Atypical Asian Pick At Burberry

He’s too dusky, he’s over-tattooed, and he is half-Laotian, half-Issan. In Bangkok, he wouldn’t normally be cast in any major advertising campaign, but newcomer Zak Sakraew is in Manchester. And luck came a-calling

When Burberry shared two photos of its autumn/winter 2020 campaign in mid-November, the fashion world of Bangkok went wild. Newcomer Zak (pronounced ‘Sak’ in Thai) Srakaew, who doesn’t live anywhere in Thailand, is suddenly the son of the soil, hero of the heartland. Mr Srakaew has not only starred in a fashion ad, “he is a Burberry model”, as one Bangkok-based stylist proudly told us. And he appeared in the same campaign as the Manchester United football star Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old is the only second Thai (but the first male) model, after the more established Wilhelmina lass Jan Baiboon, to come this far, or to the house of Burberry. Suddenly it was as if the nation’s Loy Krathong collective wishes amid a fierce pandemic have come true.

The thing is, if Zak Srakaew were to be doing his go-see in Bangkok, he may still be looking for a job. But Mr Srakaew lives in Manchester, a two-hour train ride to London. And inclusiveness is presently a major theme among the advertising and branding professionals there. In Bangkok, where most of the casting of local campaigns are conducted, Mr Srakaew’s Northern Thai look would be considered not outstanding enough, even common, and would not have excited those with control over large advertising budgets. One former marketing head told us that “You hardly ever see anyone dark-skinned in major campaigns. Local brands prefer the fairer models—both the men and the women. That’s why Nadech Kugimiya (Lieutenant Commander Dawin Samuthyakorn in The Crown Princess) is still hot and Cindy Bishop (host of Asia’s Next Top Model) still does shows.”

Thai model Zak Srakaew, first from left (and forth), in Burberry’s autumn/winter campaign. Photo: Burberry

That would generally mean the luk khreung (literally, ‘half-child’ in Thai, or mixed race, usually Thai-Western unions), such as model/actor Mario Maurer (half-Thai-Chinese, half-German)—in the just-concluded-on-Channel-U Thong Ake, The Pharmacist of Chaloang—and compatriot model/actress Urassaya Sperbund (half-Thai, half-Norwegian), popularly dubbed as “the first ever Thai celebrity featured in American Vogue”. Or the luk chin, those who are Chinese-looking but don’t have to be half-Thai. For the males, they would be boyish and would ideally look like they come from a wealthy merchant or property development family. Prime example in the Bangkok male modelling scene is the singer (and actor) from K-pop band 2pm Nichkhun Horawetchakun (mostly known by his first name): his parents are Chinese, and his family is wealthy, which, in South Korea, got him the nickname “the Prince.”

Zak Srakaew is/has none of the above. Burberry choosing him would be considered, in Thailand, casting against type. He does not come from a moneyed family and has virtually no presence in the entertainment industry. Mr Srakaew was born in Thailand, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in an area known as Issan, which shares a border with Laos. Issan is considered to be Thailand’s poorest region, and most Issan folks who move to big cities, such as Bangkok, normally go for work, and usually as manual industrial or construction workers. Or, muay Thai boxer. In fact, we are not aware of any Issan individual who has made a name for himself (or herself) in the modelling industry.

Zak Srakaew, first from left. Photo: Burberry

Mr Srakaew did not make it to Bangkok to seek a better life. At a young age, his Laotian father and his Issan mother were divorced, and he lived with father. His mother remarried and moved to the UK. But before he knew anything or understood what being brought up by a single parent really meant, his father died of a heart attack, leaving young Zak at the cusp of puberty without adult care or supervision. At age eleven, he was sent to be with his mother, who had settled down in the northern city of Manchester, home of The Stone Roses. As he told the curious members of the Thai media, his early years in the UK were hard, primarily because he “didn’t look like the other kids in school” and, more unfavourably, he could not speak English.

In fact, Mr Srakaew was illiterate. He told Vogue Thailand, “I have never been educated. I didn’t study; I couldn’t even read and write in Thai.” It is not revealed if his eventual education in the UK bore results. He did only say that he worked in an unnamed fast food restaurant. Modelling was not on the cards, but a photo he took with a model-pal caught the attention of an agent. Although he told GQ Thailand that he didn’t believe there was a model in him, “fate was determined that I had to go by this route.” Early assignments were mostly for sports brands, such as Fila; outdoor labels such as The North Face and Stone Island, as well as the e-tailer Asos. When the quintessential British brand Burberry called, he said, “At first I thought it was not true. (At the shoot) I felt like I was in a room we didn’t own.”

He now speaks with what could be a Northern English accent faintly lilted by an Asian twang of indeterminate origin. While home is in Manchester, Mr Sakraew has been looking towards Thailand. The income from modelling means he could fly his mother home frequently, and also to build a house for her in their Roi Et hometown. As he told, Vogue Thailand, “I lived in a small flat with my mother, struggling to pay the rent. But when I started my modeling career, I was able to pay for a room.” This Asian sense of place and piety, coupled by his Issan bad-boy look do set him apart from the pale and pretty perfection that is the Bangkok modelling scene, so much so that GQ Thailand swooned—Mr Srakaew “proves that the Thai style is outstanding internationally.” Did they take “Thai style” to mean upcountry or baan nork?

He is tall: 1.83m, according to his London men’s-only agency Supa Model Management. And he has those sprawling tattoos, which spread across half his upper body and down both arms. A yakuza would be duly impressed. In many of the photos shared on social media, Mr Sakraew has a pai kia intensity about him and is often dressed in what he calls “sporty look”, but to posh Londoners might be considered a tad chav. Even if not quite major among Bangkok fashion folks, his appeal is gaining traction among those in the gay community who “like them blue-collar looking or na hia hia (natural ‘rough-looking face’, with no makeup)”, as a graphic designer told us, and those who consider Mr Sakraew as aroi (delectable) as som tum (papaya salad), a dish with origins that can be traced to Issan and Laos. Newfound fans find his red-blooded provincial vibe charming as it contrasts with another trait: the guy loves cats!

Photos: Zak Srakaew

Art Bag

Loewe’s collaboration with the artist Kenneth Price yields some rather drool-worthy unisex satchels

Loewe, under the watch of Jonathan Anderson, has been the champion of craft and craft-like work to rather alluring results. The latest is Mr Anderson’s interpretation of the cheerful work of American sculptor and painter Kenneth Price (1935—2012). The (above) illustration first appeared in a specially commissioned work for the Newport Beach (California) restaurant La Palme in the ’80s. Mr Price created vivid and optimistic landscapes on glazed plates and bowls, and these images are now reimagined as leather marquetry (so fine, it’s veritable art in itself) on the flap of this crossbody bag.

We like the simplicity of the bag and how the flap is made special by such simple but striking illustrative form. The positive vibe is so right for such dismal times. Mr Price, who, aside from art, studied the trumpet with Chet Baker, was known for the optimism he projected through his work, including often bulbous sculptures, and, in particular, Happy’s Curios (some of the works also appear in the Loewe collection), a six-year project, inspired by New Mexico, that was dedicated to his wife Happy Ward.

This crossbody is not a big bag. It reminds us of an oversized coin purse (and opens like one!). But, with a wider bottom, it is capacious enough for bag essentials such as portable phone charger, a wallet, as well as EarPods and their attendant case. Most people would say this a woman’s shoulder bag, and women will surely find it attractive (if money is no objection, also go for the totally loveable Easter Island bucket bag with bamboo handle). But as men are using smaller bags these days, they should not shut themselves out of this particular one. In fact, it was heartening to see this appearing in the Loewe store window, hung around the neck of a shirt, clearly pitched at guys. Man bags really do not need to be man-sized.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Loewe X Ken Price La Palme Heel bag, SGD 1,900, is available at Loewe stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Is Black Better?

Once, Black Friday was invariably described as the sale of the year. In the wake of the pandemic, it now seems to be beckoning from the shadows

How quickly we arrive at a once-a-year Friday inauspiciously called ‘black’. It would be amusing to go into how the Friday after the US Thanksgiving holiday turned into this shade of raven, but it has such a convoluted origins story and multiple retellings that reading them won’t leave you with enough time for this essentially one-day sale. If sales make the world go round, Black Friday purportedly puts you on a dizzy spin. Bargains, we’re told, are to be had in so many stores that missing out won’t only encourage fear, it’d strike terror.

Black Friday predates the colour-neutral 9/9, 10/10, and 11/11. Unlike these Internet-native sale events, Black Friday started largely in a physical space. In the good old days, people in America, after giving thanks, would rush to their favourite store to buy outrageously marked-down goods. Dispensing with manners (Ps and Qs? Forget them!) and, some say, civility, they would be the first to get into the store, elbow their way to the bargains, and, simultaneously, break jaws and noses (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but scuffles did break out). These days, anything likely to break is the Internet.

Standees and window stickers beckon at many stores in case you didn’t already know that Black Friday has arrived

With the pandemic, we assume the response to Black Friday in person would be tamer this year. How wrong we were. The minute we emerged from Orchard MRT station, we knew we would be surging into a swarm. And we did. So packed it was in the narrow passage that’s the conduit between ION Orchard and the underpass to Tangs that both MRT staff and social distancing ambassadors were needed to direct the heedless crowd. No one seemed concerned with the tight traffic. You’d think that 2020 is the year of new social habits, but you’d be mistaken. This was dazzlingly pre-new normal.

Entering malls these days are preceded with the usual SafeEntry scans and temperature checks, but at the ION Orchard entrance outside the MRT station entry/exit, it was a journey to the centre of the earth. You are basically going round the same oblong area four times before you can enter the mall proper. The first thing that caught our eye once we were free from the snaking chain is the line to our right at Sephora (the longest sighted here), which basically stretched the entire shop front of the cosmetic retailer. In ION Orchard, it appeared that the action was subterranean. The bustle was alive below level one. Above that, it was barely a weekend hum. Oddly, it was ghostly quiet outside Louis Vuitton and Dior.

The entrance to the latest expansion of the Uniqlo ION store

The real draw, as it turned out, was the opening of Uniqlo ION, the final of a triumvirate of large stores that make up Uniqlo Town, all situated on Orchard Road. But, while the store entrances were flanked with sprays of balloons, suggesting some kind of celebratory mood, there was no line waiting to get in. Uniqlo ION now includes one floor of the old Topshop, with the rear of the space connected to the right side of the existing store’s women’s department. In total, it doesn’t appear to be as large as their Global Flagship in Orchard Central, but those who miss shopping in Tokyo, would find the latest Uniqlo somewhat familiar (especially the new UT section) and, truth be told, comforting. We asked a sales guy if there was any Black Friday sale. He replied happily, “No, but we have many many opening specials,” and proceeded to show us the good buys, underscoring how attractive the prices were.

Across the street at Tangs, before you could join the staggering queue, you’d be met at the entrance with a huge poster announcing, in bold type, that they “are temporarily closed”. The reason? “Maximum Occupancy Limit Reached”. That did not stop people from joining the lengthening line. A staff at the door explained that inside, “it’s full” even when it was clear from what could be seen through the massive glass doors that it was not. Full, like so many other descriptions in fashion and retail, in the wake of the pandemic, needs re-definition. Yet, few were willing to give the queue a miss. Or, appearing to succumb to the misery of waiting. We have never seen Tangs enjoying such a fervid reception. A young man wondered very loudly to his just-as-puzzled female companion, as they emerge from the underpass in front of the store, “Huh, don’t tell me Tangs oso closing down!”

Tangs had to make an unexpected announcement in the late afternoon

Lines like these are surprising as we thought people would prefer to get online than get in line. It showed us that despite the still-real threat that is COVID-19, bargain hunters are ever willing to brave the undaunted crowd to go to where the low prices supposedly were. Tangs was rather the exception among department stores. The response to Metro’s exhortation-as-temptation—“Why settle for less when you can have the best?”—was just as hyper-enthusiastic, but the line was less crazy. Many were seduced by the “up to 90% off” (“for the best”?) attention grabber. Unlike at Tangs, capacity limits did not seemed to be the concern of Metro’s operations team.

In contrast, it was rather quiet at Isetan Scotts, despite the refurbishment that was revealed not too long ago. Drawing capacity crowd were the two coffee spots on the first floor, now not mostly cosmetics counters. At Takashimaya, it was, at best, borderline busy, and it was comfortable to navigate. The crowd control seemed effective here as there were, in effect, multiple points of entry and exit. Diagonally across the street, the queue returned at Robinsons after a lull, as it was announced that the store would be conducting their last Black Friday sale (Robinsons is, in fact, the first department store to embrace Black Friday in a big way). But with discounts of up to only 70%, their price slash paled next to Metro’s. Inside, it was clear that the store was in the throes of permanent closure. Still, prices were not, as one shopper told us, “temptingly low.”

Foreground: the orderly crowd getting into Takashimaya Department Store

Meanwhile, five kilometres away from Orchard Road, in a quiet, verdant area that was once a military installation, Dover Street Market Singapore was having its own Black Friday event, only it wasn’t so dark. Touted as Fluro Rebellion, it is “a two-part series of limited edition, iconic products created by friends and collaborators of DSM as a colourful counter-action to Black Friday.” The store has an on-going end-of-season sale, and Fluro Rebellion, part one, was clearly—and chromatically—not part of it. In fact nothing in Fluro Rebellion was marked down, yet it was able to draw an impressive turn out, proving that in retail, competing on price alone is not necessarily the only way to generate sales. We have never seen a line at the cashier at DSMS, but there was one this un-Black Friday. By late evening, most of the merchandise, including all the Stussy items, were sold out, as confirmed by one of the sales staff. Despite an affinity to the colour black, DSMS certainly does not need to depend on it to draw shoppers.

These days, going to a store sounds terribly old-fashioned, even unnecessary. Yet, Black Friday was able to lure the crowd. This despite coming late, after the serial online sale of 9/9, 10/10, 11/11, linked to shopping platforms such as Shopee and Lazada, both heavily advertised on old media, the television. It’s surprising, therefore, that sale fatigue has not set in. Can anyone grow weary of sales? You might be okey-dokey in September, but would you be still raring to go in November? We don’t know. As it has always been, the things we really wanted did not go on sale. Nor were they marked down sufficiently to be tempting, or to constitute what the pros at such matters call “good value”. Black Friday, we were told, is better for big-ticket items. Is S$1,000 for a plain but warped Balenciaga shirt not big enough a ticket? As life ebbs away, often rather furtively, we’ll soon forget that Balenciaga shirt. Or, maybe we should wait for Cyber Monday?

Photos: Zhao Xiangji. Illustration: Just So

Spill Not From Santa’s Sleigh

You know for certain that times have changed when outside mailboxes, they are delivering more parcels than letters

This isn’t Christmas morning. Yet. It’s a gloomy, humid, drizzle-speckled noon. The mailman has not arrived, but the delivery people have. And they come bearing what could be Santa’s early bounty. The orders are scattered all over the void deck, as if Mr Clause’s elves have been busy, but not tidy. Big and small, tall and stout, thick and thin, they are there, all more massive than any mailbox could hold. They look to be the same community of packages, delivered in the paper uniform of brown/white envelopes/boxes. What we see are arrivals for an entire block of flats. Is that not a lot of shopping delivered in a moment? And Black Friday has only just arrived, barely 12 hours ago.

Perhaps we have been e-commerce disbelievers, the die-hard brick-and-mortar shoppers for too long. Seeing this pasar malam spread, it’s hard to dispute that our shopping habits have changed, and that we’re the goons still going to stores and touching things, and interacting with increasingly indifferent service staff, who must think we are from a distant, backward star. The rest of the populace are no longer going out to buy what they want and bringing the items home themselves. They are shopping via their smartphones, and having their purchases delivered to their front door. And it isn’t just the odd lazy consumer ensconced at home. It appears to be a whole community, an entire people doing their shopping online. One of the most primal of human behaviours—and needs—has really succumbed to digital conversion. Like cash.

Retailers, too, are pressured to go online. Adopt the platform or perish. The threat is very real, not virtual. A distributor and retailer of a popular shoe brand told us that the potential of online sales cannot be ignored. “Before 11/11, we were doing less than 10% of online sales,” she said. “Now, we’re doing more than 35%!” One sales assistant at a clothing store, said to us that “unless we have a sale, traffic is very slow. People may come in, but only to check the prices. They end up buying online.” Government ministers have warned too. Reacting to the impending closure of Robinsons, manpower minister Josephine Teo told the media that “it does signal very strongly that our industries are going to continue to have to transform.” There was no mention in the trite statement of how Robinsons has slipped in store positioning or merchandise mix. Whatever it is, rejig—go online. Keep the deliverymen busy.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Make It Sustainable

Nike gives its popular Daybreak a midsole that will appeal to eco types

By Ray Zhang

Sneaker giant Nike is taking sustainability seriously. Clothing has been getting the bad rep for what its production and discarding can do to the environment. Sneakers, even with more than 20 billion of them produced annually, is not getting as much flak as the garments you have been buying, especially cheaply. But the truth is, we dispose many pairs of worn shoes that end up in landfills. More than three hundred million in the US alone, according to reports. The biggest problem, it appears, is the ethylene vinyl acetate—considered thermoplastics—that is commonly used for making the midsole of sneakers. This particular material apparently won’t break down in a landfill for as long as 1,000 years!

Now, I do not know if that staggering duration has budged Nike into doing something, but the introduction of the sustainable Crater foam midsole this year is indication they’re heading in the right direction. The Crater foam, according to Nike, is “Recycled Grind fabrication”. That’s marketing speak for a sole made from discarded soles. The Crater foam has already been seen in the Air Force 1 and the Cortez (as well as the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Crater), but they have not appealed to me. Until its appearance with the Daybreak. Truth be told, I have a weakness for this OG Nike running shoe since Undercover reimagined it last year. So this time, the Daybreak is even better since it’s fitted with the delightfully light Crater foam (speckled too). And that contrast-colour heel grip!

Not to be half-hearted about it, Nike has given this Type iteration of the Daybreak an upper that is made of “recycled canvas”, and in a handsome grey. I, too, like the stitched outline of the Swoosh (rather than an appliqué), meaning less material is used on this sneaker, meaning less waste. The all-grey upper—a cooler shade than warm—pairs well with sweatpants (okay, we really should retire them), as well as tailored slacks (I am thinking pinstripes!). This old-school sneaker is really a comforting sight. Enough of bombastic kicks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nike DBreak Type, SGD159, is available at Nike stores. Photo: Chin Boh Kay

Camp Campuran

The rojak Singaporean “musical” comedy Number 1 was blessed with the Best Costume and Make-up Award at the Golden Horse Award two days ago. Was it a fluke?

It was not surprising that Mark Lee (李国煌) did not win the award for the best actor at the 57th Golden Horse Award (金马奖), but it took us by surprise that the film Number 1, in which Mr Lee has a leading role, received the Best Makeup and Costume Design award, which went—jointly—to the Malaysian stylist Guo Zisheng (郭子胜) and Singaporean designer Azni Samdin. That the costumes of Number 1 could beat the other nominees—the macabre ballroom-dancing film A Leg (腿), the Hong Kong bromance drama-thriller Hand Rolled Cigarette (手捲煙), the supernatural horror The Rope Curse 2 (粽邪), and, especially, the impeccably stylish thriller Precious is the Night (今宵多珍重)—stumped us.

Precious is the Night is a part-Singaporean production and it has locals in it too. It stars model-turned-photographer-turned-social-media-sensation-turn-actor Tan Chuando (陈川都), with costumes by the producer, Lim Sau Hoong (林少芬), a reputed Singaporean advertising maestro and a nominee of the President’s Design Award 2007. Fellow ad man Theseus Chan described Ms Lim as “a combination of her innate artistry, her gift for grace and her unique ethos”. Any film with elegant cheongsums, to us, has a clear lead in the best costume stakes. Precious is the Night is evocative in parts of Wong Kar Wai’s (王家卫) In the Mood for Love (花样年华, 2000) and co-directors Chen Kuo-Fu’s (陈国冨) and Gao Qunshu’s (高群书) The Message (风声, 2009). Its costumes (even with Mr Tan half naked or in singlets) are stylish and cinematically so.

Yet, it was the high-camp, high-jinx Number 1 that took home the award for Best Makeup and Costume Design. This is not turning up our noses at a Mark Lee vehicle, which, hitherto, has mostly been a platform for the brew of balderdash that Mr Lee and his “mentor” Jack Neo have made a career out of. A heterosexual man in real life doing drag is hardly the stuff of award seasons these days. (Why is it that so many actors from the Jack Neo school of comedy must have a drag act in their repertoire before they can be taken seriously as an actor?) Mr Lee’s acting has never been a stretch of any sort—of his ability and his willingness, or our imagination. His character, beneath the unnecessarily gaudy makeup, is a composite of what he has done—and not undone—in the past. We see the desperate contractor Ong in Money No Enough (钱不够用, 1998), the hardened Ah Beng in Liang Po Po: The Movie (梁婆婆重出江湖, 1999), the hapless father in I Not Stupid (小孩不笨, 2002), and even the soft-hearted ‘thief’ Lee Tok Kong in the English-language TV series Police and Thief (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008). Thankfully Mark Lee’s singing is a tad better—less one-note. But no matter how many Ah Bengs—even one with a degree in civil engineering as in Number 1—he plays, he will always be Mark Lee the Ah Beng.

Similarly, Number 1 is an amalgamation of movies, including, rather obviously, the heart-wrenching Taiwanese film Alifu: The Prince/ss (阿莉芙, 2017, and screened during the Chinese Film Festival in 2018) and the uplifting Canadian movie Stage Mother (2020). We saw in Number 1, as we did in both latter films, the all-too-queenly foibles, the clash of the straight and gay worlds, and the as many prejudices experienced as there are love. But Number 1, with its superficial story-telling, is essentially for the Ah Boys to Men (新兵正传) crowd, one that does not require emotional depth in cinematic story-telling. At times, it feels like a Singaporean movie trying to be a Taiwanese indie film trying to be a Singaporean dramedy. Subtlety has no place in this world of song and dance. Feathers and fake lashes are there to overshadow even a hint of tears—whether sorrow or joy. No voiceless pauses on the minutiae of drag life, just full-frontal bapok excess. It takes advantage of drag culture that has gone mainstream without exploring its layered-as-the-makeup complexity and parades the film’s protagonists to a mainstream audience like kueh kueh at a void deck function.

This is not a gang of misfits, as one might think of a group of drag queens (they do not, of course, have to be). Rather this is a gaggle of stock characters that do their thing, not spectacularly, in a nightclub with patrons of indeterminate sexual persuasion (just as the now-defunct drag central Boom Boom Room was never really a gay club per se?). They are over-the-top, even off-stage, refusing to remove their makeup for supper at a kopi tiam because cosmetics are expensive and it it takes too much effort to put them on in the first place. Even the token appearance of Kumar—oftentimes cutting and perceptive in his own stand-ups—could not save the film from its bland gila-gila posturing. And what semblance of poignancy was dashed when Mark Lee’s final outburst of emotions—none of the heart-tugging of the deeply touching eulogy in the final scenes of Alifu—was oddly cut shot with his angry wife going into labour so that a bunch of outrageously dressed queens can send her, practically on foot and against all traffic odds, from somewhere in Chinatown to Kandang Kerbau Women’s and Children’s Hospital. We are reminded till the end that Number 1 rides on slapstick, not clever digs.

And there is the costume. Azni Samdin is by no means an unknown designer although not many know him as his work is mostly in bridal wear for Malay weddings and in outfitting stars of Suria, such as his multi-hyphenate buddy Najib Ali, who not only dons Mr Samdin’s designs on television, but also for special occasions such as Hari Raya. Mr Samdin has also found fans in actress-presenter Huda Ali (no relation to Najib Ali) and Code of Law’s Fauzie Laily. Mr Samdin, who too dabbles in hair and makeup, counts himself as a stylist as well, and has worked on Suria shows such as Anugerah (Where Stars are Born) and regularly appeared in the Stailista segment of the Malay lifestyle and entertainment news program Manja. Mr Samdin has, in fact, had a long history in television, describing himself as an “Award Winning TV Producer/Director/Stylist turned Designer M Azni Samdin New (sic).” In fact, in 2007, he won a best director award at Pesta Perdana of that year, together with his mentor Mr Ali. His work in drag costumes reportedly goes back to the ’90s, when he assisted in the backstage of the Boom Boom Room, where a young Kumar had his break. According to Berita Harian, Mr Samdin “antara lain, beliau pernah menjadi penata gaya bintang Hong Kong, Sandy Lam (among other roles, was the stylist of stylish Hong Kong star, Sandy Lam).” Other stars who have been dressed by Mr Samdin include Tanya Chua and Dick Lee, as reported by Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报).

The Golden Horse awardee Azni Samdin. Photo: Azni Samdin/Facebook

His designs capture the exuberance of what Malay brides like in their baju nikah and baju sanding (different styles worn for the wedding ceremony throughout the day), and increasingly the grooms: lavishness. Key features of Mr Samdin’s bridal baju (which he gleefully spells as “bajoo” in his social media posts) are extraneous fichu attachments (on top of which are all the embellishments you can imagine), fishtail skirts, and peplums, some times layered, that he loves so much, he calls the application “peplumnisation”. For the men, he has a sort-of-bolero for them on top of an outer for the baju melayu, and by Facebook posts alone, appears to be extremely popular. Also a jewellery designer (some of the chunky necklaces used in the movie could have come directly from his studio), Mr Samdin, like Francis Cheong and Frederick Lee, uses social media really well, and, similar to the other two, likes extolling the pleasures of long hours with the needle. One “hi-neck (sic) embellishment,” he wrote, “took 2 nights” to complete. Or how “beadworks (sic) on sleeves end (sic)” was the result of “4 nights of sewing therapy”. Of a wedding dress, he exclaimed, “5 days leh work on the bajoo finishings and embellishings (sic)”. And he is an enthusiastic peddler, too. In one post of a jacket, he asked, “Nice rigggghhhhhtttt? You want one…?” Another, with a photo of Najib Ali in a Hari Raya baju, he tempted, “You want? You want? You want? Kau nak? Nak? Nak?”

It’s this fervent kampung spirit that Mr Samdin brings to the characters of Number 1. Sometimes it felt like we were watching an imaginary opening act for, say, a P. Ramlee concert. Only the act wasn’t doing the joget in the film. The Queens Braaa…derhood, as the performers gleefully call themselves, were lip-synching to clichéd and predictable gay anthems such as Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive (including a crude Hokkien version) and Zhang Huimei’s (张惠妹) Sisters (姐妹), Asian LGTBQ fave. Mr Samdin’s love of bejeweled colours and metallic shimmer (as seen in the Malay brocade songket) is exuberantly transferred onto the screen, but unlike what he actually does for a bride, these stage costumes looked like they were bought off the stalls in Pratunam market in Bangkok, where, as a matter of fact, many struggling Thai drag artists source their elaborate performance wear.

As the costumes often did not appear to fit, it is tempting to assume that Mr Samdin served as a costumer, rather than a designer. One fashion stylist suggested to us that it is possible the movie suffered from a lack of adequate funds for the costumes. As such, not everything can be custom-made. Or, as the maxim of Azni Samdin Bridalwear Designs goes, “first to wear and for you to keep”. There was nothing in the costume for us to keep, in our mind. Sure, we were not expecting Oscar winner for best costume, Priscilla Queen of the Desert (costumed by the talented duo of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner) or the 1978 version of La Cage aux Folles (where it is “a mad extravaganza”), whose Italian costume designer Ambra Danon won the Oscar for the film, but neither did we expect something less spectacular than Roystan Tan’s 2007 getai homage 811, in which the Papaya Sisters held their own in goofy costumes. Nothing is sadder than doing a drag show on a budget.

The “style” of the film is supposedly a reflection of a more local sensibility to better match Mark Lee’s Bengness so that even the Taiwanese can understand. Yet, the hair and makeup are not quite a reflection of the local or Asian drag aesthetic. Using Bangkok (where there is a vibrant drag entertainment industry) as reference again, the costumes of Number 1 are more Bangkok’s Patpong than Pattaya’s Tiffany, where beauty is paramount and where the annual Miss Tiffany’s Universe—the world’s first international drag pageant—is staged. The exaggerated makeup (inverted U shape for brows!) and massive hair, festooned with all manner of accessories and not, take after the over-the-top drag looks of the West: post-Divine, Lady Bunny-fabulous, Wigstock-ready, or a page off the collective visuals of RuPaul’s Drag Race (but definitely not the FX series Pose). The costumes, therefore, sometimes feel like they’re second fiddle to what’s happening from the neck up. An incomplete picture—unfortunately, just like the film.

Movie stills: mm2 Entertainment

Close Look: Still A Plus

Jil Sander is back with Uniqlo. Launched today, the crowd that turned out was impressive for a Uniqlo launch. Together with the clothes, they proved that the designer, who no longer owns the label that bears her name, still has the touch

Uniqlo has stopped issuing shopping bags to shoppers, but for +J it offers specially designed paper carriers to house your buys

Friends and readers of SOTD have been messaging us these past days to tell of the manic scenes in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo during the much anticipated launch of Uniqlo +J. We read in the media that it was no less enthusiastic in many cities in Europe despite the pandemic restrictions and, in some cities, lockdowns. One particular video showing an unbelievably crazy scene in one purported Nagoya store had would-be shoppers worried. Here, however, things were a lot calmer, so much so that it would be tempting to assume that the comeback of the critically-lauded collaboration may come and go without a stir. At 8.25 this morning, only four persons were spotted within the cordoned holding area for the queuing. We spoke to a couple at the start of the line and was told that they had “just arrived”. Clearly, no one had camped out overnight, as initially expected.

By about ten, the queue had become what might be considered long. It filled the two holding areas designated in the main concourse of Orchard Central (OC). By noon, guesstimates placed the figure at about 200. This queue was only for shoppers buying the +J line, which had a dedicated space on the 2nd floor in the women’s department. Other shoppers to the store were allowed to use the regular entryway inside OC, next to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. We were told by one traffic controller that the total number allowed inside at any one time for both groups of shoppers is 970. Crowd controllers outside the +J selling area told us that only 20 people are allowed. We did notice a staff at the entry point for the +J crowd with a counter and another issuing a numbered ticket. Could this be from the playbook of the time when the Uniqlo mask was first launched?

The snaking line through the thankfully spacious concourse of Orchard Central

The queue, for many, did not end the minute one enters the store. Another short line is seen at the foot of the escalator going up to the second level, where a staff would summon the next customer(s) to ascend when shoppers have left the designated +J space. Once up here, there is still another line to join before one is actually allowed to be in the company of the merchandise. From here—the short bridge that connects OC to Orchard Gateway—the well-adhered-to-social-distancing crowd looked thin. A shopper told us she was in line for “about 140 mins”. Earlier when we asked a gatekeeper how long she thought the waiting time was and she told us, “100 people (were) allowed in within 2 hours”.

If you thought online shoppers had an easier time, that was not necessarily so. Past midnight, our two attempts failed—clicks on the photos of the products did not immediately bring us to the page for that very item that could be added to the cart. For some reason, the +J banner does not appear at the top of the page so that we could easily go the desired link. And clicking on the back button of our Huawei phone did not bring us back to the previous page. Instead, we were returned to the home page, where we needed to scroll down to the +J banner to click on it to return to the shopping page. Unwilling to sacrifice sleep, we thought we’d try again in the morning.

A message on Uniqlo’s website when some shoppers tried to access the +J merchandise in the morning

At thirty past six, the light from the Uniqlo website emanated from our phone, casting a soft glow in our still-dark bedroom. Further awaken by coffee, we thought we would be ready for what Uniqlo would offer us this morning. Fifteen minutes to seven, out attempts mirrored six hours earlier’s. But this time, we were digitally ushered to a “Virtual Waiting Room” (VWR). The reason: “due to overwhelming traffic”. Six minutes in here, nothing flashed or flickered. We refreshed the page and was again showed that VWR (do these ever get full?). While getting ready to go to the OC store, we tried again. At some point we could access the product pages, but we could not add anything to the still-empty cart. On the MRT train, many pages of individual items started showing a red “Not Available” across the colour choices of items, which we took to really mean sold out.

As less than two dozen shoppers were within the designated area, it made for a pleasant shopping experience, in that there was no jostling. But, customers, typical of those manic for collaborations perceived to be “cheap”, did leave a rather messy space, with shirts—for both men and women (the most popular items)—thrown on racks, without their accompanying hangers. It was easy to see and understand why these would be the first items to go. Staff in attendance told us that, in order for every shopper to have a fair chance at the merchandise, products were released “in batches”. But when we asked for a particular striped shirt in a size we wanted, we were told there was “no more.”

A dedicated space for the +J collection within the women’s department

The beauty of Jil Sander is, as it’s often said and exemplified by the current designers of the house she founded, is in the details. And for this collection, Ms Sander showed that minimalism need not be that bare tunic that so many millennials seem to associate with a design sensibility that had its beginnings in the ’90s. Sure, her designs could be, to the untrained eye, plain, but these were not in anyway whatevercore. We like how she has reworked the stricter silhouette of former collections for something more relaxed, reflecting the (even) more casual attitude towards dress that many have adopted these days. She has, for instance, dropped the shoulders of shirts (for both men’s and women’s), but not to the point where they hang unpurposefully on the body. She makes pockets special by using details on blunted edge of flaps, by making the pockets themselves capacious (on the coats, they’re roomy enough for winter gloves). These are practical considerations and welcome necessities.

The outers are really appealing too, especially the puffers. The women’s versions are sensible and given shapes—even in the sleeves—that are flattering and not linear. Understandably, the shirts (and shirt-dresses) in Supima cotton will do well here since we are able to actually wear them, as opposed to the coats. What is perhaps a little of a let down are the pants. These could have come from Uniqlo’s own collections, and are far more basic looking—neither wide-legged nor slim—than any of the kindred tops and knit dresses that are so seductive. But the pants’ lack of excitement may just be just the perfect underscoring of the beguilingly shaped shirts and outers. That’s the beautiful balance. And Jil Sander nailed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Update (21 November 2020, 12.12): As shoppers throng the OC store to cop the +J collection, the new, opened-on-the-same-day Plaza Singapura store is stocked with some of the +J merchandise, such as the much coveted shirts and a few of the outers

Uniqlo +J is available at Uniqlo Global Flagship, Ochard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

In Bold Strides

Japan’s White Mountaineering collaborates with Fila. The result is more for track and field than pitch and trail

These days, every designer label worth its salt—or stripes—collaborates with at least one sports label. The Italian brand Fila is rather productive in this respect, and has been able to attract Japanese names to its stable, such as Mihara Yasuhiro. Hot on the heels of that release is the collaboration with White Mountaineering under the line Fila Fusion, which, according to a Fila Facebook post, “targets (the) youth market, incorporating vintage and on trend elements to bringing streetwear into a new level.”

White Moutaineering’s been quite a prolific brand collaborator, having paired with Adidas for quite a few seasons, and more recently, with the Italian outdoor wear label Colmar, the American athletic brand Saucony, as well as Australian footwear Ugg. Designer Yosuke Aizawa would be the guy to bring Fila’s Euro-vintagey sportif style to quite a height, never mind “new”. While WM fans might be hoping for a more up-the-hill aesthetic, Mr Aizawa and his team have remained close to Fila’s athletic roots, including the latter’s colour scheme for its logotype.

White Mountaineering X Fila. From left: (women’s), T-shirt, SGD136, and skirt, SGD208; (men’s) pullover, SGD208, and track pants, SGD 288. Products photo: Fila. Collage: Just So

To the uninitiated (or Fila novices), the blue/red/white combination could be mistaken as those worn by the North American team bound for the Olympics. Truth be told, there’s nothing quite mountaineering about these cheery, potentially nationalistic colours. They are more track than trail, and would really not be out of place on a path of any urban centre or the walkway of a mall. But WM devotees would want something to identify the brand with, and Mr Aizawa offers a hint of WM detailing, such as the brand’s logo bordered by ethnic-looking repeated patterns. In fact, the collection is mostly based on Fila staples, but with WM’s love of details gleaned from military and work wear.

The women’s pieces are quite the standout that many sportswear collaboration are not (except possibly Sacai and Nike). We like the boxier tops and the layered/pleated skirts—rather tennis wear charmingly gone a little off-tangent. As with WM collections, the Fila outers are smashing. Lightweight jackets, some with that ethnic pattern, but mostly with massive pockets (and flaps) are totally consistent with the outdoor look, but city-centric enough to go over any dress that you might be wearing now. If only our climate here isn’t one we wish we didn’t have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

White Mountaineering X Fila autumn/winter 2020 is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji

Will This Be The First?

Crowd control measures are already in place outside the Uniqlo Global Flagship at Orchard Central for the launch of the Uniqlo +J collection tomorrow morning. It looks set to be Uniqlo’s most successful launch after their collaboration with Kaws last year

It seems that the madness is about to begin. At Uniqlo’s three-storey Orchard Central (OC) store early this evening, separate-from-the-usual-queue stanchions were set up to control what’s anticipated to be a large turn out for tomorrow’s launch of the much-hyped +J collection, conceived with Jil Sander, the designer, not the brand. At six this evening, no one was stationed in the designated area, split into two holding zones in the main concourse/walkway of the mall. Yet. Staff members, all in discreet black that Ms Sander would approve, were seen arranging the set up and putting up signs to better guide shoppers. It was still all calm, the usual OC Thursday evening.

This could be unprecedented in the history of Uniqlo collaborations. Despite pairings with heavy-weight designers such as Ms Sander, JW Anderson (ongoing), and Jun Takahashi of Undercover (2012), lines rarely form outside the stores as those seen outside H&M for their collabs with, say, Balmain (2015) or Giambattista Valli (2019). When asked what size crowd they’re expecting tomorrow, one staffer told us, “huge”. We wondered if there would be a line tonight, and she said, “possible”. Does the OC operations managers allow overnight queueing, given present pandemic restrictions? “As of now,” she continued, “yes.” Would those already in line be told to go home if they change their mind? “They can queue outside.”

Two mannequins in +J tease in the front of Uniqlo

The +J launch here, as well as in Malaysia, was postponed by a week due to shipping delays (both Malaysia and Singapore share the same warehouse facility in the Peninsular, hence both are affected) as a result of the pandemic situation in various ports where the merchandise were due to depart. The reaction to the comeback +J line is believed to be overwhelming, considering its success in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo last Friday, with one unverified video circulating online, purportedly showing a mad crush in an unidentified Japanese store. One Uniqlo fan we spoke to said she will be kiasu and head out to the store at six in the morning. “I’ll bring breakfast along,” she beamed.

We were curious to know if there would be enough clothes for these fans. The staffer we spoke to earlier quipped, “No, that’s why it’s limited edition!” As it turns out, the pieces are so limited that shoppers are allowed to buy only “five SKUs (stock-keeping unit, representing one style) each.” That effectively means five different styles per person. No more. And that also indicates that the one total covers both men’s and women’s line. A wife, therefore, won’t be able to pick five for herself and five for her husband. She would only have that precious five to allot. The mad rush, it seems, would be inevitable.

Update: (19 November 2020, 22.30) Uniqlo at Orchard Central has closed for thirty minutes. No queue was seen outside the store. Inside, it appears that staff are setting up for the big reveal tomorrow.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

This Handy Buckle

With this Prada belt, loose change and such are within easy reach

Just adding a logo to a belt buckle is too easy for a house such as Prada. Sure, the unmistakable logotype is there (as today’s branding on merchandise demands), but they’ve made the belt, in their signature Saffiano leather no less, a little more useful—it’s buckle is now a purse. Prada calls it by the more utilitarian term “case”, but it does not convey the compactness and usefulness of this container-as-fastener. We love the old-world feel of it, like something our mothers use to have in their handbags, only now this sits handily on the belt.

When we examined it, this is really an elegant and dainty version of a waist bag. Or one of Prada’s “belt with pouches”. As seen on the runway (when IRL was still normal), the belt/case goes well with a suit. We can also imagine it over a sweater, with jeans, or to cinch a Prada Re-Nylon pinafore. Is the belt buckle too big? Not to us. We don’t think it’s larger than those that cowboys (and cowgirls) wear (which, as we understand it, are symbols of accomplishment in areas such as barrel racing, bull riding, lassoing, etc).

The case—we’ll stick to Prada’s description—opens and snaps shut at the top, supported by a gold frame that is hinged to give the opening a restraint, preventing contents from spilling. It is, in fact, surprisingly capacious. Lined in leather, it’s large enough to house credit and MRT cards, folded notes, and loose change. And, if you have to, the engagement ring! As we pondered the practicality of the belt, we felt the beat of nostalgia running through our body: In the long-gone days of clubbing, this would be the perfect belt to wear to go handbag-free for dancing all night.

Prada ‘Vanity Belt with Case’, SGD1,720, is available in limited numbers at Prada stores. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Of Course There Has To Be A Bubble Tea Emoji

It’s about time

Better late than never. And only for iPhone users: a new set of emojis and a particular one that will delight the frightfully rabid zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶) fans—the bubble tea emoji. It is not clear why it has taken Apple this long to make this available, considering its smartphones are hot commodities in Asia, where, as we all well know, the bubble tea (or boba tea, if you hail from outside of this continent) was born, but its awakening to our communicative needs and beverage obsessions is very much appreciated.

For the release of iOS 14.2, Apple has made available 117 new emojis, which should really be a great source of happiness for those who text—if that’s the right word—mostly pictorial symbols. These include some rather progressive characters such as two tuxedoed andro-types, one male-looking person in a wedding dress, and one very costumed fella: a ninja. For the non-living things, there is a slipper to delight many Singaporeans, and, if you are inclined to telling people of the hard work you have been doing in the wash room to clear a particularly nasty clogging, you’ll be very happy with the toilet plunger.

For fashion folks, there is still limited representation of fashion items. The dress emoji, for example, is unchanged—too Disney princess for anyone above six to take seriously. And who’d use the blouse except maybe your grandmother?! Sure, there is a pair of jeans, which for those not texting from the front row of (whichever) fashion week, is as exciting as a pair of sweatpants. Some fashionistas are hopeful, though. So we’ll be too: we’re looking forward to the Apple iOS with an emoji for skort!

Oh, Harry

So a man can’t appear on the cover of Vogue without wearing a dress?

By Ray Zhang

American Vogue is taking diversity seriously. Two covers back to back with black stars—Lizzo in October and Naomi Campbell in November—and then, on the December issue’s, the first-ever solo male in their 127-year history: Harry Styles. A guy as part of Vogue’s cover has been done before. There was, as I recall, LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen in 2008, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in 2014, Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid in 2017, and Justin Beiber and Hailey Baldwin in 2019. But Mr Styles up there all by himself—that’s clearly not done before. Looks like tumultuous 2020 has really got Vogue thinking and doing.

Harry Styles has style (or, as his second name suggests, styles), we’re constantly reminded by the media, and non-binary at that. It seems to me that Vogue is also telling us that Mr Styles has what it takes to appear unaccompanied on its cover: the willingness to don a dress. The others before him sure did not. Mr James was in a basketball tank top, Mr West in a blazer, Mr Malik was all suited up, Mr Beiber wore only his tattoos. Fashion was the responsibility of the women. Even Mr Malik, still the most dressed-up among them, was somewhat obscured by his then girlfriend (now mother of his child), although the cover blurb was certain to tell us that they “shop each other’s closets”. And if you were still in doubt, the editorial feature informed you that the couple was “part of a new generation who don’t see fashion as gendered.”

In the old days of fashion magazines, covers gave women a reason to buy an outfit that was deemed fashionable, or a look that might inspire, for example, those who sew their own clothes. I am not sure if any woman might rush out to buy the Gucci dress that the former member of One Direction wears on this Vogue cover, as they were once inclined to in, say, 1988, or 10 years later (more recently?), when this now forgotten name, Carrie Bradshaw, said, “…sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” The traditional (okay, that’s not the new normal) cover hopes that women might actually cop a cover outfit after seeing it. I’d be fed, somewhat, to know if it’d be the same with this one.

I feel Vogue didn’t quite go all the way with Harry Styles. Both Lizzo and Naomi Campbell were shot full-length: We saw the whole dress. The photograph of Mr Styles, who reportedly identify as cisgender, was, conversely, cropped, and we witness only the upper body in vague half-drag. At a glance, we might not have guessed that the singer/actor wears a dress. I mean, it could have been a tunic, such as a thawb, but with a smocked upper body and lace-trimmed neckline. Would Alain de Botton-quoting Mr Styles—Beng as he appears to me—look just as fetching as the other two cover girls if he were captured with the dress in full length, which, as one photograph in the editorial feature did show, was a frilly, tiered tulle gown Mae West might have worn in her day?

The sight of a man in a dress, long or short, is not quite that unusual in the age of repeated Billy Porter flaunts. Never mind the muscularity of MAGA maleness. As one fashion observant friend said to me just this morning, “(the cover) is quite unremarkable. Men in women’s clothing for fashion shoots, gender-bending etc, etc—quite done to death. W’s editorials have been doing it for a few years. UK magazines, too.” In fact, frock wearing among pop stars—not just for magazine features—go as far back as David Bowie who, in the ’70s, wore what he called the “man-dress” (Michael Fish was a favourite designer). Yet, Vogue chose to go easy on the eyes of their readers, which is immensely ironic if you consider how religious in their zeal Americans have been in pushing for obvious inclusiveness.

If appearing on the cover of Vogue is a career high for many models, actresses, and reality TV stars, it could be one, too, for Mr Styles. Could he still be a cover boy sans dress? This has not been a great year for many of us. The singer, too, had it hard: the postponed world tour, the halted filming of the Olivia Wilde-directed film, Don’t Worry Darling, and the more mundane lockdown. While he admitted in the Vogue article to wearing mostly sweatpants when confined at home, he has not, as with so many less well-placed individuals also WFH, cast fashion aside. He has, in fact, embraced it in all its myriad forms. I’m all for guys to blur the lines of fashion—heck, even erase them—but Mr Styles, a Gucci model and their willing rep, doing so is really instinctive than disruptive. On the cover of Vogue, Harry Styles in a dress is not ground-breaking. If it were Jason Statham, that would be.

Photos: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue