At Prada, Paillettes Peek From Under Fur

The co-designers surprise and delight, making Prada possibly the best show of the Milan season

Prada, whatever (or, after all that) is said about it; however women reportedly do not appreciate their often boxy shapes, is still able to surprise, and perhaps, more importantly, delight. Heaven knows some of us need surprising and delighting. With Raf Simons onboard and together with Miuccia Prada, the partnership is proven to be formidable. The consensus is still out if the collections thus far—just three—are more Mr Simons or more Ms Prada, or if there is equal input from both sides. What Pradaness is, as a result, was poser of the last womenswear collection. Now we could also ask, what is Rafness? It is not an easy question to answer, even when we could clearly see Mr Simons’s deft hands in the designs. But does it matter if there is visible or palpable parity? This is a one plus one that equals much, much more.

Hints of what was to come in the womenswear were already there in the men’s January show. One particular item stands out: the jacquard knit. How a simple idea can be worked into so many aspects of the garments feeds the imagination and gives pleasure to the senses. In less deft hands, the knits—expanding beyond the long johns of the men’s collection—could have been deemed laughable cheesiness. But both designers have the ability to turn even the most banal (the more the merrier?) into elements that lend themselves easily to both elegance and quirkiness. The jacquard knits sport Prada’s love for off-beat patterns and equally unexpected colours. We love how they appear not just as individual garments and accessories and hosiery, but as details, such as collars, bodices, and lining. If one can have a spot of colour for interest, one can have the same with patterns too.

And that is why we always derive much pleasure and joy from a Prada show (this time in a Rem Koolhaas-designed confines that are almost identical to the men’s). Convention is not key to their presentation. Although this is not an IRL staging, it isn’t short on the energy that pre-pandemic shows projected. The models walk into rooms and the cameras trail them, allowing us to catch the details of the garments, or follow them, a la Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) camerawork, from behind, like the model before. We can see the details paid to the back of the clothes, such as the inverted triangle—now without the Prada font—fashioned out of said jacquard knits. In such pursuit, we also see the models disappear into a dark ante-room, which we were later allowed in, where they, under strobe lights, went about what they do off-stage, as if unaware of the presence of a filming camera. They could move in the clothes!

It is hard to say where one might wear these clothes to. How do we categorise them? It is easy to say that those sequinned dresses could be for a party, but how many bashes or shindigs do we foresee even in the near future? It is said people want to have fun with fashion again and to dress up (lounge wear fatigue?), but Prada showed bodysuits, which seem the more fetching alternative to sweats. It is appreciable that regardless of how changed our shopping habits now are, Prada has kept the fashion aspects of the collection elevated, a mission that hasn’t waned since the birth of their women’s RTW in 1989. That the eyes can see things and pairings not witness before attest to Prada’s unrelenting commitment to not only innovation and creativity, but, ultimately, design. With Mr Simons onboard, it can get only more inspiring and the increasingly undervalued quality, exciting.

This collection isn’t for everyone—Prada has never tried to cater to every taste. Even their power suits that opened the show, worn with the sleeves pushed up as if the wearers are to embark on something laborious or, hopefully not, a fight, have a whiff of going against the power structures of fashion-consuming society or the increasingly constricted ideas of what is feminine style. We like that dresses can be worn with the (additional) ease of a pullover—the jacquard necklines and bodices see to that. Or that fur, although fake, need not look like cast-offs of wealthy women who amassed them in the ’70s and ’80s, or like they may incur the wrath of PETA. This is a collection that one either understands or does not. It isn’t conceived with the designers’ friends in mind. This has, to a degree, intellectual heft, but not without a sense of humour, and clearly not without a sense of fun.

Ultimately, Prada allows us to have taste, at a time when taste has become generic, social-media sensation, or, worse, “fashion girl-approved”. Or, to make us feel that it’s okay to like clothes that are not birthed from conventional thinking, or strictly from algorithms or sales data. That it’s really fine to align ourselves with a brand that is not under the grips of the past or the cromulent, to borrow from the world of The Simpsons. An SOTD reader, usually an admirer of more attention-grabbing or meretricious styles, texted us to say, “I even like Prada.” That can only be wonderful.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

Boring As Real

Kim Jones’s RTW debut for Fendi is all about realness to better capture the mood of the moment. That means abandoning excitement

It is the most anticipated show of the season, but we are not holding our breath. And true enough, nothing to hold for. Kim Jones, the maestro of hype, delivers “real clothes” for his ready-to-wear debut at Fendi, as the media reports. And how he is inspired by the Fendi sisters. Or, how, as he tells WWD, “I want all my friends to go, ‘I want that straight away,’” Real, of course, comes in many realities. What is real for Mr Jones’s friends, such as Kate Moss, or the Fendi sisters, may not be the same real for the rest of us, the non-friends. It seems the Dior Men designer has assembled wardrobe essentials for this very coterie that share an aesthetic with a provenance that can be traced to different points/moments in the ’70s, an era many designers reviving heritage fashion houses tend to revisit. The ’70s was also when Fendi’s women’s RTW began (1977, in fact), and it would seem that back to that decade is a good place to start Fendi anew, even when, to be fair, the looks aren’t immediately obvious. But does the Roman house need this comfortable position or do are they better served if they are moved a little further forward?

This return-to-the-past-to-find-the-present approach tends to yield a certain aegis against the shifting winds of trends or the risk of innovation. You know Mr Jones isn’t going for groundbreaking when the Fendi show opens with the first 12 looks in different shades of camel, a colour that often brings to mind furs of a particular era—and, oddly and possibility problematically, there are quite a lot of furs. This bathing in browns (except a break in off-whites and an occasional pink) seems to directly challenge what merchandisers and buyers have been saying for many years: such colours don’t sell. Not chestnut, mocha, not even chocolate. But, perhaps, Fendi sees colour differently. One tone, head to toe, might just be the chromatic wow that their customers need as shoppers surrender to the practical and Mr Jones succumbs to the pragmatic. Remember real.

Separates are key. Mr Jones’s approach to line development seems akin to what he does for menswear: dispense with the unpredictable, forgo the capricious. There are blazers, trench coats, dusters, pants, pencil skirts, cropped shirt-and-pants combo (a la silk satin pajamas), and even a boiler suit. Is this traipsing into Max Mara territory, even if more luxuriously realised? Many looks will thrill those pining for the return of executive wear, which perhaps go hand in hand with what we see as the golden age of commercial luxury fashion of the past 10 years, beginning with Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent (second tenure) in 2012. Mr Jones is aware of keeping the books healthy and sales buoyant at Fendi, just as he was just as alert at both Louis Vuitton and Dior Men. His merchandising stunts with Supreme and Air Jordan were masterful money-making strokes. For most of his time at LVMH, his sense of highly approachable fashion was largely supported by his close cadre of chums. The Fendi RTW seems to reflect his friends—maturing—wanting matured looks, but not too. The thing is, his pal Victoria Beckham turns out a more convincing and charming real!

Designing real clothes to spread their reach brings to mind a similar strategy that Riccardo Tischi gave Burberry in 2018. We can’t say with certainty that Burberry is headlining anything now, just coasting. Today, at Fendi it’s similarly a rock-not-the-boat “evolution than revolution”. To be sure, Karl Lagerfeld himself was a designer with sharp commercial instincts, but his output, at least for Fendi, was mostly free of the burdens of the past or house codes. Kim Jones’s designs seems to be on collision course with his predecessor’s near-morbid disdain for reprising the past, so much so that he called his debut RTW a “palette cleanser”. Is that like saying people are jelak (tired) of the old Fendi?

Photos: Fendi

Must Fashion Use Religious Iconography To Be Cool?

Or is it, as usual, a lapse in the simple process called thought?

First it was Rihanna and now it’s Supreme. The skate brand that apparently can do no wrong has taken upon themselves to use the image of one of Thailand’s most revered monks on the back a camouflaged shirt, described in their website as ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ (above). The icon is of the monk Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, a well-loved figure, who died in 2015, aged 91. According to media reports, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, as well as Wat Ban Rai, the famed Nakhon Ratchasima temple with an elephant-head facade, in which the revered monk was based, asserted that Supreme made no contact with either regarding the use of the image, as well as the sacred text around it. Supreme, as it appeared, made no attempt to be respectful.

It isn’t clear how the use of clearly religious figures and scripts enhances Supreme’s design potency. Their designers—too indolent to research or understand—probably found the effect of the visuals exotic. But for the many in Thailand and outside, who hold the late monk in deep reverence, what Supreme has done is akin to sacrilege. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, even in death, is deeply venerated and is almost synonymous with Wat Ban Rai, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and teachings. While his image has been used for charitable purposes, for example, it is unthinkable in Thailand to employ it, even stylised, in such a commercial manner, in particular against a camouflage background, one associated with war. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon is not Che Guevara.

Is nothing off-limits? Apparently not.

Just days earlier, Rihanna caused an uproar among the Hindu communities of the world when she posted on her Instagram page a photo (so inappropriate, we wouldn’t run it here) of herself totally topless, except for a folded left arm, placed to offer a modicum of modesty, and a host of jewellery to provide fashion interest, among them a pendant of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha. This sat provocatively on her belly button, under a length of tattoo that underscores her breasts. The photo appeared barely a week after reports of Rihanna jointly “pausing” her Fenty fashion line with LVMH. To generate more publicity? It seems that because the torso tattoo is of the Egyptian god Isis (inked, as reported, to honour the singer-in-haitus’s grandmother), Riri thought it was okay to go with Lord Ganesha, totally ignoring the fact that for the 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, he is highly venerable. Or has veneration and respect totally lost their meaning?

Apparently yes.


The Newscaster Wore Red

But not just any red. It was a Chinese garb that viewers—mostly—disapproved

By Mao Shan Wang

The poor guy probably didn’t know any better. Or, why he kena hantam (was hit). And I do feel sorry for him. RTM (Radio Televisyen Malaysia) decided to go non-binary when it came to outfitting their male news readers during the Chinese New Year season. While this is all fine and dandy, it appears to me a little too close to the side of cultural appropriation to make the Sabahan Malay reporter, Mohd Dhihya Sahla, of TV1’s Berita Wilayah wear traditional Chinese garb, never mind if its immediately unclear for which gender. Malaysian actor and radio personality Partick Teoh calls the questionable outfit a “cheongsam” in a now-deleted-but-gone-viral Facebook post. I also don’t blame Mr Teoh for thinking the baju Cina is akin to those worn by Maggie Cheung in the 2000 film, In the Mood for Love. Not by the silhouette, I’m sure, but by the floral trims on the top of the collar as well as those alongside the right-facing opening and on the ends of the sleeve. Little details can mislead.

RTM was clearly irritated by the online chatter, in particular what Mr Teoh’s wrote, which the irate broadcaster deemed “irresponsible”, so much so that it considered the post “a defaming comment”. In defending Mohd Dhihya Sahla, the station’s director of public relations K. Krishnamoorthy told the media that the newscaster was actually wearing a “samfu”. That, to me, sounded worse! While the Cantonese term samfu (or 衫裤, shanku in Mandarin) is a gender-neutral term that means shirt (or upper garment) and pants, it mostly refers to women’s everyday attire worn in Southern China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore (particularly in the ’60s). I have never heard of it used to describe menswear, but I wouldn’t be better informed than RTM’s stylist behind the choice of outfit, Jenny Kueh, who apparently told her employer that, according to K Krishnamoorthy, “this is trendy wear which originates from the Manchu ethnic group in China.” Ms Kueh was later quoted in The Star: “What Wong Fei Hung wears is a long samfu version that almost reaches the feet.”

As it turns out, I know nothing about a “long samfu version” or trends since I have not availed myself to the sight of hordes of men who wear such an attire to celebrate CNY or any male newscaster on Chinese TV stations appearing in anything close to this self-described “samfu”. I can understand if RTM tried to pass the particular garb as a changpao (长袍, a men’s robe), considered a hanfu (汉服 or Han Chinese dress), which, in the case of the piece the news reader wore, could be (in particular, with the front opening) described as a Manchurian robe (满族长袍, manzu changpao), worn during the Qing rule of China between the 17th to 20th century. Instead, the broadcaster said that their “mistake perhaps was giving the wrong size for (sic) our newsreader”. It got really funnier. Here was an Indian defending a Malay wearing a Chinese costume, and the small size has somehow a feminising effect on one laki-laki yang berotot (muscular man). This wasn’t a baju kebaya! Lest this is mistaken as a racial slur, it really isn’t. I should say that there’s some truth to the question of fit: the “samfu” he had on was rather body-enhancing, to the point that the wearer looked somewhat “busty”, one Malaysian expatriate here told me. Okay, that would be too haram (forbidden)—and, I fear, irresponsible—for RTM.

Screen grab: RTM

New Year But Clothes Not New

This Lunar New Year, it’s not wearing what we’ve worn before; it’s not bothering at all

By Emma Ng

“新年不穿新衣,” I heard a young, Hayley Woo (胡佳嬑)-looking woman telling her friend that she won’t be wearing anything new this Chinese New Year. Not really a surprising affirmation since, for many of us, it’s a new year unlike any we’ve known thus far. According to what I’ve heard from retail professionals, people aren’t purchasing as much clothes as before. Many aren’t buying at all. This year, with the number of visitors to each household limited, some have opted out of bainian (拜年 or pay a new year call) altogether. Not in the mood, I repeatedly hear people say, as if disinclined to meeting a suitor. If visiting one’s relatives is given a miss, why bother with new clothes at all? The wearing of everything new is really for the purpose of showing to those who are particular about such things. Are new clothes even relevant when so many have opted out of the social obligations expected of the new year festivities, a term that now sounds disproportionately convivial?

Still, I am curious to see what those who happily or reluctantly chose to go bainian would wear, or if a CNY trend could be discerned, as in past, old-normal years. I looked out of the window of my flat into the car park below to see what visitors, emerging from neutral-coloured vehicles, wore, and was (initially) surprised that many were really casually dressed, as if going to the nearby food court for a meal. Or, to walk the Pomeranian. This didn’t appear like a New Year’s Day, just any day. I looked at the visitors (and I knew they were because at least one person in the groups was carrying the small, gaily-designed paper bag in which mandarin oranges were held)—it was disconcerting to know that they were going to be offering and receiving hongbaos in such a sloppy manner of dress. I saw T-shirts after T-shirts, many un-ironed, on both the young and the old. Hongbao giving or accepting is a time-honoured tradition, and with all such festive habits, one does not discharge one’s duties or obligations looking sartorially slack. I was brought up to believe that when you dress smartly, you not only accord yourself respect, but also those you are extending new year wishes to.

For the rest of chuyi (初一, the first day of the new year), whenever I looked down at the car park, which was expectedly teeming, I saw visitors dressed similarly. At first I did not make out the common factor, until one of my nephews came with my cousins to visit. At the door, the usual auspicious new year greetings somehow escaped me. What caught me was the striking outfit on my niece: ratty shorts, above which was an oversized T-shirt that had spent too much time in the washing machine. On her feet was a pair of slippers—slides, to be more specific—that had clearly benefited from the more recent footwear-maintenance advice, “the more beaten-up, the better”. Was this some CNY cool I knew not of? I thought initially that this was my niece’s way of protesting against following her parents to our flat. When it was my time to visit relatives, I saw for myself that the shorts and T-shirt combo was truly the choice of this new year.

The look was deliberately assembled to make her look pant-less

They’re everywhere, and on everyone. The second I encountered was just minutes after leaving my flat. It was in the lift. When the door opened, I detected the smell of some shampoo. Inside, the unnaturally sweet scent could clearly be traced to a twentysomething woman, who pulled up her mask-as-neck-brace over her nose only when she saw me. She was in a black over-sized T-shirt that was chosen to end just above her knee. The look was deliberately assembled to make her look pant-less. On her shoulders was a black Chanel 19 bag; on her feet, slides with pong-pongs. As I walked towards the MRT station, it quickly became clear to me that what I saw just moments earlier was truly the CNY style of this year. There were more oversized tees that I could count. And since what was worn from the waist down couldn’t be seen, I could only conclude that many wanted whoever they visited to think they deserved a larger hongpao this year because they couldn’t afford bottoms, possibly not even underpants.

The platform of the train station was abuzz with an energy that felt like that emanating from the throng waiting to enter a tourist attraction. There were families with young-adult children, who were attired as described above, which did not seem to bother the parents. I had, at first, thought that it was mostly women who dressed this casually. Inside the train, seated opposite me was a young chap. He was in a white Stussy T-shirt, a pair of striped red/maroon shorts that looked like boxers, and black Nike slides. It could be said he was only out for an errant. But no, the tell-tale sign of that fancy paper bag for mandarin oranges told me with some certainty that he had gone or was going to bainian. It appears clearer this year, when WFH persists, that there’s no longer a difference between what one dons in one’s own living room and what is worn in a very public space of an MRT car, even during CNY celebrations. For the rest of my journey, I continue to see the same pairing of tees and shorts and slides. There were no variations. Colours were almost always black or anything dark. They were as auspicious as packs of beans in a kitchen cupboard.

To set themselves apart, many women—therefore, not quite individually—carried a luxury bag. The one I kept seeing was the Louis Vuitton Monogram Multi Pochette Accessoires, a triumvirate of a bag that would almost always be teamed with an oversized tee, as if its relative smallness could be counterpoint to the massiveness of the typically long, baggy top. The LV comprises three parts: the main pouchette, a mini, and a coin purse that dangles from a catch, affixed to the wide strap. This was often carried with a swagger that, in another era, would be considered actsy, but presently was hipster-attractive, fashionista-affirmative, or boyfriend bait. But that monogrammed bag alone, did not save the overall look from blandness and the near-generic. Everyday is not New Year’s day. What name do I give to this festive letdown? CNY fashion 2021’s lull year?

Illustration: Just So

F For Fenty Fashion?

LVMH is not continuing with Rihanna’s clothing line. Are you surprised? Is Fenty a flop?

The higher-ups at LVMH were hoping she’d be the Virgil Abloh of womenswear. But Rihanna’s Fenty, two years since its debut in 2019, is now in a mutually-agreed arrangement to halt the design, manufacture, and retail of the born-in-hype fashion line. The news that have emerged these past two days have mostly stated that LVMH and Rihanna have “paused” the Fenty line. The New York Times reported that both are “taking a break”. A hiatus may not lead to resumption. All have been careful not to use the four-letter F-word: Fail. As many wise sages have said, “there’s nothing wrong in failure”, but Rihanna, one of the biggest stars of her generation, has not known failure. According to an LVMH statement quoted in the press, the conglomerate and singer will “put on hold the RTW activity, based in Europe, pending better conditions.”

Does “better conditions” mean when COVID-19 is over or better controlled? Or, is it referring to improved economic conditions, post-pandemic? Or, do they mean when Rihanna becomes a better designer? For now, we can only hazard a guess. Talk and speculation suggest that Fenty has not been doing as well as the brand owners thought they would. Fenty launched to much much fanfare, but was there consensus that it was a ground-shifting (breaking is asking too much!) collection that would rewrite the aesthetical direction of womenswear or move the mountains of luxury retail? Was it just another singer/celebrity line, riding on hype than design? Did Rihanna’s “megawatt style” translate to a megawatt luxury line?

Fenty is conceived with one pop star’s idea of fashion, independent of retail reality and creative innovation

The fashion critic Suzy Menkes, on Instagram, quoted Rihanna to have said, “I’m a curvy girl” and “If I can’t wear it myself, it’s not going to work”. It appears that Badgirlriri has fashioned Fenty too much after herself for the line to be able to realise its potential, even if fancied. These are clothes imagined, rather than designed, for a woman leading a very particular life and adopting a very particular style. Rihanna gets away with wearing practically anything. No one has called her out for even questionable looks. Fenty is conceived with one pop star’s idea of fashion, independent of retail reality and creative innovation. It may look “stunning” on Rihanna, but on those who want to emulate her style, it’d look, at best, wannabe. She told Ms Menkes, “I am very much a red carpet girl and I am going to design something for that.” She did not say how that will fit into LVMH’s family of highly commercial brands, or how that will make the world’s largest luxury-brand conglomerate even bigger or the chairman Bernard Arnault, already the richest man in France, even wealthier.

The business minds at Fenty priced the collection to qualify it as a luxury line (minus the other family members’ inherently marketable French quality), but one that did not sit shoulder to shoulder with LVMH’s star brand Dior. ‘Traditionally’, pop/movie stars’ fashion brands are priced to appeal to whatever is opposite of high-end. Think Ivy Park. Or, Jessica Simpson. But Fenty is, for many, expensive (e.g., USD940 for a denim jacket). To be sure, Rihanna is aware of her line’s high prices and had expressed concern that they might not appeal to her budget-conscious fans, used to the far more accessible Fenty Beauty. If, however, the designs were worth paying for, there could be encouraging take up, though no market share. As it turned out, LVMH could not bank on two firsts of Fenty—the first woman to conceive an LVMH brand and the first woman of colour to lead her own house with the company. In the end, taste, voice, and originality matter. And, whether LVMH or Rihanna is aware, flair too.

Illustration by Just So

The Fashion Week That Can’t Be

What in our troubled world is this?

Just after Paris Couture Week, which officially ended on 28th January, as stated by the French Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, a little-known fashion event, hosted on our shore, was similarly live-streamed to the world. The Ist ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week 2021 made its discreet appearance and, frankly, baffling debut. Hosted on the equally puzzling website The Home Ground (THG), a supposed current affairs portal (“platform” is their word of choice) which publishes news that, according to their About Us, “capture the conversations, concerns, and curiosity of Singaporeans through the lens of locals living and breathing their home ground.” It doesn’t seem like a digital stomping ground on which a fashion event of this imagined magnitude would find synergistic force. But it is here that this year’s first digital fashion week on our island was posted, lost in undirected miscellany: a review of Netflix’s Bridgerton, a listing of Singapore Art Week, and a feeble piece “Life Is Too Short for Bad Sex.”—Sexual Contracts Explained.

The ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week is the initiative of the hitherto little-known ASEAN Fashion Designers Showcase, founded by Singaporean designer Hayden Ng (above). Mr Ng, an ardent overseas fashion week participant, formed AFDS in 2015 as a loose “collective whose key mission is to raise awareness of and appreciation for ASEAN’s unique and diverse fashion and design”, according to AFDS’s WordPress page. Keywords in their “vision” statement include “nurture, foster, mentor”. To date, they have 41 “esteem (sic) members” across the region (including China), each country with their own AFDS head (except Myanmar and Vietnam). Members seem to automatically become “ambassadors” of their respective countries upon acceptance although it is unclear what ambassadorial role they play. For SG alone, there are seven: Terry Yeo (The InSane Studio), Esther Choy (ESH), Audrey Tang (One Day We Forayed), Joanna Lim ( Joannalsm), Joanne Quek (together with Joanna Lim, B1nary), Pooja Nanikram (Güven), as well as Mr Ng, who also considers himself as the “Premier Founder”.

AFDS’s first major event since its 2015 inception is the ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week, broadcast over four days (concluded yesterday) with a reported 64 designers from 21 countries, of which 34 are from ASEAN, while the rest are “guest” designers (they can be from anywhere in the world), who, according to Mr Ng, “are not signed up with any of the organisations that the ASEAN Fashion Designers Showcase has partnerships with.” It isn’t clear what the advantages of signing up are other than to come together virtually to do a fashion event. Singaporean organisations seem to enjoy taking regional leadership roles in fashion. Mr Ng’s is certainly not the first. AFDS appears to be the RTW version of the now-gone-quiet Asian Couture Federation (ACF), founded in 2013 by Frank Cintamani, who launched the now-also-quiet Fidé Fashion Weeks in 2011, and installed the late Kenzo Takada as honorary president. Mr Cintamani has gone deafeningly quiet. ACF, according to those in the know, is presently not active.

Participants of ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week 2021. Screen grabs: The Home Ground

Nor is Mr Ng’s ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week the first digital fashion week of its kind to be launched here. It comes after last year’s The Front Row (TFR), a protracted 10-day affair—conceived by the “Godfather of Singapore Fashion” Daniel Boey—that was met with mixed reviews and divisive responses. TRF’s total of 31 local and 10 regional labels was considered massive—a considerable feat to pull off, and the result was, at best, uneven. (Or go back to 2012, and consider Charina Widjaja’s and Keyis Ng’s original Digital Fashion Week) It is interesting that both events have been linked to single persons rather than industry bodies or government agencies. Mr Boey’s part seemed like a natural fit, having been a fashion show and event organiser for more than two decades. Well-known in the industry, he glamorously fronted TFR, singularly hosting chats with designers and trade veterans nightly, during the duration of the event. It could have been called The Daniel Boey Show. Mr Ng, on the other hand, is known, since the ’80s, primarily as a designer of gowns; he has not established himself as a fashion week organiser (other than his deep ties with the mall event Aspara Fashion Week in Kazakhstan), although he is known in the industry for his work in pageants, in particular, the Singapore chapter of Miss Universe.

ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week, like TFR, is a daily live stream of fashion films and runway presentations (traditional or otherwise), but rather than respective shows within a given time slot, the former is an hour-long, stitched-together video pastiche of inconsistent quality and visual narrative. You get anything from built runways to photo studios that double as catwalks to those that are beyond-the-backyard forest patches on which models prance bare-footed! In fact, it is hard to understand why most of the models appear the way they do: like friends (or customer, even co-workers?) of the designers rather than professionals from an agency, as if just-awaken-to-fashion rather than already experienced much, or thinking they’re shooting a TikTok video rather than a short film for an international event. It is hard, therefore, to pin the international tag to output that is this home-made, this provincial, this devoid of finesse. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a small-town fashion week, touting ‘villagecore’ as a possible trend, like what those youngsters from the Chinese and Thai countryside promote, scoring massive likes for their fashion-with-whatever-is-lying-around-the-paddy-fields. Yet, just because it can be worn on the body doesn’t mean it is design par excellence, or deserves an audience.

It is really hard to understand what any of these collections have to do with fashion. While designers of ASEAN are no doubt ethnically diverse and have continued links to their rural roots, they are also collectively expressing a more progressive outlook on unabashedly urban life. ASEAN fashion—or Asian fashion—does not need to be represented by ethnical aesthetics that border on looks from a gift shop in a cultural centre. As a nation that exemplifies the embracing of the 21st century in all its wonders and glories, we are leading an aggregation to sell bland, kitschy, and downright unattractive eastern exotica to the world? What happened to the modern or the semblance of something not obviously related to the way-past or remote? Organiser AFDS’s idea of modern is the designs of Thai (primarily) menswear designer Pitnapat Yotinratanachai, whose up-to-the-minute is a collection based on one print of colourful graffiti text (words include sweetheart, love, kiss, daisy, and Anglicised Thai expressions) and fake fur shag, and is featured as the event’s key visual in their online communications. It is a fashion week after a fashion.

Hayden Ng’s ‘Bridging the Seasons’ collection featured on ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week. Screen grab: The Home Ground

Why do fashion weeks have such pull for individuals here? Are they marketing opportunities that are great for targeting mass audiences? Are they branding exercises for those persons whose only measure of success is ‘reach’? Or are they the proverbial vanity project? From the sensational headline on the very platform that hosts this online event, “AFDS Founder Hayden Ng Spills All on the ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week”, Mr Ng said, “To put it succinctly, we want to grow the [fashion] scene for both ASEAN and international designers into a more global matter.” That is ambition even a famously driven Tjin Lee, the amalgamator of our truly first digital fashion week and Singapore Fashion Week, would have found to be monumental. Mr Ng has been mostly a fashion designer since graduating from St Patrick’s School in 1982. His formative years were spent in Flamingo Boutique in Beach Road, as designer of “special occasion dresses,” according to those who knew him back then, for “a lot of cabaret customers.” Contemporaneous with him at Flamingo Boutique was Taro Chan, a noted designer of the era, who had previously interned with Thomas Wee. While Mr Chan would go on to be a successful designer of contemporary wear, Mr Ng’s particular talent for glamourous attire caught the attention of the organisers of beauty pageants, and he was soon dressing the contestants of Miss Universe, as well as participants of mass displays that require the collective wow of over-the-top costumes, such as those of the National Day Parade. His eponymous store Hayden Boutique opened in 1987, and reportedly remains a tai-tai favourite.

A long career in fashion is not necessarily indicator of accrued discernment, refinement, or taste. As the initiator/organiser of ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week and founder of the organisation behind it, Mr Ng is reasonably expected to not only pull off a fashion week of this size, but also lead by example: showing the best presentation of the entire event. Tom Ford, as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFD), for example, would kick of New York Fashion Week (owned and organised by CFDA) to a rousing and memorable start. Quite the opposite, Mr Ng’s closing show visibly darkened any hope that this digital fashion week would be saved by ending with a bang. It was really a dim view, in more ways than one. Shot in the civic district, between Anderson and Cavenagh Bridges (to visually underscore the collection called Bridging the Season?) after sundown, the show appeared to be the trailing of nearby middle-aged residents killing time in their favourite housecoat. Who would have guessed this auntie aesthetic to be the work of a pageant gown aficionado? Was Mr Ng perhaps aware that his collection is not up to scratch and, therefore, shot it under the cover of night, with only street lights for additional illumination?

Mr Ng’s lieutenant Terry Yeo, also AFDS’s logistics director, did not fair any better—or brighter. Choosing to close the show, as well, on opening day, his collection for his own The InSane Studio (possibly the spin-off of his earlier label, For Insane Humans, or was it the other way round) was a moody display of clothes that would not spark any joy. But Mr Yeo has always played the non-conformist. His BA graduate collection at NAFA (in a joint programme with University of Huddersfield; one of his course mate was Yong Siyuan of Nuboaix) featured, curiously, winter wear that he had insisted to be made of linen. And he is fond of nonsensical names for his collections and brands, such as ThisLabelisUnknown (yes, spelled as if hashtagged). His drape-y styles and drab colours and his affinity of pseudo-Asian silhouettes parallel those of the other renegades of Singaporean fashion, such as Andrew Loh and Kenny Lim, the duo behind the persistently gloomy Depression.

Terry Yeo’s collection for The Insane Studio. Screen grab: The Home Ground

While Mr Yeo closed the first day’s line-up, fellow AFDS member/ambassador, the stylist-turned-designer Pooja Nanikram opened with The Kleur Collection of her barely two-months-old, three-part menswear label Güven, started with her brother Vishal. Ms Nanikram counts her “involvement” with fashion events such as Fidé Fashion Weeks (that name again!), to have “refined (her) skills in styling and increased (her) love for fashion,” as written in her brand’s website. Although she has been in the fashion industry for the past 11 years, she appeared a greenhorn as seen in her look-at-me shirts, with too tight a fit (or was the lone model doing his cheesy dance just too big?), and too dated a cut, as if the venerable CYC has been the tailoring consultant. But Ms Nanikram is an experienced stylist, she should have been more mindful of how the shirts, a mix of solid colours and oddly placed Ankara prints, look on the body. Or was that deliberate, just as loud floral shoes and matching belts were? Sure, Güven is not for the Balenciaga or Junya Watanabe customer, but as opener for ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week, it would have been seen as prologue to what lies ahead .

And a foretaste it sure was. The following show by another Singaporean label, Yeomama Batik (guest), was simply too painful to watch, and recount. The collections of the other compatriots that followed were just as agonising. In fact, it is difficult to review these four days of hour-long shows without succumbing to some anguish. What really was the point of Mr Ng’s fashion week? Did the unfiltered mish-mash brought about a compelling event? As he spilled, “I would say there’s no curation because at the end of the day, it’s about each designer’s aesthetics.” To each his own? For sure, different aesthetics prevail in fashion weeks, but the aesthetics of fashion in an “international” setting need to connect the dots between dress and modernity, between stint and skill, between fashion and mere clothes. In an article, From Baudelaire to Christian Dior: The Poetics of Fashion, published in the The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism in 1959, the humanities academic Rémy G. Saisselin wrote, “a dress may be at some moment of its existence, a poem of form, color, and motion, and that at such a privileged instant the dress may transform the wearer into a poetic apparition.” Not one designer at ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week attempted such a dress.

After four evenings, what ASEAN International Digital Fashion Week is really about or what it hopes to achieve isn’t perceptible. As a fashion week, it’s too massive and too ambitious, and delivered too little. Its production is, at best, pedestrian, born of a prosaic mind, not a creative one. It seems AFDS isn’t aware that it isn’t easy standing out in a crowded field. As a window to what ASEAN fashion has to offer, it is indiscriminate enthusiasm for the kitschy, the amateurish, the costume-y, the uninspired, the juvenile, the flashy, the vapid, and, frankly, the nothing-to-look-at. As a joke, however, it is has its many marvelous moments.

Illustration: Just So