Hang Tags: Necessary Truth?

Nine months after reports of alleged forced labour used in Xinjiang for cotton production, Muji still proudly announces that they’re using cotton from the troubled region, despite being called out for this damaging association

About nine months ago, Xinjiang—a region in China’s northwest—was thrust into the fashion spotlight. Last November, reports in mainstream media emerged, stating that Xinjiang cotton-supply sources were considered to have violated human rights. According to one BBC report, “rights groups say Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority are being persecuted and recruited for forced labour.” Reuters also wrote that these groups “named H&M, Ikea, Uniqlo and Muji among companies selling merchandise made with cotton from Xinjiang where the United Nations estimates at least a million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims have been detained in massive camps.”

H&M and Ikea responded by saying that their suppliers no longer deal with Xinjiang cotton. Both Uniqlo and Muji apparently did not answer media queries. Perhaps remaining silent was a better way to ride out the controversy. But Muji did not seem to want to play down their links to Xinjiang. Up till now, those clothes made of “Xinjiang cotton”—both knits and wovens—are unambiguously identified. While China is recognised as the world’s largest producer of cotton, it isn’t clear if there are marketing advantages in identifying the source of Muji’s fabrics, in particular this cotton. Muji’s French linens, possibly made from French flax and likely made into textile in China, isn’t identified by region.

It is generally thought that the cotton grown in Xinjiang is the finest in China, some even think the world. According to one BBC report, Xinjiang cotton accounts for more than 85 percent of Chinese production, making this land-locked area China’s largest producer of cotton. It constitutes about 20 percent of global supply. Brands offering cotton garments prefer using Xinjiang cotton as this is of the long staple variety (even longer than renown Supima cotton), which means the cloth that is woven from this yarn is extremely soft. Unsurprising, therefore, that brands such as Muji want not only to be associated with Xinjiang cotton, but consider the region a vital part of its branding.

Apart from identifying the provenance of their cotton on their hang tags, Muji has similarly availed the information on their shelf-front signage. On their website, the said cotton is also labelled as “Xinjiang cotton”. No other description regarding the fabric’s origin is stated, but earlier media reports quoted Muji’s caption: “Made of organic cotton delicately and wholly handpicked in Xinjiang…” Handpicking is a selling point because the cotton staple remains long (as opposed to machine harvesting, such as Texas cotton, which is generally considered not as superior), an important factor in the softness of the end product. Hand picking, as imaginable, is extremely labour intensive. Given Xinjiang’s socio-political situation, it is possible that there are difficult, unfavourable labour conditions.

We are unable to find the above description on Muji’s current version of their SG website. Interestingly, Muji Hong Kong’s webpages do not state where the brand’s cotton comes from. It is not certain why some labels need to be transparent when it comes to cotton and not other fabrics. Many labels use silk, for example, from China, but consumers are none the wiser with regards to the exact origin of the fabric. Where fashion’s snob appeal is concerned, country of manufacture seems to carry more weight than provenance of fabric or yarn.

As far as we are aware, Muji is not inclined to name or identity their sources, although cottons from countries rather than regions have been named, such as Turkey and India. So, it arouses the curious mind to see the troubled region of Xinjiang feature so prominently on their tags and and shelf signs, and online. At Muji’s flagship store this afternoon, we asked one young chap, who selected for himself a white collarless shirt in a cotton from that part of China, if it bothered him that he buys cotton from Xinjiang. He asked, “Where is that?” Have you heard of the Uyghurs? “What is that?” Is it important to you where the fabric of your shirt comes from? “As long as it is comfortable, it does’t matter.” Apathy may win, but not Xinjiang.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Has TaFF Made Design Orchard Better?

The Textile and Fashion Federation took over Design Orchard from Naiise this month. We paid the store a visit

It was a Wednesday afternoon of sailing clouds. Inside Design Orchard, where we had arrived to see how TaFF (Textile and Fashion Federation) has re-made the store, it was unexpectedly still and disconcertingly cheerless. Except for the members of the sales staff (chatting among themselves), there was not one single customer. We came with sanguine expectations, but once we stepped in, it was all rather sombre. Even the market-like display of the merchandise could not lift our spirits. Many would consider this passiveness indigenous to the digital marketplace, but here, where everything is three-dimensionally more engaging, it was, ironically, just as devoid of life.

In January last year, when we acquainted ourselves with the newly opened Design Orchard, we did sense that, while the merchandise mix was initially varied and there were stocks to take up most of the space, there was no narrative. It was practically voiceless. One year and six months later, Design Orchard is still not talking to us. Or, could it be that we were not able to hear the mournful undertones? With the announcement of “The New Chapter” last month, TaFF’s taking over from the doomed Naiise as the store’s new operator filled us with hope. We thought change was afoot. But, TaFF did not create Design Orchard anew. The store looked as it did before, the products largely unchanged, the visual merchandising dreary than stirring, the layout banausic than inspired, the energy subdued than vibrant. It is unclear which was turning the new chapter: TaFF or Design Orchard.

At a time when reinvention is the buzzword for fashion retail, Design Orchard soldiers with a sameness as if its unfortunate fate could not be altered. If the tone set by its predecessor was uninspiring, the present chapter hasn’t budged beyond the first. This could have been a good opportunity to be rid of the blah that Naiise brought along with them. It is clear that Naiise’s output for the store did not match the confidence bestowed on the retailer. They did not meet the greatness that was first thought of the match. Yet, TaFF’s taking over from Naiise isn’t gleaming with the desire to shake free from the uninspiring positioning of its founding. Could some retail ideas be ill-placed to succeed from the start?

To be sure, a store that showcases Singaporean design is a good idea. There are similar emporiums in the region, such as Bangkok’s The Absolute Siam Store and Thai Designers The First Floor (at the Emporium, part of the EmQuartier complex), and Tokyo’s Studious (citywide) and the legendary Laforet in Harajuku, all of them emanating an energy that makes spending feels unburdened by guilt. And the physical act of shopping totally pleasurable. As important is how these stores have become destinations in which to discover the best the respective cities have to offer. They are habitats of good design, and also homes in which design can encourage creativity, curiosity, and culture.

Design Orchard tries to be such an establishment, but it has not been able to live up to the design part of its name. In terms of fashion, the 9,000-square-foot “retail showcase”, as it describes itself, is limited by the number of brands it can stock to reflect its purpose—the pool of labels here that can be unequivocally considered design-strong is small. To be sure, there is a staggeringly large number of clothing labels launched on our island in the past ten years. Between 2018 and the present, we counted 20-plus new names (that we are aware of). At present, more than 60 local labels are active. Yet, those with discernible design value can be counted with one hand. In fact, it is odd that Design Orchard has resisted (or have they not been able to entice) those brands that are considered under the radar, but with a discernible design voice, such as the womenswear label Baelf by the duo Jamela Law and Lionel Wong, and menswear label Nuboaix by husband-and-wife team Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee.

There are many clothing labels in Design Orchard, of course (last count, 21, excluding lingerie, swim wear, and gym wear), and TaFF is still conducting an “open call” for more to be stocked in the store. Although there is—at least for the infrequent visitor—considerable clothes to see, quantity and quality do not necessary commensurate. Discernible is a certain sameness among the labels, as if all the clothes were put together by a not quite clued-in ‘curator’; working with one factory that is unschooled by the necessity of good finishing. With products that are dismal and an atmosphere mournful, the space feels like a graveyard for designs that can’t shine.

There seems to be an aesthetical oneness, too, at Design Orchard: relaxed shapes, with a resort vibe and ethnic detailing. It is hard to make out what the merchandising point of the store is, or who the target customers are. As the project is linked to Singapore Tourism Board, (STB), it is possible that the aim is to entice tourists (just as it is at Raffles Hotel’s as-uninspired Raffles Boutique). But since it is now run by TaFF, it is possible that emphasis is in availing a ‘showcase’ to Singaporean brands to sell their wares. Does the confluence of objectives make this a bastion of fashion or design? Or, neither?

Or course, what fashion is today requires to be redefined, in the same way elegance as a fashionable expression needs to be understood as a different visual language. The (Singaporean) designer prestige of the ’80s and for the first half of the ’90s (both decades thought to be local fashion’s “golden age”) is now mostly a distant memory. ‘Designer clothes’ are no longer as meaningful today since they are not even referred to as such. As we often see, consumers are buying looks, not design. In fact, the Singaporean designer is a quickly dying breed.

Emerging brands of the past ten years—following the blogshop popularity of the mid-2000s—mostly model themselves after the wildly successful Love, Bonito. ‘Designer’ as descriptor is outmoded. More popular is the identifier ‘the Label’ (latest example: Ilo the Label). Which makes it also ironic that Design Orchard’s equally weak website without an e-shop component is emphasizing the designers behind the brands, even when design is barely discernible in their work. Assuming that this is the way onward for the retailing of Singaporean labels, the store might be better served if a small zone is indeed dedicated to designers deserving the acclaim.

Likewise, it is necessary to acknowledge that retail today, especially in times of a pandemic, needs to be redefined, if not reimagined. Design Orchard is possibly operating on survival mode—sell what is saleable, which, in commercial sense, is to reprise what is sold and pitched elsewhere, such as the nearby 313@Orchard. This many-labels-based-on-one-city-or-country approach, however, had not proved to be viable. The most recent failure was Mporium at Suntec City in 2016. Unable to stock sufficient local labels, they positioned themselves as a store “dedicated to Asian designers”. The lacklustre merchandising and a feeble narrative quickly saw the Suntec-backed Mporium close in less than a year.

TaFF has their work cut out for them. It is not easy to be hopeful of even one Singaporean label that can fly the flag for the nation; it is even less so for a store that can, for example, be selected for B magazine, or to appear in the The Monocle Book Of series. Even with the guiding hands of TaFF, Design Orchard has set it sights too far ahead for the industry to keep abreast. Perhaps we were expecting too much. TaFF inherited a store that made no mark; they’re now starting from the proverbial square one with nary a change. To be sure, we were not expecting Design Orchard to shake up retail, but neither did we think it would not make even the slightest dent. We’d wish TaFF good luck, but they need far more than that.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

Manic Mask Day

Uniqlo masks are here, and shoppers are rushing for them, just like those in Japan did

By the rather late opening hour of eleven, extremely long queues had formed outside many Uniqlo stores here. Shoppers had lined up for the brand’s AIRism masks, launched today and met with the same enthusiasm as a KAWS T-shirt drop. Over at the first Uniqlo store to open on our island at Tampines One in 2009, the buzz was that the queue had formed as early as nine, but one of the centre’s security guards said that people came as early as eight (one staffer later confirmed that to be true). Three minutes past eleven, the line outside was more than twice the length of the entire facade of the store. Even bubble tea stall Chi Cha San Chien, three floors down, wasn’t enjoying such a long line.

When we asked a middle-aged woman, laden with grocery, how she came to know about this particular mask, she replied with a frown, “It’s all over the news.” When we wondered if she thought they’d be better than what she has been wearing so far, she rejoined as if she was asked a stupid question: “Must be, lah. If not why so many people queue?” But she decided not to wait when a shopper emerging from the store—happy that she had secured the masks—told us she was in line “for at least 45 minutes”. Was it worth the wait? “Aiya, can lah. Not very long, what.”

A staffer told us that they had, in fact, anticipated that the response would be this good. Yet, it was not certain why there seemed to be some confusion as to what the procedures were apart from the queuing, which became a tad disorderly outside the designated area, where there were no marking to tell people where to stand. Two uniformed, social distancing enforcement officers had to tell many to keep their one-metre distance. A staff member went through every single person to make sure they had scanned the QR code for SafeEntry although they were yet in the store. Another made sure those too preoccupied with themselves were not an obstacle to others coming down an escalator. And another, with a tray in hand (on which samples of the mask were available for viewing, not trying), handed out little, crudely-printed-and-cut “purchase tickets” (she had to handle inquiry too, which meant she missed some waiting in line). Quite a hive to go through just to purchase a mask.

The number of packs a shopper is permitted to buy is restricted. It was clearly advantageous that a decision be made prior to visiting the store. The masks can be had in packs of three for S$14.90. They are available in black or white (no mix!), and in three sizes: S, M, and L. You are allowed to pick only one colour in one size (if you have selected a black in small, you can have a white in small, not two of the same colour for one size), which means a customer may buy up to six packs of masks per visit. Once sold, the masks cannot be exchanged or returned. Interestingly, no member of the staff was seen in the AIRism mask.

The queue moved fairly quickly as the line was dedicated for mask-buying only. Other customers not purchasing the mask may use a separate entryway. Despite this, most customers told us that they were in line for close to an hour. We were informed by one of the crew members that all the points of sales were opened and all were processing mask purchases with only one point catering to regular customers. But one shopper later told us that when she got to the counter, the reverse was true: only one out of four cashiers was serving mask buyers, while the rest attended to other shoppers. How many packs did she buy? “Only one,” she whispered. “If good, tomorrow I buy some more.”

As it turned out, the masks were sort of limited. According to a staffer, they would be available for three days only. Each store is supplied with a fixed quantity per day. About a thousands packs are limited to each store, with the larger outlets allotted more. “We won’t be restocking for today once what we have for now are sold,” she informed us. Upon hearing this, a woman immediately called someone and told the person on the other end of the line in Mandarin, “Eh, once finish, no more, leh. You want, better come now.”

At first encounter, the mask, as noted by first-time users in Japan, looks rather like underclothing (pouch of men’s thong?!). But they are not as thick as originally described. According to Japanese media reports last week, Uniqlo had “redesigned” the AIRism mask “following customer complains”. At its first launch, many Japanese had thought the masks too thick for warm-weather use, and that they were not as breathable. The new version, still three plies of the AIRism Cupro fabric (here, essentially 90% nylon and 10% spandex) for the front and rear, is now made of a mesh-weave, rendering the full mask lighter and definitely more breathable. It appears that they have made some adjustment to the fit, too. The mask is not as snug as it was previously reportedly to be. In fact, some women tried on the mask after the purchase, and thought the M size too large for them. And as there is no wire sewn into the bridge, the area around the nose tends to gape. The mask seems to cover a large area of the face too, with the base stretching along the entire jawline, possibly a con rather than a pro for those concerned about “maskne”.

Although many people consider the Uniqlo AIRism mask a ‘fashion’ mask, the actual product is far more basic and utilitarian, totally apart from ‘designer’ masks now appearing like mushrooms after the rain. There is no branding, no fancy stitching or interesting seaming, and definitely no attractive, contrast-coloured, adjustable ear cords. They don’t even look as attractive as those sold by home sewers who use cottons for quilting for their masks. Yet, from the enthusiastic response, it is clear that Uniqlo’s have captured the interest of mask wearers, even if many others are beginning to be lulled into a false sense of security and have become slack in the wearing of masks, thinking that the low community transmission numbers today are a good reason for masks to become chin support.

We managed to get our hands on a pack of the mask, so we thought we’d put one to test. The mask feels really comfortable in the hand, and the tactile superiority on the face is unmistakable. It definitely isn’t snug, and is comfortable to breathe in. And, more importantly, it did not heat up even outdoors. We took it for a ten-minute walk under the noon-day sun (the outer layer comes with SPF 50 protection) and, to our surprise, it was not a heat trap for the mouth area. One SOTD reader even told us that her glasses did not fog up. Next, we spent two hours in a room with the air-conditioning deliberately turned off (only an electric fan was on), typing this post, and we did not feel a desperate need to yank it off.

Earlier, outside Uniqlo when it opened its doors, a man had asked one of the social distancing enforcement officers what the queue was about. When he was told that the people were in line to buy masks, he wanted to know if the masks are better than those “they sell outside”. “These masks are cooler,” the helpful young chap said. The man persisted: “But are they better?” The target of the questioning coolly replied “Yah! Uniqlo, mah.”

Update (24 Aug 2020, 15:30): The queue outside the Uniqlo Tampines One store is no more. A member of the staff informed us that the masks are still available. Inside, there is a queue for regular purchases, but none for masks.

Update (24 August 2020, 20:30): A poster announcing the availability of the AIRism mask is now plastered with a “Sold Out Today” label. A few people ask the person regulating entry into the store if there would be more masks available and are told to “come back tomorrow.” They are not informed that the masks are available for three days only.

Some observers are surprised that the Uniqlo AIRism masks did not sell out a lot sooner. There is suggestion that many consumers have had their fill of masks and many are hoping that face coverings would no longer be required. As such, they do not see the need to buy more. In addition, many do no require any more black or white masks since the free ones issued to citizens and PRs prior were in black and, later, white. Uniqlo AIRism masks would be available in grey in Japan next month. The store’s staff is unable to tell us if that colour would arrive here in the future. In fact, no one knows if the masks would be available again after the 26th of August.

Update (26 August 2020, 18.15): At Uniqlo’s Orchard Central Global Flagship Store, the AIRism masks are still available at racks placed in the second and third floors. It does not look like they will sell out by this evening. A cashier told us they will continue to sell the masks tomorrow, until stocks run out.

Note: Uniqlo is careful to state on the packaging that their “masks do not completely prevent infection (infiltration)”. Use judiciously

Uniqlo AIRism masks, SGD14.90 per pack of three, are available at all Uniqlo stores from today until 26 Aug (Wed). Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Gosh, Kosh!

Dee Kosh, the YouTuber-turned-radio-DJ, is now battling some very serious allegations. The “fried chicken connoisseur”, who switches between wearing a dress and hoodie with incredible ease, “stand(s) before you” to refute accusations of inappropriate chats with and proposals to boys deemed too young to engage in social media filth

 

20-08-17-22-52-04-603_decoDee Kosh’s alter ego, the headscarf-wearing Ria Warna. Screen grab:  SIAxRIA show/YouTube

This evening, he posted a seven-page explanation/defence on Instagram (24 paragraphs on Facebook) that was accompanied by a short comment: “I’m sorry.” As it turned out, Dee Kosh, 32, was sorry for being outed for “sexually harassing” under-aged boys. The allegations, made via social media, as most tend to be these days, have now budged the arms of the law. According to Today, the police are investigating after “several reports (four, as of now) alleging sexual harassment of teenage boys were filed against him.” All the victims are apparently under 18 years of age.

Dee Kosh’s ostensible apology came after initially denying any wrongdoing. Two days ago, one kiddie-looking Instagrammer, who goes by the handle _epaul, posted a since-deleted exposé, claiming that the YouTube star had made indecent propositions to him, even “kept asking for sexual favours”. Despite being flatly rejected, the proponent would not give up, even resorting to “an alternate Instagram account” to convince the teenager to give in. A day after the incriminating post, _epaul was sent a cease and desist letter by the law firm of DC Law LLC, purportedly acting on behalf of Dee Kosh. That letter was shared on _epaul’s IG account and, hitherto, remains there although reports have emerged that the lawyer has “withdrawn” from representing Dee Kosh.

That single post opened the proverbial can of worms, and more allegations with details followed. Shortly, Dee Kosh posted on IG Stories an announcement: “Im (sic) aware of the allegations against me(.) Will be taking the necessary steps to clear this all up. I’m denying all allegations made by the people who have said what they’ve said(.)” Denial, as is often the case in resent charges of inappropriate, sexually-loaded behaviours (such as those alleged against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey), is the first step to a dramatic downfall. Swiftly, the radio station that hired the controversial YouTuber released a statement today: “POWER 98 does not tolerate any form of harassment. Dee Kosh is currently on leave.”

20-08-17-23-11-09-209_decoSans costume, Dee Kosh, the unlikely YouTube star. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

Although known as Dee Kosh, his name on his I/C is Darryl Ian Koshy, He was born in the Philippines (thought to be in Cebu City) to an Indian father and a Chinese mother (both their nationalities then are unknown). Despite his “Chindian” ethnicity, Mr Koshy (as he shall be known from this part of the post on) stated on Facebook that he’s “Malay by (sic) heart”. He certainly looks like he’s from the peninsular to our north, allowing him to gleefully refer to his “Malay roots”, cleverly blurring any clarity of his racial mix, and allowing him to freely create racial stereotypes and to take pot shots at those he deems worthy. That he speaks Tagalog, although the provenance of his family name can be traced to Kerela, enhanced his “regional” appeal.

Also a “content creator”, “CEO bitch” of his own persona, friend of Xia Xue, and, as claimed on Twitter, to be “in a loving long term (sic) relationship with Fried Chicken (proper noun? Could this be a person?)”, Mr Koshy found fame and following as a YouTuber (where he began posting in 2011) and is followed for his brashness, no-filter talk, senseless humour, kurang ajar antics, sexual references, and a propensity to laugh out loud, including at his own perceived cleverness. He is part of a “top” YouTube clique that includes Tan Jianhao and the “content hub” Night Owl Cinematics. His fame climbed when his negative comments on the K-pop boy band BTS generated furious fan-backlash. There was even a petition on change.org to “restrict Dee Kosh and his associations from being allowed to engage with BTS in Singapore”. Mr Koshy eventually called the fiasco a “social experiment”. Netizens are now wondering if his interfacing with minors are, similarly, for experimental purposes.

As an entertainment package, Mr Koshy’s get-up and facial gymnastics bring to mind the just-as-loud celebrity-makeup-artist-turned-private-dining-cook Tinoq Russell Goh (aka Pasir Panjang Boy, who has moved to Hong Kong last month to “open a restaurant”), and his humour and loquaciousness a pinch of Jojo Joget (aka Suhaimi Yusof, The Noose alum), all with the decibels cranked up. Of late, he is known for his reactions to TikTok videos that are considered “cringe-y”, which encouraged him to be as inane, slapstick, strident, and unfunny as the targets of his judgment. As one social media observer said, “It really takes a cringe-inducing to appreciate the cringe-notable.” Truth is, Mr Koshy was already TikTok-worthy before there was TikTok.

20-08-18-10-12-50-972_decoDee Kosh’s PR shots for his podcast tea with Dee. Photo: Marc Lim/Tea with Dee/Instagram

A social media success trait is brashness, enhanced by garish and flashy clothes—crass over class. As part of his loudness (a fact even his mother won’t negate, as seen in the first YouTube video featuring her), Mr Koshy creates online characters that borders on camp, but without the clever artifice (or kitsch) that comes with effective campiness. His is all unthinking, prattling pondan power, with no consideration for entries into the ledger of grace (that his Ria Warna hasn’t yet upset Malay women is surprising), only the tacky clothes (prints and patterns are major) and the eye makeup, here and there, that one fan called “flawless”. Now, it is more than bedak, it involves budak-budak.

Those who follow the increasing uproar over social-media misbehaviours, point out that what Mr Koshy is alleged to have committed is an ironic turn of events. In January 2018, Mr Koshy released a damning 20-plus-minute video post, “Eden Ang Whats (sic) Up?!”, that revealed scandalous details—which he repeatedly and emphatically called “facts”—regarding the fellow, highly popular YouTuber, who was accused of sexually harassing an 18-year-old employee, to which he denied, as Mr Koshy did to his own charges of wrongdoing. The radio DJ professed to “know how it feels to feel powerless in a situation”. He even dramatically added—as if holding back tears, “When I was young, I was abused, and I know what it feels to be taken advantage of.”

Despite this knowledge, Mr Koshy did not hesitate to say what he said to those boys. On Eden Ang’s alleged victim, Mr Koshy said, “She is an impressionable 18-year-old girl, especially when it comes to famous people. You guys look up to these people. When you meet them, you’re enamoured by their fame.” Was he not in the same situation when he, a famous person, meets the “enamoured”, in his case, minors? The thing about allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviours in the age of social media is that when one surfaces, more would emerge. It is not easy to follow Mr Koshy’s claim that he is innocent or that the allegations are “baseless and untrue”, even when he concedes that “some screenshots circulating of me texting with a 15-year-old I now accept is problematic.” Never mind if it all seemed sleazy. His denial of misdeeds becomes less convincing when one views the trailer posted on Facebook on 14th May for his podcast Tea with Dee. It ended with Darryl Ian Koshy saying—diabolical glint in his eye unmistakable—“Gather round, children, we’re about to begin.”

Out In Ten Days

Uniqlo’s wildly successful mask will be launched here on 24 August. At last

 

AIRism masks B&W Aug 2020

The word is out. Uniqlo’s Airism mask will be available here in less than two weeks. This is good news for the many who have waited eagerly for the release of the mask after reports of its unprecedented success in Japan when it was launched in June went viral. The snaking queues at Uniqlo stores there are, similarly, expected here.

This is not quite a fashion mask as some thought it might be. Made of Uniqlo’s signature AIRism fabric, essentially Cupro fibres (regenerated cellulose fabric made from cotton waste, such as the linter, that is chemically processed to yield the softness and fineness it is known for), the mask is rather simple and nondescript. It is touted to be breathable and, reportedly, “free of the stiffness or thickness” felt in other masks.

Despite this pliable quality, many wearers in Japan have reported that the triple-layered mask is too thick. It is also rather warm when worn in summer, or the equivalent of our all-year weather. But this might not be a deal breaker for some, as the availability of two colours—black and white—and three sizes—S,M, and L—would be enough lure for those seeking something less crude and more comfortable than the black ones earlier issued free to most of us.

Note: According to Uniqlo, the masks are “not proven to reduce the transmission of disease. AIRism Masks do not completely prevent infection (infiltration).”

Uniqlo AIRism Mask, SGD14.90, is available in packs of three at Uniqlo stores. Product photos: Uniqlo

Elaine Heng Has A Fashion Label

The popular blogger tries her hand at retailing. Looks like there is no decline in the demand for more clothes of garden variety designs

Ilo P1

Influencer Elaine Heng, 27, is a proud owner of a fashion brand. It’s called Ilo the Label—yes, as in Ilo Ilo, title of the award-winning film and, if spelled as one word, a seaport of central Philippines. But the brand prefers the Finnish meaning—joy. Or, according to them, “sunshine”. It isn’t clear why it is necessary for her brand to be identified as “the Label”. We can only surmise that it is a trendy naming convention, such as at Collate the Label and Ying the Label. Ms Heng, who now posts on Instagram under the name Elaine Rui Min (瑞敏), and considers herself an “entrepreneur” occupationally, launched her fashion label online in mid-March, eight days before the Multi-Ministry Task Force announced stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 that would lead to the Circuit Breaker measures about two weeks later.

Despite the charges of professional shortcomings and the iffy video defence she posted on IG Stories in 2018, Ms Heng has not suffered any blow, nor has she been impeded from furthering her career as an influencer. She has been able to happily align herself with retail names such as the Japanese eyewear brand Owndays, lingerie label La Senza, and beauty brands Olay and Sum37. She continues to act as merchandise promoter on Instagram, which radiantly exhibits her (now-married) life with enviable felicity. Marketability dictates that she is dressed her best, in clothes that her audience can relate to: pretty. Elaine Heng, who graduated at NUS in communication and media studies, is the girl-next-door you envy, knowing you can never dress to look like her. When Malaysian singer Ah Niu sang in 1998, 对面的女孩看过来 (Girl Opposite, Look Over Here), he probably had someone like her in mind.

Ms Heng is aware that her girlish style has bankable following and, hence, business potential. Two years in the making, as the brand declared on IG, Ilo the Label appears to be conceived to mirror her wardrobe or what she tends to wear to earn her income on IG. If a girl, among the countless, desires to start a fashion brand, especially online, this would be it. No design value required, nor point of view. Just straight-on pretty, vanilla pretty. Ms Heng calls it “my joy”, which is consistent with the brand platitude that quotes Australian poet Gemma Troy, “Whatever that makes you feel the sun from inside out, chase that.”

Ilo P2Influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha in Ilo the Label. Photo: Instagram

To be sure, Ms Heng is not a fashionista in the mold of Yoyo Cao, Willabelle Ong, and Andrea Chong. But, she is considered a “fashion blogger” It is, in fact, her ordinariness that those who seek the same find captivating, not a bold, statement-making style that would score her a best-dressed nomination at any of the annual society balls. From her beginning as a blogger, she has not shed her pronounced girlishness, her xiaoyuan zhihua (校园之花 or schoolyard beauty) posturing, her marketable cheerfulness. The prettiness is projected to be palatable and is tempered with a healthy dose of sexiness. She moves between the two comfortably and are just as willing to pose in a sundress as negligee. She has co-ed appeal; she is both women’s envy and men’s fantasy, effective as a go-to for what to wear for a date on Saturday night and what to see when, for the guys, that evening turns lonely.

As a fashion entrepreneur, Ms Heng typifies many who dream of their own fashion label. Or, (re-)creating whatever they already buy and wear. They are not in the business to fill the proverbial gap in the market; they are merely adding to the surfeit of similitude. Bloggers-turn-fashion-designers of her ilk are nothing new. The clothes are casual, cheery, and common. How does Ilo the Label then stand out? It doesn’t. Perhaps, that’s not the aim. As with many other labels these days, the five-month-old brand is “beyond just creating pretty clothes,” according to their own description, even if they don’t step out of the comfort, over-shared zone. They “hope to create a community that sparks fun, laughter and joy, thereby lifting the spirits of anyone that is part of it.”

Ms Heng’s clothes consciously project this joie de vivre, just as her IG posts present her as a particularly ebullient person. Ilo the Label does this by featuring hand-painted house prints, featuring dainty flowers that could be as comfortable on tea towels or bed sheets, or bath mats. One Orchard Store would come a-calling. According to her designers, “Our founder, Elaine, is all about prints and the first thing she told our team when we first gathered was ‘Ilo is going to be a brand of happy prints.’” The exultation of spirit through blooms is typically Gemma Troy: “I’m the type of person that falls in love with flowers…” And Elaine Heng too. In an IG post back in 2017, she wrote of an unremarkable WheresCinderella floral dress, “Somehow, I always find myself drawn to wearing florals because they make me happy.”

Ilo P3The startling sameness of Ilo the Label

This selling of positivity rather than design is also the modus operandi of brands that she promotes, such as All Would Envy, Lovet, WheresCinderella, and possibly her absolute fave, Thestagewalk—all labels for women who want to look pretty in the manner that is not intimidating—roses among roses, rather than to stand out dauntlessly—thorns among roses. It is hard to differentiate between these brands since all embrace the conventional than the unconventional, the straightforward rather than the complex, the winsome rather than wondrous. It is through Ms Heng’s fashion choices that one could learn of the many like-minded brand owners who have shared aesthetical preferences, and are happily part of a group of relatively quiet online businesses that trade in pretty dresses Ms Heng and her followers view with eye-watering delight.

You need not click on Ilo the Label’s generic-looking website to imagine there would be maxi-sundresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops and more maxi-dresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops. Most are made of 100% “quality polyester”, the brand emphasises, like those who underscore “luxury denim”. The prints—ditsy florals digitally rendered on those polyesters—comprise mostly small blooms with positive vibes, such as honeysuckle that “inspire love and passion”, all painted in a style that an art teacher might say lovely, but a gallerist would not. The sum are clothes that could easily be found on Lazada or Shopee, or in any mall across our island.

And therein lies the limitation of the brand. Ilo the label veers to the side of bland and sits on the centre of commonplace, inspiring the reaction, “another one of those”. They are as differentiable as the countless clothiers that started to pop up in malls prior to the pandemic: The Closet Lover, Fayth, Playdress, Yacht 21, et al. Many of them, like Ilo the Label, tout creating their own prints, which, for most brands, is an easy way to generate pieces that stand apart even if the silhouettes are similar, if not the same. This is an approach even stall owners of Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market adopt. It isn’t certain if Elaine Heng has learnt her métier as a fashion professional. However, given her present standing as a successful blogger and sunny stalwart, she can sell anything. Sunshine, too.

Photos: Ilo the Label

Time To Wear A Merlion

For the month of National Day, you need not sport only two specific colours to show your patriotic self

 

Pandora Merlions Aug 2020

Apart from the colours red and white, what else can you wear to salute the nation? Pandora has a charming answer: the Merlion.

Made of sterling silver, the charm looks similar to how the Merlion is commonly depicted, not the the cartoon version—which may enhance its appeal. For eyes, they are set with clear, brilliant-cut cubic zirconia, and for the mane and fish scales of the body, they are shaped with amazing detail, more so for something this small.

National Day has, for years, meant the donning of clothing in red and white. These are, frankly, rather difficult colours to wear well in one outfit. Perhaps something more iconic is a better pick, and, on our island of few beastly legends, what is better than this mythical creature?

Pandora Merlion charm, SGD55, is available at Pandora stores. Product photo: Pandora

CDG IG Live: Hmmm…

Broadcast at the odd hour of nine this evening, CDG’s first IG Live here was hosted by former radio DJ Rosalyn “Rozz” Lee, who chirpily promised “a great 30 minutes”. Was it?

 

CDG IG Live

It is hard to imagine Comme des Garçcons taking to Instagram Live, just as it is impossible to frame Rei Kawakubo within a TicTok screen. Yet, CDG did go onto the social media video platform via Club 21’s IG page. The Japanese brand, despite finally joining IG (in September 2015), avoids using branded hashtags or posting IG Stories. So, it aroused our curiosity when it was announced only two days ago via Club 21, that CDG would be conducting an “IG Live preview” of the their new collection, and that viewers get to win a pair of Comme des Garçcons X Vans Graffiti sneakers. The giveaways (including another ten pair of socks) were a surprise to us since we do not associate the brand with D&D-style lucky draws.

It was then revealed that the host of Weird Food Diaries, Rosalind “Rozz” Lee, would be presenting the event. That, to us, is an odd choice. Ms Lee is known for her high spirits and exuberance, and opinions that can be best described as strong. CDG is a lot more austere and serious, and admittedly, just as unwavering. But Ms Lee’s personal style tends to veer towards the conventional, tethered to a tad of sexiness. The red and black dress that was picked for her, which she said she “really, really love” (and, in the end, enthused, “99% I am going to buy”), looked frumpy on her. Perhaps we’re used to seeing Ms Lee in something sleeker and definitely body-skimming.

Despite the potential pull of the live stream, which was Club 21’s very first, the simple and straightforward presentation drew a high of 349 views at its peak, and slipped to 266 when it was about to end. This was surprising to us as Club 21 has 53.8K followers and Ms Lee (#heyrozz) 109K. It is not clear what the target was, but the presenter did say that the show would begin when they hit 200. This might be considered an encouraging figure when most Club 21 posts garner 2-digit likes.

CDG IG Live Rozz

The show, filmed at the CDG Hilton Shopping Gallery store, was spared of conceptual strength. Sure, it looked spontaneous and user-generated—typically IG, but Ms Lee might have gained from a script or a rehearsal. At times, she did not appear to know her way around in what is a very small store. She kept relying on her smartphone to prompt her with what to say next. As she guided the viewer into the corner that houses CDG Girl, she called the space an “enclave”. Throughout her intro of the clothes, her description was that of a neophyte—light on fashion-speak, and peppered with “pretty dope” for almost every garment she showed.

Additionally, we did not quite understand why Ms Lee was told to announce the price of what the models—a male and a female—wore. And this covered every piece of the look on show. As one CDG regular told us, “customers who spend above S$1,000, would already know roughly how much those garments would cost.” We are aware that this was a selling exercise, but the inclusion of prices at the end of each intro of the pieces sadly gave what are designer clothes a pasar malam vibe.

Comme des Garçons usually launch their seasonal collections in the store with an intimate party, mostly attended by the more hardcore of fans. Given that social distancing is still strictly in place, it is understandable that an in-store event was not possible. With IG Live, CDG was pointing to the adoptable direction for other Club 21 brands, but, we were not sure who the target audience of this show really were. There was nothing in the presentation that might interest the die-hards, who were already invited to the store for the reveal tomorrow. For the newbies, Ms Lee who, like a keen-to-belong mom, happily described a shirt as “super street”, might just be the right host. And an eager shopper.

Screen grabs: Club 21/Instagram

Bright And Happy

Farrell Williams has brought his brand of joy to Adidas again

 

Pharrell Williams X Adidas Boost slidesBy Shu Xie

Few celebrities have brought Happyness to footwear as Pharrell Williams has. His collaboration with Adidas since 2014 has been about projecting a positive vibe, whether in the clothing or footwear. At the launch of the collab six years ago, Adidas said that much of the designs “revolve around Pharrell’s idea of equality”. And, let me add, sense of colour. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of their collaborations, but I do find the hues used and the colour pairings appealing.

Now the two names are back at it again. This time the output are slides, but not quite the Adilette. Instead, Mr Williams took Adidas’s most recognised slide and came up with something that might have been destined for the bedroom. The positively comfy-looking version, and brightly dyed, is now identified as Boost, no doubt named after the Three Stripes’ popular mid-sole. At first sight, the padded, triple-layer, adjustable upper looked a tad bulky, but once you slip your feet under, they look pleasingly proportionate. Appearance aside, these are, in fact, as comfortable as bedroom slippers.

Slides, once known as pool sliders, are now worn anywhere away from bodies of water. When I first encountered this anomaly, it was in Hong Kong a few years back. A Chinese mainlander and his girlfriend were flip-flopping in identical white pairs through Dior on Peking Road. Shortly after, as I became more aware of their popularity, I started noticing slides worn by those queueing outside Louis Vuitton or those shopping in The Hour Glass. The humble slide has clearly acquired some vestige of status, and splayed, open toes are welcome in posh places.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pharrell Williams X Adidas Boost slides, SGD140 a pair, available at select Adidas stores and online, and Limited Edt Vault. Product photos: Adidas