Two Of A Kind: Cotton Work Jacket

In the work wear category, which is better: Dior or Uniqlo?


Dior Vs UniqloTwo work-wear-style cotton jackets: Dior (left) for women and (right) Uniqlo X JW Anderson for men

When we saw this Dior jacket in the window of the brand’s Takashimaya Shopping Centre store, we did a double take. Had we not just seen a very similar piece at Uniqlo a short while ago?

It was a day after Uniqlo’s launch of its collaborative line with JW Anderson, the fifth season since its debut in 2017, now including a kid’s capsule for the first time. Described as “British country style”, the result is more Land Girls than To the Manor Born, South Downs than South Bank. Mr Anderson knows what he can do with a mass brand such as Uniqlo. While the Britishness is arguable in the hands of the Japanese, the clothes are an agreeable interpretation of idyllic-meets-high-street. With Uniqlo, Mr Anderson has consistently offered his version of British outerwear (winter coats have been especially appealing), and this men’s cotton work jacket is another to add to the pairing’s repertoire, and continues to expand on Uniqlo’s own contemporary-fit versions.

That Dior needs to produce a jacket of such proletarian provenance for its women’s wear is a little more than mind boggling. Or, that such an item need to be sold alongside the brand’s own signature Bar jacket, is indication that Dior, like many other luxury labels, is studying with palpable seriousness from the playbook of money-churning mass brands. The line between fashion and clothing is blurred to the point that you can’t see if there’s a demarcation in the first place, like the smudgy marks of past and present scribbles on a black board that never benefited from a thorough wipe down. It is apposite to say that Dior, more than ever, is traipsing into the territory that Uniqlo and the like hold court. In this court—of numbing mono-culture, why be different when you can be the same?

Photos: (left) Dior and (right) Uniqlo

No Mood To Shop

The social distance we’re instructed to maintain in public places is now extended to even within the tiniest stores. A good thing, for sure, but how has this transformed or shaken up the experiential approach to retail?


LV @ TSCA quiet and queue-less Louis Vuitton at TSC.

The first thing about going to your favourite malls to shop these days of punishable social-distancing defiance is how you get in. For the many who go by the MRT, entry is not as simple as going past the turnstiles towards the entrance of the mall. That entry point is likely closed, or more precisely, shuttered. You’ll be directed to go via a very specific route, which, contrary to the objective of social distancing, concentrates the usually large number of commuters into narrow passageways. Sometimes, as in exiting Somerset MRT, it’s like meat passing through a sausage casing. Oftentimes, you can feel the breadth of garrulous and piercing office girls in their excited chatter on your bare arms. We sure did.

The ION Orchard side of the Orchard MRT station, for example, is cordoned off. To get to ION Orchard itself, you have to turn right towards the conduit that connects you to the Tangs side of Orchard Road. There is no barricade here. Nor temperature-measuring checkpoint, nor overseas travel declaration. All remains open. In fact, not many malls have set-ups akin to airport arrival gates (except, as far as we’re aware, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands). At ION Orchard, at least on the basement levels, the crowd this Friday afternoon looks uncomfortably healthy, with most seemingly unaware that social distancing is now a must: escalators are still closely packed.

The Shoppes @ Marina Bay SandsOne of the entrances at the Shoppes at Marina Bay: the most secure?Orchard MRTBarricaded Orchard MRT station

It appears that part of the “enhanced” Social-Distancing Regulations—effective from 23:59 yesterday—requires malls and their tenants to control the number of visitors within. They do this by designating specific entrances for visitor access. At ION Orchard, the passageway between Burberry and (the soon to open) new Valentino store, for example, is shut. At Wisma, no side entrances have access either. It is, more or less, the same at Ngee Ann City. And malls all the way to Plaza Singapura. There is also no more easy-access passage between malls. The connector-underpass that links Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City is now closed. It’s the same at 313@Somerset and Orchard Central (interestingly, traffic still flows freely between Orchard Central and Orchard Gateway [OC]).  Even the Orchard Road-facing ginnel between the two bars entry.

It is not immediately obvious that mall operators and store keepers are actually counting the number of visitors. Physically adding up was only seen at 313@Somerset. We ask the security personnel tasked with the counting what the limit is, he replies joyfully, “Actually, I don’t know. When management asks me to stop (letting people in), I stop.” At Uniqlo’s OC flagship, where they are launching the JW Anderson collaboration, only the main entrance from within the mall is opened, and a member of the staff tells us that they will admit “only one hundred shoppers.” While we are nearing Wisma Atria, we receive a message from a reader that tells us a holding area is erected outside the main entrance of Sun Plaza Mall at Sembawang to prevent a choke point at the entrance. We have not see anything close to this in any of the malls on Orchard Road, but at Wisma Atria, an unfriendly guard is clearly controlling people going in.

ION OrchardOne of the rear entrances at ION OrchardWisma AtriaEntry to Wisma Atria is controlled

Not many malls have thermal scanners welcoming you. In fact, none we have visited all afternoon conducts temperature checks. Perhaps that task is left to the discretion of tenants. Store entrances are now manned with staff taking the temperature of those who even merely stand at the doorway. At Tiffany & Co in Takashimaya Shopping Centre (TSC), a chirpy customer skip-walks into the duplex boutique—with only one entrance open—and happily allows the door staff to take his temperature and squirt hand sanitiser to both hands. (In contrast, at the Y3 store, it is serve yourself—the hand sanitiser sits atop an incongruent red metal bar stool.) A few doors away, temperature of shoppers too is taken at Chanel, which, interestingly, is the only store in the whole mall with a queue (not even Louis Vuitton across enjoys this physical hype). Inside, it appears to be business as usual. Quilted bags are—it is now clear—pandemic-proof.

Fendi, which just two days ago, was closed due to the unfortunate case of a staff member contracting COVID-19, is open. Unsurprisingly, it is dead quiet, with not a single staff at the entrance eagerly taking shopper temperature or offering assuring hand sanitiser. Neither is there a single shopper. In contrast, the store at ION Orchard, at the time of our visit, is blessed with three—one making a purchase. Fendi needs to let consumers forget, just as many cannot remember to keep their distance, even today, with notices practically everywhere extolling the need to be at least a metre apart from your neighbour, however unbearable the action.

FendiAn unsettling quiet pervades in FendiChanelChanel: the busiest store in the whole of Takashimaya Shopping Centre

It feels strange walking in a mall during these heightened times. Unnerving too when armed policemen are visibly doing their rounds. To really apprehend those not in line with the social distancing requirements? Perhaps our venturing out may elicit disapproval among stay-at-homers, but social media is not where we experience what to many is the worse health, social, and economic crisis of living memory. Truth be told, guilt does pass through our body when entering stores that see nil shoppers. With no other browser/purchaser within the gleaming spaces that gleam and gleam, there is a sense that even just looking is illicit, which, in turn, seduces not the impulse to buy. There is no shortage of merchandise, but the products, however, alluring (mostly fleeting), clearly do not have the same pull as toilet paper.

Perhaps in luxury stores, operational necessities and the boredom of staff, with drastically fewer customers to sell to, amplify the disconnect with the merchandise. The mood, as in Fendi, is a certain gloom—a harsh non-activity that seems to elevate the funereal aloofness. Under other times, this may be agreeable; compelling reason to buy, too. But with the present pandemic a social and economic leveler, is snob appeal still attracting desire?

Y3Door-side display? At Y-3, they offer a “gentle reminder to sanitise your hands before entering the store”Uniqlo reminderReminders are everywhere, even at the entrance of dressing rooms, such as this crudely pasted at Uniqlo

Is it any different at fast fashion stores? At H&M’s flagship on Grange Road, only one of the four glass doors that is the main entrance is left ajar. Behind them, two uniformed lasses, hands folded, mans the sole access. Walk straight in and none of them pays any attention to you. Inside, the store is a pale shadow of its early years. Age seems to have caught up, ironic considering that H&M peddles fashion that appeals to the mostly young, even the pre-pubescent, who are now shopping/browsing with some relish, unconcerned with the distancing that Orchard Road is slowly, reluctantly waking up to. Here, time seems to have stood very still, unstirred by the near-tumult outside that has been described as a pandemic. Maybe, like Chanel handbags, H&M apparel has built-in resistance to the ravages of disease.

It is surprisingly rather quiet at the Uniqlo flagship in Orchard Central, which, this month alone, has launched three collaborations: Marimekko, Anna Sui, and JW Anderson. Yet, the three-storey store is not packing fans in. It’s possible that the crowd control at the one available entrance is deterring even major fans. Like at luxury stores, it is strangely uncomfortable, even during the lunch hour, to be among a handful of shoppers in such an expanse of space. At some point, we are sure there are more mannequins than people. The massive amount of clothes is, for once, overwhelming, which arouses the thought: Do we really need more clothes?

Uniqlo 1Temperature taking minus the queue at Uniqlo, Orchard CentralUniqlo 2Temperature taking and the queue at Uniqlo, ION Orchard

In contrast to the entry-point control of shopper numbers elsewhere, local brands have mostly kept their doors wide, wide open. There are no belt barriers, no greeters, or hand santisers at the now-quiet Love, Bonito. Ditto for quieter still The Editors Market, at the other end of 313@Somerset. Opposite, at the ever-compliant Design Orchard, belt barriers after a large poster gleefully announcing that “You’re in a safe space!”, channels you to a waiting sales staff who hands you a small square card. The number on ours read 1. A quick glance at the store confirms what we think the number means: there are no other customer. Like their compatriot brands, the more upscale In Good Company at ION Orchard, too, has their doors wide ajar. Entry is a breeze—unhindered and un-greeted.

While we are able to just walk into apparel stores, it is not necessarily the same at beauty shops. Back at ION Orchard, Sephora remains, more or less, business as usual—shoppers, as it is, are still admitted. But elsewhere, more is asked from you other than your body temperature. At L’Occitane, a group of women has gathered at the front of the store, which was effectively closed. A staff member is explaining to the irate customers what they have to do. As she is not easily understood, we take to reading a large poster placed to block the already closed door. As stated in the copy, the store can admit “a maximum of 5 people (including staff)”. Entry is only allowed when customers have filled the “contact tracing (sic) E-form”. A QR code is provided. One middle-aged woman is heard uttering in disbelief to herself, “just to buy a body lotion?”

Chanel ChanceThe newly opened Chanel Chance Studio at ION Orchard now faces the challenge of drawing a crowdKiehl'sAt Kiehl’s, customers are served from behind a belt-off store

One floor below, at Chanel’s not-the-usual, pastel-pretty Chance Studio, opened just this month, stanchion and velvet rope tell us from afar that entry is not going to be straight forward. As we approach, a young man cuts into our path and attempts to go right in, but is swiftly halted by the hawk-eyed male staff. He points to a dark sign. The guy reads it, nods in understanding and leaves. We take a closer look. “The well-being of our clients, teams & community,” it begins (and maintaining full-caps throughout), “is our priority”, going on to request the filling up of the said E-form. Now, buying a lipstick or a perfume must be preceded by electronic paper work, which makes picking up a Chanel bag a lot breezier.

Further down, at Kiehl’s, a Band Aid-wide of a store, belt barriers deny customers entry. Shoppers make purchases from in front of the hindrance. There is no more touch and try, just as it is at all cosmetic counters. “How long will all this be in place,” a man loudly asks his female companion on the escalator going up to level one, social distancing disregarded. “How long do you think the virus will be around?” she snaps. Shopping in Orchard Road has long ceased to be enjoyable. Now that at every turn, we need procedures to ensure peace of mind, tedium inevitably ensues. In a quick but vivid moment, we see the rarity of unbridled gratification contrast against the pandemic of serious infection. Retail therapy is no therapy after all.

Update (28 March 2020, 11.30am): According to news reports, the authorities have “urged” people to “defer non-essential trips to the mall”.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

First Strike

Just as we were learning that the SG authorities will limit the gathering outside of school and work to 10 people, and that entertainment spots are to close, we were brought to the attention of luxury retail’s first victim of the COVID-19 pandemic


Toshin Development Sg mail to tenant 24 Mar 2020

This notice was brought to our attention this afternoon. The communique was signed by Toshin Development Singapore’s general manager Shuichi Hidaka. It informed tenants of the 27-year-old Takashimaya Shopping Centre that a case of COVID-19 was confirmed and “that an employee at one of the stores at Level 1 had contracted the virus”.

Although the tenant was not identified in the mail, news had spread among the mall’s retail personnel after lunch that a female staffer at Fendi (situated on level 1) had tested positive for COVID-19 today. SOTD has not been able to independently established the veracity of this mail or what’s been shared on social media, but readers who had visited Takashimaya Shopping Centre earlier, told us that Fendi, refurbished just three years ago, was closed, the area around it was cordoned off, and a large cleaning crew was “hard at work”.

20-03-25-16-09-43-340_decoA discreet, surprisingly weak-resolution notice in a small font size next to the closed main door of Fendi. No mention of an infected staff. Photo: Gwen Goh

Toshin Development Singapore, the Japanese-owned company that manages the spaces outside Takashimaya Department Store—from basement 2 to level 4—on which the 130-plus specialty and luxury boutiques are spread, assured tenants that the building’s Emergency Response Team “was immediately activated to disinfect all affected common areas in Takashimaya Shopping Centre and Ngee Ann City (NAC).”

While that is reassuring and an appreciable rapid response, it has not stopped alarmists from quickly telling the public: “Pls do not meet any of their staff for now till they have completed their 14 days quarantine (sic).” Or, worse, “Try to Avoid NAC, just in case.” Luxury/fashion retail is now a veritable ghost town. Persistent scare-mongering isn’t going to help.

Update (22.30): Fendi has issued a statement to confirm that an employee has tested positive, and the six colleagues in the store will be on a 14-day isolation. The Takashimaya Shopping Centre store will be closed until 26 March 2020

The Dragon Does Auntie

Is looking like your mother’s sister the next big thing for guys?



By Ray Zhang

Amid news that Big Bang has renewed their contract with YG Entertainment, I came across, for the second time, this photo of the band’s lead singer G Dragon. I look at his make-up and get-up, and I found myself wondering why.

Of late, in fact, I have been seeing some strange looks adopted by my fellow men. At first it was the handbags. These clearly refute the prefix that once made fashionable carryalls acceptable for guys to be seen with: man. From the Hermes Roulis to the Loewe Heel to the Jacquemus Le Petit Chiquito to the Dior Saddle, I’ve seen them strapped on male shoulders and bobbing on male hips. Sure, Dior now has saddle bags for men and, prior, Fendi has made masculine the Baguette, but these sacs can’t escape their handbag genesis.

Then came the clothes. I am not referring to unisex garb with strong feminine vibes or even skirts or fake skirts—skorts. These days, it appears that men are not only raiding their sisters’ closet, or their wives’ (which the observant could tell is so last decade—but early adopters do go back to the ’80s, such as Stanley Zbornak, Dorothy’s former husband in the Golden Girls), but also helping themselves to a wealthy aunt’s expensive, barely-visited  wardrobe.

When I came across this photo last month of G Dragon expressing his fashionable self, I thought the poor guy was suffering from some post-army traumatic-stress condition (he completed his national service last October). Then I saw it again recently, and I sensed he’s communicating something. He was at the Chanel couture show in late January, and was photographed wearing Chanel in a way old ladies of means in the ’70s might have. Call my thinking outmoded—and this is where I get incendiary—but this look is frumpy. I’m unsure of the silhouette too. Could you have guessed that a (presumably) trained soldier inhabited these matronly clothes?

G Dragon in Chanel is, of course, no longer news. By now a young man in clothes once associated with women of a certain age is as much a dichotomy as guys in make-up. Apparently joining all that is looking dowdy. Back in 2017, Big Bang’s lead singer was a model for the Gabrielle, a bag that was designed to be a ‘classic’ and breathed, in all honesty, moneyed matriarch. But I didn’t think he’d go this far. I can’t decide if this was a mimic of the entrants of Golden Age Talentime (黄金年华之斗歌竞艺) or just an embodiment of Chanel’s materteral aplomb in the springtime of life.

Photo: Getty Images

Fashion In The Time Of Coronavirus

Now, we’re really all dressed up, with nowhere to go. And all the dresses out there, with so few to buy


20-03-13-17-38-23-503_decoWith the nearby casino traffic affected, the usually busy-even-in-the-weekday Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is eerily quiet on a Friday afternoon

By Mao Shan Wang

The activation of DORSON Orange on the 7th of February, more than a month ago, have put a damper (limited?) on many people’s social life, as well as on the fashion retail front. But despite the gloomy news all around, what’s arrived at stores still need to be communicated and made known to those whose job or inclination is to share such information. I continue to receive communiqué from various brands or attendant PR agencies. While this is positive indication that work is uninterrupted (and a good thing), how some communicate, even behind the security of a PC monitor, makes me wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic is really affecting us in a way that should have tempered our salutary vigour.

“Hope you are doing amazing!” came the opening sentence of one e-mail I received recently, with the tall, unmissable exclamation, to be clear, the sender’s. Amazing is when people, despite the potential peril of the present, go about their lives bravely and quietly, without succumbing to panic and without inflicting inconvenience or threat, or harm onto others. Watching the news and learning about the lock down of, not an entire city or an entire province, but a whole country, or worrying that even just going to work may mean coming home with an unwelcome guest that would be detrimental to the health of my aged parents, is not. I am, regretfully, far from “doing amazing”.

If we’re discouraged to shake hands, even air-kiss, it is odd that we’re digitally communicating as if we’re giving the equivalent of a BFF hug. The plasticky exchanges and suspect chumminess the fashion industry has a weakness for seem unable to be toned down in their enthusiasm, even during sombre, health-challenging times. But there are extremes, too. I have been receiving e-mails that open without the sender asking how I am. They go straight to the crux of the message or missive. Better curt than affected? Only one in the entire month of February came with the welcome “I hope this email finds you well”.

20-03-13-18-52-49-507_decoThe Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands as quiet as a church on non-service days

Is it daft to broach the subject of fashion when the world has more dire concerns, when headlines are as grim as FT’s “Fashion designers hit by coronavirus outbreak”, when Nike (among others, in fact) will “temporarily close” their stores in the US, Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? It is undoubtedly not the best of times to ponder what we will wear this weekend or buy. The thing is, would we be doing anything when the weekend comes? Is it not better to ensconce ourselves at home, even when our city is not in a state of lock down or when we have not chosen a hermetic life? Or is social distancing too distant a concept to adopt when somewhere out there, there are those having fun, drinking with buddies, singing with karaoke junkies, and discarding used masks—when they do wear one—on public grounds, on the way home?

Social media has been showing me that it’s frighteningly quiet in the malls, even when there is no call for stores to close. Friends in retail, too, have painted the same picture, sometimes even more bleakly. To see that for myself and to view racks full of untouched clothes, I thought an expedition to a mall or two might be the thing to embark on this uneventful Friday afternoon. Working the legs has always been more enjoyable to me than activating the fingers. In any case, if crowds—or lines—are not to be encountered, I thought, perhaps it would be a good time to experience browsing without the intrusive fervour of the compulsive fashion shopper.

20-03-13-19-34-01-647_decoTwo floors of Gucci without a single shopper inside

Yet, the appeal of going out is, for me, diminished to the point that thinking about it does not impel me to want to go further than the nearest Starbucks, which, for reasons even the staff is unable to elucidate, is always full. To see for myself the near-vacant malls, perhaps just once, may open my eyes to something I had not witness before. During the SARS outbreak of 2003, also the year we were introduced to Fusionpolis, NEWater, and SingPass, retail was hit like a tsunami. Many malls, I now remember—especially those in Orchard Road—were quieter than a church on non-mass days. It didn’t help, too, that two months earlier GST was raised from 3% to 4%, which may have additionally dampened the mood to spend. Somehow, the visible quiet made me feel safe—foolishly, now that I think back. It was social distancing at work, but, at that time, we didn’t know it as that.

This afternoon, around five, I took the train (that itself deserves its own story for another day) to The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands—usually a place with a healthy traffic, even on a weekday. I should state that prior to my MRT train ride to MBS, I did not have any respiratory symptom that would suggest I could be case number _ _ _ nor did I leave this island in the past two weeks. From the Bayfront station turnstiles, thermal scanning machine behind the cordoned-off entrance of the mall can be clearly seen. What you see is not dissimilar from now-controlled entry points of hospitals. However, no declaration form needs to be filled; visitors just walk in. A table is placed behind the stanchions, and is manned by a sole security personnel. There is nothing on the table. Not a single dispenser of hand-sanitiser is available, nor, in fact, anywhere in the complex that houses a reported 93,000 m2 of retail space. Perhaps the expected low foot-fall doesn’t require the precaution, or additional expense.

20-03-14-17-17-05-568_decoDeathly quiet across all floors of the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

What has been said about malls is true here. There is traffic, but it is barely discernible; people are possibly going to or getting off work. The quiet surrounding would normally be conducive to shopping, but this time, it’s unnerving. It is the deathly stillness, the proverbial ghost town. I can’t make out if music is piped into the stores or the mall itself. Perhaps it’s how audible the unnatural tranquility is that mood music fails at its job. At the information counter, I stop to ask about the show times of Spectra, the promenade “light and water show” that is a visitor draw, thinking I might be able to have the entire display to myself, but I was told the show is “cancelled temporarily for safety reasons”. Is the traffic really bad, I ask. “Yes,” says the ebullient counter staff, “It’s been really quiet since February.” I pursue: Is it really this—pointing to what’s before us— bad? “Bad,” she repeats after me emphatically, “Really bad.”

It doesn’t take long to see money hasn’t been spent. My first stop was Gucci. Three masked salespersons, initially talking among themselves, chorus a “hello” as I appear, but have not stepped into the store. When I do, two of them trail me. Feeling watched and sized up, I leave as quickly as I entered. Next, Dior, where the equally empty store has the welcome air of a detention centre, the staff is indifferent to my presence. At Louis Vuitton, where there is no queue or a door person with an iPad, the store is not vacant, but the few customers browsing are like a live demo of what keeping a 2-metre distance with others is like (actually the separation is wider here. I am nearer to mannequins than people). At zero-customer Prada, a helpful staff offers to show me what has recently arrived as I strain to hear him speak behind a surgical mask. When I leave, the guy thanks me and his colleague follows with, “please come again.”

That sounds more like an urging than a farewell. What’s noticeable is how cheerless sales staff have generally become. It does not help that the mask in that unfriendly green that they wear can’t reveal a semblance of a smile. Eyes, not trained to communicate, are blank stares. At Saint Laurent, a pair of peepers look at me as if to say, “What are you doing here when no one is? Just as in-store sales have plummeted, so has geniality. Is being glum a national malaise or natural result of a global pandemic?

20-03-16-10-53-46-061_decoThe strange and uneasy hush at Dior

From outside Louis Vuitton, I can hear a buzz coming from below me, as if people are in some kind of group activity that encourages glee. That would be a contrast to the stillness up here. I stand behind the glass balustrade—not touching—and look down into the atrium. The outside dining area of TWG Tea Salon comes into view. It is busy—no different from TWGs in other malls. I see that all, but one table are occupied. No obvious distancing here: tables are spaced apart in what to me is the usual proximity, which is really almost edge to edge. The interaction between service staff and customers are intimate, so is that between the tea drinkers. A couple is sharing a cake; the woman feeding the man.

It is usually easy to spot the trendy at The Shoppes at MBS. Young Chinese tourists are particularly noticeable, in their logo-laden garb, hopping from store to store, in their designer sneaker-aided gait. The first time I saw someone in a pair of Balenciaga Triple S, it was here—the wearer, I later learn is an Indonesian, who is also a big spender at Dior. This afternoon (by now, early evening), trendy and trending looks are as visible as a certain contagion. Have the clothes and bags and shoes been left on the racks and shelves—now full and seemingly untouched, as I am presently witnessing, with a disconcerting measure of disbelief? Two Indonesians emerging from the casino interrupt my thoughts. One of them is audible in his surprise (or disappointment, I can’t say for certain): “Di dalam sunyi sekali (It’s so quiet inside)!”

20-03-16-17-50-28-461_deco20-03-16-17-53-27-232_decoAll quiet on the LVMH front

I am off to ION Orchard, a mall many consider to be the belly button of Orchard Road retail. It’s all very welcoming here: no thermal scanners and no hand sanitisers, and no buzz-free foreboding. Visitors are received with wide-open entryways, and traffic appears healthy—at least outside the MRT station on B2 (the entrance to Wisma Atria on the other side is just as bustling). Once on the first floor, the murmur of foot traffic and attendant chatter is barely discernible. I thought I might see some browsers here, if not spenders, but the shopper-lite stores tell me stock rooms are probably a little too full now. Of the few who are walking past store fronts, I see none with a shopping bag. Money, I guess, isn’t spent here too.

The first sight before me is the Gucci Psychedelic pop-up in the atrium, showcasing their new take on the double-G logo. The merchandise is totally devoid of human company, except a clearly bored sales staff, who explains haltingly that the colourful monogram is inspired by “’60s disco” (“I see” is my amused reply). I take a peak at Burberry: inside, as still as a library—when it’s closed. Walking in might mean the spotlight is on me, another with no desire to buy. That, even from the window, is the case with me when it comes to this British brand. I then walk into sleepy Bottega Veneta. The numerous Pouches, reposed, stare at me like morning-after pillows.

20-03-16-17-51-55-823_decoTotally un-visited Burberry

Over at Louis Vuitton, there is no line, nor any queue-enforcement barrier. I stand at the entrance, but the one attendant (or security personnel?) pays no attention to my occupying the hallowed space. He does not ask if I am here to see someone; he does not whip out an iPad to ask me to show him what it is I wish to buy; he does not ask me to join a queue. I walk in and then I walk out. I am not sure if they allow anyone without a purchase in mind to enter the gleaming space. Next door at Dior, the reception is a little warmer. A girl with an accent I better not place tries to impress me with what has “just arrived”. And shows me the Oblique sneakers when she caught me spying them. “Our best sellers,” she tells me. You have stock? “Oh, yes! What size you want?”

I have never been a sole shopper in a store in my entire adult shopping life. This must be what it feels like when the sultan of Brunei—or any member of his family—requires undivided attention during the time spent within brick and mortar confines to buy something, anything. Nor have I ever seen racks so packed with clothing—an optic, if I am not wrong, discouraged in luxury retail—that the three-finger-width spacing between hangers (a typical visual merchandising requirement) not only do not apply, they cannot apply. The clothes are so tightly packed in some stores that they make me feel sorry for the rack or rail that has to bear the irregular, possibly illegal, weight. Perhaps more unsettling is not being able to really see the full countenance (or, conversely, the scowl) of the person(s) serving me as surgical masks become de rigueur. Might this be the prelude to the end of service with a smile?

20-03-18-00-31-31-945_decoThe lure-none Gucci pop-up in the atrium of  ION Orchard

Not only is there a drop in the number of shoppers, there’s a dearth in the presence of the fashionably togged. I need to remind myself that when there are fewer and fewer social events, there is less compulsion to go full-fashion. An acquaintance who attends parties that lure socialites in large numbers revealed to me that there are hardly any of those these days, not even luncheons. Someone said to me that a journalist she knows told her that media invites to launches and such have virtually dried up. One sales manager lamented to me that since she’s not seeing clients anymore (they prefer not to meet her, she believes), there is no motivation to dressed her best just to go into a gloomy office.

Increasingly, the call in many countries is for citizens to stay at home. And some have to not by choice. The editor-in-chief of 品 (Pin) magazine Grace Lee Jiajing was issued a 14-day stay-home notice (not quarantine, she made known the difference) upon her return from Milan and Paris following the respective fashion weeks. She relates her work-from-home experience via blog posts on the digital issue of 品. She had initially thought that this arrangement might free her from the morning ritual of “how to dress in a way that won’t be considered to be of no pin (taste)”. But soon, she found herself “wearing Comme des Garçons at home to work”. Whether that was a result of boredom or a moment of vanity, she did not say, except that “even when no one sees her, she has to be fashionable and live interestingly.” 👍🏼 and 赞. To quote Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera, to which I owe the title of this post, “The world is divided into those who screw and those who do not.”

Photos: Galerie Gombak

Guys Get Theirs Too

The Dior ‘Saddle’ bag was John Galliano’s contribution to the era of ‘It’ bags. ‘It’, 20 years later, it still is, but now, conversely, among men


Dior Saddle Bag

By Ray Zhang

It was during the Lunar New Year holiday season that the Dior Saddle bag for men was brought into sharp focus for me. I was at a dinner party whose host had just moved into a smallish Geylang apartment, designed to be achingly modern, with a massive marble dinner table that was the talking point, until someone spotted a Saddle, lying lifeless like dismounted saddlery, on an ottoman. One uninitiated guest asked, no one in particular, what it was. The owner of the bag, a middle-aged guy with a serious weakness for luxury bags, lifted the subject like a trophy and said, “it’s a Saddle”.

“What’s a Saddle?”

“It’s a Dior bag”.

“Oh. For guys?”

Never mind the last redundant question. A bag once the domain of women is now arousing curiosity and adoption, among—not a few—men. The It bag has crossed into men’s wear, and by most accounts and observation on the street, acquisition rate is high (unfortunately, figures are not available, but one ION Orchard store clerk told me emphatically that the Saddle is their “best seller”). I’d like to see what it’s like strapped on the body, but the owner of the said bag held on to it as a clutch.

Dior Saddle Bag 2

The Saddle bag made its runway appearance in the third year of John Galliano’s media-dominating stewardship of Dior, during the spring/summer 2000 presentation of punk cowgirls leaving some bordello for a purposeful stride into the sunset. The bags, when they were launched was an instant hit and enjoyed a second wave of popularity after Carrie Bradshaw carried it in Sex and the City. When the trendiness of the Saddle eventually left the Dior stable, its production run ended too. But as with many ‘iconic’ fashion accessories, they were eagerly rediscovered by generation influencer. Not surprising, as many Saddles were ready to be picked up in vintage shops around the globe and on-line at collectible stores such as The Real Real. Then in 2018, Dior did the unforeseeable: it permitted Maria Grazia Chiuri to bring the Saddle back for a ride. Aided by freebies to KOLs who, naturally, IG-ed it, the Saddle was extolled as “an instant hit”.

A year later, Kim Jones re-imagined the Saddle for men. What was once a bag secured under the armpit, with thumb hooked unto the D-shaped charm that was fastened to a front-facing strap—like a stirrup, the guy’s butched-up version is a bum bag wannabe with a broad, single strap that sports a chunky Matthew Williams-design clasp. Like the original, the men’s Saddle is not a terribly capacious bag. Bulky items such as battery charger or even a fat wallet stored within may cause bumps to appear on what should be a flat case. Think not gym gear. When I did eventually strap the Saddle on in a Dior store, I was tempted to re-christen it Holster. In the end, its victim-encouraging trendiness immediately— and totally—discouraged adoption.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

They Stick Out, Don’t They?

More and more, heels now come as shelves


TheSoloistXConverse vs SacaiXNikeProduct shots: (left) Converse and (right) Nike

By Ray Zhang

Two sneakers are launched this week, and both share a common feature: the heel sticks out. Or, to be more precise, the upper half of the rear mid-sole protrudes. Like a shelf. Or, like the mountain ledge of Trolltunga in Norway. Okay, I’m off track. Running shoe lingo has it as “flared heels”. I don’t know about you, but when heels jut out like that, they don’t increase the shoe’s appeal. Yet, this seems to be the trend. Maybe it’s rather like jacket trends: shoulders stretch to there. Anyway, succumbing to my limited knowledge, I checked with my friends who run and an instructor at my gym, and they say these stick-out points may delight the fashionista, but they do nothing for the athlete. That’s what I thought.

The two kicks with similar heels are the Converse X TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX (yes, a mouthful) and the highly anticipated Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle, which, you would have guessed, is sold out as soon as it’s launched, which is today (my fellow SOTD contributor Shu Xie tried scoring a pair for more than 2 hours since midnight, but came up nought). Other similarities, I should, perhaps, add: both are by Japanese brands collaborating with shoes from the same American company: Nike. Could that explain the similarities in heel detail?

20-03-11-15-40-40-263_decoLeft: Converse X TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX. Right: Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle. Product photos: Converse and Nike respectively

Between the two, I choose the TakahiromiyashitaTheSoloist’s take on the Converse, if only because the said protrusion is shallower in depth. The Sacai remake of LDV Waffle scores less because it is basically a reissue of the “reconstruction”—hybrid, actually—of the Nike classics LDV and Waffle Racer, now with nylon uppers. Both the All Star Disrupt CX and the LDV waffle are, in terms of silhouette, fetching, but since the Sacai became the most hyped and desired and, as a consequence, the most jelak shoe of last year, another release doesn’t send my pulse racing. And not that back corridor. Despite its peplum rear, the All Star Disrupt CX looks sleek, with the clever declaration “I am the Soloist. Since 2010” on the lateral and “Hello! I am the Soloist. Since 2010” on the medial. Admittedly, I have a weakness for text.

The big-welcome-to-MRT-commuters-to-step-on-your-heel sneaker is, to be sure, not a new trend. If I remember correctly (nowadays, there are, of course, other more important things to remember, such as regularly wash your hands and do not touch any part of your face!), Rick Owens was the earliest to introduce them protrusions in his collaboration with Adidas. At first, it was the Runner, introduced way back in the spring of 2014. The shoe with the split mid-sole has a rear that looks like a pebble is affixed to trip the person who walks too closely to you. And then later that year, the Tech Runner, with a mid-sole that’s a catamaran. Was it not asking other shod feet to come onboard?

Adidas X Rick Owebs Tech Runner 2014Adidas X Rick Owens Tech Runner. Photo: Adidas

Truth be told, I have never tried any of the Adidas X Rick Owens Runners or the Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle. But I have worn kicks with kindred soles. Okay, not as prominent as those two out now. I once took the Nike React Infinity Run for a stroll in a mall, and even when the amble required no heel striking (unlike when you run), I could feel something back there. As I got off the MRT train on my way home, a corpulent woman stepped on the left heel and as I moved forward, the shoe came off. It all happened in a split second. When I turned back to look, another dozen passengers had stepped on that footless sneak, isolated on the station platform.

I thought my feet would be less of an obstacle if I wore the Nike Vapor Street Peg SP, with less of a flared heel (but flares, no less). Again, the rear attracted those who like to pull up to the bumper. Toe box on mid-sole: could that be some kind of Tinder pick up line? Fed up, I finally put the Nike X A Cold Wall Zoom Vomero 5 to the test. Now with this pair, it was not so much a protruding mid-sole that was the problem. What the shoe came with was an AirPod case for the heel counter! Walking down a staircase was hard because I kept scraping against what was the front side of the steps. When I made it to the concrete pavement, I felt a smack: someone had kicked my heaving heel!

Converse x TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist All Star Disrupt CX, SGD200, is available from 12 March at Club 21 and DSMS. Nike X Sacai LDV Waffle, SGD239, was available at DSMS, and sold out

PFW: The Japanese Brands Not Comme des Garçons Or Yohji Yamamoto, Or Issey Miyake

Designers decamping Tokyo for Paris are not just the ones from many moons ago. Here, we take a look at the few that we have been watching regularly and closely… even before their move to the fashion capital of the world 


PFW JapaneseCollage: Just So. Photo: Undercover

Paris has always been the ultimate destination for Japanese designers to show and to sell to the world. Not all who participate in Paris Fashion Week (PFW), however, enjoy the longevity of the Tokyo big three: Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto. Or the hype that follows the newish names, such as Junya Watanabe and his one-time employee Chitose Abe of Sacai, who was just invited to be the first guest designer for the re-thought Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture collection. It requires no big-data analysis to understand how irresistible it still is to show in Paris. After all, their compatriots have successfully laid the path in the ’70s and ’80s, and wanting to emulate their ways for the attendant success and fame is totally expected, even rational.

Although Japanese designers have participated in PFW for more than four decades, not many show consistently. Some, such as Mihara Yasuhiro, Auralee’s Ryota Iwai, and Kolor’s Junichi Abe (Chitose Abe’s husband, but according to the Tokyo grapevine, “former”) continues only with the Men’s PFW although they design for both sexes. And there are those who have come and gone, such as Masaki Matsushita, Keita Maruyama, Akira Onozuka (or Zucca), and Issey Miyake alum Chisato Tsumori, and Yohji Yamamoto’s former rep in Paris Atsuro Tayama (both Ms Tsumori and Mr Tayama, to be sure, still operate showroom and studio respectively in the city). Paris may be welcoming but that does not mean it is conducive to recognition or propitious to international stardom. 

By the mid-’90s, a Japanese in Paris is no longer novel or necessarily a draw, but the few who stayed and those who continued to come do keep PFW nicely varied, just as their critical acclaim were too. Although the big names are still attracting media attention with their headline-ready collections, as well as massive fan turn-up, the smaller brands are, to us, doing just as challenging (if not more) work that continue to put Japanese design thinking and aesthetical uniqueness in the spotlight. In view of the COVID-19 outbreak, most Chinese designers have dropped out of PFW this season. Conversely, the Japanese have largely stuck to their original schedules. Here, six Japanese names or brands to note and, perhaps, to enjoy.


Anrealage AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/

Even in Tokyo, Anrealage is a relatively quiet brand, despite its own compelling flagship, opened in 2016 in the luxury shopping district of Aoyama, off the famed Omotesando, not far away from Sacai’s own. Perhaps things will change for the brand founded by Kunihiko Morinaga. In Paris, Anrealage is increasingly drawing critical acclaim and back home in Tokyo, a new corner within the refurbished Shibuya Parco is drawing more shoppers to this 17-year-old brand. Often described as “strong” and “directional”, Anrealage is especially appealing among fashion folks with a yen for the Japanese avant-garde—in particular among those who are less drawn to the labels under the Comme des Garçons kasa (傘 or umbrella). 

Anrealage debuted in Paris in 2014 with the spring/summer 2015 collection. Yet, only last year was the brand getting the attention it deserves when Mr Morinaga was one of eight finalists for the 2019 LVMH Prize. Although he did not win it (South Africa’s Thebe Magugu clinched the award), he continues to show that Anrealage is not only a label to follow, but to covet as well. In Japan, he was named Best New Designer for the Shiseido Sponsorship Award at the 29th Mainichi (national daily newspaper) Fashion Grand Prix held in Tokyo, cementing his reputation as the one to rise, not merely to watch. Collaborations with Onitsuka Tiger, Dickies, and Bearbrick will only yard-up the brand’s popularity.

Mr Morinaga told Japan House last year: “I’m not interested in making something overly offbeat. My aim is to design clothes that inject a little bit of intrigue in the everyday.” Perhaps a bit of an understatement when one considers that the striking collection of the autumn/winter 2020 season, which continues to see Mr Morinaga bringing together, as in the past, what he calls “the real and the unreal”. Wearability is paired with the seemingly anti-body. The coats, for instance, appear almost two-dimensional, as if animating a paper pattern, which bear a resemblance to the giant clothes that front the Parco store. Unreal, but delightfully so.

Beautiful People

Beautiful People AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/

Like many Japanese designer gaining an increasingly audible bleep on the PFW radar, Hidenori Kumakiri of Beautiful People can call the veritable launching pad of careers, Comme des Garçons, alma mater. And like other alums, such as Chitose Abe, Mr Kumajiri was a pattern maker, in his case, for CDG Homme. After six years in their employ, he started his own label. And the preciseness that came with the previous tenure stuck along. A Japanese precision. As he once told Tank magazine, “When you train as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons, you always want to make everything perfect.”

Beautiful People may sound like a spin-off of Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, but the former has way more bite than the latter’s teeth-less chew. His designs underscore Mr Kimakiri’s technical skills—no shape too unmanageable, no seam too unplaceable. The designer describes his kooky elegance “French chic–meets–Japanese pop”. But that is, to us, a little misleading as Beautiful People is more than the coming together of divergent West and East, soigné and Shibuya. From the start, there has been poles apart meeting in the middle. Male and female don’t blur, but happily co-exist, so too are top and bottom, front and back, and even, oddly, child and adult. In fact, Mr Kimakiri’s initial impact was in what he called “Kid Series”—“children’s clothes for grown-ups”. So popular they have been, the Kid’s Series is a permanent sub-collection.

But make no mistake, this is not hybridising as the Japanese are known for and wont to do. As seen in Beautiful People’s autumn/winter 2020 show, the coming together of different components aims for a certain harmony rather than discord. In excess was not military-coat-meets-sundress, jumper-conjoined-to-shirt, trousers-couple-skirts. Or, Y-Project-style amalgamation of individual garments. Rather, Beautiful People, shown in Paris since the spring/summer 2017 season, cleverly pulls opposing forces together in a way that one barely notices until the trench coat, for instance, reveals the appealing rather than disagreeable other side of its Two-Face. In a word, beautiful.


mame AW 2020Photos: Mame

Mame (pronounced mah may, as in ‘bean’ in Japanese) is the brainchild of Maiko Kurogouchi, alum of Bunka Fashion College and, professionally, Issey Miyake. Dubbed “the next Sacai” by Western media, Ms Kurogouchi’s aesthetic is, conversely, unlike the former’s, although at times, they share a certain enhanced femininity—between a wayward schoolgirl and bored housewife—that is uniquely and identifiably Japanese. More significantly, Ms Kurogouchi is not the chronic hybridiser that Chitose Abe is. In fact, among all the designers in this brief list, she offers clothes closest to what many consider conventional and not a fright or challenge to a potential mate. Or, as she calls it—by a rather archaic-sounding descriptor, “timeless”.

The ten-year-old Mame showed in Paris since the fall season of 2019, which makes the label a PFW baby. In fact, at 35, the brand’s Nagano-born founder is the youngest too. Her age, however, belies her experience, especially in incorporating Japanese craft, textile, and age-old techniques in her designs, without going into national-dress territory, or costume-y nostalgia. While those who find pleasure in the alt may consider her designs too straight for expressing their far-out side, many of the label’s fans adore Mame’s familiar silhouettes, within which traditional Japanese elements are judiciously applied, not to pander to Western sense of Eastern exotica (even when she’s showing in Paris), but to extend the longevity of homeland craftsmanship and skill.

This season, Mame’s womanly silhouette and sense of femininity are enhanced with draping, asymmetry, and a strong use of open-work fabrics. Ms Kurogouchi, more than any of her compatriots, seems determined to contradict the belief that Japanese fashion is, by default, outré, never mind that she cut her teeth with one of the most way-out-inventive designers that emerged from Japan: Issey Miyake. In addition, a collaboration with the Italian shoe brand Tods that features clothing and accessories (dropping this month in stores) will likely see Mame as champion of the sanely swish.

Noir Kei Ninomiya

Noir KN AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/

As it’s often said about design that is above the ken of the average fashion consumer, Kei Ninomiya’s Noir line, produced by the Comme des Garçons group, is not for the faint of heart. Of all the names linked to CDG, where quite a few of today’s successful Japanese designers with an international reputation graduate professionally, Kei Ninomiya takes to the CDG spirit most closely and ardently. In fact, oftentimes, his designs are more complex and the assembling more intricate than his famous employer’s museum-ready pieces. Mr Ninomiya had admitted to i-D magazine last year that “it is all very tough, to be honest. Even if you have an image in your head, there are cases where it is hard to actually make it.”.

One of three CDG brands that shows in PFW, Noir (as it is mostly known) was born in 2012, when Mr Ninomiya was only 28. The brand made its Paris debut in the spring/summer season of 2016. A graduate of Antwerp’s famed Royal Academy, he was reported to be unable to sew at the time he joined CDG. Mr Ninomiya corrected that perception by telling the media that he did eventually learn to sew as it was taught at CDG. Even with the skill, he conceived Noir to involve little sewing. The clothes in body-obscuring forms are often knitted (not necessarily with yarn), strung together by means of polygonal links, or held together by press studs. With Noir, one never thinks of how the clothes would be stored, washed, or ironed.

Despite naming his brand after the French word for ‘black’, the collections do sport some colour, such as this season’s reds, including their metallic cousins. Or, its opposite, white. Black, however, is still core to the collections. As Mr Ninomiya told i-D, black “is the absence of colour, and without colour you can emphasise the form and technique and create simple and strong designs.” While irrefutably strong rather than simple, these forms and techniques are best appreciated by confronting the clothes upfront (easily in CDG-owned Dover Street Market). One then senses that Kei Ninomiya is really more a proponent of crafting than mere sewing.


Toga AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/

A brand’s success could perhaps be assessed by the demands of pieces done in the past. At Toga’s new space in Shibuya Parco, substantial rack space is dedicated to pieces from the Archive, and the interest in them is no less than anything grouped under New Arrivals. Toga may be relatively unknown in the west, even here in the east, but in Japan, Toga is not only covetable, they’re collectable. A sales staff in Tokyo’s most popular vintage clothier Rag Tag told us in December last year, “very hard to see Toga. Every time we put something out, it’s gone.” Such is the response to the brand among the cognoscenti that the rapidly growing awareness and popularity of Toga in Paris is really a matter of time than the influence of social media.

Interestingly, Toga founder Yasuko Furuta had her start in the retailing of vintage fashion, which may explain the existence of Archive—good designs need not be forgotten when the season is over. A graduate of the esteemed fashion school Esmod Paris, Ms Furuta returned to Tokyo and worked as a stylist before starting Toga in 1997. She presented the brand’s first runway show in Paris in 2006, with an autumn/winter collection called Monastic. But if that is suggestion of bleak and spare designs, then the name is a misnomer. Toga, till today, is a technical powerhouse of mixing vintage clothes, couture styles, and what may be considered Shibuya street, and then deconstructed to yield clothes that are different yet unquestionably wearable.

For autumn/winter 2020, Ms Furuta offers pieces, such as shirting and blazers, rooted in men’s wear, but given her unmistakably feminine twist. The sum reveals Ms Furuta’s flair for taking what women already wear or are familiar with and giving them unexpected design elements within those ready confines. Her clothes are not weird for the purpose of standing out strange. Rather, she challenges the notion that appealing, feminine fashion must not differ between those for mother and daughter, boss and co-worker, even just the usual she and her. And the past can certainly join the present in an easy, fascinating alliance.


Undercover AW 2020Photos: Undercover

To be sure, Undercover is not new. Against the rest here, designer Jun Takahashi’s an old hat. Yet, until his stupendous collaboration with Valentino last fall, only streetwear fans seem to relate to what he does, which, for some of us, is a little annoying. We feel that he should be included in this list because his Undercover has been, in our opinion, unfairly considered and labelled as a bona fide streetwear brand, even in his native Japan, just because he has found considerable success with Madstore, the candy shop for casual clothes, bags, and toys; and earlier, in the 1993, the truly streetwear venture Nowhere that he started with T-shirt king Nigo.

Mr Takahashi’s trajectory in the streetwear sphere is a little unexpected, considering that he had received the blessings of none other than the high priestess of the Japanese avant-garde herself, Rei Kawakubo. According to popular telling, Ms Kawakubo had been impressed with Undercover as early as the mid-’90s, and had invited him to Paris, where the now-closed multi-label store Colette was so taken by Undercover that they invited Mr Takahashi to present the 1998 collection ‘Exchange’ in their Rue Saint-Honoré store. Just four years later, Undercover presented their first PFW collection for spring/summer 2003.

Despite his streetwear leaning, Mr Takahashi has shown tremendous design mastery, coupled with astounding imagination that sees his work recall fairy-tale-like characters in what could be tableaux akin to old masters’ paintings. The two-time Mainichi Fashion Grand Prize winner has a way with taking the unconventional garment construction that the Japanese before him were known for, and giving it the streetwear currency that he is able to communicate.

That he can draw from both the popular and the more cerebral, such as Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film, Throne of Blood—which re-imagined Shakespeare’s Macbeth—for the autumn/winter 2020 collection (surprisingly not shown on a catwalk), is both amazing and admirable. The Renaissance seen through the eyes of, say, street artist Shepard Fairey—underpinnings and ruffles go with khakis, and here and there, prints of roses and razor blades! The Pirates of Penzance for the stomping grounds of PFW! Is it any wonder that The New York Times called him “The Sorcerer of Fashion”?

Two OF A Kind: These Fancy Crosses

Would Karl Lagerfeld be this inspired by Christian Lacroix?


Two crosses

One appeared in 1988, the other, two days ago. Thirty years apart and the crosses aren’t that different, but the designers behind them are.

The cross on the left, worn by Israeli model Michaela Bercu, is attributed to Christian Lacroix, the designer whose very surname means ‘the cross’. The gem-studded cross, which is neither a Latin cross (four equal arms) or a Greek cross (base stem longer than three upper arms), on a collarless couture jacket came to prominence when, in 1988, a young Anna Wintour chose the above left photograph for her first cover of Vogue, which till this day is considered “iconic” as the image saw the poles-apart pairing of a couture top with what would have been sacrilegious then: denim jeans. To make it worse (or controversial, at least in 1988), it was a not-quite-seemly make of jeans—Guess.

Mr Lacroix was, by then, a couture star. A year earlier, The New York Times wrote, “People who follow fashion are saying…  Lacroix has come out of the Paris couture, that rarified old world of made-to-order clothes for super rich women, but they are certain his ideas will be copied everywhere. They contend his influence will be evident soon in the stores, no later than this winter, when millions of women will begin to dress his way: in clothes that are unabashedly glamorous and theatrical.” Less than 12 months later, the Vogue cover, pedestrian as it looked, confirmed that.

And now, some three decades after, we’re led to believe, firstly, that women still want to “dress his way”. Last September, there was the surprise collaboration of Christian Lacroix, the man himself, and Dries Van Noten for spring/summer 2020 shown during PFW. It won rave reviews. Still, no one thought of a Lacroix revival. Then in January this year, British label Rixo—unmistakably flashy and unapologetically vintage—paired with the house to release a capsule collection. And there’s also Dutch brand Blanche’s autumn/winter 2020 collection that would also see a capsule with Christian Lacroix. It isn’t known if these are sanctioned by Mr Lacroix as the house that bears his name is now in the possession of the Falic Group, conglomerate behind the duty-free chain Duty Free Americas (after original owners LVMH sold the company to them in 2005), and is helmed by a different creative director. And, secondly, that his ideas still beg to be “copied”. That’s the cross on the right.

042-christian-lacroix-fall-1988-couture-CN10053654-anne-rohartThe original jacket seen on model Anne Rohart during Christian Lacroix’s autumn/winter 1988 show. Photo: Condé Nast Archive

That cross, worn by French model Othilia Simon, was seen at Chanel’s autumn/winter 2020 show two days ago. Its “iconic” status, however, isn’t certain, if at all possible. Designer Virginie Viard has created an intarsia-knit cross, with the suggestions of gem stones as seen in Mr Lacroix’s, on a jumper. Although not quite a facsimile, the idea is there, and so obvious that it requires no scratching of the head to join the dots. Ms Viard was 26 and was already working for Chanel in the embroidery unit when that cross appeared on the Vogue cover. She would have seen it and remembered it. But presently, she may have thought that others—Chanel’s new-gen customers for whom those pants with press studs that can be unfastened to show limbs are probably designed for—won’t recall or even know.

Chanel was called out for “copying” before. In 2015, knitwear designer Mati Ventrillon, a French-Venezuelan who is based in the Scottish island of Fair Isle, with a grand population of 55, brought the world’s attention to one of the sweaters that look uncannily like hers, seen in Chanel’s Métier D’art collection that was staged in Rome earlier. Chanel did not hesitate with an apology, and concurrently credited Ms Venteillon. Fair Isle is far off the beaten track. It is possible the house didn’t think their indiscretion would be linked back there. Or, presently, to a non-practising couturier. The world is small these days. And is shown to be even smaller when it is instantaneous to see Ms Viard’s source of inspiration. In fashion, time can make us remember more than forget.

This episode is amazing to us, not only because we do not expect such directness and lack of disguise, but also the audacity. The house of Lacroix closed in 2009. It had never, in 22 years of business, turned a profit. LVMH, which backed it since 1987, was reported to have “suffered heavy losses” at the time of its sale to the Falic Group. Although a suffering LVMH is hard to imagine, their pull-out of Mr Lacroix’s business surprised many at that time. The business of high fashion was believed to be on shaky ground until what was thought to be the arrival of a saviour, the house of Lacroix. It is not certain if this Chanel cross is homage to Christian Lacroix or a salute to Anna Wintour, who put the jacket on that Vogue cover and who is also a long-time customer of Chanel. Or merely “translated”, as Hamish Bowles, in his review, tried to kid. Whatever the case, it’s best to resist playing into the translation justification or, worse, the imitation-is-flattery baloney. An idea copied is an idea not one’s own.

Main photos: (left) Vogue/Conde Nast and (right) Alessandro Lucioni/

A Disappointing Close

Louis Vuitton could always be counted on to end the four-city fashion season with a bang. So why the cacophonous whimper?


LV AW 2020 P1

We watch the Louis Vuitton live stream once, and then again when it becomes available to view as a post. We are not sure what to make of it. This is a lull season for them, we conclude. Louis Vuitton, closing PFW and marking the end of the four-city rush that makes fashion weeks (in view of the unceasing COVID-19 outbreak, none has cancelled or gone online only), has always been a restorer of our faith in the creativity of fashion when increasingly what’s creative is being redefined or ignored. But what we have thought might be able to reverse the built-up dismay is no longer so. Not this season.

Nicholas Ghesquiere has always been an enthusiastic stirrer of the big fashion pot made increasingly vapid by those who add nothingness into it. Although his debut at Vuitton was not the stuff of fashion legend, he has put his distinctive stamp on the house in these past years: wearable separates that are melanges of fabrics, textures, prints, patterns, all in a delightfully varied mingle of the compulsory past and the fantastic future. But this season, while the blending is still there, they don’t coalesce into anything cracking, certainly not, as before, sublime. Is Mr Ghesquiere saving his better ideas for later by pausing to create a greatest hits, like how it was when sitcoms used to look back at the “best moments” between seasons or when writers were on leave?

LV AW 2020 G1LV AW 2020 G2

To be sure, he’s still up there breathing the rarefied air of luxury fashion—a stratosphere he brought along from his previous tenure at Balenciaga. Mr Ghesquiere is a technically sound designer, far more than many of this peers, even within the LVMH group, and, without doubt, more so than his colleague designing the men’s collection. He understands that no matter what you do to a garment and after what you do it, it must still look like something destined for the body. An ardent proponent of the odd pairing, he works with mostly traditional forms and relatively conventional silhouettes and yet within them he is able to create additional components that render the end result unexpected and, oftentimes, novel. We’ve seen him meld contradictory elements, those that are not meant to match, into breathtaking wholes.

Mr Ghesquiere is still able to do all that, but somehow, in presently messy and complicated times, which LV admits to in a pre-show video posted online, the collection is weighted by its own excesses and, especially, excess of cleverness. While other designers have nothing to pull out from their bag of ideas, Mr Ghesquiere seems to saturate his designs with more. A ton of ideas, however, isn’t necessarily any measure of brilliance. Maybe it’s the mood of the times and the mood we’re in—here in Southeast Asia, much of the collection look to us over-designed; even overwrought. And, worse, repetitive. The smorgasbord isn’t appealing when you’re not hungry. Or, when much of the Paris season has made you lost your appetite.

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The collection, according to LV’s PR material is called Anachronism, which may well describe the designer himself. He admits to the media: “I still breathe the past”. Mr Ghesquiere’s anachronistic approach to design, with a weakness for the ’70s and a pull from as far back as the era of the Sun King to a future indeterminate, has seen him excite with more hedonic rewards than all the retro-bent American designers combined. But he should have stopped at last season’s Belle Époque. All this mixing is headache-inducing. Do we need so many eras, so many points of reference in one garment?

Take the inordinately busy outerwear, a result of his predilection for mixing fabrics and patterns: they now seem a tad too Sacai for comfort. As you go on, White Mountaineering comes to mind. Louis Vuitton in a Japanese state of mind? Then those dresses, in particular the sheer baby doll with the four-tier hem (the bouncy tiered skirt is an LV highlight this season). This is worn over a (typically Nicholas Ghesquiere) panelled top and similarly sheer pants. Someone is taking his cue from a fellow LVMH brand.

One curiosity to note. For the past few seasons (we have not been able to trace back far enough), we noticed looks that appear to be for guys. This has been evident even when Kim Jones was still taking care of the sibling homme collection. Two years ago, we asked a staffer at the Louis Vuitton flagship here if Mr Ghesquiere makes a capsule for men. “No,” the affable woman told us, “but men like to buy our womenswear.” Which begs the question, are the boiler suits and motocross pants to attract potential male customers or, as 21st century wokeness demands, for the manly women who have never bought a dress in their life? Wouldn’t Virgil Abloh have taken care of them? Or are we being too binary? Complicated times, no doubt.

Photos: Isidore Montag/

The Chanel To Love announced recently that the most viewed show on its Runway page is Chanel’s spring/summer 2020 collection. This season, too, looks destined to be another hit for the house. Welcome to the masterclass in consistency


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Chanel has become more consistent than its ever been: the consistent quality of designing the same way, over time. In the case of Virginie Viard, slightly over a year (the house announced on 19 February 2019 that she will take the place of the late Karl Lagerfeld). Chanel, more and more, and more than the average luxury brand, second the increasing believe that fashion design need not be complicated. In fact, the less in the exercise of design the better, especially for the bottom line. Ms Viard is, of course, not alone in taking the consistent-is-best route. In her good company is Maria Grazia Chiuri and the most consistent of them all, Hedi Slimane.

With consistency comes a susceptibility to the lacklustre. Consistency has the tendency to breed the latter. Styling can mask the lacklustre, and the styling at Chanel does that remarkably well. Even if you watch the show with lacklustre eyes, you may be seduced into seeing lack masquerading as lustre. Fashion is, after all, smoke and mirrors. It helps, of course, that Chanel has loads of costume jewellery to disguise the lacklustre, like fairy light and tinsel livening up what would mostly be insipid trees. And bags—loads of them—to throw you off the scent-of-lacklustre trail.

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Consistency and lacklustre are such dazzling partners that they make good runway. The Hadid sisters, regrettably, do pale. Consistency and lacklustre love an audience and the audience love them back. Chanel’s Conlack (in the convention of Brangelina, which Reuters noted back in 2006, “has more cultural equity than their two star parts”) we shall henceforth call consistency and lacklustre, plays to the pervasive social and all-important-front-row aspects well. In the past, fashion has no love for Conlack, but in the present, they have more cultural equity than any part Coco Chanel has ever imagined, beige and black too. And the celebrity-thick audience (presumably, and understandably, with less Conlack lovers from Asia) will lap up Conlack with as much enthusiasm as Marilyn Monroe—bless her soul—dousing herself in No 5, as she supposedly did.

Like news feeds, Conlack is with us more than it ever was. Ms Viard is aware of it too. She understands the power of Conlack and she draws on their immense potency to inflict delightful torture and tortured delight on the rapt audience. It does not matter that customers of Chanel, who could splurge without as much as fiddling with the camellia brooch before committing, are going to buy no matter how glaringly Conlack manifests this season, and they do appear with considerable clarity. Conlack likes no better than showing it can appeal to every woman, every wardrobe, every occasion, every trip to Daily Monop. It has mumsy jackets for madams of a certain age,  hotpants for the twentysomethings with legs, and everything between that Conlack can squeeze into, and it can squeeze itself into many things. Conlack, in case you didn’t notice, is thin. On what, you decide.

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Conlack has no voice; it is better at echoing. It echoes the voices of the dead; of the living; of the girls who wear their side-buttoned track pants unbuttoned, but no longer; of the KOLs who can’t get enough of hot pants because, well, of course, the weather demands it; of the executive who thinks a long-sleeved shift is work wear and wearing one will upstage co-users of the co-working space, of the crazy woman who slips her neckwear under her tube top because, frankly, crazies do. Conlack offers no surprise. Don’t expect strange bows behind the neck or shoulders that peak above the ears, or coats so roomy you can hide three of your children under them. Conlack loathes surprises. Ms Viard has moulded Conlack so perfectly and so ingeniously that it could reverse last year’s “fake news”, and entice LVMH to come a-calling with an acquisition offer. There is money to be made in Conlack. The world’s largest luxury group knows that.

Conlack is not only about the clothes. It can manifest itself in the hair and makeup too. Conlack hair is sad, no-effort hair. It is the cousin of hair that is synonymous with bad days. Or bridesmaids unwilling to outdo the bride. But Conlack hair is proud hair; it does not need to hide under a headscarf. Conlack makeup is no-colour makeup, the antithesis of what used to be Vamp and its entire dark ecosystem of irresistible products. It is also the opposite of Vamp’s life partner Camp. Conlack makeup is ready-to-rise and ready-to-bed. It is free of the palette, of shading, of highlights. Together with the clothes, Conlack is daily life and consumption that alters your propensity to discern and differ. Conlack, Chanel has shown once more, is top-to-toe—your total, all-loving, fashion-affirming dud(s).

Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/


And Let There Be Yeezy. Again

Yeezy may need Paris, but does Paris need Yeezy?


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Yeezy disappeared for a couple of seasons. Sort of. They ‘showed’ via social media, modelled by the missus, of course, and styled, according to KKW herself, by Carine Roitfeld (probably not very busy at CR Fashion Book). And there were reported “private appointments”, presumably for trade buyers, not the rest of us. The collections S6 and S7 were available online, not seen, according to our sources in New York, in stores. Does anyone still remember Kanye West’s Yeezy fashion?

Season 8 is a return to a catwalk presentation and a reminder that the clothing is as alive as the sneakers, and still designed by Mr West, a newly religious man, who, a day before, conducted Kanye West presents Sunday Service in Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, a performance venue near the Gare, considered by the French to be a salle historique Parisienne, and one of the locations of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 film Diva. Setting is important when you do not have an actual church to conduct your song-led service in. What does a faith-guided collection prefaced by worship look like?

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The show itself takes place on the grounds of the French Communist Headquarters, against the futuristic façade of the Espace Niemeyer, designed by Brazilian architect, the late Oscar Niemeyer. Setting! According to pre-show excitement/reports (this is Yeezy, after all), Mr West will be presenting “a little piece from our home in Cody, Wyoming.” What a move from S6’s Calabasas! It’s 1,418 km apart, if you’re wondering. Cody, as we now know is where the West family has a 4000-acre (16,1874 square kilometres) ranch which they call home with 700 heads of sheep; it is also deeply tied to Colonel William Frederick Cody (hence its name)—the legendary Buffalo Bill. In addition, Cody considers itself “Rodeo Capital of the World”. Cowboy country. It won’t, therefore, be surprising if Season 8 will be, as part of a song goes, a little bit country.

It isn’t. Nor is it a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Strike off any clerical garb, too. Yeezy just doesn’t fit with any particular vernacular, less so in Paris. It is simply Kanye West. Not more, not less. Not good, not bad. Thing is, if you’re neither this nor that, chances are, you’re in the betwixt, possibly the nether, a space called boring. It is hard to be aroused by non-fashion passed off as seasonal trends. That it all feels like you’ve seen them before adds to the needless dismay. Good enough for Cody does not mean good enough for Paris, not even with a dollop of Kim K—the bare midriff—for extra dash of what would otherwise be no flavour.

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To be sure, this is not an on-calendar show, which, technically, does not mean it is necessarily a PFW collection. Paris is an open city, anyone can go there to show. In fact, no one knew anything about the Yeezy Season 8 presentation until rumours were rife that the man was in town. Mr West, of course, has a flair for this sort of to-do-or-not-to-do news generating. Yet the pre-show buzz and the Sunday service cannot hoist S8 beyond a short fringe event. That there are only 18 looks (pal Virgil Abloh showed 41 for Off-White—already small, compared to Balenciaga’s staggering 105) augment the show’s and brand’s peripheral standing.

You can’t be certain what part these clothes could really play in your life if you take fashion seriously and live by it religiously. It is tempting to surmise that Mr West designs with his wife’s day-wear needs, and we shall. These are for running around Cody, running around in the cabin of planes, running after the kids (For evening wear, she has also-pal Olivier Rousteing.) To us, Yeezy is Mr West bringing Lululemon and Muji together, one cropped singlet after another, one cropped sleeveless puffer top after another, with the odd judoji worn with pants that look like the fly is open breaking the monotony (still, we can’t tell the difference between look 15 and 16). Perhaps Yeezy Season 8 is how Kanye West, believe it or not, squares faith and fashion.

Photos: Isidore Montag/