Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
We didn’t think we’ll reach the 1000th, and this soon. It’s been more of a jaunt than a journey. This turned out to be a stretch that was not always easy to stride on. We have met many people along the way, and we are thankful to those who have helped Style On The Dot come this far. You know who you are, and our appreciation is from deep within.
SOTD started as a journal at a time when the blogosphere was already crowded. We were, admittedly, latecomers. Fashion even back then, specifically 2013, was fast-changing. It is still an unceasing paradigm shift. We did not think we could keep up. So it would be helpful, we thought, if we recorded what we saw, what we heard, and what we felt. And the more we felt (fashion is emotion-stirring), the more the need to express and share an opinion, not just hold it, became persuasive.
Fashion and the brands and the people linked to it are not always amenable to different—and differing—opinions. Not liking and not agreeing, we have been told, have no part in the social discourse on the creative output that leads to what we wear. But, it is, as we see daily, okay to troll. Increasingly, we are acculturated to the belief that brands cannot be criticised. Less so if they are part of a conglomerate. Or, are influencer-approved.
In Instagram country and the like, criticism is a strange creature. It is both ogre and angel, but more and more, they meld into one colourless glob on which brands float their merely passable products. We do not think it is inappropriate to say so. Or, take on a contrarian position. To maintain our independence, we do not, therefore, receive remuneration from any brand. Our contributors write because they enjoy the craft.
We can’t see into the future; we do not know what will happen in fashion or the business of fashion. Change may or may not be afoot. But, from this vantage point—even just a dot, we see ourselves continuing what we have been doing for quite a distance yet. We welcome you as we continue, assured of your support, full throttle ahead.
The model who was unhappy with the delineation of her by a local artist had dreams to land on the cover of Vogue Italia
Our own illustrated likeness of Duan Mei Yue, done, we admit, without her permission. This serves as illustration to this post only, and will not not be used commercially
Warning: this post contains language that some readers might find offensive
Full-time model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) is trending, but not for a breakthrough runway show or an outstanding magazine cover we usually associate with models who receive ardent media attention. Rather, she’s been making the news for being deeply unhappy with some graphite and acrylic drawings by local artist Allison M Low called Weight of Longing that were discernibly based on a photograph posted on Instagram in February 2018. This photo, shot by professional lensman Li Wanjie, was allegedly used to create a “likeness” without Ms Duan’s expressed approval. (Just because images on social media are posted for all, does it mean they are free for all?) When she discovered that the drawings appeared as a chipped cut-out on the floor of the Love, Bonito store in Funan and, later, on the cover of author Amanda Lee Koe’s award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic, she was livid and so affected that she felt “very violated knowing that someone has profited off my likeness without my knowing or consent,” according to a post on Instagram Stories nine weeks ago. The distress, as she told it (too aggrieved to punctuate properly), wrecked her life—“how can i sleep at night”, “how do i function as per usual”, “how do i not let this affect me”.
Ms Duan’s anguish is understandable. Although she is a model, she did not model for Ms Low. Nor, was she paid by the artist as a model in abstentia. To see photos of her lopped-off face crowned by a head tie and positioned on the floor of Love, Bonito, also a community centre of sort, even under the guise of art, must have been too hard to stomach. It is not difficult to see why she was upset to be placed on that level. But, at Love, Bonito, it seemed to her that the artist was remunerated for the work that was used not only as art-prop, but also as visual for pendants and on tote bags. This could have been a revenue stream for her too, rather than just the artist’s. It isn’t known how much Love, Bonito paid Ms Low for the work (or Empigram Books, publisher of Ministry of Moral Panic), but it was reported that the artist, a Temasek Polytechnic School of Design graduate, made €1,875 (about S$3,000) from a sale of another art piece with Ms Duan’s likeness through an identified gallery. For one who professed that she has “a spending problem”, and “don’t have millions of dollars behind (her) name”, this lost income was, unsurprisingly, maddening. On IG Stories, she proclaimed “i’d be ok with this if it was done after i leave this existence but when i’m still alive and broke? no thank u”. In addition, she declared: “i have no money for a fucking lawyer”.
Interestingly, Ms Duan, who deprecatingly calls herself “just an awkward noodle” and has no problem identifying as “this dumb hoe”, loves to draw, and had often posted her amusing output on social media (on IG alone, she has, to-date, 55.1k followers) when she was still doing her A levels and not modelling full-time yet. Most of them, similar to her likeness in question, were of faces. Whether they were a figment of her imagination or based on photographs, she did not say. But they were expressed, including the self-portraits, in a sometimes quirky manner, not unlike the Arien herself. She said on IG, “im really relatable and im very honest with my vulnerability n flaws”. It is the honesty, perhaps, that led her to confess in her earliest post, that she “fucking love cats”. Ms Duan has a weakness for the F-word: “best fucking strawberry marshmallows” or “dramafest and photography camp made me so fucking happy” (just two of the many examples), but unlike, say, influencer Wendy Cheng (aka Xia Xue), who uses the four letters as cuss word, Ms Duan tends to employ them as adverb and adjective, and possibly also as indicator that she has crossed into adulthood. One expresses irritation, the other, delight.
The works of art that “violated” Duan Mei Yue: (clockwise from left) cover of book by Amanda Lee Koe, the drawing by Allison M Low, and the chipped piece on the floor of Love, Bonito (also by Ms Low). Photos: Epigram Books, Retrospect Galleries, and Allison M Low/Instagram respectively
She is candid and tells it like it is, which for her followers, is her charm and her pull. Accompanying a photo she posted in November 2017 to be used as a profile picture, Ms Duan wrote, with, again, scant regard to punctuation—and, now, propriety, “i’ll let you guys in on a secret; i photoshopped my armpits bc it’s so wrinkly it looks like a vagina”. Her “vagpit” reference prompted 1,862 likes and 54 comments, of which 24 were variations of “the most beautiful”, with one, calling her “仙女本人” (xiannu ben ren or the fairy herself). Her fans rave about her looks, but she is not considered conventional beauty, a point Ms Duan acknowledges. In 2019, she told the Shanghai media, “我从外貌来看就很少归类为传统模特” (wo cong wai mao lai kan jiu hen shao gui lei wei chuan tong mo te or “from my appearance, I am rarely classified as a traditional model”). But this non-traditional look is possibly why the casting agents in the West have been interested in her—she fits the Western perception of eastern beauty and exotica.
On her face, she has what the Chinese would call “丹凤眼” (dan feng yan or red phoenix eyes, referring to almond-shaped peepers with outer corners inclined upwards). Her eyes are set rather apart, creating a wide glabella that make-up artists don’t necessarily know what to do with. “You can’t shade that area,” one seasoned pro told us. “She also has a lot of space between the upper eyelid and the brow, which may require a lot of colour”. In a commentary on China’s Sohu (搜狐), Ms Duan was described to have “塌鼻梁圆鼻头” (ta bi liang yuan bi tou or collapsed bridge, round nose), which the writer acknowledged to be “颠覆了国际超模的直挺范儿” (dian fu le guo ji chao mo de zhi ting fan er or subverting the straightforward styles of international supermodels). And those full lips, not seen since Ethel Fong. In sum, her facial features may post a challenge to her creative partners, but most fashion stylists generally say she is fun to work with, as “she has character”. There’s a campy side to her too. In one IG post, she lip-synced delightfully to Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You!
Duan Mei Yue, now 22, started modelling full-time in 2017 after completing her A-Levels (if modelling didn’t work out, she would have considered psychology in university), but had earlier already wanted to be a model after discounting the possibility of being a fashion designer. She told Female magazine in 2018 that “K-pop and anime were part of my motivation to become a model. I saw how the K-pop idols I obsessed over at that time walked Seoul Fashion Week and they were invited to various fashion shows during the fashion week circuit in Europe and New York so I thought maybe I should become a model to meet them lol”. And ultimately, to be on the cover of Vogue Italia. She also told Cleo in 2019, “I started when I realised that I needed to express my love for aesthetics and fashion”. She has, so far, walked the runways of Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, but was conspicuously absent at the biggest fashion show of the year on our island: last week’s Louis Vuitton presentation, when the “bigger” star at the moment, Yong Kai Gin, had her SG moment in the klieg lights—and the rain.
Ms Duan gives the impression that there were many artists, professionals or amateurs, who desired to draw her face. On IG Stories, she wrote, “every other artists (sic) has either properly compensated me or has agreed to stop the selling and apologised sincerely”. Perhaps, it is true: Her unusual features are more interesting to artists than standard symmetry or placid perfection. That Allison M Low, herself considered a “looker”, chose that fated picture, one that would have been a weak shot for casting agents, is telling of the appeal of Ms Duan’s off-kilter looks. In her response to the controversy, Ms Low told The Sunday Times that “the artworks… were about the strength and grace in women…” but while there seems to be tremendous strength on both sides (and among their respective supporters), there has not been a palpable sense of grace, as the war wages online. As one marketing manager said to us, “Duan Mei Yue has grown-up. The modelling around the world has opened her eyes.” When that photo was shared on the model’s IG page on 18 Feb 2018, this was her comment (and we’re quoting verbatim): “grey eyes from @ttd_eye queen grey go spend some of dat angpao moneys and get yoself some cool grey eyes with a cool discount by using my code “dmeiyue” ✨ portrait by @uuanjie as usual hehe makeup done by moi :*” That girl is no more.
Air Dior is done and sold. Kim Jones doesn’t need to milk that success. His collaboration with Nike shows it
By Ray Zhang
Kim Jones can’t do any wrong. From his bringing together Louis Vuitton and Supreme to Dior and Nike, everything he touched had turned to gold. What’s next, I wonder—Fendi and whoever, whatever? But before there’s that, Mr Jones has put his own name to sit alongside Nike’s in a collaboration that many had thought might be as exciting as the shoe for Dior, probably the most hyped sneaker in the history of luxury-brand collabs. Nike X Kim Jones is the coming together of two big names in an iteration of streetwear that overplays hoopla, not design. If the publicity material and the merchandise are not identified by Mr Jones’s name (or in the case of the logo used on the clothing, the initials KJ), these could be any merchandise in Nike’s regular drops. Or something you might consider at ASOS… when they are offering a store-wide 20% discount.
Perhaps I have overlooked something here. Were these put out for kids who missed out on the Dior collab, or those who could not afford the (from) S$3,100 a pair shoes? And those who are happy to just wear anything as long as they are associated with a trending name? Frankly no one needs to pay S$149 for “classic nylon bottoms”, as Nike describes a pair of very standard-issue track pants. Or, $69 for a “short-sleeve (sic) tee” that is accompanied with a curious description: “Neon hues are combined with a reflective design Nike Air graphic to give this top an essential feel”. Or (I cringe mentioning this), the socks (S$29), with the Nike Air logo on one side and KJ on the other. Seriously? Even the sole shoe, an Air Max 95 (S$299), with orange highlights and, on the upper, “Morse code-like pattern” (I, and so many of us here at SOTD, prefer the sound), is probably one of the most uninspired interpretations ever.
…one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff
Mr Jones has had quite a track record in making athletic clothes somewhat cool and mind-bogglingly desirable. Since his work for the UK brand Umbro back in 2008, with its references to British football culture, he has been known to have an eye to sift out sportif and cultural reference to bring something to whoever. But they have never been, to me, as crave-arousing as, say, those by A-Cold-Wall*. I won’t even bring up Gyakusou, Nike’s successful, eleven-year-old pairing with Jun Takahashi, for comparison, since one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff.
In many ways, Mr Jones’s output reminds me of the equally lacklustre Nike collaboration with Riccardo Tisci in 2017, which also featured the initials of the designer. Given that there is increasingly more design-driven pairings between sportswear and designer labels, I would have thought that Mr Jones might have tried a tad harder. Sure, I did not expect him to do a Sacai, but neither did I regard such bland take to happen. Even the placement of the Nike Air logo on the apparel suggests to me a what-the-heck, just-plonk-it-here approach. If Nike’s pairing with Kim Jones can’t yield even a fraction of the design savvy in the former’s own truly appealing and often fascinating Nikelab or the ACG (All Conditions Gear) line, they should really not bother. Nike—and all of us—deserves better.
Felipe Oliveira Baptista has captured the founding spirit of Kenzo without directly reprising the past
Could this be the most joyous collection of the season? We are not referring specifically to Paris, since Kenzo presented their newest collection outside PFW. There have been so few exultant shows these past months, whether ‘phygital’ or not, that Kenzo’s autumn/winter 2021 joyous set of skip, spin, strut, sway, and swing was truly heartfelt and spellbinding. Felipe Oliveira Baptista has put what would usually be sombre autumnal moods under the spotlight of tremendous fun—and movement. These clothes are not only for within the parameters of domestic walls that are now work spaces, but also for moving in and, when the time permits (or a future that is held in high hope comes), dancing in, wherever you choose to be. The clothes move with the wearers unbounded, and with the same high and free spirit that the free-form moving projects. There’s a tender feeling of the tribal, the nomadic, the celebratory.
The whole presentation is, in fact, a frolic of some unknown jubilation. Watching it, you’d feel like moving along with the dancers (not models, right? Since they groove so well?). The clothes are not skimpy or body-hugging. They offer cold-weather coverage with massive yardage of fabrics, but we do not sense the clothes are encumbering. They turn and shift and stir as if gravity has minimal hold on them. They gesticulate as expressively as the wearers cavort in them joyfully. We want be part of the play-action, in those as-comfortable-as-blanket wraps and outerwear. Mr Baptista, in this presentation, seems to share the Japanese penchant for lively shows that show off the abstract or organic shapes of the clothes when in kinetic articulation. Issey Miyake comes to mind.
The clothes are not archive-driven, but they are evocative of the joie de vivre that the late Kenzo Takada himself brought to the runways of much of the ’70s. In fact, as Mr Baptista told the media later, the collection is dedicated to Mr Takada, whose designs—Oriental but not quite, with folksy details that didn’t necessarily trace to his native Japan—took Paris by storm for their untypical ease and roominess that contradicted the more soigné leanings of French couture. (Even those on the Yves Saint Laurent camp in that era, such as Loulou de la Falaise, were known to wear Kenzo.) For now, the nomadic and the folkloric are put through the lenses of the sporty and outdoorsy, concurrently amenable to strong colours (tone-on-tone!), unmissable stripes, and all-over flowers (hydrangeas!) that Mr Takada himself was partial to. But the effect is not a jumble. In fact, to describe the collection as kaleidoscopic might be overblown. These clothes have their own distinct personalities, not possessed by the ghost of its namesake founder, but expressed by a designer who clearly appreciates what the brand stands for and what it brought to fashion at the height of its popularity. It is refreshing that Mr Baptista embraced as much as he could a creator’s past once thought to be visionary, rather than leave it in the forgotten realm of long ago.
These are roomy clothes, but not the exaggerated over-sized shapes of some follow-the-trend houses, or those that deliberately churn out the anti-fit. That they are a-cultural and a-historical give them a decidedly contemporary power. We are particularly drawn to those pieces that can transform from bag to clothes and from clothes to other clothes. Or capes that can do so many different things. Versatility should be the new black! Even the menswear has an undefinable adaptability to them, being so gender-neutral. Captivating too are the dresses that really evoke the OG Kenzo—boat-necked, and seemingly cut flat and joined as if two rectangles (or three), or those quilted, full-skirted coat-dresses that hint at distant lands than familiar cities. If Zhang Yimou’s 1993 film The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司) were to be remade in a more fashionable setting, these could be what whoever shall play Gong Li’s role would wear. How delightful that would be.
Morse code signals of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity(or Radio-Aktivität), released in 1975, could have been a delightful hint of what the Raf Simons autumn/winter 2021 co-ed show might look like. But Mr Simons is never unsubtle. And definitely none of the retro-futuristic exuberance for him. Perhaps we were just thrilled to hear the familiar melody of what could be a remix of the remastered title track of the German composers’ first all-electronic album. When the show began, we saw a model emerge from a pentagonal tunnel, lit by running fluorescent lights. Our thinking was in overdrive. When the models walked into the movie-set-like Barenzaal, a power-plant-turn-event-space, we were certain we had thought too much. This was not going to be a collection inspired by The Looking Glass War.
The catchy electro-pop minimalism of Radio-Activity, perhaps, threw us off. We couldn’t really imagine Raf Simons set against Kraftwerk. (But who else could we have thought, Tate McRae?!) In 2015, an article in the Financial Times, enthused that “it is difficult to think of a band less inclined to noodle—and yet there’s also warmth and humour in their music”. Perhaps the same can be said of the clearly-intoned designs of Mr Simons, even when we couldn’t join the dots between the designer and the music. It is not the warmth of his tenure at Dior and not quite the humour of, say, Moschino, but there is—we did sense it—something warm and humorous. In fact, the oversized shapes that Mr Simons has been offering for a while now sometimes felt like a big joke, and you either get it or don’t. We do know, for sure, one person who does: Miuccia Prada.
The show is set in a former mine building, now known as C-Mine, in the former mining town of Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. Millennials of the party gen before COVID-19 might recognise in C-Mine, the building St James Powerhouse in HarborFront. The Barenzaal’s bunker-like industrial site somehow made us think that the Amphibian Man (The Shape of Water) might appear, rather than Mr Simons’s gorgeous, supple shapes. What struck us was a palpable omission of obvious youth, “solar” or not. These clothes seemed less gleaned from campuses than camps, or more specifically, the groups favouring the less conventional without looking, when dressed, like arrivistes embracing fashion for the first time, or for social-climbing attention.
People do grow up, so do fashion. Mr Simons said in the accompanying notes to the collection—“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in todays world.” Unencumbered by the heritage or archive of a heritage-house-as-employer, Mr Simons was able to just hit the right notes, as he went on with not just marching to his own drum beat, but by striking the drum too. This collection had all the hallmarks of shapes and details that fans love, whether for his own house or when he was designing for another. If you were sold to the intriguing volumes, they’re all still here, this time in a near-cocoon that might be associated with the business tagged haute. This was “attitude” that, despite being forward-looking, had the sense of the palpable present: comfortable and assuring.
Mr Simons is not only a shape-meister, he’s also a texture ace, creating knits with the surface effect of stretched kueh ambon or forming the diamond-quilts on the coats (with voluminous rear) that could be a remake the 127-year-old British brand Barbour might just need. And there were the colours, too—chromatic pairing that only Mr Simons would attempt. Few could pair brights to black the way he could: always with such electrifying effect, even when the shades were closer to pastels. Who’d think of teaming candy pink with highlighter yellow? And there are the accessories: one skeletal wrist arm-cuff got us wondering. Was this Mr Simons offering the equivalent of the skull? Humour?! And what about those new R. Simons labels that appears even on knitted gloves? Is the brand embracing commercialism? Or, had his experience with the Prada triangle brought something out in him that we know not much of?
This was Mr Simons’s second women’s collection. It’s hard to link anything here to the past, Jil Sander or Dior, although some of the shirts did bring to mind Calvin Klein. Despite the clearly feminine leaning at Dior, Raf Simons is rarely associated with profound femininity and high-octane glamour. Yet, he has a clear sense of what makes striking womenswear that’s sensational, and, at the same time, uncontrived and unforced. We are partial to the tunics and tunic-dresses, so consistent with styles that are knowing and confident. At Jil Sander, one fashion critic once said that Mr Simons was not able to cut the pants well. This season, the trousers looked masterfully executed—with just the slouch that today’s ‘relaxed’ calls for without the too-easy hang-loose of sweat pants. The mood of the moment was truly well, and enticingly, captured.
At the Louis Vuitton IRL show right here on our island this evening, rain water came down so spectacularly that some attendees said that it wouldn’t be an LV show without the “drama”
Rain-soaked runwayat the ArtScience Museum
The weather has been unpredictable these two weeks. Rain spoils the afternoons, not the thunderstorm that was forecasted. Past lunch time today, the sky above many parts of the island was overcast with dark and pregnant clouds, above which a steadfast blue could be seen. Around two today, the unmistakable petrichor that precedes a shower on a scorching day was heady. We were in the east, where we had just finished a late lunch when it started to drizzle. The dense grey clouds did not release its welcome drench. Later, in the CBD, it was dry until it wasn’t, at about six. At Marina Bay Sands and its surroundings, the rain lent a delectable freshness to the air and the area. Except the Apple store, the roofs of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the kindred Shoppes building in front were aglow with goblin green light, so was the Moshe Safdie-designed ArtScience Museum. Inside, on basement 2, known as Circulation and Oculus, the third part of the most exciting event of the social/fashion calendar since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was about to take place. From the time the news broke four days ago, the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2021 “spin-off” show was all anyone in the fashion community—invited or not—could talk about.
Despite the resounding buzz of the evening, what nearly dampened the show was the rain making its way into the venue—like Jewel’s Rain Vortex or the adjacent building’s own Rain Occulus—through the sky well above the (also-named) Occulus, a sort of centre ring that the museum calls, somewhat with foresight, a “giant outdoor water feature”. Guests arriving and those already seated were totally amused, unsure if the presentation would go on. Some even wondered if the affair of the night might relocate to the nearby Sands Expo and Convention Centre. Those in the front row, such as Vogue SG editor Norman Tan, were given massive black umbrellas to the consternation of those seated behind. Uniformed staff emerged to arrange rolled-up rags into a disjointed ring to prevent the water from flow-radiating into the space occupied by the audience. They were desperately mopping the floor dry, but the rain was not in a cooperative mood. In the presence of the cleaning crew hard at work, guests were selfie-ing and posing for cameras to be sure they had, for posterity and for their social media followers, photos set against this wet, wet green. The show opened about 20 minutes after the scheduled time of 7.30. The precipitation persisted. So wet the floor was that even seasoned models slipped or fell, such as Yong Kai Gin, who was “fresh off the Paris runways” of last month. Ms Yong, considered “Singapore’s most successful model today”, later appeared in swimwear, with a bruise on her left knee clearly visible.
Cleaning staff trying to mop the catwalk dry
There were three shows spread throughout today, but all were not equally created, at least not by attendance. The first show at noon and the second at 4pm were thought to be for the “not-that-important”, as one attendee enthusiastically described to us. If you were slotted for the 12pm show, “that’s tragic”. And even seated in the actual space was not enough. If you were assigned a cube-seat placed in the peripheral corridor of the Circulation, you were further south on the LV favourite list. Some not invited to the evening “VVIP” presentation, felt slighted. One society fixture/YouTuber, as the afternoon’s chatter went, was so indignant with the less-desirable show time she found herself in, even when she had shared on social media images of the invite with the time clearly printed, that she could not be placated—LV had to invite her to the soiree. It is understandable why there had to be three shows even if consequent problems could be predicted. Each session could accommodate 112 people (more that the number a married couple are presently allowed to host at their wedding reception), as reported in the press, so that all can be seated safely apart. But logistical problems were no concern of those who only wanted to be seen at the time that mattered, on time or not.
The VVIPs are a different lot, as you can imagine; their standing and spending power (five digits upwards for the current season, we heard, to be invited) commensurate with the treatment offered to them to make attending the LV event easier, smoother. Transport (not Grab!) from their individual residences to the venue (and later back to their homes) were provided. Despite door-step car service, some kept the drivers waiting—an attendee was said to have one stood by for a grand hour! At the drop-off point on the Sand Expo and Convention Centre side of the MBS complex on Bayfront Avenue, these VVIPs were also driven in a golf buggy through the mall to the promenade, where they disembarked to walk to the museum. As many of them were to attend in top-to-toe Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2021 RTW (or had spent that six-figure sum), they were sent makeup artists to help them look their Tuesday night LV best. After the show, dinner at three different locations was arranged for them. It was a heady mix of influencers, members of the media, and Mediacorp stars, such as Zoey Tay, Rebecca Lim, Desmond Tan, and Ayden Sng, all togged in, expectedly (or should that be expectantly?), LV.
Monogrammed swimwear appropriate for the wet, wet, wet presentation. Model Yong Kai Gin continued to walk the runway even with a bruised left knee, the result of a fall earlier
While Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke told The Straits Times that “the spin-off show in Singapore is a way for Louis Vuitton to cultivate proximity with a global audience by bringing the show to a new location…”, there was talk among the audience that Singapore was, in fact, not the first choice, Bangkok was. But due to the pandemic and the still-to-abate political unrest in the Thai capital, LV decided to stage the spin-off show on our potentially rain-soaked island, much to the delight of our Tourist Promotion Board, reportedly the facilitator that had helped LV “to leverage the country’s talent, infrastructure, resources and luxury consumer landscape to bring about this show,” according to ST. It was not surprising, therefore, that the show director was “godfather of Singapore fashion” Daniel Boey (a return to the physical show after last year’s The Front Row digital fashion week). The Spanish film producer Fran Borgia (Sandcastle, Boo Junfeng’s 2010 feature film), who is based here, was the live-stream creative director.
The 7.30pm online show was touted as a “livestream”, but the version posted on the LV (SG) website appeared to have been filmed earlier. Those who sat in front of their PCs or held their smartphones to watch saw not a performance glitched by a downpour, but a laggy video (that froze repeatedly at start), with sometimes choppy sound, and editing that appeared to deliberately create a low-tech effect that recalled music videos of the early ’80s. At the show venue, the soundtrack was suitably thumping and loud, but that did not drown out the vibe of a presentation that barely trifled with the thrilling, or enthralling. We had to remind ourselves that this was a spin-off, not a reproduction of the striking show held in the French department store La Samaritaine last October. The presentation looked totally unrecognisable. Green (to be keyed out later for video effects that were, at best, superfluous) dominated the space, not Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. The clothes—67 edited looks in all—were pieces from the spring/summer 2021 collection and a separate summer capsule, worn on models unfortunately without the experience or the vim to bring out the wondrousness of Nicolas Ghesquière’s designs. If the cascading water was a welcome droll to the show, the Singapore girls’ performance was the veritable wet blanket.
Are you so desperate to own a pair of normally expensive Gucci kicks that you are willing to part USD12 (approximately S$16) for a Net version? It seems many are. Or, Gucci seems to think so. They have just ‘launched’ virtual sneakers so that you can wear them on your digital hooves for slightly less than, as I discovered, the McDonald’s 2X Sausage McGriddles with Egg Extra Value Meal (+ French Fries). The avatar fashion for feet, even if un-pedicured. And you can then post the superimposed sneakers on your social media pages and appear as if you’ve been to a Gucci store and bought a pair yourself, at a mere fraction of the boutique price. There must be some draw in that?
Yet, I don’t understand the potential appeal of these untouchable digital-only sneakers. Maybe I am just not aware that Gucci is now truly the first love of geeks and increasingly discovered by gamers (no longer unique to Burberry?). The shoes—just one style—look to me like they might have been designed by the programmers behind Neon Tiles Space Hop. Called Gucci Virtual 25 (apparently Michele Alessandro’s fave number), they probably look fetching on Buzz Lightyear too. You put them on as you would an AR face filter, but instead of rabbit ears, you get Gucci kicks.
The key feature of the sneaker appears to be the double-G logo-ed bottle cap-like dial just above the laces (you can’t miss it) that presumably allows the wearer to auto-lace up. This bears no resemblance to the US-born BOA Fit System, which saw New Balance among the early adopters back in 2017. Everything about the virtual shoe just looks cartoonish, and likely more so on 4K-filmed feet!
Gucci has, of course, embraced everything virtual enthusiastically. Not content with dressing the characters on Zepeto (including footwear), they want to help us get virtually shod. And throughout our digital life (do we now participate in Zoom meetings with our feet up?). Our online appearance at feet level must be so slack that Gucci sees a money-making opportunity to improve the appearance of our chosen footwear. Surely, they’re better off at creating finer-looking real shoes than making those that exist in apps or in the cloud?
A reminder to nominees and attendees, in case anyone turns up in sweats
Oscar at the Oscars. Too casual? Illustration: Xiu Xian
By Mao Shan Wang
You know times have changed when the producers of this year’s Oscars presentation need to send nominees and attendees a letter to remind them to dress to the nines. As reported in the press around the globe, the letter stated that the organisers aimed “for a fusion of inspirational and aspirational, which in actual words means formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” Wah, Hollywood stars have to be reminded to dress up even when there is clearly an occasion to. Is that like being told to get vaccinated? Or has the pandemic made even the Academy Awards show so unappealing that there might be those tempted to attend the glitzy presentation in their home clothes or without the services of a stylist? Or, as the epitome of luxury bagginess?
It’s hilarious to think about Oscars dress code. The award ceremony is represented by a bald man so in love with extreme casual, he has chosen to remain and appear as if the whole of Hollywood should be a nudist colony, but for the people attending the event to be flanked by him and, for a lucky few, to hold his cold, hard, naked body, they have to be served a reminder to ensure that their attire for the evening can be described as—er, what’s the opposite of casual? There is yet more reason to keep France’s petite mains gainfully employed, in particular during lockdown.
If the world’s fashion media is to be believed, we have been living and working, for the past year, in sweats—the clothes, not the perspiration, although anyone who lives on the equator knows that one tends to lead to the other. It is unthinkable that even for one of the world’s most glamorous event in Los Angeles, attendees are not inclined to make an appointment with their designer friends or their regular tailor, both I do not have, but if invited, would. Do Oscars producers really think the stars would pull out any old rag from their wardrobe? Or do I think too well of those with an awardable movie career?
If the likes of Carey Mulligan and Frances McDormand, both this year’s nominees for Best Actress, need to be made aware to dress in their glittery finest, where does that leave Mediacorp actors attending the Star Awards next month? Or has Mediacorp, in their excitement, already issued their demand? Both thoughts make me quiver.
Is the next season of +J as compelling and as crowd-pulling as the first?
Static display outside the Uniqlo store at Orchard Central yesterday
Uniqlo knew that they had a winner when long queues were seen outside their flagship store in Orchard Central on the day of the launch of the resuscitated +J collection last November and the demand for the pieces were still high even a month after. This was generally seen throughout much of Asia (in Hong Kong, it was, as observers noted, “overwhelming”). Initially, no news was released if there would be a second season, although sources told us at the time that Uniqlo was “ready for a follow-up” and, presumably, the designer Jil Sander herself. Official word came on 3 March when the retailer announced that the launch today “continues last season’s popular return of Uniqlo’s collaboration”. Two days after that, it was reported that Jil Sander the label, presently designed by Luke and Lucie Meier, was sold by Japanese conglomerate Onward Holdings to the Italian luxury group Only the Brave, parent company of Diesel and Margiela.
A second season of +J is, perhaps, inevitable—it was launched this morning. That the Jil Sander name still enjoys high visibility even without any connection to its founder perhaps attests to the appeal of well-established labels, continually putting out clothes that resonate with those who appreciate designs that are not bombastic. In the case of +J fans, for whom moniker and associations are added value to the clothes they buy, even if not priced in the same level as designer labels. As one fashion stylist told us, “+J does not look cheap”. It helps that, unlike collaborations with, for example, JW Anderson, +J is marketed as covetable, so much so that people are willing to queue to get their hands on the pieces.
There was surprisingly a very short line this morning. In fact, prior to the opening of the store at 11am, the few present within the cordoned space would not constitute a queue. Could the craze have waned, we wondered. About 30 minutes later, a possibly daunting line could be seen. Staff controlling the crowd estimated the number to be around 90 as the space was marked out to hold that number of shoppers. As before, this was a line for +J customers only. They had to wait for typically 30 mins (the duration, as seen up to noon). A ticket was issued and a staff guided the six or so to the women’s department, in front of the escalator on the second floor. But you have no immediate access.
The +J selling space on the day before the launch
The same space today, at noon
Like during the day of the launch last year, a holding area was set up on the connector-bridge that, pre-pandemic, would have led to Orchard Gateway. But unlike the previous occasion, black stools that looked like Ikea’s Marius were now available for the waiting to be more comfortable. And those in this space need not while away the time on their smartphone for long. Shoppers in the +J retail zone were given only half an hour to pick up what they desired (which recalled similar time limits at the launch of H&M’s designer collabs). To help them make the most of the 30 minutes, the +J catalogue was distributed prior to entry, but not many wanted it (later, it could be seen disposed in the bins throughout OC, and even further away at Takashimaya Shopping Centre). Once inside, there was a maximum of 20 shoppers allowed, which made for reasonably comfortable browsing and selecting. Staff manning the line had served the reminder that no more than five pieces for purchase per person was permissible, and no more than one per style (but another colour was allowed).
Wearers of +J might project themselves as knowing sophisticates, but as shoppers, they could be anyone of them visitors to the Chinatown wet market, in the days leading to Chinese New Year. Or, if a better comparison is preferred, like those at the Club 21 Bazaar. For some reason, the clothes, once examined or slipped on, did not deserve hangers or their neat places on shelves. This shopping behaviour seemed to be consistent with the general lack of respect for clothes, no matter what price is indicated on the price tag. The desire to own the quiet, intelligent designs of Ms Sander is no indication that there is the accompanying capacity to interface with the clothes—and the environment in which they’re sold—in an appreciative manner.
It is regrettable to see garments that have clearly enjoyed the rigorous process of design, as well as the careful thought of what works in the present be given affection that is, at best, cursory, for there is much to love about +J. Once again, Uniqlo illustrates that clothes, regardless of what we wear them for or when, can always be better designed, and be more refined, even when so many consumers are blasé about fashion, or opting for garments that don’t need ‘personality’ to thrive among the denizens. Ms Sander has created “classics”, but not in the sense of what we might want that is trend-neutral and can stand the test of time. The +J pieces are totally driven by the smallest of details, even those that bring only pleasure to the wearer. Subtly is not so indistinct when they are this pronounced.
Some repeated items from last season are now available to general public on the first floor of the OC store
This is a collection that will continue to hold Uniqlo in good stead among a certain faction of the fashion community: those who value design and will continue to buy +J’s embodiment of the practical in the creative. Ms Sander has built the collection on shirts, incorporating graphic touches, as in one cropped dolman-sleeved chemise, horizontal pleats in the rear that have the quiet assured by closed blinds. Even the shirts for guys—this season with open collars—now come in a highly desirable version that can be worn as an outer, like a blouson. One skirt, too, stood out, a two-tone polyester-silk taffeta piece with side hems positioned diagonally forward and centre-back panels cut to provide a little flirtatious kick at the hem. Those in search of a parka would be well served to pick one short, A-line version with a hood that sits under a wide band collar, with draw-string-attached. When pulled to tighten, the effect could be a ruff, or even a flower! It seems Ms Sander has had some fun with this collection.
Although shoppers joining the queue were of the impression that the second +J season would not be repeated and are available in limited quantities to buy (at least on launch day), many, too, were surprised that some popular pieces from last November are available once more. Most unmistakable are the men’s Supima cotton shirts that were really sought after last year. Even women preferred the guys’ versions. Now, one of the styles with striped and plain-weave fabrics, is repeated—its restock clearly tethered to high demand. They take pride of space, right in the middle of the store entrance, confident of their second-round success. A young woman—in a slip top and denim cut-offs—and her mother was earlier standing outside the second-floor +J sales zone, looking at the buying buzz inside that she was not privy to. She told her mom, “Why nice? Not sexy at all.” Outside, back on the first floor, a longer line had formed. Many here obviously didn’t care if +J is sexy. Only if it’s here to stay, or not.
When Pharrell Williams wore pearls and not just a strand, but, as Coco Chanel preferred, “ropes and ropes” of them, many guys here thought him to be an advanced specimen of American culture. Mr Williams, a known heterosexual fashionista and a regular Chanel jacket wearer too, has not taken the Harry Styles route and worn a dress, but his penchant for jewellery is far more ardent than an average woman’s. Lest this becomes a binary gender issue, we should point out that the wearing of multi-strands of necklaces is not unique to Mr Williams. Mr Styles wears them too. It was prevalent among male hip-hop stars, going back to the ’70s, when rap was born, when Kurtis Blow, considered the first commercially successful rapper to have a record deal with a major label, wore strands of gold chains on the cover of his 1980 debut eponymous album. Since then, almost all hip-hop stars, from LL Cool J to Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z, have put multiple necklaces on their necks. But strands of pearls were slow to catch on.
And when they did, we didn’t think it’d be this fast. Here, social media posts of society chaps wearing a strand of pearls at various gatherings in the past few months were not signal enough of an impending trend since they are fashion types (“guru” for one of them, we were corrected), forward enough to not suggest anything extraordinary. But on one blistering day, on a barely-cool west-bound MRT train of the East-West line, we spotted a young fellow—not particularly spiffy—with a strand of white pearls set against the black crew-neck T-shirt he was wearing. The neatness of the row of pearls was broken by the colour-matched white cable of his earphones. He was not attired to augment the inherent elegance of the pearls. If not for the pearls, you wouldn’t give him a look. Two weeks later, a similar get-up was seen on a chap on an escalator in Bugis+. The pearls were, again, at odds with the fellow’s oversized Palace tee and Carhartt bum bag. But he seemed unconcerned with the jewellery and the skate aesthetic being as compatible as meat in a vegetarian meal.
Perhaps that’s the whole point of pearls these days: to not fit in. Surely they can be styled to bear street cred, just as much as they can be part of any guy’s tailored best. Just look at the pearl collection of Comme des Garçons, conceived with the 128-year-old Japanese house of Mikimoto (above) since last season. It could be discerned that Rei Kawakubo has introduced something punk and subversive into otherwise very conventional strands of pearls. CDG does not indicate which gender the jewellery is targeted at, but in the joint marketing campaigns by the two brands, male models wore the pearls, with one fellow sporting a double-strand over a tie and under a suit jacket with peaked lapels. The aesthetic base is still elegant, but the saltwater akoya pearls seemed to turn away from the conventional, like wildly patterned socks under pin-striped trouser legs. CDG, as we know, doesn’t really do anything vanilla. With a ‘classic’ material such as pearls, they’d want to introduce a counterpoint to the poshness. So there are the sterling silver hardware, such as chains (which are rather Virgil Abloh, even Yoon Ahn, and have been similarly employed at Maison Margiela), studs, and safety pins, all used as decorative trims, like in CDG’s RTW, but presently looking less fierce than they had been.
The circular pearl strand we have been seeing guys now wear could, therefore, be influenced by CDG. They are not long strands as in Pharrell Williams’s Chanel nor are they those made more masculine with black Tahitian pearls. These small off-white spheres circle the neck in a rather delicate fashion, like ruffs, but not quite twee as the latter. It’s been hard to design and market pearls to men. In 2002, Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe collaborated with compatriot brand Autore to create a high-profile line of neck and wrist wear featuring South Sea pearls—mostly just one bead apiece—for both men and women. Single pearl worn like a pendant might perhaps have been more acceptable back then, when David Beckham was known to be partial to one, or when Pierce Brosnan wore a solo bead on the cover of Italian Vanity Fair in 2005. It isn’t certain how Mr Thorpe’s pearls panned out, but some observers thought the line was premature. Few people now remember Mr Thorpe’s association with pearl jewellery. The line was eventually discontinued a few years later. Even the Olympian would not have guessed that men will graduated from one pearl to a whole strand.
Photo: (top) Zhao Xiangji and (product) Comme des Garçons
At the Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish and Harry Styles surprised no one when they turned up in full Gucci, illustrating, again, boys and girls their age group love the flashy Italian brand
Billie Eilish and Harry Styles in unmistakable Gucci outfits. Photos: Getty Images
The head-to-toe look is the to way dress among many of today’s young pop stars. And dedication to a single brand is the ideal. The easiest way to be camera-ready, we suppose. Just look at two of the biggest entertainers at the recent Grammys: Billie Eilish and the dress wearer Harry Styles. They were both outfitted by Gucci, down to, in the case of Ms Eilish, the bucket hat, face mask, and fingerless gloves, and, in the case of Mr Styles, the Mae West-worthy feather boa. It was as if they had turned over the entire exercise of dressing to a fashion house. Their own wardrobes non-existent, or redundant. Of course, most stars don’t look at their existing armoire anymore. They go with what fashion houses present to them, and if the final look is missing something—anything, there’s always the atelier’s sewers to custom-make. If they can sew a dress, they can sew a face mask. It’s all—as you can see (or maybe not)—very orchestrated.
This sounds very much like how they managed movie stars during the heydays of Hollywood. Only now, the current stars aren’t told how they are to be styled, or how to behave, or who to be seen with that is deemed suitable. The more anti-whatever they look, the better. And even more preferable, be linked to a brand (or a few). Bring your own take to how the sponsor wants you to look, it says to us. Billie Eilish certainly has. Until she dons Gucci the way she has been, no one thought the brand once associated with extreme sexiness under Tom Ford’s watch could be so bo chap baggy. She is not, as far as we’re aware, Gucci’s brand ambassador, unlike Harry Styles. She has more aesthetic room to navigate. Mr Styles is a Gucci model, appearing in their ads and video presentations; he is expected to embrace the brand wholesale, with a tad of pop-star insouciance.
…the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”
Expectedly, their followers too. It is debatable if Mr Styles and Ms Eilish are leading the pack or wearing what others of their generation are wearing. Interestingly, if you combine, as we had, the first and second parts of their family names respectively, you would get “Stylish”. That’s enough to automatically grant them the upper hand as leaders than followers. To the many young fans who are enamoured with Gucci and can only feel confident—or validated—when they wear the label on their backs (or on their chest), the pair helps Gucci appear as a label that’s “celebrity-approved”, a marketing advantage and a sure crowd-puller. Together with their fans and followers, the Stylish stars have made Gucci the bubbling brand of the millennials, a group the Financial Times identified in 2018 as “the world’s most powerful consumers.”
Although Gucci reported a drop in global sales during their earnings report in February, they have, in fact, enjoyed startling growth for years and had been the growth accelerator of parent company Kering. Annual revenues reported in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was an impressive 10 billion euros. Their success has been linked to how appealing Gucci is to millennial consumers, under 35. Technology that resonates with this savvy group (as well as teaming up with digital games such as Zepeto) is part of their multi-prong strategy. The products, across categories, are calibrated to offer millennials born-again retro looks that are new to them, as well as the chances to experience what they could not ever have: past goofiness transmuted as present geekiness. The whole visual context of Gucci is companionably banal. To better suit the phenomenon and practice—sharing, and to fabulously costume colourful online life.
It’s hard to categorise Louis Vuitton’s RTW, and therein lies the charm
The runway’s back at the Louvre for Louis Vuitton. Inside, in fact. In the Michelangelo and Daru galeries of the Denon Wing, where some of the world’s priceless masterpieces reside, including one very famous smile. But the models—only them in the flesh—did not walk past La Gioconda, also known as the Mona Lisa. Although without an audience or museum visitors or fashion show gawkers, they had for company Falconet’s Bather, the Borghese_Gladiator, and the headless angel, Winged Victory of Samothrace, among other ethereal sculptures of antiquity. The clothes, far from classical or classic, share the grandeur of Greek and Roman, and Hellenistic art at its most prodigious. The simple draping on the statues, if dressed, perhaps show how far fashion has come and how complex it has become, in view of the delightful disarrangement of forms that Nicolas Ghesquière has brought to LV.
Flanked by the neutral-coloured treasures and against the additional lighting installation, the imaginative interplay of shapes and patterns are just beguiling. They beg a second viewing, even a third. Or, more. (First time, there he goes again!) To borrow a popular fashion-reviewer description, there’s a lot to unpack. And we don’t mean just the individual pieces, but what’s on them too. Mr Ghesquière, a skilled cross-pollinator, does not leave the singular alone. In his hands, unlikely juxtaposition, with no specific point of reference, become not only destined, they yield such extraordinary results that you know that, if worn, these clothes can bring on the much-touted, but elusive quality: transformative power. A jacket is not just a jacket, it has conversation-starting “statement sleeves”; a sweater is not just a sweater, it’s a tunic with potholes for pockets; a dress with a ’60s vibe is not quite ’60s after all, it is graphically encrusted and looks ready for a time when a pandemic can truly be described with the prefix ‘post’.
Mr Ghesquière tells the press that he wants to convey “hope and joy”. The joy is not only in the clothes, the joy is also in viewing them, in desiring them. How does one resist a bi-coloured bubble jacket that stays true to the name—a globular puff-up that looks as warming and comfortable as it is striking? Or the abbreviated hobble skirts that won’t restrict movements since they end above the knee? Or those cocktail dresses made sportif (raglan sleeves!) that you know will have a long life outside soirees slated for nightfall? These are occasion-blurring clothes. You don’t see which is for the office (who’s going back to the office?), which for economic summits, which for first dates, which for Sunday brunch, which for holidays, which for strolling in the park, which for gala dinners, which for the red carpet (no gowns!). In the world that comes after our present troubles, we should not have to worry about what to wear… for who, for when, for what; we should just wear.
At Louis Vuitton, they have been enthusiastically embarking on art-collabs. This season, Mr Ghesquière teams up with the estate of the Italian artist Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) to apply the distinctive Fornasetti graphics on clothes and on bags. The treatment on the apparel are most alluring: medallion (or coin?) cut-outs of heads of classical icons placed, collage-like, on a new typography of the brand spelled in full are far much more eye-catching than repetitive monograms. LV, of course, still banks on their monograms, such as that seen on the Damier canvas, to ensure that they are the world’s most valuable luxury brand, but rather than introducing more, Mr Ghesquière opted for a graphical approach, blending images and text in a happy medley of the old(ish) and the current that projects the spirit of pop. Sure, this season, there’s the monogram-like pattern of rows of frets, but they don’t seemed destined for a vapid commercial life. Etore Sottssas wrote of Mr Fornasetti in the introduction of the book Fornasetti: Designer of Dreams, “It is perfectly possible to create a world that has never been, that will never be, using the fragments of a world that has been, a world that one fine day blew up in the sky.” That can be said of Nicolas Ghesquière. In the Denon Wing, that explosion was evident.