Not That Smart

After a series of controversial posts, Malaysian beauty queen’s apology does not make her look better


SKJ 1Malaysian Miss Universe Samantha reposed at home. Photo: smanthakayty/Instagram 

We appreciate beauty queens wanting to make the world a better place. That through them, there are those who are inspired to lead better lives. Recently, Malaysian Miss Universe (2017) Samantha Katie James tried, and in doing so, did her patriotic bit to elevate her country into international spotlight by commenting, via Instagram, on the ongoing social unrest in the US. She wrote—specifically “to the black people”—“Relax, take it as a challenge, makes you stronger. You choose to be born a ‘coloured’ person in America for a reason. To learn a certain lesson…” If incendiary needed a real-life, IG-framed example, this is it.

It wasn’t enough that Ms James thinks one chooses the colour of one’s skin. To her, one also chooses where one is born. What’s even more audacious—or just ignorant, as her fans and kinder folks describe the post—is her calling the black people she addressed “coloured”, a word choice presently considered offensive. In America, the preferred term is “people of colour”, which describes the collective group that is not white. A “coloured person” is evocative of those days before the ’60s and even earlier, when commercial signs bearing the phrase “Colored-Only” were known to exist on entrances to buildings, facilities, and shops, and are a reminder of the era of segregation in the American South.

SKJ's original IG postsThe original IG posts that got Netizens rather riled up

If that wasn’t colour-insensitive enough, Ms James went on to say, “I don’t live in America and it has nothing to do with me, but to me, it seems like the ‘whites’ won.” Seemingly convinced of white victory, she wrote back to negative comments that pointed to her social privilege, saying she identifies as white and, as a consequence, have experienced prejudice: “I was insulted all my life for being a white girl in local Malaysian school”. Ms James is of Chinese-Brazilian parentage. It is reported that she has never met her father. Her mother placed her in foster care with a Malaysian-Indian family for 15 years. While she has represented Malaysia in the Miss Universe contest and is known to speak fluent Malay, she has not been able to say, through her posts, that she is a Malaysian. Rather, she elevates herself as though a creature of privileged, white intelligentsia.

Not living in America often and mostly means none of us in this part of the world are able to understand the complexities of African-Americans’ lives and the factors that led to outrage and the current protests. While showing support is laudable, criticising the protesters for standing up to treatment that they have faced for such a long time, and now the death of George Floyd after many others, is bringing a benighted self to a community in pain. On what platform does Ms James operate that she is able to tell African-Americans to “accept it as it is”? CNN political commentator Angela Rye said on Cuomo Prime Time today, “The reason for this outcry is because people are tired of being treated as invisible, as disposable, as voiceless, and as though they don’t matter.” Should the black people that Ms James speak of—all people, for that matter—except these treatments as they are?

SKJ 2Samantha Katie James and the infamous “nasi lemak” evening wear. Yes, the daun pisang is part of the look. Photo: New Straits Times

Ms James was placed first in Miss Universe Malaysia in 2017. This was a second attempt, after her first in 2013 got her as far as a place in the top eight. At the Miss Universe finals in Las Vegas, she was unplaced. While she did not win, she is still remembered for something as controversial as her post, but for more innocuous—a particular body-hugging nasi-lemak gown (for the national dress segment of the pageant), designed by ESMOD Paris alum Brian Khoo, who once briefly interned at Dior. Ms James told New Straits Times in 2017, in response to the criticisms of the joke-dress), “I don’t care what people say”, a sentiment she seemed to have echoed in response to the reactions to her posts. Many in Malaysia have, in fact, asked for her title to be stripped. Presently, there are 108,085 signatures on a page set up to effect that. The Miss Universe Malaysia Organization has said that it has nothing to do with Ms James as she had opted out early of her three-year contract that came with the title.

In her latest IG post, published as apology, she said, “Im (sic) sorry, I know you’re hurting.” If her earlier posts were incendiary, her apology is insincere—she is not sorry for her words; she is sorry because people are hurting! She follows with a strange new age-y construct of why she wrote what she wrote: “…we are more than just this temporary physical body, like avatar, merely a tiny speck of dust in this vast infinite universe, we tend to overlook that from time to time.” And added that “we chose our body, our family, our place of birth, our name and our lessons from the path we take tailor made for us.” White Americans, in their understanding and accepting of black culture, are thought to not have worked hard enough. Can that be said of Samantha Katie James? Or, are we expecting too much of some beauty queens?

Bags: Louis Vuitton Vs Chanel

Which is at top of the food chain?


LV vs Chanel

A week or so ago, we were brought to the attention of the post of a disgruntled, anonymous NUS student on the Facebook page, NUSWhispers*. In that 214-word “confession”, as the page admin calls the entries, the dismayed complainant said that “LV is for poor people who want to look rich.” How she came to that conclusion isn’t clear. But her thought on Louis Vuitton was spurred from not receiving the brand she wanted: Chanel.

As her straightforward telling went, “Recently my boyfriend bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet which costs around $700 for my birthday. When I saw the wallet, I felt really upset and disappointed. Because earlier this year, my sister’s bf got her a Chanel wallet which costs at least $1000 for her birthday. Chanel is so much nicer than LV.” Price, the world noted, equals nice.

That was not the only comparison she made, but we won’t explore them as they aren’t related to luxury bags/wallets, and will detract from the main thrust of this post (you can read about her grievance here). She concluded with clearly self-absorbed unhappiness: “Sometimes I really feel like a loser.” It, naturally, garnered no sympathy, certainly not from the commentators on NUSWhispers.  It did, however, make us wonder: which is indeed more desirable—Louis Vuitton or Chanel?

There is, surprisingly, no definitive ranking of luxury handbag brands. According to one price-based list offered by the luxury shopping service The Luxe Link, Chanel ranks third, after Hermès and Delvaux. LV is fifth. In a listicle posted by the website Who What Wear on the “the 10 most popular designer bags ever” (and shared by Yahoo News in March), Chanel ranks 2nd (for quilted bags) and Louis Vuitton, 3rd (for the Alma). First goes to Hermès (for the Birkin).

While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist


In an unscientific, un-representational, and unorthodox poll that we recently conducted among (admittedly small number of ) 12 fashion folks, we asked our interviewees one very simple question: “If you were to buy a handbag, LV or Chanel?” The answers were almost unanimous. Eleven chose Chanel, while one insisted on selecting Hermès. On why LV repeatedly ranks behind Chanel, one observer told us, ”LV is Coach for those with just enough money”. Still, “not for poor people who want to look rich.”

Once, as we walked past a line outside Chanel at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, we overheard a young woman tell her friend, while looking across at the LV store, “I’d rather die than queue opposite.” While luxury-brand snobbery is rarely discussed among shoppers of expensive bags, it does exist. Hermès fans know, for example, that you don’t buy a Birkin off the shelf (assuming you could); you join a wait list.

A fashion insider we spoke to noted that, despite the recent price hikes, many tai-tais who carry luxury handbags do prefer Chanel. LV is for “smallish bags”. Apparently some of them have recently been disappointed with LV for selling them what was touted as a limited edition: the S$2,570 “hybrid cross-body” Multi Pochette Accessoires. “But strange thing is,” the puzzled person continued, “that every lady said it was limited, and yet all of them have it!”

20-06-03-02-11-07-258_decoJamie Chua showing the bags that she “regretted buying”. Screen grab: Jamie Chua/YouTube

Socialite Jamie Chua, who bought her first Chanel—the 2.55—when she was 17, could be a reliable person to shed some light on luxury bag ranking. We turned to her Youtube channel for guidance. In one of her videos that has chalked up an impressive 1.5 million views, she listed five bags that she “regretted buying”, and all of them are from Chanel: a gold mini ‘Boy’, a two-tone Lucite evening ‘Watch’ bag, a ‘Belt Buckle’ minaudière (small, decorative handbag), a pink (“that Jamie loves”) ‘Round as Earth’ patent leather bag, and a La Pausa ‘Life Buoy’ bag.

And the five she likes most? “I really feel kind of bad,” she said. “All my favourites are Hermes.” But that’s hardly surprisingly when you consider the 200 over Hermès bags she has collected—believed to be the largest in the world by a single individual—and displays in a famous, viewed-by-many, 700 sq ft, walk-in wardrobe. Although most of what she wished she hadn’t bought were deemed impractical due to their smallness, she was happy with one S$22,000 Chanel ‘Rocket Ship’ bag, as it “value-adds to the beauty of this closet”. Clearly there are women who don’t wait for their boyfriends to buy them bags, and be disappointed.

*Despite the page title, what’s posted in NUSWhispers is not even remotely academic or shared in hush tones. From acute friendlessness to jilted hearts to “really obsessed with boobs” to “girls need to improve their online dating app conversation starter skills”, one can’t escape the rather juvenile quality of the “confessions”, many so inane, they’re hard to read for longer than it takes to close a double-C clasp. There is chatter that the post we have been discussing here is just the person trolling. Even so, it could be troll mimicking life.

Illustration: Just So