So Now We Know

Cotton comes from sheep!

 

Cotton Sheep SG

Social media is having a blast! We finally learned that, since the beginning of time, we’ve been duped. Cotton, in use as fabric since at least 2,300 BC, is now believed to be derived from the quadrupedal and ruminant mammal we know merely as sheep. According to one learned minister in a video interview published yesterday, we “don’t have too many sheep in Singapore to produce cotton”. Does that mean wool grows as a boll and comes from a shrub? The truth. At last!!!

Wait! The belief that cotton comes from sheep, isn’t a recent one. Apparently, back in the Middle Ages, trending were stories, including possibly the songs of the goliards (the young who wrote satirical Latin poetry) of a fantastical part-lamb, part-plant living thing that produced cotton. This creature, it was said, helped sell the travel tales of writers often referred to as “fabulists”. Known as “vegetable lamb” or barometz, they fuelled the imagination of those who were unaware of the genesis of cotton. Did the minister read one of these books and was duly informed?

Looks like all the nursery rhymes we have learnt in kindergarten have been mis-written! We have been fed alternative facts all our lives! Oh, Ba Ba Black Sheep, have you any cotton? Mary’s Little Lamb, are your cotton as white as snow? Thank you, minister, for clearing that up!

Illustration: Just So

 

Looting Luxury

As the unrest in the US over the death of a black man under police arrest rises, arsonists are burning police stations and looters are targeting Louis Vuitton

 

Portland looting

In a luxury mall reported to be in Portland, Oregon, angered rioters-turned-looters have smashed down the glass doors of a Louis Vuitton store and cleared out its merchandise. Videos of the mayhem were posted on YouTube today, and widely shared. People were seen rushing in and quickly grabbing whatever their hands could carry. One woman left with a pink bag (among others) that looked like a Capucines BB, priced above US$6,000. According to KOIN 6 News, Portland’s CBS affiliate, “multiple high-end retailers, including storefronts for Apple, Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch, were breached and looted”.

Some commentators on YouTube remarked that “this is Karma for instigated (sic) rioters in Hong Kong”. Geopolitics aside, it must be said that looting in times of social unrest is not acceptable nor defensible. The US isn’t experiencing a natural disaster and people are not fighting to survive. This is an outburst against social injustice. Outrage is understandable, rioting is not, and looting—a luxury store or any store—is undeserving of comprehension because material goods isn’t behind the motivation for social/ethnic/class eruption. This isn’t stealing food to survive. Sure, stolen LV merchandise can be put on Ebay to generate money for sustenance. But are the looters—mostly masked (as a safety measure because of COVID-19?)—despoiling so that they could buy bread to bring home to their kids?

What happened in Portland does not fall into a moral grey area. The plunderers targeted the LV store. They knew what they were going after. They weren’t just passing by and seeing what could be means of survival. They appeared determined to clear the store out. It took only a few to pave the way. This had nothing to do with supporting the unfair treatment of black people, as the protests that started in Minnesota originally was. The looting of Louis Vuitton, regrettably, shows how luxury—now easily “masstige”—have become a symbol of the accessible unattainable. From exclusive it once was, luxury is now democratic. But is it really? Were the looters being democratic or exercising their democratic right? To free action, not just speech?

The sight of the looting is disturbing, as much as the possible diminishing appeal, henceforth, of Louis Vuitton, a brand that has for a long time targeted those who “aspire” to go higher, but are struggling with their status quo. Luxury brands don’t discriminate; they appeal, regardless of where one stands on the social hierarchy.  And it is known that those trapped in greater inequality are just as keen, if not keener, in luxury. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said to the press, “There is no value [in the violence] expect the value of self and the desire to steal things and cause destruction in our community”. Moral standing, it appears, has become the luxury no one desires.

Screen grab: YouTube

Not That Rich

Forbes has bumped Kylie Jenner off their America’s Women Billionaires list. Apparently, she isn’t wealthy enough

 

Billionaire no moreStruck off: Kylie Jenner is no longer on the list. Cover photo: Forbes

Kylie Jenner was the “youngest self-made billionaire ever”, according to Forbes in the annual listing of America’s Women Billionaire 2018. At first, critics were appalled that the magazine described her as “self-made”, which, at it turns out, is presently the least damaging of Ms Jenner’s public-image woes. The magazine is now saying she did not make herself a billionaire. In a scathing report just published, it exposes her “web of lies” and explains “why she’s no longer a billionaire”. What a fall from reputational grace in just 21 months, of which almost six have been dominated by a cosmetics-free coronavirus.

Forbes has recalculated Kylie’s net worth and concluded that she is not a billionaire,” the magazine writes, following new information they have received and analysed, as well as the continued onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. It even says that the Kardashian-Jenner family took to “unusual lengths” to project their youngest daughter, then not yet 21, as far wealthier than she was. This, it reports, is achieved by deceitful means, such as presenting inflated tax-return documents. It’s curious that she should be believed so easily when she had previously lied for a year about getting lip-filler injections. The shine of massive success quickly dulled when filings from Coty, the publicly-traded company that owns 51% of her company and is famously known for fragrances with celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, showed less earnings than what Ms Jenner and her accountants before that apparently reported.

Adding to the hoodwinking were the family’s sense of self-importance, dramatically and tackily played out on television and through the media, as well as industry individuals who are, like Ms Jenner’s die-hard fans, enamoured with her. We live in a society with a fervid fascination of celebrities’ financial success. The quiet rich is a rare breed. Ms Jenner’s shot to the top was not only propelled by familial ambition and, to be sure, a cunning mother, but also by a mass media culture of newsiness based on the incredulous and by a business obsession with celebrities and, consequently, the banking on them.

The skincare and cosmetics, as well as fragrance business has, for a long time, not been built on need, as it once was, but on fandom

 

Forbes quotes an executive at Shopify—it manages Kylie Cosmetics’ online businesses—during the time when Ms Jenner’s possible billionaire status was explored: “No other influencer has ever gotten to the volume or had the rabid fans and consistency that Kylie has had for the last two and a half years.” He/she is clearly a fan too. The skincare and cosmetics,as well as fragrance business has, for a long time, not been built on need, as it once was, but on fandom. The base of followers too have become a barometer of likely celebrity/influencer success when a product is associated with them, as well as the genuineness of claims of business triumph and prosperity.

Following the Forbes report, Ms Jenner defensively Tweeted—sans capital letters at the beginning of sentences—that “i’ve never asked for any title or tried to lie my way there EVER. period”. But neither did she turn them down, or refute or correct the estimation of her worth. Rather, she basked in the victorious glory. The Kardashian-Jenner family is reportedly obsessed with appearing on the cover of Forbes, just as Donald Trump is with Times (so much so that he has a fake Times cover of himself placed in his golf clubs with sufficient visibility that the magazine asked them to be removed). It became a strategic goal. Yet, Ms Jenner added, “i can name a list of 100 things more important right now than fixating on how much money i have”. Let’s start naming then.

Forbes concluded that, after looking at “likely forged” documents, Ms Jenner is now worth “under US$900 million”, even with the “massive cash-out” of her four-year-old company, reportedly valued at US$1.2 billion at the point of sale (MAC Cosmetics was in business for 14 years before Estee Lauder bought it in 1998 for US$60 million, after similarly acquiring 51% at first). Wall Street, not usually enthusiastic of sales of upstart businesses helmed by a (foremost) reality TV star, thought Coty over-paid. Although dethroned by Forbes, Kylie Jenner will likely remain a queen of cosmetics in the eyes of her raving fans, even as just a barely-there-billionaire.

Chromatica: An Oddly Retro Album

Lady Gaga’s just-released new material sounds like a pastiche from the past

 

Lady Gaga Stupid Love videoLady Gaga suitably attired for a pandemic-era music video. Screengrab: Lady Gaga/YouTube

Lady Gaga does move fast. She has gone from Bad Romance to, now, Stupid Love. She’s switched from dueting with Tony Bennett to, now, Elton John (both consistently still older—much older—men). She’s pushed from dance-pop to lounge jazz and, now, back to dance-pop. She has electrified from blond to, now, pink. One thing is certain, though: Lady Gaga is always there with you in your darkest hour, when you’re down, rejected, prejudiced against, and with the kind of clothes that, as usual, threaten to overshadow her message, if not her music. In addition, now, there are the “kindness punks”!

Watching her newest music video, Stupid Love, is like viewing a sci-fi B-movie, complete with schlock-y story line, fake planetary sets, vinyl-plasticky costumes, but without an Attack of the 50ft Woman. Lady Gaga looked like Ariana Grande doing Lady Gaga doing Ariana Grande. (Incidentally, Ms Grande duets with the former in the track Rain on Me.) The Born This Way chart-topper dances with the same energy that she always projects, but now with a cheerfulness and bounce once associated with Debbie Gibson.

20-05-31-23-48-53-670_decoSoaked during inclement weather, Lady Gaga in Rain on Me. Screen grab: Lady Gaga/YouTube

A Lady Gaga performance is enjoyed for both songs and costumes, and in Stupid Love, fans won’t be disappointed. Chromatica is not a about colour nor, in the case of the singer’s profession, about modifications of normal musical scales. The title of her sixth studio album is apparently the name of a planet that “rots on conflict”. And on it, inhabitants, formed by “many tribes”, dress and dance fabulously, “while the Spiritual ones pray and sleep for peace” and the Kindess Punks fight for Chromatica”. It is not clear who Lady Gaga is in this motley population, but she does dress to look like some futuro-chieftain. Her dancers—fellow Chromaticans?—surprisingly nearly threatened to outdo her. Accessorised to the hilt, they are in Victoria’s Secrets fabulousness, Mad Max madness, eco-warrior juggle greens, and, incongruently, a few shower-curtain caftans Andre Leon Talley would definitely approve.

Lady Gaga’s albums are not known for their conceptual heft. Visually, perhaps, but not musically. The Fame is indeterminate reputation than solid output, Artpop is more pop than art, just to name two. All along it’s her image (as before, conceived and styled by partner-in-crime Nicola Formichetti) and the danceability of her songs that conduce to her success. Chromatica is a clear extension of what she has been doing, save the rather protracted jazz interlude (with the Sound of Music thrown in for good measure). For those seeking the moderately experimental from an artiste that’s musically straight-forward, this album is the vanilla among tubs of cookie dough/cherry/chocolate snap-studded.

Chromatica cover art work

Cover art of Chromatica. Photo: Lady Gaga

Perhaps we were hoping for a tad more. With repeated listening, the album sounds uneven, as if begging for a remix. A nod to disco—between 1980 to 1995?—is clear enough, but the sonic imagery swings from the droning beat/base of Lipps Inc.’s Funky Town in 911 to the faint Shibuya groove of Sour Candy (with Blackpink guesting and its vogue-able chorus). Lady Gaga, as critics have constantly reminded us, can sing. Yet, most of the tracks depend, again, on what sounds like vocoder-tweaked vocals to ventriloquially transmute her singing into some robo-high expression. Repeatedly heard too are bass lines and electro-riffs that we have come to associate with a certain anthemic, hip-swaying, head-bobbing pop that the tribe of Bengs and Lians enjoy.

Albums drenched in dance beats could be an antidote to the present climate. “This is my dance floor I fought for,” Lady Gaga sings on Free Woman (with a chorus that reminds us of Ultra Naté’s 1997 hit Free). At a time still a lock down for many, listeners may share her dance floor too. Chromatica is, for a generation of quarantined party-goers, the soundtrack of Zoom happy hours. 

Gucci Made An Announcement On Instagram

And it’s 18-posts long!

Gucci IG posts 23 May

Seriously?

It took Gucci 18 IG squares to announce that from now, the brand will show two collections a year. But you may not immediately see that in what was posted. Concise, it’s been said, is the way to go on IG, but Gucci, which earned parent company Kering US$10.7 billion of the latter’s $17.5 billion in revenue for 2019, has chosen to move with the opposite. The singular message comprises 6 textual posts each in English and Italian, separated by an illustration of a winged heart-shape with a single eye, captioned with “Notes from the Silence”. It is hard enough to read just one. To do all six requires some vestige of fortitude. Social entries these are not; pompous prose they are.

We love to read and we have no objection to lengths, but Gucci’s journal-like entries were a sharp contrast to prevalent social media communication: they were ponderous. And, frankly, pretentious. And they were made more unreadable by a font that seemed to be the effect of a faulty typewriter type head. Each post is titled, and what headers! Example: “The Sacred Power of Producing Reverberations”. How’s that for a stumper? Or are we missing something audio, something aural? As it turned out, “here comes the desire to baptise our new encounters by naming them after a language that has marvelously ancient roots: classical music language”.

Since it was written in the first person, we assumed the writer to be Alessandro Michele (there’s a signature at every end, but we are not sure it belongs to the designer). Each post is not only dated, the place where it was written identified—unsurprisingly it is Rome. Which led us to suspect that the verbose posts were penned in Italian and then translated by an overzealous PR appointee. To better reflect the superfluous that determines Mr Michele’s Gucci?

Reworking the fashion calendar is what many brands are now doing, or considering. Mr Michele proposed with a baroque flourish: “I will abandon the worn-out ritual of seasonalities and shows to regain a new cadence, closer to my expressive call,” he wrote. “And beyond, I would like to leave behind the paraphernalia of leitmotifs that colonized our prior worlds… I believe that we can build our tomorrow also starting from a renewed capacity of denomination… It’s a foundational act, audacious but necessary, that aims at building a new creative universe. A universe that essentialises itself in the subtraction of events and that oxygenates through the multiplication of senses…”

Yes—what was that?!

Photo: Gucci/Instagram

Nylon In Neutrals And Nudes

So now we need masks to match our underwear? Kim Kardashian seems to think so

 

AC-MSK-0511-SND-FTA_FR2_1368x

By Mao Shan Wang

I know masks are a must now. Although slowly available at retail again, surgical masks, despite being better than cloth ones, are not appealing enough that people are making their own, including those who fashion face coverings with brassieres. Of course, these days we are not averse to underwear not worn under. Still, it feels a little weird—even creepy—to want a bra cup to hug half the face. This may account for the persistence of Internet memes and jokes that josh at those who are partial to bra-masks.

Despite the joke potential of the source material for the Triumph-turn-face-covering, Kim Kardashian has introduced undie-looking masks for her shapewear brand Skims (formerly Kimono). I can understand the desire for a mask that matches a dress, but one that goes with undergarments or shapewear, that escapes me. It is not certain that these nondescript US-made masks are designed to go with the brand’s underwear, but the colours—five of them—are clearly chosen to pair with  merchandise in corresponding shades sold by Skims.

 

20-05-24-00-51-59-111_deco

But the aesthetics of the Skims masks isn’t the thing that’s got people talking about and reacting to the product. Rather, it is, like much of today’s culture, to do with colour. According to Netizens—an emotionally fragile bunch, Kim K and her brand are guilty of “casual racism” (as opposed to formal?). A black model wears a mask in a colour that’s a tad too light for her skin, while the ones on the  others are apparently closer to their own skin tone. And online, people are not pleased. On the Skims website now, a different model is used, presumably a reaction to social media dismay.

Despite the negative reactions, these masks are sold out, within an hour of their launch a week ago (you can join a waitlist if you must own one). Obviously, the marketing images are not offensive enough, nor the colour-skin mismatch. These masks are stated as “non-medical”, which likely makes them a fashion item. On the website, they are categorised under ‘accessories’, symbolised by an illustration of a naked torso made slightly more modest by two pasties, and sold alongside waist trainers and body tapes.

It appears to me that Skims is exploiting what is believed to be a social necessity of the present and the near future. And to make them in the colour of (and to look like) underwear appear to trivialise the seriousness of a disease that has pervasively damaged lives. Unsurprisingly, people are scrambling for the masks of no protective nor creative value. For now, celebrity-linked anything continues to have the same attraction as schlock horror.

Photos: Skims

The Sudden Rise Of Loungewear

Is it even a real category? Loungewear may not appear in your style radar, but with WFH arrangements prevalent now, they are as legit and persuasive as athleisure

 

Loungewear 1Illustration: Just So

By Ray Zhang

Spell checks are really slow when it comes to the inclusion of words of popular usage. Fashion terms are almost ignored: Electronic dictionaries in our devices embrace them with the enthusiasm of your grandmother enjoying social-media profanities. When I typed—as I write this—‘loungewear’ on my virtual keyboard, the noun that appears on the screen is underscored by the red squiggle that tells me the word is not in the system’s built-in dictionary. Athleisure has not been excepted either. No reason, then, that loungewear—much older—should make the cut.

Regardless of what typing the word brings up on screen, loungewear is now both catchword and fashion of the day. With work hours and downtime now indistinguishable, loungewear is up for mass adoption. Online accounts have confirmed its prevalence and media reports too, including one by ST, which delightfully noted that “many are realising that working from home brings the perks of dressing down and working in unpolished comfort”. Would adding a dressing gown reverse that potentially oxymoronic description to make comfort polished? Just as we are not expected to fill our days with demure quietude, I don’t see many people dress in refined marvelousness. I am not sure if the writer had gotten loungewear mixed up with what I call loll-wear. It appears to me, that most people at home are lolling than lounging, with some IG posts showing those working doing so in bed, even under sheets.

Loungewear 2Loungewear everywhere, as evidenced by the laundry we put out to dry

Frankly, I don’t know if you need a WFH order to enjoy this “perk”. What most people wear now are home clothes and few would consider them worthy enough to be categorised as loungewear. It is true, as the ST piece noted in the intro with interviewee Ailynn Song, a customer relationship management specialist with Carousell, that there are many who delight to be in “nothing but pyjamas”. I know of those who content with wearing night clothes throughout the day, and this mode of dress they consider loungewear. In a similar report by Yahoo Style, featuring various individuals in their at-home best (not everyone was selfie-d at home!), one marketing type Pat Law was even more detailed: “There is nothing more liberating than to be pitching in PJs without my bra and underwear.”

Someone asked me, “What happens if a client reads that?” I really don’t know. Won’t it depend on the client? Anyway, underwear is different thing to different people. And they don’t always remain under. A friend told me this morning that she is “happy to be in her negligee all day”. That’s underwear enough, I suspect. Lest you should be mistaken, I did not go around asking people to describe to me what they have on at the point of our chat, as if I was in pursuit of some visual to satisfy a perverse need. Perhaps, my friend meant déshabillé (from the French  déshabiller, meaning to undress), which in 17th century France was really the loungewear of its day—“little nothings”, wrote Francophile Joan DeJean in The Essence of Style—but was soon worn outside. Okay, I am putting a fashion spin on my friend’s lack of clothes, which is imagining her consumed by elegance that is usually at odds with a utilitarian home setting.

Loungewear 3Do guys not prefer just (boxer) shorts at home, despite many appearing in joggers in their IG posts? Illustration: Just So

Truth be told, I wear nothing but boxers at home. Have always worn them, since I was a kid. I have never own a set of pyjamas in my life, and loungewear is a marketing tag and, to me, such a waste of money. Most of my male friends wear boxers at home, even to go out of the front door to pick up what the Grab Food fellow left outside. There are, of course, those who are married to modesty, and for them a T-shirt teamed with pair of boxers is de rigueur. Boxers, whether alone or with additional underpants (common practice!) are comfort at its best, which may explain why they are popular among women, too. I was told that Calvin Klein boxer shorts are not only worn by women who borrow their boyfriend’s/husband’s, they are also bought by those who want their own.

In the past, loungewear was not sleepwear or underclothes. And certainly not worn to while away one’s extra hours at the first-class lounge. It was, as the name suggested, for lounging (also pottering), and in, as far as I am aware, private quarters. A lounge in Britain is a sitting room (in Australia, it is known as a lounge room), but these days, it is not often known in that context. Most of us equate a lounge with a large sitting area in a hotel, a theatre, or an air terminal. Lounge is of fairly recent usage—around 1930s, I understand. In my home, I grew up with my parents referring to the front part of our flat as the ‘hall’, which was the word used in England until the mid-1600s, before the more posh-sounding parlour or drawing room came into popular usage. Still, living room is now the standard, if only because Ikea always refers to the part of a house after the main door as that. According to a survey by the British department store John Lewis, age and lounge correlate. If you are a millennial—and I guess you are—you are likely to use living room. Those older (35-54 years, and only referring to the English), tend to say lounge.

“People did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed

 

Even outmoded as an expression for living room, lounge is adopted in the first half of the conflation that refers to clothes you wear at home, not necessarily just in the space where sofas are usually placed, where you receive those currently disallowed creatures, guests. In the distant past, people did have the habit of getting out of their sleepwear, at least in the west, even when I suspect pyjamas served its purpose out of bed (unless it was even before pyjamas—a word, incidentally of Hindi origin— when the nightshirt or nightdress for women was widely worn). Lines started to blur in the Roaring Twenties: The deep cry of excitement was most pronounced when Coco Chanel introduced silk pyjamas as evening wear (there was even a version for the beach). And once hooked, many women no longer equate the pyjamas with or remember them as men’s bedroom garb once brought back to England by colonials with stints in India.

Loungewear as a word came into use in the mid-’50s, when it became more acceptable for both men and women wearing the shirt-and-pants combo to lounge in, or for what was also known as “leisure”, so much so that there were brands and shops that sold clothing worn at home. Things might have accelerated when, two years earlier, the 1953 film Roman Holiday allowed an adorable Audrey Hepburn to face the camera in what looked like a set of men’s pyjamas. Relaxed clothing have, of course, never really been restricted to the lounge. Since that Holiday, pyjamas-outside-the-bedroom/lounge appear to have gone from strength to strength, culminating in Grace Coddington wearing Michael Kors pyjamas to the Met Gala in 2015’s China Through the Looking Glass. Today, even Big Bang’s Taeyang reportedly loves not getting out of his PJs.

Loungewear 4Have T-shirts and shorts not always been our version of loungewear?

Loungewear as a fashion category has since expanded to include almost anything that is deemed comfortable. The key is to dress to chill, which allows another curious phrase to come into use—“comfort dressing”, as if clothes traditionally worn inside of one’s home have been doors away from comfort. Regardless of word choice, loungewear now includes athleisure staples such as pullovers and sweatpants, and virtually anything—or the lack of—that can be considered comfortable. And they are not just for the confines of your home and those confined with you. I see how loungewear have now become Zoom-ready (nobody dresses up even for Zoom happy hour!), as well as IG-ready. I see how loungewear is touted online with the same fervour as the other definitely newer category “fashion mask”. I see how those in loungewear can perform for the world to see, such as Dick Lee in a striped singlet, belting what else but Home. Or the Mediacorp stars, stuck indoors, urging you to Stay Home for SG via their smartphone, in full loungewear glory.

We are in the thick of a pandemic that not only stopped the world in its tracks, but also halted the inclination for many to slip into slacks. To better binge on Netflix or AirBnB’s virtual experiences? Going extremely casual is, without doubt, our national passion. On our island, we are stuck to our shorts, sometimes so ratty, it’s regrettable they have to be dispatched to meet the day. We have, in fact, derived such a narcotic joy from clothes that are of “unpolished comfort”, to quote ST, that we risk being enslaved to the uniform of well-worn T-shirts and shorts, with nary a soupçon of style, even after the lockdown is totally lifted. It is, of course, true that with a downturn in spending on clothes, who’s thinking of looking polished? Or presentable, since we have no one to present ourselves to. Perhaps at Zoom parties?!

I had thought that the casualisation of fashion would stop right at athleisure or the hem of track pants. How much more dress-down can we get from there? More! Especially when home is the centrestage of our life. Few activity is as anti-fashion as, for example, Netflix—binge watching requires no polished form of dress. Nor, for that matter, watching others on TikTok in their loungewear fineness against a domestic setting—captivating it seems to see people in mundane buzz. Regardless of what online magazines and newspapers are encouraging people to do, few groom for Zoom or the like, except perhaps Anna Wintour, who’s on the video chat app “day in day out”, as she told Naomi Campbell on the latter’s YouTube show No Filter. What would Karl Lagerfeld—if he were alive—have said to the Vogue editor after seeing her in what has been reported to be sweatpants? “Tres chic, Anna”? Or would he repeat his famous retort: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat”?

Photos: Jim Sim

No Turning Back

In the post-COVID-19 world, fashion can’t return to what it was. Dries Van Noten led the clarion for change by first issuing an open letter to address concerns about the future of the industry. Now, moving forward, another group is calling for the resolve of “rewiring fashion” as lockdown throughout the world eases. Will they be heard? Has the fashion business become too crumpled to be ironed out of its creases?

 

20-05-18-20-12-41-643_deco

By Raiment Young

Fashion has fallen on hard times. And before it crashes through the cutting room floor, many in the industry are calling for the change that was previously talked about, but not met with actual action. Last week, Dries Van Noten, leading a group that includes fellow designers Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu, as well as Acne Studio CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo and others, initiated the call with an Open Letter to the Fashion Industry that said “the current environment, although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our businesses, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.”

It went on to propose “adjusting the seasonality and flow of both womenswear and menswear goods, starting with the Autumn/Winter 2020 season (which was already shown in February/March and January respectively)”. The recommendation asked for selling seasons to be “put back” to the time frame followed in the past—fall/winter in August—January and spring/summer in February—July. In addition, it urged for a “more balanced flow of deliveries through the season to provide newness but also time for products to create desire”. And discounting provided only at the end of the season so as to “allow for more full-price selling”.

In sync with the call for long-term socio-ecological balance in fashion, the letter-writers also advocated “increase sustainability throughout the supply chain and sales calendar” by producing “less unnecessary products”, adopting “less travel”, and reviewing the traditional fashion show format. These are all pertinent proposals that have been brought up in the past, especially among brands that have not been able to enjoy the production resources and marketing might of bigger names or those who are managed by conglomerates. It is, however, the first time they’re communicated so succinctly and purposefully in one missive, signed off by noted industry figures.

Signatories of open letterSome of the signatories of the Open Letter: (from left)  Acne Studios CEO Mattias Magnusson, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo, Dries Van Noten, Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu. Individual photos: source

Shortly after the Open Letter was announced, another group headlined by Phillip Lim, Rodarte, and Proenza Schouler put together the plan, Rewire Fashion, which was soon followed by its own independent micro-site. “Facilitated by” the industry news portal Business of Fashion (BOF), Rewire Fashion is like one group seconding the proposals of another, while going into more details by identifying the problems and offering possible solutions, with very specific call out to fashion show pressures: “that there should be no rules—imposed by convention or fashion councils—regarding the format of shows, nor any expectations that every brand should show every season”, as well as fashion retailers’ deeply-rooted “addiction” to the very modern proclivity of “extreme discounting”.

These are proposals that have no doubt been brewing for a while. However necessary the changes put forward, it may be difficult to undo the forces and practices put into momentum by powerful corporate hands for a long time. In fact, some habits are so entrenched in the fashion consumption culture of today that halting them would be just like asking the community not to consume. Take discounting: many have been weaned on buying not regular retail prices that even if the full-price selling season could be restored, most would just wait out till the end-of-season sale. The reality of fashion is that few seasonal items are so desirable that they can’t wait to be bought three months or so later.

If brands are telling consumers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged, why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so?

 

With most brands and businesses facing overstock issues this season and likely the next, or even further down the road, discounting may be a necessary evil for a while and for the duration shoppers need to get accustomed to the next new-normal. The question we find ourselves asking in response to mark downs is on the other side of the practice—mark ups. If brands are telling consumers by way of retailers that early and immoderate discounting must not be encouraged (so don’t get used to them), why are consumers not able to sway brands from reducing the frequency of or holding back price hikes, especially at a time when it would be unseemly to do so? Prices climb from an already steep leap-off point. A S$560 Gucci T-shirt that could pass off as a Uniqlo offering don’t merit a discount before purchase consideration? How many, indeed, truly shop at full price? Even members of the fashion media don’t, not when they have the unsaid but well-enjoyed privilege of press or influencer discount.

Prices of designer fashion have reached such prohibitive levels this past decade that they are driving the engine of growth of the resale market. Just look at Japan, not only is second-hand fashion a massive and expanding business, major players—they have, in fact, become chain stores—such as Ragtag have a flagship that can be as large, if not larger, than even the European brands’. What makes these Japanese resale stops the go-to among both locals and tourists is the quality of the merchandise. More often than not, they are well curated and are as good as new. And fashionable individuals know they don’t need on-season clothes to look on trend. And it does not take a fashion observer with an acute sense to see that fashion is not just the desire of the wealthy. The presence of “entry-level” goods in every luxury store is clear indication that most brands offer products beyond the reach of more than 50 percent of those in the queue to get in, to the extent that entry-level is necessary to spur growth. For those who would not be mindlessly ensnared, there are resale vendors, where, for the price of one boutique’s entry-level, they are able to score the secondhand outlet’s sartorial grail.

20-05-19-00-53-59-504_deco

Fashion consumption these days may be somewhat homogeneous—the love of Dior dresses is as intense anywhere on the globe—but the time/period/season they are needed may vary. Take Asia, for example. It is widely acknowledged that China is the world’s main driver of spending on the high-end. According to McKinsey’s China Luxury Report 2019, “Chinese consumers at home and abroad spent 770 billion RMB (or 115 billion USD) on luxury items” in 2018. This is “equivalent to a third of the global spend”. If you include the rest of Asia, that would rank this continent the largest market for luxury goods. Many in this part of the world follow the lunar calendar, which makes, among other occasions, the Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) an important date and celebration. All brands know the importance of tapping into pre-festival spending, so they release the first drop of spring/summer in December (even in November). If, according to both groups’ proposal of deliveries to match seasons, will many—in particular Southeast Asians—be shopping for Spring Festival by browsing the autumn/winter rack?

It is not yet certain how a motley gathering of fashion practitioners that include designers, buyers, and executives will be able to see the proposals through. So far, it has been a call to action, not quite a concrete plan hot-stamped on leather or fused on silk. After the past months of fashion retail standstill, the journey forward is expected to be fraught with yet-to-be experienced uncertainties and pitfalls. We’re all for change—that’s fashion’s DNA. But after extended periods of staying at home, where fashion is, at best, asleep, most consumers may be counting what they have not worn (yet?) than thinking if autumn/winter deliveries will be in time for a splurge on more clothes or bags that have done delivery schedules justice and the supply chains proud.

Illustrations: Just So

Your Fave Bags Cost More Even Before The Pandemic Ends

At Chanel, the only way is up

 

Chanel Classic handbagChanel Classic—the 11.12— handbag created by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 reinterpreted the 2.55 designed by Coco Chanel in 1955, hence the name. Illustration: Just So

The house of Chanel wasted no time. The moment lockdown eases in Europe and North Asia, prices of their bags and kindred leather goods went up. What they now charge are significantly high enough that in Seoul and Shanghai (and other Chinese cities) shoppers queue at the Chanel stores to cop their favourite bags before the new prices set in. So long the queues have been in Seoul that city officials are reportedly now pondering if they should ask Chanel to close. It is amazing that despite what Seoul (or South Korea) went through, there are those who could return to the consumptive life prior to lockdown, as if their present world is reset to that time. While it is widely said that life will not be the same before the pandemic ends, for some, it’s back-to-before with such haste and vigor. Along this social emancipation, Chanel resumed operations with a swift price hike, while other fashion businesses are waking up from a nightmare, struggling with managing inventories, and pondering closure.

The rush to buy seen in Seoul is understandable. This is as much revenge as desperate spending. COVID-19 has allowed us to realise that ‘essentials’ are different things to different people. Oftentimes they have nothing to do with staples and sustenance. Chanel knows that too. Their bags, more expensive than a fridge or a PC, are as essential now as before, perhaps even more—the apparent result of pent-up demand and aching despair. Sales, therefore, will likely be bloated than dented. Yet, making them dearer seems like a good strategy, never mind that Chanel will continue to sell the same quilted bags for many years to come. The 2.55 and its later reincarnation the 11.22 (also called the “Classic”, re-imagined by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983, the first year of his tenure), for examples, wouldn’t go out of fashion and will continue to sell in the multitude for decades to come. Regardless, a price increase is deemed necessary as if the cash cows shall be no more, as if two months of store closures will bring the great house down.

Chanel @ Taka Apr 2020Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre shortly before the Circuit Breaker

According to Chanel, as quoted in the press, “The price adjustments only regard Chanel’s iconic handbags, 11.12 and 2.55, as well as Boy, Gabrielle, Chanel 19 bags, and certain small leather goods.” And the purpose of the exercise? “These adjustments are made while ensuring that we avoid excessive price differentials between countries, in line with our commitments regarding price harmonization.” We are not in the luxury business, so we won’t know with certainty if that justification makes sense. But the timing of these “adjustments” seems add odds with the prevalent consumer mood. It sounds insensitive and opportunistic, more so when Chanel’s brand value this year, according to the annual ranking BrandZ Top 50 France, is worth USD43 billion, below number one Louis Vuitton’s USD$53.4 billion. For many average (if that’s not belittling) Chanel customer, it’s quite unfathomable that Chanel, with USD11.12 billion worth of sales in 2018, can’t stomach two months of no sale and attendant costs without resorting to making their popular products more expensive. Or is that naive?

“Harmonizing” of prices is, of course, not new. Chanel, proud of its practice and considers itself a transparent pioneer in this area, typically adjust their prices bi-annually to, according to the brand, “avoid excessive price differentials between countries”. We do not know of the percentages of past adjustments, but the current highest of 17% (in Euros) is described by some observers as “audacious”. Chanel, of course, can afford not to be cautious or modest. They are a luxury business. However, years before earnings were first announced in 2018, it was known that the privately-owned company made “subtle adjustments that were reflected on the price tags, not announced like that”, as an industry veteran told us. Welcome, we hear many say, to the school of Apple retail.

Chanel @ Taka 2 Apr 2020Despite the long queue outside Chanel, it’s always relatively calm inside—more conducive for bag buying regardless the price

No matter how the news broke, the surprise and dismay to many were palpable online. The common refrain, as uttered by an English YouTuber known for her unboxing videos, is that it “feels like the most insensitive time to be whacking your prices up, particularly by such a large amount.” What’s intriguing is that it’s not as if Chanel was not able to anticipate the quick return to form. There was already indication that their bag business was probably not going to be affected severely. It would bounce back. On 6 April, the day before our city went into lockdown that is euphemistically called Circuit Breaker, a snaking line was seen outside the Chanel store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. The demand then was Circuit Breaker-defying and it’s not unreasonable to assume Chanel wouldn’t lose its brand value and ranking when social distancing measures are eased or lifted. Price hikes of anything on any day is hardly welcome news. Chanel’s prices, like those of its competitors, are expected to climb, but during an inadequately mitigated pandemic, with the very real threat of a second wave of infection, the increases smack of corporate indifference.

Diehard fans and those referred to as “elite customers” (presumably with direct access to a VIP room than the need to join a queue) will probably take the new prices in their stride, but others are miffed. It is understandable why people are. As one designer told SOTD, “it will only impact those who save their lunch money to buy the bags. The rich cannot be bothered, I’m sure.” The British YouTuber, too, said, “There’s so much uncertainty: People might have lost their jobs, people are not on full pay, people who are self-employed in the UK not getting any help… of all the times to put your prices up, now is not it.” It is doubtful that in deciding to raise their prices, Chanel had considered the jobless, those who suffered pay cuts, or the income-insecure part-timers. Which stirs the speculation that the brand is trying to weed out a particular group of queue-willing fans. If you have to worry about keeping your job or buying your next meal, Chanel is really another planet.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Here Comes RoboDog

It’s sent out to make sure that when you’re out to walk in the park, or jog, you’re not pulling up to the bumper in front of you. But does it bark?

 

Robot dog Lima 002The robot dog seen doing its rounds at Bishan park

By Low Teck Mee

We do have a knack for doing things to get noticed. These days it isn’t enough, for example, that we retain the title of the World’s Best Airport for Changi (the now empty Jewel, no doubt, an added reason for the clinch), we need to be the World’s First Country to Deploy a Robot Dog to patrol our parks as part of the hi-tech effort to fight COVID-19. Identified as Lima 002 on its body and produced by the American engineering and robotics design outfit Boston Dynamics, this headless, four-legged creature seemed to me destined to be the next Merlion, only way more mobile.

NParks’ deployment of this creature in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park has naturally created a lot of press for SG, still in the very midst of bringing COVID-19 infection numbers down and making sure you keep your safe distance from me. But when it gets a roughly 90-sec mention in A Late Show with Stephen Colbert at Home, we seemed to be heady with pride, just as we were when our pandemic case detection efforts were deemed “gold standard” by a Harvard University study. The gold has now lost its sheen, but something else looks poised to shine forth. “Robot dog enforcement—that must be so cool,” Mr Colbert enthused, before showing a footage from Black Mirror, the 2011 British television series (available on Netflix, if you are curious) as a mistaken-identity joke.

In that 2017 season-four episode called Metalhead, which, interestingly, was filmed in black and white, we follow a speak-not-quite-much character Bella in a world that appears to be coming to a horrific, death-galore end. What’s frightening for me is Bella’s harrowing run from robot dogs gone amok. Series creator Charlie Brooker admitted to Entertainment Weekly that the mechanical creatures in the show was actually inspired by the Boston Dynamics canid that goes by the innocuous name Spot.

Metalhead robot dogThe robot beast in the Black Mirror episode Metalhead

In Metalhead, the beasts in question looked more like deformed turtles with faceted shells and long, super nimble legs. As they are so agile and so willing to kill upon sighting humans, they look terrifying, more so as they roam and slay in a world so barren and damaged that it looks positively hopeless. Black Mirror has been described as a “future shock” anthology, and if the Metalhead episode foretold a hereafter, possibly already destroyed by a virus (the backstory is not revealed, so I allow my imagination to fill in), I shudder to imagine what prelude N-Parks’ sudden deployment (also referred to as “trial”) of the Lima 002 might suggest. Stephen Colbert concluded with, “I gotta say, people would be more receptive if the dog was cuter, cuddlier, and less dystopian.” Ah, Mr Colbert, this, you see, isn’t Japan—we don’t equate cute with patrolling.

Our very own, now seen in our midst, looks exactly like Spot, in the same yellow as traffic markings on roads. It isn’t known how many of these wired creatures N-Parks have acquired or will sent out eventually, but from the videos I have seen, that one dog is enough to inspire thoughts of rage of machines! It is creepily agile, with a ready-to-pounce gallop-gait, and seems highly aware of human presence. Who knows? This could be a crime-busting ex-police dog revived as a headless cyborg safe-distancing ambassador!

At the moment the metal canine is deployed to “encourage” (other words used include “assist” and “promote”), as the media reported, social distancing. It is equipped with cameras (notice, plural!) that enable park managers to estimate the number of visitors they receive. When unsafe proximity is detected, the mutt-ranger will play a recorded message to remind visitors that safe distancing measures are applicable, even under the trees. No barking! Frankly, I’m embarrassed that after more than two months of social-distancing public notices, we still need to be reminded of where to place ourselves in a crowd, and by a mechanical animal. I am also thinking, isn’t this similar to the drones used in China to chastise people for not wearing face masks? I suppose we’re deploying (robot) dogs because drones, by now, are a tad too common. And probably won’t arouse the deep interest of WFH Stephen Colbert.

Photo: (top) Getty Images, (bottom) screen grab/Youtube

Death At Home

For now, fashion is departing the life it no longer is

 

D@Home

Fashion is a way of communicating to others something about yourself. But now that our lives are mostly subscribed by the four walls we call home, who are we communicating with? Your Zoomates not withstanding, does anyone really care? We may be encouraged to dress nicely at home when working, but it is doubtful people do. Nor, when out on an errand to acquire necessities—Balenciaga for boba tea? It’d be very curious that despite the relative anonymity face masks—now compulsory—afford, there are those who’d bother with what others in the socially-distanced queue, waiting to get into Fairprice, wear.

Home is where the heart is, but the heart alone may not be enough to save fashion from a certain fate: demise. Or, at least ebb. Home is not necessarily a great backdrop for fashion, unless home is a Sentosa Cove abode with an interior design inspired by the four seasons (the actual weatherly divisions of the year, not the hotel chain). Home is set up for attire other than what is worn out for tasks or activities that require even a smidgen of fashion. That’s why when we get home, we fall into the habit of slipping into something more comfortable. Home is not where fashion gets its moment. That’s why we have clothes set aside for wearing when in one’s residence. Homebound, over a period unnaturally long, encourages and hastens fashion into a flagging preoccupation. We unsubscribe from fashion.

For many of us, we have a set of clothes worn at home, whether old garments or bought specifically for home use (likely the former) that many do refer as home clothes, rather than home fashion. Sure, fashion types have tried to convince us that under lockdown, we can be attired as if we’re with friends at a cocktail bar. Why anyone would be inclined to do so is hitherto inexplicable. Home fashion is oxymoronic. Stay at home and in the latest fashion are so antithetical that it’s truly eye-opening when Vogue.com offered “4 Refreshing Spring Fashion Trends You Can Wear at Home”. We have always looked at fashion media for ideas that can be adopted outside. Now we’re seeking trends that can exist in a domestic setting? Perhaps Vogue staffers lead very different at-home lives than most of us.

Sartorial habits of home kill fashion; they destroy, if not diminish, desire and compulsion

 

Home is where we tend to “switch off”, where we can go (stay!) without—or with just—underclothes, where we don’t have to be concerned with how good we look, how raggy our rags. Home makes us creatures of habit: We get used to the comfort, to the familiar, to things. Habits tend not to change when we’re not out of doors. We also have the habit of keeping our best clothes for better occasions usually not confined to our habitat. Sartorial habits of home kill fashion; they destroy, if not diminish, desire and compulsion. And the longer we stay at home, even with productive work, the more likely fashion as we know or remember it, before isolating ourselves became a socially responsible act, will come to an end.

Home clothes are not anywhere near what we see worn on TV. From Friends to Modern Family to Fresh off the Boat, dressing for the commute between bedroom and kitchen requires considerable effort, not to mention makeup. It’s the same with K-dramas: Every character is attired as if they will be out to the swankiest part of the city the next minute; they don’t distinguish between outside clothes and home wear. Conversely, we tend not to draw a distinction between what we put on at home and what we don out, just as private and public behaviours are often indistinct. T-shirts and shorts are de rigueur, as prevalent in the living room as they are in spaces where fashion is expected. We are happy with how home clothes need not morph into something else even when we are going out on the town. We like home clothes so much, in fact, that many of us are happy that one of the perks of working from one’s residence is that we don’t have to dress for work. The old mores of office-appropriate are, well, old, just as working in an office is so pre-pandemic.

Perhaps it’s different elsewhere. Or in the digital sphere. If cyberspace is where you are most active, there maybe a small chance that home clothes may be better home clothes, not necessarily fashionable clothes. Perhaps the grim reaper isn’t quite ready to knock on fashion’s door. Going online allows many to go beyond their four walls of home. Fashion can have a social setting (it loves company), keeping its possible doom at bay. Recently we read of Netizens going on “video-chat dress-up dates”. This may, of course, creep some people out. Cyber debauchery or just shenanigans, who knows? But at least they’re wearing and showing and admiring what we hope is fashion.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

阿莲 On The Book Tote?

In China, you could have it if you wanted to. But Dior’s personalisation for one of its most popular bags may have an unintended effect: could it be fake?

 

ABCDior in Chinese fontABCDior personalisation in Chinese font. From left, the bags of actresses/celebs Zhang Xueying, Jing Tian, and Wu Jinyan. Photos: Dior/Weibo

Dior’s bag personalisation service, ABCDior, has arrived in China with the option of having the Book Tote, to name one, embroidered in logosyllabic Chinese characters. According to some local media reports, ABCDior as embroidered-name-on-bag has been met with lukewarm response. Despite celebrity endorsement and a feverish return to shopping after the COVID-19 lockdown has been lifted, women are not biting. Surprising?

To be sure, the Book Tote is, by most accounts and inane unboxing videos, still a popular bag, but would hanzi (汉字) of your choice enhance its appeal? For the Chinese, the height of prestige and sophistication is association with a European name, spelled out in letters of the Latin alphabet. Luxury brand’s snob appeal would be considerably, if not entirely, reduced if Chinese characters take the place of anything from A to Z and back again, so much so that, with the exception of the press, Chinese consumers rarely, if ever, write Dior in its Chinese script: 迪奥 (pronounced dí ào).

One major complaint, it appears, is the font choice. According to reports, as well as posts on Weibo, many (even Dior fans) are horrified by the plain and generic typeface, believed to be Source Han Sans, a sans-serif gothic type conceived by Adobe and Google, first released in 2014. This was clearly picked to match Dior Book Tote’s serif-free, unidentified typeface, that has the minimalism of the-still-popular Helvetica, but none of the latter’s relaxed cool nor the elegance of the original font, designed by the Parisian typographer Georges Peignot. In English, or French, the full name of the creator of the New Look, while unnecessarily busy-looking in full caps, still evokes widespread admiration and respect. What does the name of actresses—or the regular Dior consumer—call up?

Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy cake

 

To be certain, the brand name of the unlined, Oblique-patterned Dior Book Tote is still kept since its already embroidered as part of the jacquard canvas. For the ABCDior service, the customer’s name is embroidered on the opposite, (for most users) body-facing side, which, in the end, may not front the public as much as Monsieur Dior’s full name. Although Dior has engaged actresses—looking like they are out to the supermarket—such as Zhang Xueying (张雪迎, due to appear in the new Chen Kaige film Flowers Bloom in the Ashes) and Jing Tian (景甜, in a nearly wordless role in 2017’s King Kong: Skull Island) to show off the bag with their names on it, the effort smacks of pretentious display. Personal branding to augment luxury branding is merely the sprinkles on an already fancy, good-to-look-at gateau.

There is also the thought that the Dior with Chinese characters, featuring a bland font, look like fakes, an unimaginative Qipu Lu (七浦路) Market—if you’re in Shanghai—spin-off. We also see another fake—personalisation as fake customisation. This is, in fact, merely identification, rather than personalisation that reflect one’s personality. Placing your name on a bag is the same as inscribing your initials on the back of a watch, on the body of a pen, in the inside of a ring—it does not make the watch, the pen, and the ring any different from when you first chose either. It does not become more you.

And there’s a third fake: an unreal sense of superiority—that because one’s bag now comes with one’s name could be better than another without. The thing about such personalisation is that one person’s name is not another’s titular treasure. If, as it is commonly known, tai tais and society ladies sell their bags to acquire the next newest, would a tote that spots a name such as 阿莲 (Ah Lian) have appeal, let alone resale value?

Of course, the personalised Book Tote was already carried by stars such as Rihanna and the KOL Chiara Ferangni way before ABCDior embroiderers travelled the world. The service was available here last June at the Dior store in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The personalisation, as we understand it, was not available in Chinese characters then. Dior had not made known the total number of bags—in the Oblique monogram style only, including the Diorcamp messenger (and the Walk‘n’Dior sneakers)—that had been embroidered. We may, therefore, never know of the personalisation’s popularity here. In the end, our names, like any child knows, should be, at most, used as icing on birthday cakes.

Collage: Just So