting set-ups (imagine, Limited Edt goes camp with Sneaker Gala!). It helps that Culture Cartel has a title sponsor: Mercedes Benz. That its obligatory installations—by LA-based COARSE studio of Mark Landwehr and Sven Waschk, and the Spanish mural artist Ricardo Cavolo—were not the stuff associated with a car driven by a certain demographic well match CC’s aspiring street cred. These had the heart in the right places, so to speak. Even the normally staid Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the conservative DBS Bank were on board, with STB’s Executive Director Jean Ng saying through a media release that CC will “boost Singapore’s appeal as an entertainment and lifestyle events destination”.

Stadium Goods & Limited EdtWith Limited Edt as co-organiser, it is to be expected that our island’s most known ‘indie’ retailer has more than one unmissable spaceLimited Edt @ CCThose into the holy grail of kicks, this Limited Edt corner is glammed-up nirvana

Footwear is, as expected, a draw, but it isn’t a major highlight. It is visibly represented by Reebok, New Balance, Puma, Skechers, and Vans, but no major booth from Adidas or Nike, which is a pity since both brands are unavoidable in any conversation about street style. Their non-participation perhaps share the same reason why you’ll never find Apple in the likes of the IT Show: they just don’t do consumer fairs. The absence of the world’s two largest sneaker brands, however, is more than made up by what’s put out by Limited Edt, once again, co-organiser of Culture Cartel. Other indie re-sellers, including secondhand shoes, give the fair a vendor vibe that regulars of (sneaker or other) cons could relate to and enjoy.

An interesting concept is Ox Street—not a single shoe is for sale. You’d not be wrong to think what’s available is a service. The striking stand is set up to promote the trading e-platform Ox Street, a digital thoroughfare for sellers and buyers of sneakers that are often unavailable at the usual outlets. Its Dutch proprietor Gijs Verheijke was overheard telling an enquirer that “it’s ridiculous to wait a long time for the shoes you want”. For those willing to pay, Mr Verheijke suggests visiting Ox Street to see if there’s the shoe you must have, now. Authenicity is assured as a team of experts will make sure sellers offload the real deal and buyers get to wear the genuine stuff. Authenticated sneakers come with a verification tag. This is like Vestaire Collective or The Real Real for sneakers! With a focus on Asia. In the Ox Street space, two pairs of Nike X Sacai LDV Waffles are encased atop a box-stand. One of them is a fake. If you can guess which is the genuine article, you get to win a pair of shoes, apparently (I’m not sure which). FYI, the said Nike X Sacai kicks is listed on Ox Street for S$865!

CC 2019 P3.jpgThe Artist Series Program brings together different practitioners for a 12-piece collectionMacro ScrutinizationSneaker customiser SBTG’s clothing label Macro Scrutinization 

The fashion offerings, while no Supreme equivalent in the hype stakes, are interesting enough, and dominated by those brands selling T-shirts with an ‘attitude’, which often means a clever phrase—one “Magic Pussy” drew considerable attention (its Indonesian designer told an interested shopper the phrase is based on “an ex-girlfriend!”)—or striking digi-graphics such as those by Malaysian brand Stoned & Co. There is also the Artist Series Program, which allows graphic designers and artists to express the street side of their aesthetic sum. They’re, on a whole, quite good, but I wish the tees come in 100% cotton, rather than Tetoron Cotton (TC) jersey. One thing does stand out to me in a slightly disturbing way: every brand seems to have been produced by the same factory: identical fabrics, identical stitching, and identical shape, or sourced from the same blank canvas that’s not quite the equivalent of Gildan.

A few ‘personalities’ have taken up retail space at CC. One of them is the recently almost-disgraced Preetipls (Preeti Nair), the hip-hop artist, who, together with her brother/collaborator Subhas Nair, was offered “conditional warning” by the police for the “offensive” reactive rap video posted in the wake of one “brownface” ad for E-Pay (an app by NETS), starring a remunerated-to-do-the-job Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew. With the past behind her, Preetipls sat at her stall Preetily, and happily chatted with customers, who seemed more amused by her presence than interested in her black or white T-shirts with not-clever nor subtle messages, such as “YES IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE CHINESE” (yep, full caps and, yep, the one she wore in that video) sitting below another that says—irony probably not intended—美丽 or pretty, her screen moniker in Mandarin!

Preetipls @ CC 2019The hip-hop artiste Preetipls happily manning her stallMay Tan @ CC 2019Surrender’s Mae Tan, too, has set up stall

Another is Mae Tan, whose family is the second owner of the multi-label store Surrender and backer of Christian Dada, as well as distributor of Off-White. Ms Tan has set up a rather large, linear space selling vintage clothing and accessories, as opposed to, one might reasonably expect, old stocks of Surrender and others in her family’s fold. A similarly togged woman, who was earlier seen talking to the stylish proprietor, told a companion that she thinks Ms Tan “is selling her own clothes and her friends’.” Since I didn’t see any men’s wear, so none came from chums such as Jumius Wong—EIC of T mag and the come-back Elle. Provenance aside, I think she has a spirited mix of things that should appeal to those with a weakness for designer duds that ask to be looked at.

I am not sure if fashion is what people come here for. In fact, I doubt clothing is the main draw. Apart from sneaker customiser SBGT’s clothing line Macro Scrutinization (presented in what could be the handsomest space of CC), the other stall that seems to attract the most shoppers is the thought-to-be-defunct Japanese label íxi:z. This was, in the ’80s and ’90s, a rather popular casual wear brand, but according to a CNA Lifestyle report, it will be reborn on our island as a streetwear label. When I spoke to the friendly sales staff, pretending I knew nothing about this strange four alphabets that look like roman numerals, I was told that íxi:z is resurrected by the family who was the former distributor of the brand here. Why bring it back, I asked, but she couldn’t answer. The small collection comprises T-shirts in a few styles, emblazoned with the vintage íxi:z logo and Raf Simons-esque photo-prints.

Gakkin & Noko.jpgJapanese tattoist Gakkin and his daughter NokoTattoo @ CC.jpgTattoo artist at work

Tattoo continues to be a draw at Culture Cartel. I’d be the first to admit I know very little about permanently and decoratively inking skin, but it seems people do come here not only to see the art in action, but also to get something done on themselves. I spoke to a young chap who was contemplating getting “something small, even when my girlfriend is dead against it.” Where might that something small be inked on? “In the centre of my lower back,” he replied. Does that mean you’d have to take off your T-shirt? “If must, okay lah,” he grinned. What if an image of you stripped down to your shorts were circulated online and it went viral, prompting a newspaper headline, such as the recent one about an outcry in our northern neighbour, “Malaysian Minister of Tourism, Art and Culture condemns ‘obscene, half naked’ tattoo expo in Kuala Lumpur”? “Huh?” He didn’t look like he knew what I was asking. “Obscene, meh?” Probably not, I figured—not when Amsterdam-based Japanese tattoo star Gakkin is here with his 10-year-old daughter Noko, dubbed “one of the youngest tattoo prodigies in the world” to show their skill.

Even if not much in Culture Cartel interests you, the three levels of the F1 Pit Building that it occupies are a pleasure to walk through. I can’t say quite enough how the spaciousness of the set-up really makes the visit far more pleasant than, for instance, the packed-to-the-rafters Boutiques Fair of last month, in which, there was virtually no space to kick back with a cup of iced coffee (“sorry, we’re out of ice,” every stall told me). At CC, the Spinelli/The Glenrothes/The 1925 shared lounge, with their Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona-ish chairs, could be a destination itself. In his opening address, Convention Director of Culture Cartel (and the main creator) Jeremy Tan said that his goal is to “make street culture more accessible to people” and “Singapore and Southeast Asia a street culture hub”.

After I left and was crossing the traffic junction on Raffles Avenue to get to Millennia Walk, I saw Patricia Mok—sunglasses almost obscuring her face—approaching. She suddenly stopped before two fellow pedestrians beside me, and asked “you finished shopping, ah?” Yes, was the reply. The actress/comedienne didn’t prolong the chat. “I better hurry” and she dashed off. Jeremy Tan could really be on to something.

Culture Cartel is on till Sunday, 8 December. Admission, SGD24 (for single-day entry pass) is available at the door. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

The Conventional To Covet

Can Chanel ever break from adhering to what’s expected of it?

 

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There have been many firsts for Virginie Viard at Chanel: first resort, first couture, first spring, and, now, first Métier D’art. They should have all been her last. That might sound unkind or like an upbraiding, so let’s say, last of the safe, the dull, the predictable, the repetitive, the fussy, the mind-numbing, the tai-tai poise, the painfully precious, the simulated exuberance, the back-to-the-yore-for-more. But it won’t be.

We’ve come to the not premature conclusion (it’s been four collections) that Ms Viard will not put Chanel on a propulsive trajectory. When Karl Lagerfeld took the reigns in 1983, you could see—or guess—where he was going with the house. He did not only rejuvenate it, he imagined he was Coco, creating a better Chanel than even the originator could imagine possible.

Ms Viard does not need to breathe new life into Chanel. That part of the brand’s journey is done/covered. What for her now is to carry on what has been established. And much has. So she only needs to manage that. And that appears to be what she’s doing. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no Daniel-Lee-at-Bottega-Veneta moment. If you’re a Chanel devotee, such as Anna Wintour, you probably don’t mind the routine rifts on house codes, the reprisal of the Chanel jacket that most know well and brands on the lower end of the market are aping, and the requisite Chanel-ness.

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Chanel is the only French house that continues to bear semblance to what its founder did. Dior is no longer recognisably Dior, nor Balenciaga, nor Saint Laurent, nor Givenchy, nor Valentino, but Chanel still clutches to the entities of the past. Sure, Ms Viard belatedly introduced oversized jackets to appeal to a generation for whom a certainly slouchiness is de rigeur, but much else of the collection stays so away from reinvention that even Gigi Hadid looks like a woman who has made her fortune and is ready to retire to Capri.

To please Chanel junkies, Ms Viard goes back to where it began or where Coco Chanel spent much of her professional and private life in Paris: her apartment on 31 Rue Cambon, home of her famed coromandel screens. The set (who does T-shaped runways anymore?) was co-designed with Soffia Coppola, Marc Jacobs’ BFF and biggest fan. The media calls it a “homecoming”. This could be more than that.

Ms Viard is possibly doing a woman-to-woman succession. And as a woman, she may see herself as a natural choice to continue the Chanel legacy. Going back to Coco Chanel’s most personal space (including the famed spiral staircase—at the top, we imagine, is where she was known to watch the show below) is establishing a direct connect to her. That is fine, but do we really need to celebrate Chanel’s heydays today when so much of what the founder had done already saturates fashion through subsequent decades? Or could this be Ms Viard’s way of turning her nose up at fashion’s incessant quest for newness and re-make.

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Coco Chanel never played it safe. But Virginie Viard does. The former took risks, the latter does not. These are distinctions to be discerned. Whatever may be deemed contrary or sacrilegious to the house had been done by Mr Lagerfeld. Ms Viard is unable to squeeze out any surprises. No more biker jackets to shock, no more scuba wear either, nor denims, nor plastic rain coats, nor sneakers for haute couture. Audacity, to her is a ‘dip-dyed’ leather military-style jackets, charm is Chanel costume jewellery woven into sweater tops as a silhouetted motif, and youth is a jumper with oversized text of Chanel 31 Rue Cambon.

It is understandable that some designs are churned out to appeal to a certain customer, but surely those don’t have to be put on the runway? So many designs stood out for the wrong reasons: their why-again familiarity or how similar some styles are to what you might find in OG, or how they might be ideal costumes for a remake of Valley of the Dolls, with parties set in a particular Mar-A-Lago Estate. Fans defend the collection by pointing out the many hours it took to make some of the pieces. But after the time-consuming effort of the metiers and the collection still looks this way? That’s rather sad. And regrettable indeed.

Photos: Chanel

Dior’s Floridian Escapade

It’s Miami for Dior menwear’s super early autumn/winter 2020 show, and it is neither spice nor vice

 

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It must be a thing with LVMH: associating themselves with USA. They’ve just acquired Tiffany and, last month, Louis Vuitton made a showy appearance to open their state-side factory in Alvarado, Texas. Now, fashion’s favourite son Kim Jones is staging his Dior men’s wear collection for autumn/winter in the unlikely, sun-drenched city of Miami. That does not include other associations with America, such as the appointment of Virgil Abloh as creative director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear and the backing of Rihanna (sure, she’s Barbadian, but also an American citizen) to launch her own RTW, Fenty. It’s uncertain what all this means, or if anything at all.

As noteable: the timing of the Dior show is not only outside of the Paris men’s fashion week calendar, it is also unusually early. On that point, we’re a little confused. Dior’s website dates the show as “Fall 2020”, and Kim Jones himself posted on IG visuals that showed what is possibly invitations that said “Fall 2020”, but some media reports tagged it as “Pre-Fall 2020”. Come January, perhaps we’ll know for sure. In any case, fashion seasons are, of course, getting more confusing, possibly inconsequential: couture in November (Valentino, Beijing), fall drops in June, end-of-season sales in October. But who’s tracking? If fashion is increasingly trans-border, it too can be trans-season.

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Kim Jones’s interpretation of fall is specious as well. Nary a thick coat (sure, they’re mostly cashmere) and plenty of shorts, it isn’t surprising that some thought it to be a pre-season collection, sometimes also known as ‘cruise’, but usually nothing to do with what you might pack for one. Could it be because of its Miami location that Mr Jones conceived a collection that seems to be a nod to the eroding shores of the city, it’s laid-back vibe of the day and hedonistic excess of night? Those running shorts (already explored by Nicholas Ghesquière in the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2018 collection) and printed tops could certainly be worn to any of Miami’s swinging bar and club.

Towards the last part of the show, a model emerges in a T-shirt emblazoned with a thought bubble that says “I want to shock the world with Dior”. Can fashion still shock? Kim Jones is not a known shocker. Among the British designers, he does not have the quirkiness of JW Anderson, not the edge of Craig Green, nor the disquiet of Gareth Pugh. Mr Jones is a commercial designer, who uses hype with the same flair as others using off-placed seams. Often times, his clothes are rather basic, repetitive too, but on the runway, they enjoy the sly advantage of enthusiastic styling.

This season, the models are well kitted out and accessorised. There is a bag on almost every arm (or chest, in the manner of the chest rig)—the Saddle Bag again prominent. Not missing, too, are neck wear, head wear, and even drop earring of cowrie on each left lobe (not right—they’d be too gay, we were told). While this is not a showy collection, there are prints that can be considered fancy to keep things interesting: African-ish patterns of psychedelic fervour matched with animal prints, the usual repeated logos (also scribbles), and florals and checks. And beaded camp shirts (and, yes, camp)! There is nothing stern in the looks, and therein, perhaps, lies the appeal to those who are partial to such affected cheeriness.

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True to form, Mr Jones is playing up the King of Collaboration accolade to the hilt (for Dior, there has already been KAWS and Raymond Pettibone, just to name two). This time, it’s with Shawn Stussy of the surf-wear-turn-streatwear brand Stüssy, which the founder has not been involved with since 1996. It isn’t clear what part he plays in the collaboration, and it requires tremendous scrutiny to discern his touch—reimagining the Dior font and bee. Stüssy’s early offerings were dubbed “Californian lifestyle” clothing, which may have had the same ring as “Calabasas style”, but how does the deeply casual augment Dior’s couture sportswear (or should that be streetwear)?

Apart from a certain feeling that has less to do with a historic city such as Paris than the pleasure-seeking rush of Miami, there is nothing obvious about the duo’s ho-hum output. Point is, the streetwear bubble isn’t going to burst any time soon and the bubble-up effect is still, well, bubbling. The fashion pack is too into it. Dressed-up have found a chum in the casual. About his brand, Mr Stussy said, in 1992, that “everybody calls it surf wear, or urban streetwear, or surf street… I don’t name it, and I don’t name it on purpose.” That must be strategic. Or he wouldn’t end up pairing with Dior.

Photos: (top/screen grab) Dior/(runway) Isidore Montag/gorunway.com

Sasa Shutters Soon

The Hong Kong-based multi-brand beauty store will leave our shores, taking with them their staggering array of sheet masks and to-be-expected all-year discounts

 

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By Mao Shan Wang

They have been here for 22 years and 41 in Hong Kong; their moniker, shorthand for brand-name beauty products uncommonly discounted. The news that spread like a Kalimantan wild fire this morning was that Sasa (莎莎) will close all 22 stores here. After 22 years! Okay, I repeat. Anyway, a friend had messaged me about the announcement, but I already heard it and was not surprised. Since their very first store here in Wisma Atria in 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to China, Causeway Bay-born Sasa has not made a dent in the local beauty retail scene, arousing less interest when Sephora opened 11 years later. Its destiny seemed set even back then.

Reported to be the SAR’s biggest cosmetics retailer, the HKEX-listed (1997) company is more associated with marked–downs on some popular brands than as a forward retailer associated with trending brands such as Fenty Beauty or Drunk Elephant. It’s tempting to assume that the troubles afflicting Hong Kong for the past six months gave cause to Sasa’s leaving the SG market. Although that is likely part of the reasons (Sasa depends mostly on the massive tourist arrivals from China for its success in HK—last year, 70% of total sales, and is understandably now under operating pressure), it may be worth noting that they pulled out of Taiwan—in a similarly surprising move— last year, way before the woes of their home city.

Sasa P2.jpgThe first Sasa store in the basement of a Causeway Bay mall in 1978. Photo: Sasa

Sasa was founded in 1978 by a former parking meter repairman Simon Kwok Siu Ming (郭少明) and his wife Eleanor Law Kwai Chun (羅桂珍), a self-professed business novice. The first store was a modest basement space in a nondescript, now-nobody-knows-nobody-goes building, President Shopping Centre, on Jaffe Road, a back street in Causeway Bay, two blocks behind Sogo Department Store, the belly button of the shopping district considered in this decade to be the world’s most expensive. Sasa then would remind you of Swanston (or Ocean Cosmetics) on the upper levels of People’s Park Food Centre in Chinatown, only smaller.

According to the Kwoks, the missus was, at first, working in the store selling Kanebo cosmetics. When a takeover offer became available, the couple, who had the advantage of living in an apartment above, decided to buy the business after Mrs Kwok was able to secure a loan from her mother. Both born sales people, the Kwoks did so well that in six years, they were able to rent all the shop lots in the basement of President Shopping Centre to house Sasa. In 1989, following a massive rent hike, they decided to move to a street-level space in Causeway Bay for the first time. Today, in this area alone, there are nine Sasa stores, with Sasa Supreme in Leighton Centre being the swankiest.

Sasa P3Sasa on Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui in the mid-1990s. Photo: Sasa

But swank has not really been part of the Sasa image. Sure, through the years they’ve tried cosmetic improvements (that corporate pink), but have never quite shaken off their bargain-basement profile. I remember my first visit, in 1998, to Sasa’s first store in Tsim Sha Tsui.  It was on Granville Road, then a riot of hipster shops and outlets selling overruns, and, past midnight, push-carts galore hawking anything and everything. The store front was flanked by about a metre-and-half-in-length windows that ran parallel and reminded me of shops in the still-seedy Wan Chai of the ’90s. Back then, there weren’t many mainland Chinese tourists. Transactions and inquiries were done over glass-topped counters, back-dropped by, on each side, a wall full of products that never enjoyed an iota of visual merchandising—it was like a medical hall of the past. You were served by indifferent staff who spoke only Cantonese (nope, no putonghua yet). As I was not a customer who would be spending thousands of Hong Kong dollars, the staff paid little attention to me. When they did, they tried to get me into buying complete sets of skincare products. All I wanted was a lip balm (it was winter).

Cut to Wisma Atria in 1997. I remember I was surprised to see Sasa here and had ventured in to see if it was anything like what I had, till then, experienced in Hong Kong—bad, to say the least. As it happened, I did have something I needed to get—a cleanser. A salesgirl was quick to receive me, but her insistence on showing me something when I told her I was only browsing reminded me why I had, after so many years, avoided Sasa in Hong Kong (to be honest, I did visit the stores, but bought nothing and, to be sure, I was not expecting Joyce Beauty). To meet the woman’s eagerness, I told her I was looking for cleansers. She immediately showed me one from Suisse Programme (Sasa is the distributor) and then proceeded to try to sell me four additional products from the brand despite my visible—verbal, too—lack of interest. The store’s pushy ways seem to have remained with them till this day. I often wonder if Eleanor Law Kwai Chun was similarly persistent in her selling.

Sasa P4A typical, packed-to-the-rafters Sasa store today

Despite parent company Sa Sa International Holdings (the name is spelled as two words) achieving the status of a HK$14.7 billion cosmetics empire (2018), selling a staggering 17,000 plus products in Hong Kong, Macau, the major cities in China, Malaysia, and Singapore, Sasa the retail outfit never became an Asian Sephora that it could have been. Although they were initially associated with Japanese brands Kanebo, Kose, and Shiseido, they took a different route in the 2000s, offering cheap Korean brands to which similarly-positioned Chinese and Taiwanese names were added. Sure, they still keep ‘prestige’ Northern European brands such as Methode Swiss, La Colline, Collistar, and Suisse Programme (and Procter & Gamble-owned Japanese skincare line SKII, which once attracted shoppers to Sasa because of the discount offered—reported to be up to 30 percent), but those are usually overshadowed by cheaper offerings strategically placed in the front of the shops. Yet, they are never really considered a bargain store. Prices are not that cheap. In fact, I was often told, some products are better priced in Hong Kong.

I am no business analyst, so I can’t offer a definitive on what went wrong with Sasa. But I can say from my own experience in the stores in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and, of course, here on home turf that Sasa feels like, operationally, they have never left their early years. In the mean time, chain stores such as Mannings and Watson were improving by leaps and bounds. What, for me, continued to be a non-lure is Sasa’s service. It never quite met expectations, especially in the face of e-commerce competition or, worse, Sephora’s very appealing “assisted self-service”. To catch up, they launched Sasa Click & Collect app in June, but that meant, to receive my orders, I would still need to go into the physical store that I want to avoid.

Sasa P5.jpgThe mind-boggling array of sheet masks, now very much associated with Sasa

On-line chatter took the news of Sasa’s closure as opportunity to bitch about the retailer (read the posts on the forum page of hardwarezone.com.sg, for example). Sure, there are always haters in every industry, but not all of the complains are invalid. I am astonished that Sasa has not taken into consideration consumer sentiment in their earlier internal revamp. According to a company statement released to the media, Sasa said, “In order to improve the performance of the Singapore market, the group had taken measures in recent years to restructure the local management team and to enhance store display and product mix with a view to driving sales. Regrettably, the results were far from satisfactory.”

Driving sales without first bringing in customers is, of course, challenging and can show results that are divorced from satisfactory. And enhanced store display that takes after those of stores with five-foot-way frontage (or shops such as Beauty Language) and product mix that is too jumbled to be of appeal to the discerning beauty consumer seem to be stepping away from what is considered shopper-savvy selling. A hodgepodge, of course, can be fun—look at Japan’s largest drugstore chain Matsumoto Kiyoshi or the cooler and younger Cosme Kitchen. I don’t know about you, but stepping into Sasa has been, for me, mostly a bewildering, near headache-inducing affair, whether in Hong Kong or right here.

Photos (except indicated): Zhao Xiangji

Stojo X Starbucks Tumbler Is Back

The handiest multi-use rummer is available again. But not for long

 

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By Jia Yao

They were once available in Starbucks, but I can’t remember how recently or how long ago. Just when I thought there was no chance of seeing them again, Starbucks just released the siren-stamped Stojo collapsible cups. This is possibly one of the niftiest re-usable coffee cup out there, and it beats every single Starbucks-branded beverage container—quite literally—flat!

It is, of course, the right (and, for better or worse, trendy) thing to do when you bring and use your own cup at any of your fave coffee places (I think I need not explain the no-no about single-use plastic ones). But unlike nearly every short or tall bottle, mug, glass, et al now available, including those from competitor Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the Stojo can be flattened. Once capped (to prevent droplets or whatever remains, even ice, from leaking), the cup is no thicker than four slices of bread.

It is made of silicone that is LFGB-Certified (Lebensmittel-und Futtermittelgesetzbuch, the German abbreviation for the Food and Commodities Act, which is a mark of food safety). The polymer is of considerable thickness and is sturdy to hold, whether the content is cold or hot. While the collapsible design makes it truly appealing, it may require some practice to flatten the cup to its ideal flatness, neatly.

The cup comes with its own reusable silicone straw, which I usually do without since it is much easier to just drink from the cup. The straw is inserted into the circular straw opening on the cap, which is also where you sip your coffee if it’s served hot. This hole can be covered with an attached tab that also secures neatly on the opposite side. Included is the polypropylene (thermoplastic, also LFGB-Certified) heat sleeve that, when not used, fits neatly—inverted—under the flattened cup, acting like a stand too.

Stojo, calls it a “cup” (and Starbucks follows), but at 24oz (the size I prefer), it is too gargantuan to be a cup, which, to me, is a lot more petite. That is roughly equivalent to 710ml, which holds more java than a typical 250ml container that we would use at home. So, with this size, you can buy yourself a ‘venti’ iced latte or anything smaller (or taller, if we consider Starbucks’s naming for their sizes).

Bringing your own cup to a Starbucks here will get you fifty cents off the price of the beverage. But if you visit Malaysia often and hope to enjoy discounts (which, is only RM1) on your drinks served in a reusable cup that you brought, you’d need a Starbucks-branded one. They’re extremely strict about this.

While pricey, the Stojo is durable, sits beautifully next to your Surface Pro, and, more importantly, deny one more piece of the hideous clear plastic cup we’ve been using from an over-filled landfill.

Stojo X Starbucks collapsible cup, 24oz and 16oz, SGD39.90 and SGD29.90 respectively, is available in navy, red, olive, yellow, mint, and pastel blue at Starbucks stores. Photo: Jim Sim

FYI, according to earthday.org, the world uses 500 billion disposable plastic cups a year. America alone, Jurrien Swarts, co-founder and CEO of Stojo told the media, uses 58 billion disposable cups annually