Bi-Coloured For The Back

The classic Prada nylon backpack takes on two solid colours



By Ray Zhang

I am finding love with the backpack. Second time round. The tote was my bag of choice for a long time, but these days, I like the backpack more, as carrying one, strapped over the shoulders and secured close to the vertebrae allows both my hands to be free for my smartphone. I am not one of you dexterous millennials, good at one-hand use, Tik-Toking and Snapchatting and selfie-taking at one go, with one hand.

And the backpack that has caught my attention recently is Prada’s nylon two-tone, in a sort-of-khaki and inky black. Well, actually, a quadri-tone, if you consider the brown Saffiano leather trims and the grey nylon straps. The bag is generously sized, with one massive pocket in front and one on each side. It is made of what to me appears to be Prada’s classic nylon once known as pocone although the brand now calls it a “technical fabric”.

Prada’s backpack in their unmistakable nylon has a special place in my heart. The first time I encountered them was in Paris, some time in the early ’90s. One of my closest friends and I were in the French capital, coincidentally during fashion week. We readied ourselves early one spring morning (despite dancing till just three hours ago) to go to a cafe at the Carrousel du Louvre, perched above where in those days one accessed the show venues, situated inside the bowels of the newer part of the museum.

From our vantage point, we could see the attendees—industry and media folks, none from the celebrity and influencer circus that dominates today—hurrying to the show sites, their rear revealing Prada nylon backpacks on nearly every one of them. We counted, and while I can’t remember the figure now, I do recall that the number was staggering. It was the only bag that mattered.

Miuccia Prada first introduced the pocone in 1984 (some reports say earlier—1979) in the form of the Vela backpack for women, with their double front pockets and leather straps to secure the flaps, but this challenge to the dominance of Hermes’s Birkin didn’t become massively popular (and copied) until around 1990. By then, the Vela, initially available only in black and brown, became a major obsession, with women abandoning their dainty bags for something associated with more tough-and-tumble pursuits.

I bought my first Prada backpack two years after that Paris adventure. I do not know if there is a revival now, but I really like returning to something that has historical heft and is made of a light yet seriously durable fabric and is truly useful. Looking at this nylon and Saffiano two-tone, I see that it looks nothing like the first I owned. It is a lot handsomer, and that is definitely a lure.

Prada nylon and Saffiano two-tone backpack, SGD2,910, is available in stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

So, Chanel Can Now Look Like This!

You know, for sure, times have changed if the house that Coco built, too, succumbs to the anti-fit. Who would have thought of that?



Mao Shan Wang

What would Coco have said; she who had perfected the perfect-fit skirt-suit?  Or Karl Lagerfeld, he who updated it? I don’t know about you, but I can hear the sounds of turning in graves, whatever that sound might sound like, which at present, is a shuffle as regrettable as frightening. I am, of course, referring to Billie Eilish wearing to the Oscars the Chanel pantsuit that appeared to have been designed for Rebel Wilson. As my grandma—pray she isn’t churning in her urn in Jalan Senyum—would have said (or asked, without even a hint of a senyum), “How many chickens are you planning to steal tonight?”

I am all for Ms Eilish establishing her own look and daring to appear at the Grammys not as a sex kitten or goddess, or whatever form that little bits of clothing on such a platform can be evocative of sexy, but her turning luxury threads into luxury rags with deplorable fit is, frankly, getting to me. If all attendees—even ushers and journalists—are expected to wear formal attire, exceptions not accepted, why are emerging stars allowed to go into the event dressed as Auntie Suzie at her last grandson’s wedding in a suit of the wrong size?

Admittedly, Ms Eilish stood out among the other fitted-for-cleavage-to-be-deep stars. There is no denying that she made many look decidedly yesteryear, appearing with as much panache as attendees at a staid affair, such as a state dinner. I can’t say—happily so—she obligingly played by the red carpet rules that had served actresses well for so many, many years. Yet, being different isn’t necessarily being the height of glamour, old or new, traditional or forward. At best, she was the awkward teenager still grappling with the idea of comfortable swish and was to be understood. It was, after all, her first Oscar appearance. Still, why an 18 year old would take inspiration from Hilary Clinton is anyone’s guess, assuming one bothers.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing terrible with wearing a suit. Look at British costume designer Sandy Powell’s (best costume nominee for The Irishman) white double-breasted, with all-over autographs of several “high-profile Hollywood figures”, I read somewhere. She looked good—perhaps with Al Pacino’s and Robert De Niro’s signatures, among many others, the two-piece had more gravitas than that the tweed one in question, randomly affixed with double-C brooches that looked like someone was on a buying spree in Patpong.

Billie Eilish going to the Grammys, then Oscars and from Gucci to Chanel is, to many fans, double upgrades. She probably dressed for them than a statuette she was not meant to get. Yet I don’t consider the sack-like suit spiffy, which ironically, is no longer even required among the men: look at Timothée Chalamet; he could have been on his way to work at the Whole Foods warehouse! There was some style reversal, too. While Ms Eilish had forsaken ball gowns (she probably couldn’t carry herself in one), Billy Porter embraced them, with gusto and naturalness, I should add. Sartorially, there was more than just gender re-definition; in the end, it was about choice. On the red carpet these days, you could choose whatever you wanted to wear. Regrettably, the dubious, too.

Photo: Getty Images

Yawning Is Catching

The Oscars red carpet this year truly caused the head/upper body to react: involuntarily inhaling audibly due to boredom, not tiredness


B Porter Oscar 2020Billy Porter in Giles Deacon. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

By Mao Shan Wang

I rose early this morning, raring to go, not at all my groggy early-hour self. Yet, it became tiring, looking at the tired looks in front of me, an equally tired telecast of ABC’s Oscars Red Carpet Show on Channel 5, which was a surprise since also-tired Mediacorp had not bothered with simultaneous telecast for years. Five gowns later, I was certain where the moda will head. This was not going to be a vintage year for “fashion at the Oscars”. Not all red carpets are created equal. The Oscars has always been up there—firmament level, but this year, I really thought I woke up to People’s Choice Awards!

In the show, Billy Porter was very visible. He was a co-host; he wore a gown like his female counterparts, which was expected, and therein lies the problem for me: predictability. What would have been more striking and unexpected was for him to not wear a dress. Mr Porter, perhaps, unbeknownst to him, has come to reflect the show’s expected visual tedium, even if he had striven to be not-the-usual-actor-in-a-tux. The way he wore what he wore, you’d think that Mr Porter is a red carpet veteran. But he started only wearing gowns at last year’s Academy Awards. Yet, in a very short span, he has become the Cher of his time. Or, as my best friend from KL said more accurately in a text to me, “moved from wow to becoming a black woman”. I would struggle to disagree.

The red carpet’s one-dimensional lameness-as-lure could also be attributed to a noticeable lack of those women who can truly dress, and had made the red carpet deserving of viewership: Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Uma Thurman, and to a lesser but not insignificant degree, Tilda Swinton. These women know how to carry an evening dress and how to move in couture—what the French call (and the Americans have turned into a cliche) je ne sais quoi, or as Carine Roitfeld once described to the Evening Standard, a “way of thinking, of sitting, of crossing the legs, of eating, of everything”.

The situation is compounded by the visible changes in couture—French couture, not whatever it is that they do out there in LA. On the red carpet, almost everyone wears what the American media likes to call “custom”. And French couture is where most turn to. But long gone are the times when stars took a gamble on the red carpet by wearing a designer’s daring—not necessarily, to be sure, outré—creations. I still vividly recall Ms Kidman in John Galliano for Dior in 1997, a chartreuse gown in the silhouette of a cheongsam, so striking it was that the venerable Smithsonian considers it “one of the most influential Oscars dresses of all time”. Sadly, I don’t believe any of the gowns I saw this morning will enjoy the ‘influential’ tag. Many traditional Parisian houses simply do not create clothes that, in the old days, make people dream.

To the mix that is je ne sais quoi, Ms Roitfeld also added “bad taste”. However, dressing for the Oscars has to be the antithesis of that, since actresses, outside of playing imperfect characters, want to look perfect, offering no room for what the truly stylish know could work favourably: a touch of something that is off. Diana Vreeland, a proponent, said, “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” This morning, the dresses on the red carpet at the Oscars, to me, not only showed no taste, they were—simply put—under-seasoned.

One Shoulder/One Strap/One Sleeve Safe Bet

Oscar 2020 One ShoulderClockwise from top-left: Regina King in Versace, Cynthia Erivo in Versace, Charlize Theron in Dior, Kelly Ripa in Christian Siriano, Caitriona Balfe in Valentino, Renee Zellweger in Armani Privé, Salma Hayek-Pinault in Gucci. Photos: source

It seems that baring one arm or one shoulder (not one breast—this is the Oscars!) is the exposure that actresses needed, even with seasoned stars such as Rene Zellweger and Charlize Theron. Ms Zellweger, in Armani Privé, was in a safe bet that every actress thinking they would win adopts. Ms Theron, Dior-clad and proud of her legs, needed us to know she has never abandoned her StairMaster and Veet (or whatever is loved these days). But it is her need to join the one-shoulder club that I found amusing. To achieve the one-deltoid-exposed sexiness, she deliberately dropped the left strap down the side of her arm. Better to coordinate with her stuck-out left leg? More intriguing was Cynthia Erivo: her cleavage was framed by a pair of inverted commas, 45-degrees askew. Breast enhancement has never been this well punctuated.

Lace Always Has Its Place

Oscar 2020 LaceFrom left: Rooney Mara in Alexander McQueen, Gal Godat in Givenchy, Geena Davis in Romona Keveža. Photos: source

You can always count on lace to make evening wear more evening and the red carpet more resplendent, never mind that quite often, the wearers barely escape looking like they are ensnared in a fancy net or are reviving macrame to support a craft school for the delinquent. Rooney Mara, former fashion darling, looked strangely demure in Alexander McQueen’s skin-baring, cut-out bodice, which had pretty going for it rather than sexy—odd choice since I could not get Lisbeth Salander out of my head. Gal Godat, Givenchy-clad, was all wrapped-up on top and frothing at the bottom—odder since I could not get Diana Prince out of my head. As for Geena Davis in bridal wear designer Romona Keveža’s gown, the pandan leaves, even in silk (probably), covering the breasts prevented me from seeing them as anything other than bak chang wrappers.

Something’s Going On From The Waist Down

Oscar 2020 WaistFrom top-left: Krysty Wilson-Cairns in an hitherto unidentified dress, Saoirse Ronan in Gucci, Florence Pugh in Louis Vuitton. Photos: source

What is it about gathers of fabric from just below the belly button that make women feel especially attractive? Anything that flares from the waist—peplum especially—perhaps a fertility symbol? I admit I am ill-informed. The big bow underscoring Krysty Wilson-Cairns waistline has the same appeal as paper that is crushed when one is in a foul mood. Young Saoirse Ronan, once a fairy frock fan, now decided to be Gucci-fied and wears a peplum so huge they looked like an abbreviated skirt she might have saved from her adolescent red carpet days. Fellow cast member of Little Women, Florence Pugh, in an eight-tier Louis Vuitton dress, could have been wearing her character Amy March’s outfit of choice to vex her older sisters if such an outfit were permissible in New England during the American Civil War. I can’t make out the appeal of the poufiness, since even currently loved Disney royalty Elsa and Anna of Arendelle clearly prefer more streamlined silhouettes.

The Allure Of Long Backs

Oscar 2020 Capes & TrainsNatalie Portman in Dior Couture, Brie Larson in Celine, Olivia Colman in Stella McCartney. Photos: source

Sometimes, a little extra covering appears, even if it is mostly superfluous. Natalie Portman concealed her Dior Couture gown with a cape, reportedly embroidered with the names of female film makers—later referred to by Chris Rock as “vaginas”—thought to have been snubbed by the Academy. So discreet was this detail that, frankly, I was none the wiser. Why so imperceptibly? Because you can’t lend your voice too loudly? She could have taken the Sandy Powell route (the costume designer had stars signed her suit), but instead, Ms Portman preferred the not-discernible touches of Dior’s petite mains. Brie Larson’s caped dress by Hedi Slimane for Celine did not have secret names, but there were sequins galore, sharing the same iridescence of a gown I once saw in Mustafa, Seriously. On Olivia Colman, the Stella McCartney (not quite a red carpet name) dress I did find refreshing and, dare I say, modern. The train just wide and long enough that one might think it was a scarf. Maybe it was her hair too—nicely short and opened up a happy face.

The Plain Dull

Oscar 2020 DullGreta Gerwig in Dior, Idina Menzel in J Mendel, Camila Morrone in Carolina Herrera. Photos: source

And there were those who probably tried, but sadly, didn’t look like they did. Greta Gerwig, in Dior but could have been a prom relic, appeared to be in a generous mood: she likely preferred her young Little Women cast to outshine her. Actress/singer Idina Menzel, who sang Into the Unknown from Frozen 2, picked a designer with a surname that rhymes with hers: J Mendel, and the result is a dress that was plonked on her. Camila Morrone, the Argentine-American actress (Dead Wish), reportedly dating Leonardo Dicaprio, knew how to pressure her man: she gave a wedding dress a trial run. Any discerning bride would have relegated the ho-hum piece to the bride’s maid, but Ms Morrone did not, probably thinking that the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lead prefers her looking like a pure, prairie lass.

The Two Ralphs

Oscar 2020 RalphsJanelle Monáe (left) and Lily Aldrige (right), both in Ralph Lauren. Photos: source

And how different they are. Janelle Monáe was little red-riding hood in a galactic silver hooded gown—very modest, while Oscars Red Carpet Show co-host Lily Aldrige had the belle-of-the-ball pick: a low-cut, body-skimming sheath with flounces on one side that opened up at a kick of the leg to show alabaster limb. No, I am not going down that path!

The Stage Hand

Oscar 2020 Stage HandScarlett Johansson in Oscar de la Renta. Photo: source

Is it I, or does Scarlett Johansson look like the woman (women?) who hands out the statuettes to the presenters on stage? Do tell me.

Shift To West

Does the Los Angeles presentation indicate that Tom Ford is going even stronger on Hollywood glamour and downtown-LA relaxed, whatever the point might be?


TF AW 2020 P1

The sweatshirts with the sleeves hacked perhaps tell us that we’re not in New York anymore. We are in a city where high indeed mingles with low, and where Hedi Slimane once designed Saint Laurent. Los Angeles, we have been told, has a lively fashion scene and its own fashion week. Some of the world’s most recognisable and visible models-by-profession come from here: the Jenners and the Hadids, as well as models-by-accident, the Kardashians, for examples. And Tom Ford isn’t going to alienate the people he has come to woo. He knows what LA wants and he churns out what LA wants: high-octane glamour, even if there are sweat tops with ripped armholes. The purposely insouciant needs to pair with impossibly sleek.

Tom Ford chose to show in LA, presumably to take advantange of the A-listers of the entertainment industry, in town for the Oscars. Surprisingly there aren’t that many award-night gowns in the line-up. These are clothes for everyday—streets of the city need such amped-up straightforwardness. These are for dolling up even when there’s no reason to; for believing that gym clothes can be re-purposed when paired with a silk, bias-cut skirt; for days when a fancy blouse seems uncool at parent-teacher meetings and to show that even if there are those women who pick similar garments, they won’t look the same. Mr Ford has infused so much glamour in them that ripped edges are frays of pizzazz.

TF AW 2020 G1TF AW 2020 G2

Glamour also means that you’d need a leopard-print coat, worn with a cropped T-shirt and a pair of drawstring pants. You sense that Mr Ford designs with a fixed idea of what his women are like and what they do in their high life, glamour pervading everything they execute, even just to step out of the house for Jamba Juice. It is an idea that probably isn’t rooted in what actually takes place in wherever—and whenever and for whatever—but sounds/appears nice, just like the “crisp white shirt” that some designers still imagine women love to wear for walking their dog. Mr Ford’s sense of glamour is not quite based on the far more beguiling, the remote, the mysterious, the unconventional. Rather, it hinges on conventions of present-day, #metoo-a-mere-memory Hollywood, on actresses who can’t carry a dress if it is not slashed down or slit up to there.

Being a movie man himself—director no less— and one who, in person, personifies glamour, Mr Ford knows not only what it takes to be glamourous, but, more importantly, what’s necessary to create an illusion of glamour. The evening wear segment (and it is segmented, with a pause and change of tempo to the soundtrack), at a time just before the Oscars, is presumably to lure attendees to the biggest award show of the season. Yet, hardly anything was majorly red-carpet worthy, which is perhaps why we later see no one in Tom Ford on the Oscars Red Carpet Show. These are more after-awards party clothes than what actresses would like to wear to emerge from the limo and sashay down the red carpet and do whatever they need to do before participating in the ceremony. 

TF AW 2020 G3

It is hard to imagine, for example, why anyone would want to slip into that dress on Bella Hadid: a sheer, rhinestoned, halter-neck number oddly fastened with a pair of limp velvet bows, and yanked at the left collar bone to one side, exposing half the breast and leaving the neckline gaping. Or, the bondage dress with a bodice that looks like how raffia might be stored in a disorganised bottom drawer. Or, the lace gown that appears to have been dropped on model Binx Walton from a drone, exposing, a la Dior, the complete set of underclothes. 

Curious still is the need to close the presentation with a wedding dress. Is Mr Ford hoping to cash in on LA’s bridal wear business? When it appeared, the dress and the wearer look like an apparition, and could pass off as the sheet-covered (but glamourous, of course) character in 2017’s A Ghost Story. Or, is it Vera Wang costuming for James Wan? When he took the bow at the end of the show, it is hard to remember what was presented before that, except, perhaps, for those ridiculous feathered drop-earrings. Sixteen years after he quit Gucci, is Tom Ford still an accurate mediator of the collective imagination or taste? Maybe only within the realm of Hollywood. Or, the fueled-by-fantasy sprawl that is Los Angeles.

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/