Something Is Buzzing About

Felipe Oliveira Baptista’s sophomore outing for Kenzo is protective gear that is not quite PPE. But beekeepers will get it

Kenzo’s Felipe Oliveira Baptista sure knows how to move with the times. For the follow-up to his debut collection for the house, he showed clothes with protective components, but nary a single face mask. Instead, there were the beekeeper’s hat and veil, and fascinating variations of them. We can’t be sure if, outside apiculture, these covering will not arouse curiosity. Unless you are a 6th century Chinese xianu (侠女, swordswoman)! Face shield are, of course, not encouraging stares any more (even fellow LVMH brand Louis Vuitton is selling them), so it is possible that stylish beekeeper gear may blend in the company of other virus-shielding coverings.

Keeping oneself from aggressive bees was not the only potential attack Mr Baptista was concerned with. Four of the hat-and-veils go all the way to the feet, not unlike a burqa. Total protection. That, to us, looked like mosquito netting, which is, of course, really useful in this part of the world, where mozzies carrying the dengue virus are a very real and serious threat, even indoors. Double protection—from bees and mosquitoes (who knew Mr Baptista has such entomological pursuits?)! Would it be a more affordable alternative if we took one from some infant’s baby hammock? But it would be near impossible to nick a floral mosquito netting.

Some of the nettings (the men get theirs too) are part of outerwear (for men as well), which looked to be Mr Baptista’s strength. These are lightweight coats, some possibly rainwear (we could not really tell), with zip fastening so that the hat and veil can be removed when not required, or when no insect is buzzing around. Take away the gimmicky netting (some are packable!) and we see a few intriguingly cut and draped dresses—with piping that meanders trough the bodice, with lace and (more) netting in asymmetric configurations, and with cut-outs and those holes that appeared to be the result of the swirling of fabrics. There was quite a lot to fascinate and delight.

As we go into the final fashion weeks of the big four, it seems that designers are largely split into two camps: a low-key approach that corresponds with the mood of the moment and a high-octane push that seems to punch above the less than positive energy surrounding fashion now. Felipe Oliveira Baptista struck a balance: Offer something visually compelling and, at the same, score with pieces that are wearable—even cute, with utilitarian details (more useful pouch pockets!) and carryable veils and nettings (some can be folded into bags). Mr Baptista has proposed that, while we drive ahead with restoring normalcy in our lives, fashion need not take a backseat.

Photos: Kenzo

The Clutch

No, we don’t mean the handbag; we’re referring to the way Raf Simons likes his models to hold on to the lapels of their coats, as if buttons don’t exist

From left: Prada spring/summer 2021 (photo: Prada), Jil Sander autumn/winter 2012 (photo: gorunway.com), Christian Dior Couture autumn/winter 2015 (photo: indigitalimages.com)

The way to secure a coat, it seems, is to clutch it. At the opening, just about where your solar plexus is. Ignore the buttons or the zip, or the Velcro. If they are there, they’re decorative details. Hold on to the opening in the form of a grab, but not as if for dear life. Designers like to say that there is a way to tie a sash so that the wearer looks chic. The same goes for your palm-as-fastener. You don’t grip as if to choke (nothing so violent), not even to clench (nothing so threatening). This is not prelude to some Masonic handshake. You curl your fingers to gently hold some fabric, the bend of your arm as if ready for a pet cat tired from walking. Or, at least that is how we think Raf Simons wants us to secure the opening of coats.

For his debut Prada collection that was co-designed with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons (and Ms Prada) sent out models holding their coats in the said manner. It did not even require the sharp-eyed to see that this is a recognisable Raf Simons gesture. We were transported back to early 2012, at the autumn/winter swan song of his collection for Jil Sander. Those pastel double-faced wool coats, held as if the wearers had just emerged from a shower, clutching the ends of the towel close. We didn’t think much of that. Then came July of 2015, when Mr Simons, then steering Dior, had models do the same with the autumn/winter couture outerwear. Still, it would have been presumptive to consider that signature.

Of the four seasons Mr Simons showed at Calvin Klein, no model—not even one—ever held the opening of either coat or jacket together with one hand, and close to the chest. Many things happened during Mr Simon’s tenure at CK, but coats were left to their respective fastening to do their job. Then came his opening act for Prada a week or so ago. That clutch again. We did not forget. But now we are seeing a pattern. Clearly repetition can be discerned (thrice is enough to qualify), and, while Ms Prada herself had taken the end-of-show bow with hands similarly placed, she had not sent models down the runway doing so. This had to be Mr Simons’s doing. A gestural flourish. He was making a mark—his mark. As with everything these days, will it become a meme?

Taking It Back Home

Valentino showed in Milan. Was there a real advantage?

It isn’t absolutely clear why Pierpaolo Piccioli chose to show Valentino in Milan when the brand had stayed on the Paris calendar for 13 years. Sure, Mr Piccioli is Italian, and so is the brand’s founder. This, therefore, could be a homecoming for him and the house. In view of the on-going pandemic, some reports called it being “in solidarity with Italy”. Or, could it be that he’s been home all this while and that it was more practical to simply present the latest collection on home turf or the un-grand space of what is the (disused?) Fonderie Macchi outside Milan? But could it be something else, too? If the “Collezione Milano” is any indication, could it be because it does not really befit a Paris showing? Did Mr Piccioli want to be among his compatriots, showing the home-friendly styles that are thought to be what fashionistas would want as domestic life is wedded to professional obligations?

Valentino, like so many other brands in this Milan season, is pushing for the “new normal”, a socio-economic state that suggests people are likely to align themselves, for a while to come, with the more mundane aspects of life. In terms of fashion, that could be akin to everything we know as lounge wear. Or, for fashion folks, clothes that could stand up for Zooming while the kids are in front of another screen doing their school work. Even when we are now able to restore some semblance of social life physically, we are still not yet receiving invitations to events that require one whole afternoon of prepping and prettifying. Mr Piccioli seemed well aware of the present—and near future—realities, and Valentino this season seemed to suggest they understand and can respond to this quandary.

It was strange watching Valentino this toned-down. Some of us still remember the aerial couture show from just two months ago. How transfixing! This season was, for some of us viewers, a rapid descend to living reality, with an audible thud. It isn’t that the clothes were unattractive, but they did not arouse as they usually did. The romance and passion and the sumptuousness so often associated with Mr Piccioli’s work for the house were diminished. This was Valentino distilled. A reduction that brought us to the brand at its most basic and, consistent with the times, essential. Or, should that be introspective? If there ever was a need for Valentino Basics, this would have been it. In fact, at times during the show, we thought we were seeing pieces from the diffusion line Red Valentino.

It has not happened to us in the past, but this time, we spotted a simple shirt. Yes, it was in a hot pink, but it was still simple. Even Inès de La Fressange’s collaboration with Uniqlo does not yield this simple! Sure, it was baggy, it had a rather massive collar, and it could be worn to suggest a no-pants look (better to appeal to young influencers?), but it projected something just about bare-bones, which is kind of at odds with the image we have of the brand. Through the years since Mr Piccioli took on the stewardship of the house singly, we have been enamoured with the extravagance and resplendence that he had produced. Has it been to the point that we had completely shut our eyes to the unadorned and straightforward, like a shirt?

Now that we could see Valentino at its barest, presented in a setting that was just as stripped-down, were we witnessing a house in a vulnerable position? Presently, nobody knows where luxury brands are heading. Many are dialed to survival mode. In the case of Valentino, back to basics seemed like a good place on which to reset. Obvious were the foundational pieces such as shirts and jeans—the recession-proof, all-occasion pants. The denim slacks were produced in collaboration with Levi’s, and were based on 1961’s boot-cut style, the 517. This was not the Junya Watanabe take on the 501. Valentino’s iteration of the 517 was a lot more straightforward, a lot more vanilla: pants to ground the sheer, slouchy blouses; (faded) blues to make the ensembles look real.

Valentino’s evening dresses have always been those that many look forward to. They are, as the fashion cliché goes, “the stuff of dreams”. This time, they appeared to be so within reach that they seemed more for the living room of a bungalow or the garden than the red carpet or the steps of the Met Gala. They are flowy, with some ruffles, and they are gossamer and ethereal, but many have a housecoat ease about them that recall those ’70s kaftans worn for entertaining at home, such as the one Meryl Streep had on in a pivotal scene in 2017’s The Post. Perhaps, in times of uncertainty, we can dream in Valentino, rather than dream of.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Valentino

Is This Why Fendi Needs Kim Jones?

Or is this just an in-transition, passing-the-baton collection?

Fendi without Karl Lagerfeld has not been the same. For 54 years, Mr Lagerfeld gave Fendi the fashion DNA it did not quite have, imagining a Roman style through his German eyes, but with a firmly French touch. Mr Lagerfeld started with the Fendi sisters and, later, Silvia Venturini Fendi, the grand-daughter of the fashion house’s founder. Throughout, Mr Lagerfeld has forged a Fendi that’s, at first, known for their youthful, almost avant-garde way with fur, and in the last years before the designer’s demise, noted for a smart prettiness characterised by lightness, as seen in some of the best fabrications the house had ever shown. Mr Lagerfeld seemed surer then ever what he wanted Fendi to be.

Three days before the Fendi autumn/winter 2019/20 show, Mr Lagerfeld passed. Silvia Fendi took the customary bow at the end of the show, suggesting that from then, we thought, she’d be setting the design directions for the house. But the subsequent collections did not quite build on the foundation that her predecessor had strengthened. They were essentially store-friendly clothes. Ms Fendi took her family’s brand on an even more commercial route than the one Mr Lagerfeld—himself a commercial designer—embarked, one that, to us, was a stroll through Via del Corso, the Rome shopping stretch for high-street brands and what’s considered Roman.

This season—supposedly Ms Fendi’s last before she hands the creative reign to Kim Jones—is Fendi in pensive mood. According to media reports, the collection was based on photographs that Ms Fendi took from her bedroom window during the lockdown months in Italy. Shadows of gloomy windows and silhouettes of trees and foliage that rose beyond were projected onto white drapes, as if a scene in a horror film, set in an attic, with the floating curtains and an unknown entity creating the mood. It was strange that, as one of the first IRL shows of the Milan season with an actual audience (however not-packed), the Fendi presentation was this subdued, nearly cheerless. And the clothes mostly reflected this stay-at-home-and-look-at-the-window melancholia.

To further underscore the domestic (and, we’re told, “familial”) setting in which the clothes could look right, Ms Fendi talked of bed linens that inspired some comforter-looking outerwear (for spring/summer?). She said that they reminded her of Karl Lagerfeld, who collected sheets, and is known to travel with his own (possibility including quilt covers?). Interestingly, window drapes has a link to the man too. He once regaled the press by saying, “My mother said: ‘I’m going to have to take you to the upholsterer. Your nostrils are too big—they need curtains.’” 

We’ere not sure if Mr Lagerfeld wanted to be remembered for bedsheets and window curtains, but Fendi did consider them. Regardless of what will happen next spring and summer, it would probably still have to do with what many have discovered during lockdowns and social distancing: comfort dressing, or how we’re supposedly attired at home. This could possibly be Fendi’s least dressed-up collection since dressing up is not presently quite on our minds. Sure, there is the lace skirt for lunch with the BFFs, the body-con dress for dates, the jumpsuit for running errands. And, oh, pantsuits for, presumably, work. But it isn’t easy to place them in the present or why Fendi thought that, in six months’ time, when the workforce may be entirely back to the office, women would want a three-piece suit.

To be sure, the clothes will be considered desirable since they don’t require unpacking to understand. With the references to soft furnishings of home, they could easily be a wardrobe that can be worn just outside the wardrobe. Or, on a trip to the supermarket. Ensuring that fashion touches were not altogether eliminated, there were the sheerness (some printed with the afternoon shadows you might catch on window drapes), the appliques to lift otherwise plain fabrics to a higher level, or those seen-before pencil-like lines outlining coats and dresses. But is the sum adequate to give Fendi the edgines (or buzziness) that other brands under the parent company LVMH are able to project? Silvia Venturini Fendi is probably aware of her limitations. Kim Jones is just the name to headline her family’s 95-year-old brand.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Fendi

Winning Doubles

As it is always said, two heads are better than one, and no two better together than Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada

He delivered. She delivered. They delivered. Love children don’t always look good, but these do. If there was an alignment in the stars over Milan that day, it happened there and then. Prada’s spring/summer 2021 collection was everything we had hoped for and more. Something just clicked. It could be the synergy, but we think there could be more than that. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are potent design forces on their own, but when they came together, something sparked. And we wanted the flames. We wanted to be burned.

The show, filmed in what appeared to be a studio, was stripped of the conceptual sets that used to give Prada collections context. This time, it was just yellow (lemon, canary, fall gingko leaves… take your pick) curtains for the background, a similarly coloured pillar and floor, creating a patina of sunshine and optimism. There were camera rigs grouped in five (above each camera a flat screen) and mounted on a frame suspended from the ceiling. The set-up spoke of function and straight-to-the-point. The models catwalked and engaged the camera. If this is the future of digital fashion weeks, we really welcome it.

The clothes in this utilitarian space shone as if in grander confines—such as a couture salon? Indeed, if couture were to go this casual and sportif, this would be it. In just one viewing, it was hard—and unfair—to confine these clothes to a category. To be sure, they were supremely elegant, but they were, at the same time, somewhat fringe-y. To be sure, Prada has never been vanilla elegant. Its designs often incorporate elements that are not circumscribed by posh surroundings. The work of Mr Simons has been described as “street”. And perhaps this was his contribution to the partnership, in addition to the more linear silhouettes that he is known for, as well as his unique way with graphics and their non-centralised placements.

Since the announcement last February that Mr Simons will join Ms Prada as co-creative directors with—what the press loved to underscore—“equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, we have been burning with curiosity. We know what Ms Prada can do, but we’re more interested in what Mr Simons could bring to yet another brand not his own. Is a European label more suited to his artistic temperament and aesthetical leaning? At Calvin Klein, we weren’t sure we witnessed virtuoso output. Will Prada draw out the best of him, as Dior did?

The Raf Simons touch was immediately evident in the very first look. Or, should we say clutch? Some sort of a top was worn and hand-held in the front, like a stole. It was as if the wearer, in a haste, had no time to put it on properly, and to secure it, had to clutch it close to her heart. It was rather intriguing since it had nothing to do with ensuring modesty. Later, coats too were sort of shrugged on and clutched at the lapels—as if for dear life (possibly appropriate in 2020!), a gesture Miuccia Prada herself had adopted. It too was evocative of what Mr Simons had the models do for Jil Sander in 2012, his last showing for which he received a standing ovation. Then came those full skirts, those pajamas-like tunics-and-pants, and those once-“ugly” prints, and we were jolted back into a world that can’t not be Prada.

What is more recognisable than the Prada triangle? Increasingly taking a more prominent position on the clothes, the logo, this time, was larger than any we remember. Surprisingly, we didn’t dislike the current Prada triangolo use as we did before. Now in fabric, and enlarged, and fastened like a codpiece for the cleavage, the Prada triangle was like an ancient Chinese xiang nang (香囊 or small fragrance satchel)—more exquisite than the unbearable monograms flooding the luxury market now.

That this Prada show was going to be the show of the season, we had no doubt. That this turned out to be infinitely pleasing, we were delighted. Clutching our T-shirt, we were happy to return to fashion again.

Photos: Prada

Read: The Debut Vogue Singapore 2.0

cover to cover. Is it any good? Do we finally get our own voice? Or, is the magazine still shaped by angmo hands?

One of the three Vogue SG covers

It isn’t known if there is ever an edition of Vogue, among the now 27, raised from the dead. We dug, but we didn’t find any. So Vogue Singapore is the first. It is also uncertain if there was ever such a short-lived edition of Vogue. When our very first issue—with Joan Chen on the cover, photographed, expectedly, by Russell Wong—appeared in September 1994, no one suspected, although many feared, it would close—just twenty nine months later. We looked into that too: no Vogue anywhere in the world has ever died as a two-and-half-year-old.

In that sense, we are unique. It is here that international magazines have a second chance at life. Some may remember that Elle SG, born in 1993 and killed off in 2018, too, was resurrected—in 2019. But Vogue SG took a longer time to be raised from the dead: 23 years. That’s about a third of the age of Singapore’s oldest and best-selling women’s magazine Her World (60 this year). In these two decades plus, we saw the rise of digital media and the decline of print, and everything between that benefitted from the over-prized tag influencer. Vogue SG’s “Issue One—autumn/winter 2020—” arrives at not just a time that’s drastically changed by a still-raging pandemic (not, to us, “post-”), but also when magazines are increasingly unable to deliver to a reading public that expects stronger content, and more, not less.

Since this is the second time Vogue SG is trying to make it here, we don’t feel we need to check mercy at the front door. Talking about front, the launch issue comes with three covers that editor-in-chief Norman Tan grandly calls “triptych”, a pretentious reference to fine art for a title that has yet to prove itself, fashion-wise, let alone a treatise on art. On Instagram, Mr Tan touts the covers as “collectible”. One cover for a debut issue can’t be cherished enough for posterity or profit through eBay later? The EIC explains in his Editor’s Letter: the three are “to make a clear statement about what Vogue Singapore stands for—beauty, innovation, intelligence, sophistication, diversity, inclusion—as personified by three women hailing from different parts of Asia.”

Three is better than one? One the covers, (from left) Diya Prabhakar, Ju Xiaowen, and Nana Komatsu

That sounds like a strategic placement—to go beyond the dot. Singaporean women are not diverse enough; their ethnic plurality, and cultural, inadequate. Vogue SG needs to cast its net further afield. In fact, According to the privately held Condé Nast’s own media statement, “Vogue Singapore aims to establish itself as the region’s go-to fashion resource… with intelligent and impactful content that celebrates Vogue’s new audience in Southeast Asia”. Mr Tan wrote, in the preface to a special, boxed edition distributed to select recipients, promising this elite bunch that they “will experience what Vogue Singapore stands for—thought-provoking stories re-imagined with digital innovation with the people and culture of Southeast Asia firmly in the spotlight.”

Going by the three covers, it seems the title is even greedier: it aims to target the whole of Asia, not just SEA. That got us wondering—would people in Vietnam, for example, read a magazine identified by the city in which it is produced? What about China or Japan (where two of the cover girls are from)? If any of the non-English-speaking countries needed an English-language Vogue, would they not read the British or American (or even Australian) version? We reached out to our friends in the region for a smidgen of insight. An art director in Bangkok flatly said “no” to us. “We do read our Thai edition,” she added. One marketing head from Shanghai told us, “Because of my job, I read as many foreign Vogues as I can, but,” she added delightfully in Mandarin, “我们有自己的看啊!” (we have our own to read). Similarly, a manager from a tech company in Tokyo said, when asked, “I do read the Japanese Vogue, although my diet consists mostly of local magazines.”

In fashion publications, we do judge them by their covers. That’s why we remember Anna Wintour’s debut Vogue cover in November 1988, with that Christian Lacroix cross (now favoured by Chanel) or the late Liz Tilberis’s debut for Harper’s Bazaar, four years later, in September 1992, featuring Linda Evangelista, as if catching the third ‘A’, dislodged from the masthead. Ours needed to be launched with a bang, and that means triple the effect, and, hence, the power, the response, the influence? Mr Tan told South China Morning Post that “its been tough” and “super difficult”, and understandably so, given the Circuit Breaker restrictions during a time when the editorial department was visibly and delightfully working in full gear, but despite the difficulties, the magazine did not see it appropriate—even prudent—to launch with just one cover.

Back issues? Vogue SG strikes with three

More Vogue SG covers prove one thing: there are no Singaporean fashion photographers! All three are shot by foreigners: Singaporean model Diya Prabhakars cover was lensed by Canadian Bryan Huynh. Chinese model Ju Xiaowen was shot by New York-based New Zealander Gregory Harris and Japanese actress/model Nana Komatsu by Tokyo-based Chinese Fish Zhang. These days fashion photography is so subjective that it is hard to say which among the three is the best (or the worst), but something can be noted about the need for graphic intervention rather than letting the photographs work alone. All three cover girls are set within an oval, as if to create a counterpoint to otherwise unremarkable photographs. In the case of Ms Prabhakar, she is surrounded by indistinct digital flowers that seem to enhance the coldness of her lifeless expression.

While we can finally call this our own Vogue, the magazine isn’t, in fact, entirely shaped by local hands. Two countries pop up when joining the dots: Australia and Russia. Whether by chance or design, Vogue SG can’t de-link itself from Australia. Editorial heads of both Vogue SGs, past and present, was and is connected to Down Under: first, Nancy Pilcher (Vogue Australia, 1989—1997. Ms Pilcher is, in fact, an American, and, since leaving Condé Nast in 2013, has returned to the United States) and now, Norman Tan, from the coastal city of Melbourne. It is rather ironic that despite critics attributing the first Vogue SG’s failure to its Aussie signature, its come-back is helmed by one who hails from the country from which their Vogue could not thrust ours to greater glory.

Augmenting the foreign-seeming setup is the British art director Henry Thomas Lloyd, who has worked for Love, Pop, and Another, and who fashions our Vogue as if it’s one more alt title. There is also publisher Bettina von Schlippe, a German PR/media executive who once worked for Condé Nast Russia, and was formerly the publisher of Buro, the digital title by Vogue SG licensee Indochine Media Ventures (IMV). She is also the CEO and founder of R.S.V.P Agency, touted on their website as “a fashion & lifestyle marketing communications agency with 16 years of experience in Russia”. Ms von Schlippe is married to Michael Von Schlippe, the president of IMV, the ten-year-old publishing house, founded and based here on our island, with offices also established in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, and with connections to Condé Nast Russia too, as he had also previously worked there. Ms von Schlippe as the publisher of Vogue SG, in spite of her experience, prompted critics to suggest that nepotism was at play. It is indeed not often that one sees a husband’s name atop a wife’s under the cross-head ‘Management’.

With a marketing budget, Vogue SG made sure it stood out at Kinokuniya

That EIC Norman Tan, ex-editor of IMV title Esquire SG, and a few members of his team are former IMV employees added to the 自己人顾自己人 (zi ji ren gu zi ji ren or “own people caring for own people”) perception—not, in fact, uncommon in the publishing world. Still, this led to some industry watchers wondering if Vogue SG would have the touch of Buro, Robb Report (another IMV brand), and even Esquire SG. For certain, the anticipated magazine is not a Vogue that die-hards would find compelling, breathtaking, and immersive enough to want to rush out to buy a copy, even just to hold. As Mr Tan was involved in or contributed to IMV titles, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he brought along with him a scintilla of his editorial past. But Vogue, despite its evolutionary changes, is still, foremost, a fashion title.

And it is the fashion in Vogue SG—and how it’s presented—that we find hard to connect. Or appreciate. There is a reason that Vogue goes by the unofficial description “fashion bible”. Nothing in the pages of the SG edition scratches the surface of fashion at its most creative, expressive, and refined, let alone plunges biblical depths. Even Ms Prabhakar’s Balenciaga cover dress is ineffectual, as if it was an afterthought, plonked on her—nothing else fits, this would do. She does not look like she likes wearing it or knows what to with it; she looks the novice that she is (more so alongside the spreads featuring Ju Xiaowen and Nana Komatsu). Mr Balenciaga himself once said, “A woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses. The dress will do all that for her.” Not this one.

Part reality, part virtuality (spot the QR codes that link you to online content), Vogue SG tries to straddle two sides of the digital divide, but balancing acts, as even gymnasts will say, are not easy to put up. One misstep and you’ll be split the wrong way. The magazine seems so concerned with its cyber-self (another story altogether)—“We love the transportive power of a well thought-out fashion story played out in print, but to add a new dimension to the experience, we’ve engaged the power of digital multimedia,” as Mr Tan wrote in his Editor’s Letter (an odd word choice that, conversely, suggests eras past)—that it feels like a by-product of its online preoccupation. The fantasies or “fashion stories” present a feckless telling, as if everything happens on cyber-streets than real ones. And to enhance its connection to the digital sphere, CGI is applied, as in the jejune spread featuring Ms Prabhakar or the incomprehensible and indistinct digital orchid that tells you the magazine tries—and too hard—to be ahead of the humdrum rest.

We weren’t sure if we are on a page from Vogue SG or Vogue Patterns

Cover girl Diya Prabhakar looks the modeling novice that she is throughout the spread that featured her

It is not easy to make one’s way through the pages of Vogue SG to the last. Visual irregularities were inexplicably set up to throw you off-course. Odd blank spaces (even when space is an element of design, these still look odd), the narrowest bottom margin, page designs that look like they are from another (lesser?) title—they make one pause and wonder. Need they really do that? One SOTD follower WeChatted us, “less than five minutes flipping the magazine and I am confused. It DOES NOT LOOK LIKE VOGUE (caps, all hers)!” She is not wrong. We were surprised by how random and free-form the magazine appears visually. What is certain and annoying is the palpable need to look cool and edgy, and at the forefront (of whatever)—those qualities that are made ineffable by the shifting nature of fashion. When one tries to make the unfashionable fashionable, there’s a good chance you might be stuck in the former.

Experienced magazine folks might feel that perhaps the editors did away with the discipline of rigorous page planning. There is a sense that, in order to yield a not-unimpressive 266 pages, many of them had to serve as mere fillers. Content pages, for example, stretched to five (the first, with two columns, does not read from left to right. For all the talk of “innovation”, these extra pages are still an old-fashioned provision of additional right-hand pages for single-page ads). There are also generous two-page intros to sections, pull quotes floating in half-a-page of emptiness, and an essay by Amanda Lee Koe extended over ten when two would be enough—just three examples of injudicious use of space. This stretch-and-stretch approach to filling pages with meaningful content that they probably could not, makes for extremely tiring reading. Not to mention, a total waste of paper.

Perhaps the most irritating, “as you digest this fashion book—artfully crafted with our own Vogue Singapore font inspired by Sanskrit found on the Singapore Stone (a 13th century—possibly earlier—artifact)”, is this very font itself. You first see it on the cover. And it’s not at once easy to read. Hieroglyphs are easier to decipher. Our art director friend from Bangkok said to us, “Don’t you think it’s very Love?” We had to point her to the magazine’s art director. The font is also applied as a drop cap (always hard to read. Why stump the reader right from the start of articles?), to fill spaces, and as background graphic on which photographs are placed. Giving the font a historical reference does not lend it typographical heft. The squiggles, appearing like litter (you’d want to scratch them off!), are perhaps a deliberate contrast to the other oddities: font colour similar to the page, type size of running heads way smaller than the page numbers, both appearing in the same page and, in some cases, page numbers in the same point size as headlines. At this point, we can think of no other expression than the Hokkien geh kiang—roughly, excess of cleverness.

Graphic design book or fashion magazine?

The printer’s fault?

Although Vogue SG, version 1, did not last long, we were, in fact, the first-ever Vogue published in Asia back in 1994, the year we had to pay GST for the first time. Then came Korea in August 1996, Taiwan in October 1996, Japan in September 1999, China in September 2005, India in October 2007, Thailand in February 2013, and Hong Kong in March 2019. And Vogue SG again, in September 2020. We’re now the 8th Asian Vogue. When Vogue Thailand’s first issue hit the newsstand in 2013, it was sold out “within days”, according to The Nation. How our Vogue will fare is hard to say, given the precariousness of the present and the uncertainty of the future. The hope is that Vogue SG won’t suffer a second death.

But its prospect looks a tad dim. Some industry watchers wonder if it augurs well for the magazine to launch with a bimonthly issue (and apparently for the next issue too). It goes by the season: autumn/winter (does that mean that, in essence, there will only be two issues a year?). As far as we are aware, this is the first Vogue edition to debut in such a manner. Two issues of Vogue SG, presumably, for the rest of the year to support an editorial team that has been in place since at least April (if not earlier), when the EIC was announced, is daunting to consider. This led to the conclusion that the editorial team of IMV’s Buro had to be sacrificed to keep Vogue SG afloat.

Carrie Bradshaw had said, not frivolously, “Sometimes, I would buy Vogue instead of dinner.” It is hard to imagine anyone doing that here. We love our char kuay teow too much. The truth is, many of us are buying fewer magazines, even if we might still be reading them. Vogue SG arrives amid the very real declining habit of purchasing and then perusing fashion titles. There would have to be very compelling reasons to reverse that. Given its unspectacular debut, it would require the motivation of rabid fans (do they still exist?) to see the magazine snapped up at newsstands. Unlike Malcom McClaren, however, we simply couldn’t go Deep in Vogue.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

From Manly To Preggy

For some reason, Chinatown can’t seem to lure an attractive moon goddess

By Mao Shan Wang

Last year, if you remember, Chinatown’s Mid-Autumn Festival celebration was visited by a shockingly masculine Chang’e (嫦娥). Unfathomable but true. I was thinking, perhaps the lunar immortal could not make the journey. The moon is, after all, 386,400 or so kilometers away. Was it possible that her husband Hou Yi (后羿) took her place instead? After all, it was a paid job. She could not have stood up the organiser, Chinatown Festival Committee. By hook or by crook, Chang’e had to be there, even in drag. But the people were disappointed. So un-goddess-like she was and so unappealing that a change was eventually put in place, but that jock-in-a-dress version stuck in my head.

However, not all lessons are to be learnt. The patroness of the Mid-Autumn Festival this year is, shall I say, also a less traditional moon goddess. Chang’e 2020 looks to be, er, pregnant. Now, lest I’m mistaken, there’s nothing wrong with an expectant goddess (in the Chinese pantheon, producing a good brood is not an alien concept), but I am not sure if it’s good for her to appear here, in Chinatown, with the suggestion that she has an active sex life with that archer husband of hers. Perhaps, she is merely reflecting what was written on one of the oblong lanterns nearby: 月圆人圆 (yue yuan ren yuan, moon round people round)! To be fair, if you view this Chang’e from the side, it appears that she is seated. But, to paraphrase the Big Bad Wolf, what big knees you have! Either that, or the poor goddess is suffering from elephantiasis!

The two Chang’es: from 2019 (left) and this year’s. Photos: (left) file and (right) Zhao Xiangji

I think this year, the real Chang’e is unable to be here—again—as she is possibly WFH (or should that be WFM—working from moon?). Inexplicably, it didn’t dawn on the Chinatown Festival Committee to install a video screen at the junction of Eu Tong Sen Street/New Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street so that Chang’e could Zoom with the pedestrians, on the way to buying mooncakes. Instead, they installed what could be considered a personal maid (tieshen yahuan 贴身丫鬟) of a mistress (zhuzi 主子)—not likely to be Chang’e since her only companion on the moon is a rabbit. The substitute (or, to be topical, fake) moon goddess is, to be sure, attired like a domestic assistant, even too poor to afford proper maternity clothes (I’ll stick to the front view) and sadly still working when a baby is on the way. And the hair! Chang’e is known for her gorgeous hair, affixed with dazzling hair ornaments. Or, at least that is how she was depicted in ancient art. Our Chinatown imposter does not even have one hair pin (fazan 发簪)!

I have to admit that my idea of beauty is informed by my early, pre-pubescent acquaintances with Bessie and Fanny (The Enchanted Forest) and Nancy Drew (of her own eponymous series). But that does not mean I didn’t later learn about ancient Chinese beauties. I know they don’t look like the two Chinatown delineations. Before stealing the elixir of immortality from her husband, drinking it, and flying to the moon, Chang’e was an earthly beauty that was renowned throughout China. She was known to have skin the colour (and smoothness?) of milk, hair as black as night, and lips as pink as cherry blossoms. In art (and mooncake packaging, on which we now mostly see her depiction), we take in a regal woman in elegant, flowing robes. At this time, Chinatown, as The Straits Times wrote, is “aglow”, but, sadly, there is nothing glowing about this year’s dumpy Chang’e.

After The Fact

Why does it take a close-down to get consumers lamenting that an era is no more? Or, realising that a brand will be missed?

Today’s edition of Life. Photo by Chin Boh Kay

By Emma Ng

Regret: As in if we knew then? Or, if we could turn back time? Or, we’re sorry? TopShop closed their last physical store for good yesterday after 20 years here. It is rather puzzling to me that in the two decades of the brand’s presence across the island, there was not enough fervour in them to negate the need to bemoan, as reported in the The Straits Times’s Life today, that an era is over (repeated thrice!). We’re now a seething mass of lamentation? (The online, “premium” version of the article even declared in its headline that “fans mourn”!) According to the cover story, devotees “say they will miss the brand for its statement pieces, on-trend celebrity collaborations, petite range and innovative consumer engagement.” That is quite a pile of reasons to keep the brand going, but TopShop was not able to latch on to our spaghetti straps to stay on.

For quite a while, no one really connected Topshop (at its peak, a 10-store chain) with FOMO. I mean, no one, it seemed, feared missing out on anything in TopShop, let alone its bowing out of the local market. But people did not want to be beaten to H&M’s last fall collaboration—with Giambattista Valli (but a Mercury-organised preview did allow tai-tais and their offsprings to beat most). Never mind that those gowns will make even the BFF who knows you well—really well—wonder if you’re getting married. Or, playing Cinderella going to a ball in the nearest istana with real royalty living in it—in Johor Bahru. Despite TopShop’s fading popularity, ST’s Amanda Chai, who wrote the generously-allotted, full-page piece, happily claimed that shoppers “had only fond memories” of the store.

Remembrances, however loving, do not, of course, equate to sales. A fast fashion store may bank on past accolades, but it can’t hope that customers will continue to buy because they can’t forget what the store had churned out in the past

Remembrances, however loving, do not, of course, equate to sales. A fast fashion store may bank on past accolades, but it can’t hope that customers will continue to buy because they can’t forget what the store had churned out in the past. Ms Chai herself could go no further than TopShop’s Knightsbridge store (2010—2015), recalling that it “boasted phone-charging stations and a bespoke personal shopping service”. As we have noted here on SOTD, TopShop’s debut at Wisma Atria in 2000 (they stayed till 2008, and it was here that the ‘Style Advisor’ service that Life noted was first introduced) offered more than just clothes, it had atmosphere, a rare quality in retail then. Inside, I recall, was evocative of the brand’s London flagship on Oxford Street. It was dotted with iMacs (yes, those antiquated triangular-sided PCs) that offered free access to the Internet. There was energy derived from the Brit-retro-cool vibe it projected. This was augmented by the music—nothing ambient about it—and the massive video wall in the rear that, for those of us with no access to MTV, was a definite highlight when shopping there. I will always remember choosing carrot jeans accompanied by Oasis or Arctic Monkeys. And, for sure, Coldplay.

I think many of the shoppers, who made a last-minute attempt to cop whatever it was they were hoping to at TopShop, did so just to partake in a closure that had been predicted to be the norm for fashion retail: let’s go to another closing-down sale. That, and the cheap prices. Weeks later, when Shopee conducts a 10.10 sale after the 9.9, TopShop would sound like a brand from long ago. But shrugging off their physical self does not mean they don’t exists any longer. Google the conflated name and the first result (really an ad) will show up as “We Are Now Online”. A store-less brand won’t be quite the same as one that exists in the off-line sphere. TopShop has as much cultural presence here as the “cami top” it sells. I doubt e-commerce will change that. It would need more than a re-branding strategy for a digital non-native to appeal to those born into a connected world, who are unlikely to miss the brand’s brick-and-mortar self.

Kate Moss X TopShop in 2014. File photo: SOTD

TopShop, in its last years, had not been the crowd-puller that H&M—opened 11 years later— has been. After their (final?) collaboration with Kate Moss in 2014, TopShop (and its brother brand TopMan) seemed unable to go further than young-hipster cool. The Kate Moss “wardrobe” appeared to me to appeal mostly to teens with the understandable desire to be dressed like glamour girls. While other brands with similar aesthetical starting point had moved on to embrace more trending looks, TopShop had not done so likewise; at least not as fervently, or convincingly. By the time of its impending closure, many of those who discovered TopShop via their debut store in Wisma Atria in 2000 have grown up, as I have. The kids today aren’t like the kids of twenty years ago.

Frankly, I remember what Topshop was; I do not register what it has become. In my last visit to TopShop at ION Orchard two CNYs ago, I left with disappointment rather than purchases. The store was not just a mere shadow of its former self, it was a dump of throwaway clothes and forgotten fashion. I wonder if things would have looked less dismal if it had more support as an on-trend brand (rather than purportedly a place for “statement pieces”). I don’t regret that TopShop is closed; I have nothing to lament. I believe in the saying that when one door shuts, another may open. Yet, it’s hard to say if, given the troubles of the brand’s parent company, the Arcadia Group, TopShop is able to re-buff and restore the shine it has lost, or dramatically reinvent itself. I doubt many are hoping.

Preface To Vogue SG

The comeback publication has been sharing what its upcoming launch issue might look like. Too soon to make something of them?

A divisive image of one of the models that appeared on Vogue SG’s video posts. Screen grab: Vogue Singapore/Facebook

Couple of months before the launch of Vogue Singapore on the 23rd of this month, images of what the magazine’s visual aesthetic might be like has been shared by the born-again title on social media. Observers and the deeply curious are puzzled by what they have seen. So far, few comments have accompanied these editorially-produced images, but away from social media, the chatter borders on dismay and incredulity. To be sure, beauty and artistic taste are subjective, and are being redefined as we write this. But, it is not surprising that there are those who hold Vogue, regardless of where it is published, to a loftier standard.

The images in question are those featuring the Hong Kong-born, London-based Tibetan model/electronic music artiste Tsunaina (not to be confused with Tsunade of the Naruto manga and anime series). Reportedly discovered by the British makeup maestro Pat McGrath, Tsunaina Limbu (she goes by her first name) has made strides in the modelling world since last year. Those in the position to influence Ms Limbu’s career consider her beauty “unconventional”. In Asia, that term is mostly used euphemistically, as her stand-out features are not usually considered “model-standard”: her nose bridge too wide and high; her lips too thick and pouty. It doesn’t help that, as it is often said, she looks like she’s from the movie Avatar’s Na’vi tribe.

Video still of Tsunaina in Robert Wun, styled by Xander Ang, and directed by Ryan Chappell and Marc Pritchard. Screen grab: Vogue Singapore/Facebook

Regardless, her looks have earned her a place in many beauty ratings, such as Elle’s “New Wave Beauty” from last year. Ms Limbu is not alien to international titles, having appeared in W magazine, Vogue Germany, and on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Kazakhstan. Fashion stylists and makeup artists we spoke to did not consider her features unattractive, but did say she won’t be easy to style or shoot, and that she needs to work with those who “can bring out the best of her”, as one stylist said. But with this particular pictorial (and video) post, social media followers seem to think that Vogue SG has not quite done a Vogue—“see the bad makeup and bad lighting”. Or, style her to assimilate into the magazine’s more sophisticated positioning. We just hope this would not turn out to be a Vogue SG’s Mulan moment.

It may be too soon to consider this as what Vogue SG is forging for the Singaporean edition of the fashion bible. Some observers wonder if a Singaporean girl would be featured on the cover of the debut issue. Or, if Singaporean-ness would be a mere token expression. In July, a leaked video showed some Singaporean models (and those considered “former”) strutting at a photo shoot, attributed to the magazine. One of the women is Celia Teh, a Vogue SG cover girl back in the November 1994 issue, and who is married to the fashion photographer Mark Law. Her inclusion for nostalgic reason? The video was probably shot by an attendee or member of the crew, using a smartphone; it showed the women walking and posing against a white, unadorned studio space.

Fahimah Thalib, reportedly the first Muslim model to be asked to appear on Vogue SG. Screen grab: Vogue Singapore/ Facebook

On Facebook, Vogue SG stated that “a core pillar of Vogue Singapore is to shine a spotlight on Asian talents, and to provide them with a platform to showcase their creativity.” This is possibly a reminder that the talent pool in our city is small, with few swimming in it. The magazine has, therefore, decided to cast the net wider so that the world’s largest continent can be a deep resource, never mind that, including the soon-to-be launched SG edition, there would be eight Vogues. And none has trained “a spotlight on Asian talents”, leaving a gap for dot-sized Singapore to fill?

It is possible that Vogue SG, in scouring the plural societies of Asia for talents, is trying to strike an inclusive tone, the way the British edition has, so vividly. In one of the videos Vogue SG shared on Facebook (shot in Gardens by the Bay—was One Orchard Store inspired by this footage?), the hijab-wearing Singaporean model Fahimah Thalib is featured in full, modesty-fashion splendour. Ms Thalib told Berita Harian that she was initially worried about what the magazine might want her to show, but was pleased that the end result “menjaga imej kesopanan wanita Muslimah (cared about the image of politeness of Muslim women).” Vogue SG has offered us a foretaste of their editorial wokefulness.

Man in bloom: Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief illustrating his love for orchids. Screen grab: musingmutley/Instagram

But it has not been all cultural cognisance. On both Instagram and Facebook, Vogue SG offers an unstimulating mix of inane fashion commentary, artists’ contributions to the “Vogue in Bloom” theme, birthday wishes to celebrities, and designer quotations to encourage (a pandemic is still raging) whoever needs encouragement, and staying with the perfunctory declaration that Vogue SG will keep “you updated with the biggest movements in fashion, beauty and wellness, celebrity, culture, art and more.”

Additionally, in tandem with the fun and irreverence that now often pervade both fashion’s and fashion magazines’ digital representations, Vogue SG has also delivered TikTok-ready content on its IG account. One of them is an interactive component—a 3-D filter that allows users to place metallic-looking, indistinct orchids, dubbed the Vanda Vogue (better as Vanda Vague?), anywhere on the face. One of the earliest to test this out was Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief Norman Tan, who gleefully hammed it up for an IG Stories post (above) on his Musingmutley account, telling viewers that he was “serving some serious face.” From this, it’s hard to tell if, as the title’s editorial head, Mr Tan would be able to augment the fashion standing and authority of the magazine. As one fashion editor said to us, “I think Anna would sit this one out.”

Top Down

TopShop/TopMan closes in five days. People are queuing to buy. Can fashion labels, as with lovers, only be appreciated when they shall be no more?

The closures of clothing stores on our island tend to show unambiguously that in fashion, we don’t appreciate or desire brands until they exit our retail scene. Or, when they are sold cheaply so that stocks can be cleared/disposed. It was officially announced last week that TopShop/Topman will close its last brick-and-mortar store at VivoCity on Thursday, 17 September, day 261 of an unforgettable 2020. Many observers—including us—already foresaw this doom. We noted that after we were sure that the two-storey ION Orchard store was closed in June. Yet, it didn’t seem to affect those who consider TopShop or co-brand TopMan a favourite or worthy of support. The British brand isn’t considered to be expensive, but we couldn’t keep the business going. We’re only keen on them a week before it will shutter permanently.

This afternoon, there was a long queue—at least 2 metres long (social distancing be damned)—outside TopShop/Topman. Both men and women came to partake in the brand’s final chapter here (although distributor Wing Tai Retail did say that the online operation will remain). Most in the line were young—below 25, and in the company of the like; in twos, threes, fives. VivoCity, as with, say, JEM in Jurong, is considered (or treated as) a suburban mall, never mind that it is neighbour to one of the most expensive real estate clusters in our nation. As such, visitors here are attired in the same fashion as one would see in other heartland shopping malls: T-shirt and shorts, and slippers. Those waiting to get into Topshop/Topman were no different. Could there be more T-shirts and shorts inside to buy?

We asked three women, who looked like they might have spent most of their professional lives in full-service co-working spaces, if they were here because the store was closing down. “Actually, we didn’t know that,” one of them said. “We were walking around, and saw the queue, so join, lah.” What were they hoping to buy? “Anything cheap.” We caught sight of a massive poster at the entrance of the store. It read, “Final sale. Buy 2 Get 1 Free. Limited Time Only.” We continued: You buy only cheap? “Of course, lah!” Where do you mostly go to buy cheap? “We shop online, like Lazada.” It’s cheap on Lazada? “Okay, lah. They usually have discounts. So, quite cheap.”

Most of the mechandise inside the store were marked down—“up to 70%.” We saw that many pieces could be had for S$9, or close to McDonald’s Big Mac Extra Value Meal (S$8.65). Or, about a quarter of the price of one mooncake. The result of last year’s quinquennial Household Expenditure Survey, with calculations from 2017’s data, showed that most people spent less on clothing, compared to food. Some data analysts, however, thought that this might not necessarily mean we were buying fewer clothes—we were just buying cheaper clothes. Or, as witnessed in TopShop/TopMan today, those from stores closing down.

It is, perhaps, understandable why TopShop/TopMan needed to wind up its physical-store operations here. The troubles of the parent company, declining brand identity, and the store’s increasingly irrelevant merchandise aside, the British clothier was also facing competition from stronger players such as Uniqlo and H&M, and catering to consumers who want commodities than keepsakes, rock-bottom cheap than reasonable mid-price. Our un-quenched thirst for clothing that can be bought for less than a meal is seriously posing a threat to not only the survival of foreign fashion brands, but also a deterrent to those seeking to make an entry here.

TopShop/TopMan is the third British fashion brand to close down at the 14-year-old VivoCity. Back in 2011, River Island exited Singapore for good after a mere three years here, even with merchandising that was generally considered “strong”. A few years earlier, Ben Sherman, the “quintessential” menswear clothier, closed their level-one store. Other British labels with standalone outlets to bid farewell to our island that we can remember include French Connection (the label is now available at Robinsons) and Jack Wills. But it isn’t just the British brands that had it hard. American labels, too, didn’t last. Few Gen-Z shoppers now remember that we once had the likes of Gap. Regardless of country of origin, it is clear that garment retail faces a bleak future when courting consumers who only want to buy—and wear—cheap.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Does Kim Jones Need A Second Job?

Fendi’s Karl Lagerfeld replacement is, like the late designer, already gainfully employed at the point of hire

The breaking news earlier today was the appointment of Kim Jones at Fendi. Mr Jones will not be leaving his post at Dior Men. He will be holding two positions: his current duties at Dior and as Fendi’s “artistic director of haute couture, ready-to-wear, and fur collections for women”, as described in a media release. This arrangement is not unlike that of his predecessor Karl Lagerfeld, who, among many other projects, including his own line, designed for Chanel and Fendi. Mr Jones’s dual role won’t be a professional challenge for him since back in his early years at Louis Vuitton, he was also designing for Dunhill and, if we remember correctly, his eponymous line.

But, does Kim Jones need two jobs at present? This was the first thing that struck us. Or, is LVMH—in wealth-protection mode—not hiring from outside of the company? Many good designers—both from the old guard and new breed—are unemployed. With the pandemic not satisfactorily mitigated, unemployment among fashion designers would likely remain significant. Could Mr Jones and LVMH not have given others a chance when design positions are dwindling? Could Mr Jones not have recommended someone to Fendi as he did to LV, resulting in the appointment of Virgil Abloh? Or, is Fendi a real catch?

As posted on Mr Jones’s Instagram eight hours ago, “working across two such prestigious house is a true honour as a designer and to be able to join the house of Fendi as well as continuing my work at Dior Men’s is a huge privilege.”

The privilege is, of course, easy. Fendi, founded in 1925, was partially acquired by LVMH in 1999, with Prada being the other partner. After Prada sold their shares to LVMH in 2002, the latter is now the majority owner of Fendi. It’s not surprising that Fendi would look to other LVMH subsidiaries (Tiffany’s now unlikely to join the stable) to find the brand’s next artistic director. And if so, the target is obvious.

Hedi Slimane at Celine has the carte blanch to do as he pleases. It is unlikely he’d want to take on another brand, one that is still watched by a matriarch. Kris Van Assche at Berluti isn’t a commercial wunderkind that Mr Jones is to be able to keep Fendi’s sale performance glowing. Matthew Williams at Givenchy was just appointed and has not proved his mettle. Felipe Oliveira Baptista at Kenzo is too new to test, so is Guillaume Henry at Patou. Maria Grazia Chiuri? Nah. Rihanna? Nah. Marc Jacobs? He’s across the pond. Or, Nicholas Ghesquiere at LV Women? He’s not a right fit. As for Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, he is too right for the Spanish house for Fendi to touch.

For too long Fendi has been steered by Mr Lagerfeld. Now, they clearly want what Mr Jones is able to give to Dior Men. As Fendi CEO Serge Brunschwig, shared on IG, “Kim will bring his contemporary one of a kind point of view into the world of Fendi”. Hyped sneakers, to start with?

Illustration: Just So

Watch, Not Buy

One Orchard Store, the Textile and Fashion Federation-initiated e-commerce platform joined the first E-Great Singapore Sale today with a shop-by-video access. Only thing is, it isn’t shoppable… yet

The Textile and Fashion Federation’s (TaFF) e-shop One Orchard Store (OOS) launched a video today that allows viewers to shop what they see, but it was met with a glitch: like that, buy not. The video, showing models in pairs and filmed at various local tourist spots, is supposed to have the added function of allowing viewers to immediately access the “looks” that they like and desire to buy. A discreet “Shop this Look” link is provided on the bottom-right side of the video, but click on it, and no pop-up page opens that allows viewers to shop the desired garment. It was later reported on CNA that “due to a technical error, a video without the function has been uploaded.” CNA also said that according to TaFF, the operator of OOS, “this was a loss of direct purchasing opportunity.”

Whether there is calculable loss is not yet known. For the debut of the e-Great Singapore Sale (e-GSS), many retail platforms have included live-streaming to make online shopping more engaging, but OOS has opted for a video format instead. Titled “Step into a World”, the video is “Specially Curated for You”, and comes with the possibility of instantaneously buying what catches your fancy. We were not tempted, but curious to know how this would work, we clicked on the link when we saw a cheongsam by Lai Chan. The link offered no other action than pausing the short film. As the video is powered by YouTube, the bar of ‘suggested video’ (based on your viewing habits) appeared at the bottom of the screen. Nothing bore any relation to OOS.

We repeated this at other points on the two-minute-plus video for the next two hours, and the same result kept surfacing. This, in fact, was not the only glitch that we experienced on OOS today. Earlier, we tried accessing the video on our smartphone, but was met with an error message: “Webpage not available.” SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang later messaged us to say that she too encountered the same problem on her Galaxy Note 20. We took to our notebooks and only then, did we land on the webpage with the yet-to-fully function video—possibly the first technical snag of the e-GSS.

The technical fault was easy to overlook since we were not really here to shop. But what we found rather curious is the direction of the video. Was this, in fact, from the Visit Singapore website? We had no idea why the selling of Singaporean fashion labels via an e-commerce page has to be a video recommendation of our island’s places of interest—National Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum, Treetop Lofts, S.E.A. Aquarium, and Gardens by the Bay. What is surprising is how lacking in fervour the video was filmed. This may have worked as a TaFF video annual report, but for the retailing of clothing, was it saying that OOS is a mere cluster of brands? And a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) vehicle too?

We are not sure if clothes and locations are equally enticing when shared in one promotional material. Sure, the e-GSS is part of the STB’s impressively-budgeted S$45-million marketing splash to get locals to explore the island’s many attractions in lieu of holidays abroad. But must the film project an image of our city’s offerings as grassroots rather than worldly, average rather than exceptional? To be certain, the video is consistent with the content now being generated in a COVID-19 world, when models/subjects with zombie smiles are unable to benefit from professional hair and makeup services, when visuals have to look decidedly homespun, when clothes have not the benefit to meet an electric iron.

It is not known how much sales One Orchard Store has generated since its launch in June. Or, if the labels in its fold have been able to generate sufficient interest with the bland product visuals submitted by the respective brands for use on the OOS site. The video is possibly aimed at creating not just a less static platform, but also one with which OOS is able to project a vestige of image consistency for the online store. Sensory stimulation to counter OOS’s till-now one-dimensional and dull product presentation is a positive way forward. But a mere moving version of those unimaginative photos really won’t do very much.

Screen grabs: One Orchard Store